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I have heard that in the Midwest region of the United States (Nebraska, etc.), people do not have an accent when speaking compared to people from the south or either coast. Is this true? Why? Please add sources to back up what you say.

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Everybody has an accent. It is just much harder to detect those whose accents are more like your own. –  Schroedingers Cat Jul 6 '12 at 15:07
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They would be well-advised to read up on where accents and dialects come from. –  RegDwigнt Jul 6 '12 at 15:16
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I'm sorry, but none of those "duplicates" were actually duplicates of this question, so I reopened it. They were related, though: english.stackexchange.com/questions/224/… english.stackexchange.com/questions/2501/… –  nohat Jul 6 '12 at 17:14
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Question 1884, Standard American English, asks: "Is there a region in the United States of America that has a pronunciation similar ... to standard American English", and answers say "this means essentially English spoken in the north midlands region, like Iowa" (nohat) and "people will point to the Midwest as the location where Standard American English is spoken" (JoFrhwld) so question has been asked and answered before. –  jwpat7 Jul 6 '12 at 17:38
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I grew up in New York. I never thought of myself as having an accent until I moved to Ohio, where people regularly told me that I had a "New York accent". I think that the way I think, speak, and act is by definition "normal", and the more you differ from me, the more strange you are. By definition. –  Jay Jul 6 '12 at 18:10

2 Answers 2

As a native speaker of Midwestern American English, I don't hear my accent as an "accent", naturally, but I know it's there. Any English speaker will recognize that I'm American as soon as I open my mouth and start talking English (I occasionally do better in other languages), and they'll probably recognize my accent as "Midwestern", if they've ever heard of it.

So it's not true that Midwesterners don't have accents; we do. As Schrödinger's Cat points out, everyone has an accent.

Possibly -- and here's the germ of truth in this myth -- it may be the fact that Midwestern English is the standard dialect for national broadcasting in the United States that people are referring to. Just as RP is standard on the BBC (with special exceptions for Northern dialects), Midwestern is standard in the US (with exceptions, mostly for Southern dialects).

That's all.

Don't believe everything you hear about English. In fact, generally it's a good idea not to believe anything you hear about English; there's an awful lot of nonsense around.

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Your final sentence would be equally true if you dropped the words "about English". –  Jay Jul 6 '12 at 18:07
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I don't think one can say RP is standard BBC English any more. –  Andrew Leach Jul 6 '12 at 18:59
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OK. But it used to be, and Americans tend to think all English people talk like that. It comes as a shock to find that they can't understand many English dialects. –  John Lawler Jul 6 '12 at 19:14
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OK, believe whatever you like. That's the pronunciation in Kenyon and Knott, though, and that's what the networks used to use as the standard. Now ... ¿Quien sabe? –  John Lawler Jul 6 '12 at 22:30
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There are rural differences everywhere -- the Midwest is largely an agricultural area -- and many local variations. I grew up in an area with some peculiar pronunciations (rhotic wash, gosh, and Washington -- /wɔrʃ, ɡarʃ/, and /wɔrʃɪŋtn/), for instance, and an extremely odd syntactic construction that I later wrote a paper about. –  John Lawler Jul 7 '12 at 13:20

Moreso than most any other country of the similar extent (maybe excepting Australia), the great majority of people in the US speak with the same accent. Only a trained language specialist (a student of accents like an actor or voice coach, not necessarily a linguist) would be able to take a random person and tell if they were different from the norm, much less say which variety the accent is from.

That is not to say that there are recognizable regional and cultural accents: multiple different but related varieties of Southern, the New York/New Jersey accents, the Boston/New England accents, the Northern cities accents, AAVE. But those are for the most part not that common or strong.

As far as the differences go, someone who speaks 'Midwestern' and someone who speaks 'General American' English are hardly distinguishable informally, but might be by taking a very specific and not terribly common set of contrasting pairs.

The only thing I have as an easy reference for this is the questionable wikipedia articles which really only give the distinctions rather than any perspective on prevalence: a section on regional differences, and a full article on regional accents. In the latter article there are two paragraphs describing General American English separately from Midwestern/Midland. There may be technical distinctions (cot-caught merger) but I find the distinction very subtle. They draw a distinction between North and South Midland; from my experience of both, their description sounds more like they are really describing the difference between General AmE and a variety of Southern AmE.

In sum, I find that the Midwestern accent, if one can really distinguish it, is very very close to General AmE, moreso than any other named variety. So I'd say that if anything could be called the Midwestern accent, though not identical, it is mostly indistinguishable from GenAmE for most people.

That said, a particularly notable (but arguable) example of the -North- Midland accent to the extreme is Sarah Palin (though from Alaska, she really sounds like she's from rural Illinois/Iowa/Wisconsin/Minnesota/Dakotas).

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This answer kind of surprises me. We aren't as different as the accents in England perhaps, but that's just because it's the language's home country, so the dialects there diverged earlier and drifted further. However, the dialects in the USA that diverged earliest (eg: New England, AAVE) sound different enough to me that I'd be surprised if they aren't noticable to an Englishman or Aussie. –  T.E.D. Jul 23 '12 at 16:47
    
@T.E.D. I don't deny that given a person speaking a named variety in AmE, Southern (well, Piedmont, Appalachian, Texas, etc), one can easily corroborate their residence by listening to them. But 9 times out of 10, for a random American, you cannot predict where they come from or even tell that they speak something other than GenAmE. Except maybe AAVE, which I don't know enough about. –  Mitch Jul 23 '12 at 18:27
    
@T.E.D. I don't find the 'further geographically from the source, more conservative in language' rule to be a law (viz. "Guns, Germs and Steel") It might work for Polynesian but it certainly doesn't for Romance (that might be a better conversation in chat here or at linguistics). –  Mitch Jul 23 '12 at 18:28
    
Yeah, it would be fun to grab a beer and disucss such things sometime. Sans brewski, I would point out that all Romance languages are descended from Vulgar Latin, which was spoken as far afield as France and the Balkans. I think if you expand your idea of Romance's homeland to include the entire Roman empire, the theory may hold up fine. It's certianly more varied there than it is in the New World (which is the closest comparison to what I was saying about English that you could make). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Romance-lg-classification-en.png –  T.E.D. Jul 24 '12 at 19:04
    
@T.E.D.: That's exactly my point. What's the source of Romance? Latin in central Italy. What are its most conservative derivatives? The central Italian Languages (or less obliquely, Standard Italian based in the Tuscan dialect). The least conservative (those with the most changes with respect to Latin)? (Norman) French, Romanian, which are the furthest removed geographically. Your statement about English was the opposite, that AmE is more conservative than BrE "dialects there diverged earlier and drifted further". I don't know if I agree with that about BrE, but certainly not about Romance. –  Mitch Jul 24 '12 at 22:09

protected by RegDwigнt Jul 23 '12 at 15:02

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