What’s In An accent? Preconceptions About American Accents

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Preconceptions About American Accents

Find out more about American accents and associated stereotypes that come with them.

If you have an accent, there’s no doubt you are aware of some preconceptions about the way you speak. This is especially true if you have a strong accent which is highly noticeable. It adds to your character and makes up who you are, but it also comes with these hidden assumptions built on years of cultural conversation and exchange.

What you may not necessarily realise, is that even those with a neutral accent make a subconscious impression on their audience. Neutral English (RP), for example, tends to come with the assumption a person is financially well-off. The American accent also comes with its own set of assumptions and rules. Whilst here in the UK, we might not necessarily detect the difference between American accents, in America, there’s a lot in an accent and assumptions about the most neutral, and the strongest versions of it:

Some American Accents & Their Associated Preconceptions

General American

General American has only been ‘official’ since the mid 1920’s but it is still disputed as to which accent is considered general. Apparently, the distinguishing features of this accent are that you can’t place a person’s origin within America, which is what makes the accent neutral. This accent, largely used by the media in America and is known as ‘newscasters voice’, is associated with being white, upper class, privileged and male.

Southern American

The Southern American accent is associated with being uneducated, ‘hillbilly’, lacking in social skills and abilities. Obviously this is unfounded and incorrect, but remains a long standing assumption about this accent across America, and in any part of the world exposed to the film industry.

New York

The New York accent has a negative set of preconceptions attached to it. It can be associated with criminals, thugs, mobsters and gang culture. This is namely because of it being used in films and TV series where the accent is pointedly used for those types of characters.

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin accent has a lot of assumptions attached to it, many of which are hated by those from the area. It can be associated with a love of cheese and dairy farms, country music and hunting. Mostly, those from the area hate the exaggerated versions of the accents heard regularly.

Minnesota

The Minnesota accent has been made famous by films and programmes like Fargo. The accent presented as Minnesotan is thought to be deeply offensive and incorrect, and yet it is commonly the only representation of the area seen in the media and on TV. The assumptions associated with it are that the person is slightly lacking in intelligence. Of course, this is an unfounded representation of people from this part of America.

Boston

The Boston accent is associated with being brash, loud, unintelligent and generally, not a very nice person. This is unfounded,and tends to be based around a certain aspect of society within the Boston area.

“I think we are wise, we English speakers, to savour accents. They teach us things about our own tongue.”

ANNE RICE, MERRICK

It is interesting to learn about American accents, and imperative if you plan on using an American accent in any media, training or marketing you do. Stereotypes are unfounded, but they do exist, and realistically an American voiceover, even a neutral American voiceover, can have an impact on any message you’re putting out there as a business.  If you’re looking to find out more, speak to the voiceover experts at matinee.co.uk.

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