I have read a few questions regarding pronunciation which is complicated by accents across the US. I assume this is also true for other languages. In most dictionary references, a pronunciation key is provided. If the words are taught with this information included, wouldn't we all sound the same? For example, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cars

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    I don't have an accent -- it's all those other idiots out there that do. (Actually, Webster's in particular made great inroads in minimizing regional accents, but it's an uphill battle.) – Hot Licks Aug 3 '16 at 16:33
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    To answer the question, we all still have accents because we all learn to talk before we go to school. School can't change the way we talk and doesn't really try to; it just makes people think whatever they do is wrong. This is hardly ever helpful information. The fact is that English speakers are not taught about their language and usually end up thinking that pronunciation is determined by spelling, which is a really silly notion. – John Lawler Aug 3 '16 at 16:37
  • @John: My father hasn't lived in Lancashire or interacted much with Lancastrian speakers for well over 80 years, but he still has a very strong accent. I on the other hand have a reputation for reflecting the accent of the people around me if I stay anywhere for more than a few days, even though I make no conscious effort in this respect. Is there any research into why there can be such huge differences between people in terms of "dialectal retention"? – FumbleFingers Aug 3 '16 at 16:45
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    We have accents and dialects because some people speak differently, groups become splintered, and these splinter use their different speech to separate themselves (over longer periods of time, this is how language evolves too). – Aeon Akechi Aug 3 '16 at 17:12
  • @FumbleFingers I'm similar, though my folks' Oldham accents are a little tempered by their 54 years in Scotland. I started school in Cumbernauld with a broad Lancs accent and had to work really hard to shed most of it (teachers really hated 'lurry' for 'lorry' and 'butt-cher' for 'butcher' (local pron 'bootchur'). As a result my accent is part Oldham, part everywhere I've lived and part whoever-I-last-spoke-to. – Spagirl Aug 3 '16 at 18:47

I think you're minimizing how complicated this would be.

First of all, you're confusing pronunciation and accent. It's an oversimplification to say that people with different accents pronounce things differently. That's partially true, but it would be more accurate to say that people with different accents say the same pronunciation differently!

A pronunciation key tells you which individual sounds make up a word. Different people say those sounds differently. Here is a reasonable description of what I'm talking about.

In other words, two different people can read the same pronunciation key and say different things, and both would be correct. So a pronunciation key doesn't really do much if your goal is to get rid of accents.

So sure, we can see that the pronunciation of "car" is /kär/. Now, what does that sound like? Somebody from Boston has a different answer from somebody from California. Both are correct.

I suppose you could force everybody to learn one phonetic alphabet (whose?) and force them to only use that, but how would you go about it? How are you paying for the massive amounts of training required? How are you going to handle the backlash from people who don't want to change the way they speak? How are you going to enforce this over time so the accents of different areas don't drift away from each other again?

  • I didn't realize that the sound of a pronunciation was different per accent. I always thought that the phonetics would sound the same and were not influenced by accent. Thank you for the clarification. – Jammin4CO Aug 4 '16 at 13:15
  • @Jammin4CO No problem. This stuff is interesting, but it's very complicated. Look into linguistics and how they codify the details of exactly what you're doing with your mouth, teeth, tongue, breath, and even nose when you're saying a single sound. That's the alphabet that can tell you exactly how something "should" sound, and that's what you'd have to get people to learn. Then you'd have to enforce its use, and then round up anybody who refuses to cooperate into "language reeducation centers" for their daily beatings until they obey your new One True Accent laws. :p – Kevin Workman Aug 4 '16 at 13:37
  • @Jammin4CO Here is a good starting point. Have fun going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole! – Kevin Workman Aug 4 '16 at 13:39

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