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I've seen references to the American Midwest as being the home of the least accented form of American English. I always think of the Northern Midwest as having an accent that I associate with Canadians and that the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington) is the closest to "Standard American English."

What are the features of the "West Coast" accent (if any)?

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4 Answers

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The Atlas of North American English has a rather broad definition of the West. Its primary characteristics are:

  • The merger of words sounding like cot and caught (they're pronounced the same)
  • The fronting of /uw/, as in boot but not /ow/, as in boat
  • No monophthongization of /ay/, as in ride

So, these features more or less distinguish the West from its neighboring dialects, but don't do much to specifically define the West. There are also some finer grained distinctions within the West that would make a broad and complete definition impossible. For example

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I'm fascinated that we're having a vowel shift here -- I don't recognize the changes she's listed (except maybe for look becoming luck), but I defer to the expert. I'll have to listen more closely. –  J.T. Grimes Aug 24 '10 at 23:09
    
It's so funny to read about an accent I have: "merger of 'cot' and 'caught'" -- sounds funny to have it pointed out; from my POV with the accent in question, they have always been the same! It's hard to imagine how they would be differentiated? –  Jared Updike Nov 5 '10 at 22:03
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"Baby caught. As new. Must sell today": seen in classifieds. –  Kris May 21 '12 at 17:03
    
In Southern California, "-ing" and "-ink" are pronounced "-eeng" and "-eenk"; that is, /ɪ/ becomes /i/ before /ŋ/. –  Peter Shor Jun 16 '12 at 23:08
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West coast accent can also include the word "aunt" being pronounced "ant" rather than "aw-nt"

Some word are used more than others like "like" and the style is considered more informal than the East Coast, Midwest, or South.

West Coasters often say "pop" when others say "soda" and in parts of the South every soft drink is a "Coke."

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I've found "pop" to be a Midwest thing - bubbly beverages are almost uniformly "soda" in California. –  J.T. Grimes Aug 31 '10 at 17:45
    
Another word: west coasters (Arizonans?) say pajamas (pa-JAM-uhs as in bread and jam vs. puh-JAW-muhs as in jawbone). –  Jared Updike Nov 5 '10 at 22:04
    
The word "aunt" is pronounced as "ant" everywhere in the U.S. except a few enclaves on the East Coast (most notably New England). –  Peter Shor May 21 '12 at 18:52
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I grew up on the West Coast but went to college on the gulf coast. One thing I notice about westcoasters, we don't articulate our "t" very well. For instance, people in Washington say "Ren'in", not "Renton". "Didn", not "did not". Also, it's Portlund, Orgun, not Portland, Oreeygone. Like the beautiful city of Nawlins, LA, we should all try to pronounce the names of places like the locals do.

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Pronouncing foreign cities “like the locals do” rather than in one’s native accent sounds rather precious (read: pretentious). Do you say Madrid, Paris, München as the locals do? I highly doubt it. Then why discard your native accent for singular words? Oregon in the Midwest is certainly not homophonic with organ, despite that being the designated foreign pronunciation. So what? –  tchrist May 21 '12 at 16:25
    
I have always strived to pronounce all foreign words, not only place names, as they are, by native speakers, as closely as possible. Was I doing the wrong thing? –  Kris May 21 '12 at 17:24
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@Kris: it depends on the actual place name. If you say Missoura and don't say Cincinnata, or if you only drop the r in New Yawk and not in other words, I suspect you're betraying the fact that you're pandering to the locals (half of whom pronounce it Missouri anyway). On the other hand, if you say Ore-ih-gun instead of Ore-ee-gone, or Illi-noy instead of Illi-noise, the locals will definitely appreciate it. –  Peter Shor May 21 '12 at 20:38
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I've used the school program called "Plato", but people have asked for clarification, because they can't tell if i'm saying "Plato" or "Play-doh", which led me to be conscious of the fact that people living in the American Northwest don't strongly pronunciate the letter "t", so for example, "Seattle" sounds more like "Sea-addle".

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