50 People Show Us Their States’ Accents.

This short video from Condé Nast Traveler is not in any sense scientific, but it’s a lot of fun. The speakers are an engaging bunch, and instead of proceeding grimly through the states one by one, if a speaker from Oklahoma says that people in the northern part of the state sound like Iowans, it will switch to an Iowan talking about her state. You may not learn anything, but I think you’ll enjoy it. (Thanks, Ariel!)


  1. Stu Clayton says

    Pittsburgh you guys is “yinz” ?? Is that related to “you-‘uns” maybe ?

  2. Yup, just a further trip through the compactor!

  3. Stu Clayton says

    And “you-uns” (why did I think I had to add an apostrophe before “uns” ?) is “you ones”, and so “we-uns” and “they-uns” ? I haven’t heard those forever and ever, only “yinz” reminded me. What are the roots of that construction with “ones” ? I can imagine “ones” as a plural signifier in the 2p, but how come in 1p and 3p as well ?

    Wait – it’s not “ones”, but the residue of an old “-en” or “-ens” plural form. Maybe.

    And I think I’ve seen it in 19C British novel-dialect too.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    “Ones” doch, in the sense of “kin”. “We-uns” = “me and my folks”.

    I found only amateurish tail-between-the-legs guessin’ ’round about this matter in the ‘net.

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    This is most obvious Scots example:
    I think you may find others in Dickens.

  6. John Cowan says

    A college suite-mate from Pittsburgh said we-uns, yins, them-uns, but the second was the most consistent (not surprising, since it fills the 2pl gap).

  7. Wiki explanation:
    Yinz is a second-person plural pronoun used mainly in Western Pennsylvania English, most prominently in Pittsburgh, but it is also found throughout the cultural region known as Appalachia, located within the geographical region of the Appalachians.
    Yinz is the most recent derivation from the original Scots-Irish form you ones or “yous ones”, a form of the second person plural commonly heard in parts of Ulster. When standard-English speakers talk in the first person or third person, they use different pronouns to distinguish between singular and plural. In the first person, for example, speakers use the singular I and the plural we. But when speaking in the second person, you performs double duty as both the singular form and the plural form. Crozier (1984) suggests that during the 19th century, when many Irish speakers switched to speaking English, they filled this gap with you ones, primarily because Irish has a singular second-person pronoun, tú, as well as a plural form, sibh. The following, therefore, is the most likely path from you ones to yinz: you ones [juː wʌnz] > you’uns [juːʌnz] > youns [juːnz] > yunz [jʌnz] > yinz [jɪ̈nz]. Because there are still speakers who use each form,[2] there is no stable second-person plural pronoun form in southwest or central Pennsylvania, which is why the pronoun is variably referred to or spelled as you’uns, y’ins, y’uns, yunz, yuns, yinz, yenz, yins or ynz.

    In other parts of the U.S., Irish or Scots-Irish speakers encountered the same gap in the second-person plural. For this reason, these speakers are also responsible for coining the yunz used in and around Middletown, Pennsylvania, as well as the youse found mainly in New York City, the Philadelphia dialect and New Jersey, and the ubiquitous y’all of the South.

  8. One of the comments under the video expresses perfectly how I felt —

    “When the Massachusetts girl said “hsidhfbisjdvfhsjsbisjhfbrujahfhfjd quateah foah some chowdah” I felt that”

  9. Stephen Carlson says

    John Kasich is a yinzer from Ohio near the boarder.

  10. I’ve heard so many different, very distinctive ways of pronouncing English identified as ‘New York’. Perhaps it’s the state vs the city or black vs white, but the guy in the video doesn’t sound anything like Woody Allen and neither sounds to me much like say Eddie Murphy or Trump. Whereas London, you’re either Cockney or roughly RP or somewhere in the middle (Essex).

    I don’t know about nowadays but ‘yins’ or youse (sing.) was pretty often heard in London when I was young. I think of it as Irish and sometimes via Liverpool.

    Btw, the following youtube video, One Woman, 17 British Accents is hopeless. Don’t watch. She can’t even do Cockney.

  11. David Marjanović says

    “When the Massachusetts girl said “hsidhfbisjdvfhsjsbisjhfbrujahfhfjd quateah foah some chowdah” I felt that”

    Seconded. There’s only so many vowels you can merge before I check out.

  12. AJP: The New York speaker is recognizably from the city. As with most US dialect areas, there is a stark difference between the stereotypical “local” pronunciation and the black one, but there is a distinct black NYC pronunciation; you can hear it in how he says “often.” Eddie Murphy doesn’t particularly represent this accent, but Tracy Morgan does, if you’re curious.

  13. Stan Carey on Ye, youse and yiz in Irish English speech. Comments touch on the spread to Australian and American.

    A lot of those speakers should have been identified by cities rather than states. The Wisconsin guy has the Northern Cities Shift (“I’m from WisCANsin. Go Pyack go”). Well done, Pennsylvania, for distinguishing Philly from Pittsburgh.

  14. John Cowan says

    It’s not that Eastern Massachusettensians have so many mergers, it’s just that they are unusual ones for AmE. There is no PALM=LOT, but there is LOT=THOUGHT as well as the non-rhotic mergers untypical of AmE. Also BATH=PALM is [a] rather than [ɑ].

  15. North Dakota (at least for eastern ND) is spot on. I’m disappointed in the Minnesota one. If I were given the chance, this is what I’d say:

    Oh for crying in the beer, you haven’t boughten any eggs? Go to the store! Do ya need me to come with?

    We check all the goodly upper Midwest accent boxes:
    – Monothong o
    – “Oh for” construction
    – -en past participle
    – egg like eeygg
    – North Midwest “ya”
    – “come with” construction

  16. Thanks, Ben. Yes, he says awfen. I am curious. Eddie Murphy exaggerates and modifies his black accent according to who he’s playing, there’s one here around 7:45 (although you need to hear it from a bit earlier to understand what he’s talking about). Tracy Morgan has a very distinctive & consistant black-sounding accent, I guess (I don’t know him so well). Seinfeld or Larry David both have a NY Jewish accent – what I’m getting at is London (which must have even more different ethnic populations than NY) doesn’t really do that. Indian children will imitate their parents’ accents if they feel like it and I suppose a Londoner with an African-Caribbean background might put on a Jamaican accent for a laugh, and there’s also an old-time Jewish Cockney, but most of the time London accents don’t vary by ethnicity.

  17. I don’t know much about American accents and you’re right, I didn’t learn much.

    Just as people mix up ‘grammar’, ‘punctuation’, ‘spelling’ and ‘word use’ (all called ‘grammar’), people in the video mix up ‘accent’ and ‘local usage’ (or ‘dialect’).

    Where can you find something that actually delivers the goods on variant pronunciations or accents? I had a discussion with someone recently in which I took the stance that many online dictionaries which include ‘British’ (=RP) and ‘American’ (=GA) pronunciation samples for each entry can be sloppy in their choice of speaker for the American side. Sorry, no examples, but my growing suspicion is that the developers of such dictionaries are bowing to pressure to produce two pronunciations for the language-learning industry and aren’t too particular about who they choose. They just need someone to tick the boxes and, ultimately, help them make money. Just a suspicion but the Internet is a great leveller — in many different ways.

  18. most of the time London accents don’t vary by ethnicity.

    Yes, that’s a really striking difference between the US and UK. There’s no British “black accent” comparable to African-American English (though there is of course a Caribbean accent).

  19. John Cowan says

    Same story in Oz, of course.

  20. Is there a Canadian “black accent”? How about other colonial languages: French, Spanish or Portuguese, for example? Perhaps it’s a distinctive US trope.

  21. Same story in Oz, of course.

    I remember a long bus ride in Sydney when I was forced to listen to loud conversation between group of Australian teenagers who sat a few seats behind me. They spoke with very typical broad Australian accent.

    When they were getting out of the bus, I saw that they were all Asian looking teens, Vietnamese, I assume.

    I had to listen to their chat for over an hour and they sounded just like typical white Australian kids. Never got a hint that they weren’t.

  22. Perhaps it’s a distinctive US trope.

    Yes, it’s a reflection of our appalling history of segregation.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Compare Baghdad, where Muslims, Christians and Jews used to speak three clearly distinct dialects of Arabic.

  24. If kids from different racial or ethnic background go to same kindergartens, schools and colleges, they would tend to speak with same accent, wouldn’t they?

    At least that’s how it works elsewhere in the world.

  25. David Marjanović says

    They would. But when segregation was abolished, the white people fled the inner cities and founded the suburbs. And now inner city and urban are racist dogwhistles in many contexts.

    On top of that, dialect and accent have become markers of cultural identity.

  26. Stu Clayton says

    As if that were something new ! I guess you mean markers of cultural identity proudly displayed by their bearers, rather than markers deprecatingly or admiringly identified by others.

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    I think what DM might mean is that even those who are exposed on a daily basis (and would gravitate towards, for aspirational or sympathetic reasons) a “standard regional” accent are seen to use an ethnic sociolect instead, for self-protection or defiance. The case of young males of “turkish” background in Germany seems to me to be intermediate between the European and US situation in this regard.

  28. The woman from Massachusetts completely butchers her example. She’s really copying outsiders trying to do a Boston accent. The woman from Rhode Island sounded much more authentic when she was describing how she talked as a child.

    This is an odd video – other than the Southerners it seems to be mostly educated urban people (with fairly uniform accents across the country) trying to describe the rural/working class “white” accents in their states, and mostly able to do so only in broad terms bordering on parody. I feel like people in other countries are more sensitive to and accurate about local accents – it would be interesting to see a similar video in the UK.

  29. Anyone know whether there are distinct accents in English along racial lines in southern Africa (SA & Zim)? I sort of think there are, but they’re possibly being used by people speaking English as L2.

  30. Yes, there are. Maybe not as defined as they once were, but they still exist, as they will for people for whom English is a second language. As for London accents, to the keen ear there is a distinct difference between north and south London and what’s called Estuary English. In England at least, accents on one side of town are often different from accents on the other side. This guy doesn’t do a bad job of doing some – not all – British accents – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8mzWkuOxz8 but generally most people don’t do accents particularly well. The girl doing 17 different accents seems to have an underlying southern hemisphere accent, difficult to detect unless you know the accent. She doesn’t do accents particularly well imho. I couldn’t see much difference between the US accents in the clip in the OP, but maybe they were too short for my non-US ear to pick up.

  31. More on South African: there are differences in accents since most people speaking English as a foreign language will retain some of the pronunication and intonation of their native tongue. This means that eg Zulu speakers and Venda speakers will have slightly different accents, depending on both their native tongue and whether they have had more exposure to English or Afrikaans, which were for a long time the only official languages. In addition to that, Afrikaans speakers speak English with an Afrikaans accent. And in addition to all that, there are slight differences in the English spoken by native English speakers in different regions of South Africa. These accents may not be obvious to an outsider, but they are there nonetheless.

  32. Thanks, Crystal! I like to think I can tell the difference between a north & south London accent, though I’m not sure I could pass a blind test. Sarf is Michael Caine and nawf is Bob ‘oskins.

  33. John Cowan says

    educated urban people (with fairly uniform accents across the country) trying to describe the rural/working class “white” accents in their states

    My wife’s three cousins all lived their whole lives in North Carolina, as she has not. Two of them were biaccentual: they could switch between full North Carolina and a modified accent according to the context; the third always remained entirely in the local accent. There was no class distinction between them, just a matter of needing to be understood by outsiders or not, apparently. Gale herself varies smoothly between full-on North Carolina and the watered-down version she uses in New York, depending on where she is and who she’s talking to.

    But you’d never mistake any of the four for a national broadcaster, unless you count Jim Lehrer (who speaks lightly modified Texan) in that category, formerly the co-anchor on the PBS nightly news program. Listening to his accent beat (in the musical sense) against the other anchor, Robert McNeil (who speaks lightly modified Canadian) was for me one of the special pleasures of the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour (1975-95). Not that listening to Judy Woodruff (white army brat, wildly mixed accent) and Gwen Ifill (African American from Jamaica, Queens, NYC) wasanything to sneeze at either.

  34. This is a fun video but that’s as far as it goes. In many instances (like Massachusetts) the speaker is just doing a poor imitation of the stock phrase that’s supposed to illustrate the Boston accent. The one from Vermont does that as well, and doesn’t even get the true Vermont accent right. (I’m a transplant to Vermont; the real accent is quite distinctive and can still be found among older rural dwellers.)

    And then of course, accents don’t particularly respect state lines. Some spread over several states, while in other instances there are multiple accents within one state. In Massachusetts, for example, there are distinct North Shore, South Shore, and Boston Brahmin/Beacon Hill accents.

Speak Your Mind