The Mechanics of a ‘California Accent’

Longreads

Regional dialects in English are largely informed by the particular way people in different geographic areas make their vowel sounds. Consonants can inform the sounds of vowels, but are largely static; going from an “F” sound to a “T” sound is a huge leap, whereas vowels are a little bit fluid, bleeding into each other. The entire game is to make sure you have enough difference between vowel sounds so that words can be distinguished from one another. But the specific sounds you make? Not so important, as long as they get the idea across of what word you’re trying to say.

A key change in the California Shift is what’s called the cot/caught merger. Northeasterners and Midwesterners pronounce those words differently, giving the former an “ah” sound and the latter an “aw” sound. “Californians do not,” says Eckert, who is originally from New York. “They have no idea. That…

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