As you study how to speak with an American accent, you will see that American English has several different dialects, just like every other language.
Many students strive to learn what is called a General American Accent. This term originated in 1925 and was created by linguist George Philip Krapp. The term is also called the “Standard American Accent”, “Accent Neutral”, or known as a “Broadcaster Accent”. It is typically accepted as the standard accent in the United States and North America. It is used by members of the media, especially in large or national markets. A speaker using the General American Accent is generally considered to be a good communicator.
The General American Accent stands out from other American Dialects because it lacks the distinctive features found in different dialects. The General American Accent is set apart because it has none of the unique features that categorize a particular region, ethnic group, or socioeconomic status. If you heard someone speak with this particular dialect, determining where he or she is from, would be difficult. Upon hearing someone speak this way, you would struggle to guess where they were from other than being from the United States of America.
Dialect pronunciation often has significant variations, even though it is the same language. Numerous factors influence the variances, including:
- Influences from other languages
- Socioeconomic class
Additionally, the dialect from part of a region can sound very different from that of a dialect in a separate area of that same region. For example, if you were in the American South, you would hear distinct differences between a low-country drawl in Charleston, South Carolina, and the southern Cajun in New Orleans, Louisiana.
We will study a few dialects to help you with your American English pronunciation. Specifically, we will take a look at the Standard American English accent and two other common English accents—General Southern American English and General New York English. In doing this, you will see some of the most noticeable and common differences and similarities between them.
Key Similarities and Differences
- The Standard American and Southern American accents share the feature of neutralizing the /ɔ/ to [ɑ].
- The General New York accent retains the original /ɔ/.
- For example, in Standard American English and General Southern American English, we would pronounce “caught” and “cot” [kɑt] identically.
- In New York English, the words “cot” [kɑt] and “caught” [kɔt] have distinctly different vowel sounds.
The General Southern Accent
Here are some notable features of the General Southern American English dialect.
Some of the most notable features of the Southern U.S. Accent are the changes of the /aɪ/ & /ey/ vowels, such as in the words (or the letters) “I” and “A”.
- Let us look at the /aɪ/, which can experience monophthongization or lowering of the [aɪ] vowel, where the first-person singular pronoun “I” /aɪ/ sounds like [ɑ] or [ɑɛ] and “my” /mɑɪ/ sounds like [mɑ] or [mɑɛ] and “bike” /bike/ sounds like [bɑk] or [bɑɛk].
- Lowering of /ey/ to [ɛy] e.g the phrase: Don’t play games
- A diphthongization of /æ/ to [æə] e.g. Rats, cats, and bats.
The General New York Accent
Other than the /ɔ/ as in “caught, bought, talk, dog, daughter”, one of the other stark differentiations of the New York accent is the deletion of the /r/ at the end of syllables. For example, in the last word included in the previous list, “daughter” /ˈdɔ.t̬ɚ/ (compared to /ˈdɑː.t̬ɚ/ in Standard American English)
Here are a couple of sentences that include these features of the New York accent:
- Don’t talk to me like I’m a dog. I’m your mother.
talk [tɔk] dog [dɔg] [mʌðə]
compared to Standard American English [tɑk] [dɑg] [mʌðɚ]
- She works on the fourth floor.
works [wəks] fourth [fɔθ] floor [flɔ]
compared to Standard American English [wɝks] [fɔrθ] [flɔr]
Another clear pronunciation difference in New York English is the pronunciation of “a” before “r” in words like “carry” [kæri] & “marry” [mæri], as well as the names “Mary” [mæri] & “Mario” [maærio]. Let us compare this pronunciation to Standard American English.
In Standard American English, the word “carry” and the name “Kerry” sound identical. The same is true for “marry” and “merry”.
In New York English, however, these words are said differently.
- Carry [kæri] Kerry [kɛri]
- Marry [mæri] merry [mɛri]
If you are struggling with mastering accent-neutral speech and want to learn how you can sound like a native speaker, contact us at Speak More Clearly. We have helped over 40,000 students master American, British, and Australian English accents faster than you could imagine!
Our courses are created by expert speech therapist Esther Bruhl and all our teachers are speech therapists, linguists, and English teachers. The presenters in our video and audio lessons are native English speakers and will show how to move your mouth for each sound in English. Our training also covers lessons on timing and pausing, how to speak with confidence, and much more. There is no telling how far you will go once you neutralize your accent and begin to speak more clearly.