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As in my title question. Do they mean a specific region of the US, something else?

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marked as duplicate by TimLymington, medica, Hellion, RegDwigнt Feb 18 at 22:41

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If John says that Mary has "no accent", it often means that she speaks with the same accent that he has. It also might mean that she speaks with the accent that is used on national television programs. –  Peter Shor Feb 16 at 14:50
    
Yes, the second one is more likely. –  user63871 Feb 16 at 14:54
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I bet if you found someone all Americans agreed had "no accent", we Brits would classify his speech as "typical American accent". In Britain, RP is generally thought of as the standard "non-accented" form, in that it gives no clue as to a person's geographical origins. But it does tend to imply moneyed, well-educated, and even following a significant increase in regional accents within national media over recent decades, we still hear RP much more than would be expected from its relatively low prevalence. To some extent, it does help you get on in life and climb the "greasy pole". –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 at 15:58
    
Pay no attention to anything Americans say about English (or language, generally) unless they offer evidence. Americans are not taught anything useful about these topics and therefore are at the mercy of ethnocentric forces, producing "clueless anxiety", as Geoff Pullum calls it. –  John Lawler Feb 16 at 16:39

1 Answer 1

General American is a name that sociolinguists often use for the accent that Americans tend to perceive as "neutral" or non-regional.

General American, like British Received Pronunciation (RP) and most standard language varieties of many other societies, has never been the accent of the entire nation. However, it has become widely spoken in many American films, TV series, national news, commercial ads, and American radio broadcasts.

The General American accent is most closely related to a generalized Midwestern accent and is spoken particularly by many newscasters. It is thought to have evolved from the English spoken by colonials in the Mid-Atlantic states, evolved and moved west. Walter Cronkite is a good example of a broadcaster using this accent. This has led the accent to sometimes be referred to as a "newscaster accent" or "television English".

In addition to Cronkite, a native of Missouri, a number of other early U.S. television newscasters hailed from the Midwest or the Great Plains states, such as John Cameron Swayze (Kansas), Eric Sevareid (North Dakota), and Chet Huntley (Montana). Huntley also attended college in Washington state, as did Spokane native Edward R. Murrow; the standard Pacific Northwest accent closely resembles General American.

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