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Is it just a small percentage of the population in that region who stress the first syllable, or is it widespread?

In other words, if I visit such a region will I find almost everyone talking like that or is it something restricted to a certain neighbourhood?

  • It's certainly not typical in this American's experience, though my mother (who is "of a certain age") says "TEE-vee" and it drives me nuts. – Dan Bron Nov 13 '14 at 21:08
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    Merriam-Webster says that accenting the first syllable for umbrella is "especially Southern". I would guess that for all of these words, the main place you'd find first-syllable stress is in the South. I certainly don't hear the first syllable stressed often for these in the Northeast. – Peter Shor Nov 13 '14 at 22:45
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    No, I'm talking about the cultural and linguistic South. Geographically, MO is on the border between South and Midwest. – Barmar Nov 15 '14 at 0:13
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    @Centaurus: Missouri is a southern state because of the Missouri compromise. It was first settled by people who talked Southern. – Peter Shor May 8 '17 at 20:49
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    Adult is probably an exception. I've interacted with people from all over the US, and 1st vs. 2nd syllable stress is very varied and widespread, not a Southern thing. Sometimes people will say it one way one time and the other way another time for no obvious reason. – fixer1234 May 9 '17 at 3:34
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Shifting second-syllable stress to the first syllable is characteristic of Southern (US) accents. Indeed, it's a trope, reaching #59 on the Stuff Southern People Like blog:

How to Sound Southern: Accent the First Syllable … HALLoween, THANKSgiving, TEEvee, UMbrella, and JUly

The THANKSgiving pronunciation is also covered in a Language Log post which also mentions ADult and UMbrella among others.

The association is borne out by at least one famous study, the Harvard Dialect Survey, started by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder in 2002. Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics at North Carolina State University, created a series of maps using that data that made the rounds on social media last year thanks to the New York Times. Those pronunciations all sound unusual to me, but that's because I'm SoCal through and through— in fact, not just SoCal, but downright OC.

Question 48 of the survey addresses umbrella, and while stress on the second syllable predominates throughout the U.S. (76%), the distribution of UMbrella is clearer when looking at the full results:

UMbrella occurs in the South, Appalachia, and parts of the Upper Midwest

The survey also attests to INsurance and THANKsgiving. It is seems strange, however, that not even Dixie can agree on how to pronounce the quintessentially Southern pecan.

According to Macmillan, stressing the first syllable of adult is characteristically British whereas stressing the second is American, although I do hear the first-syllable stress commonly in the U.S. as well. As with the Southerners, however, this too seems to be word-specific. The dictionaries draw no such distinction for TV.

  • Very interesting data maps, choster. I come from a hotbed of pi-KAHN (southeast Texas) and I can vouch for the accuracy of the map for that region and that word. In the case of Thanksgiving, it seems to me that the most natural way to say the word when I was growing up was as if it were two words—THANKS GIVing—which may be one of the "Other" options listed for that word. Anyway, thanks for the fascinating information. – Sven Yargs Nov 15 '14 at 3:54
  • Great answer! Encyclopedic! I wonder why there's a lost belt in the Wisconsin/Minnesota border. – Centaurus Nov 15 '14 at 11:40
  • I can verify that people in Georgia accent damn near everything on the first syllable. Not just UM-brella and IN-surance, but words like WITH-draw, RE-port, IN-deed, RE-turn, IN-clude, and UN-less. – Davo May 8 '17 at 21:33
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    I think that I change the stress in "adult" depending on part of speech—it's always the second syllable for the noun (and verb), but often first syllable for the adjective. It's possible that distinction is more in my head than my mouth, though. – 1006a Mar 16 '18 at 19:24
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I am from Texas and it is not uncommon to hear the first syllable given emphasis. However, I often hear the emphasis switched to the second syllable if the tone of the conversation turns sarcastic or commanding. I would be cautious of a woman puts the emphasis on the second syllable of in-deed. That is a pretty good indicator that fur is about to fly. I'd back up or vacate the area. Just sayin'..

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I've lived in Minneapolis/St Paul, Madison, WI, and Long Island, NY.. I can say that I have never heard "insurance" pronounced with the accent on the first syllable until I moved to Indpls, IN.. They will frequently pronounce "wash" as "warsh" too. I just attributed it to the poor school system here and small percentage of college educated residents as I know that Indpls is not considered part of the south.

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    I'm not sure that stressing the first syllable of "insurance" is a pronunciation feature that would tend to occur as the result of poor schooling, or that would be expected to be eliminated in individuals with college educations. There might be some correlation, but I would expect regional effects to be stronger. – sumelic May 8 '17 at 20:55

protected by tchrist Mar 16 '18 at 16:49

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