Wednesday, November 22, 2006

American Accents Quiz

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

I was born in Kansas but have lived in California most of my life. I have no idea how they can figure out my accent from those questions they asked.

(HT: Born Again Redneck)


Adrian Hester said...

"I have no idea how they can figure out my accent from those questions they asked." Well, if you look at the questions, they mostly deal with how you pronounce your vowels, and particularly what distinctions you make. These distinctions are localized in different parts of the country, and the quiz tests for many of the major diagnostic vowel distinctions, as they're called.

Thus, in most of the country there's no difference between the three vowels in merry, marry, and Mary, nor between feel and fill, but in much of the northeast there are three distinct vowels in them, and other regions . (This is generally true of any vowels in most varieties of American English before r and l, or liquids. For linguists there's a distinction in English between what are called tense and lax vowels, which differ basically in how much tension you have in your tongue; tense vowels are generally the long vowels and the a in cat and are pronounced with the tongue further away from the center of the mouth than the corresponding lax vowels; compare the long a in wait and the short e in wet. However, tense vowels are replaced by their corresponding lax vowels before l and r; compare wail and well.)

Similarly, in England there's a solid distinction between the vowels in cot and caught, but in many parts of the US there's not. And the difference between short i and short e disappears before nasal consonants like m and n in much of the south. Also, in many parts of Canada and the United States, the ow sound in about is different (close to "uhhh" followed by a w sound) than in loud. (More generally, you get the first sound when the following consonant is unvoiced, pronounced without the vocal chords vibrating, and the second sound the rest of the time.)

As for the last question, about bag and vague, that tests for what's called the Northern Cities Shift, whose progress linguists have actually been able to follow since it started in the late 1960s. It started around Chicago and has spread to the major cities in the region south of the Great Lakes east to Buffalo (maybe further by now), and it's resulted in such pronounciations as salad for solid and sacks for socks.

There's a nice outline of American dialects here, and a fairly up-to-date map with descriptions is available here and with much more detail here. It's based on such things as a major telephone dialect survey, Telsur, being carried out at the University of Pennsylvania as part of the Phonological Atlas of North America, and the Dialect Survey; those links should give you all the details you could ask for.

Myrhaf said...

That was comprehensive, thanks.

Gus Van Horn said...

I took this Wednesday night before heading to Chicago, where we met my sister-in-law's boyfriend's parents, who were Jewish and from New York.

The quiz pegged me, somewhat to my surprise, as "Inland North". To the surprise of my new acquaintances, I hail from Mississippi.

"How come nobody here has a Southern accent?" was the immediate reply.

Partly, it's because, although the rest of my wife's family lived in New Orleans for a long time, her folks are from Long Island and she and her family lived all over the place as she grew up. For my part, I had schoolmates from other parts of the country when I was in high school, thought a Southern accent could be a handicap later on, and worked to eradicate mine, which probably was not thick to begin with. I have also now lived outside of Mississippi for over half of my life now.

But still. Northern Inland! Who'd'a thunk it?

Inspector said...

Gus and Myrhaf,

How did you answer to get the inland result? I always thought I had the inland ("no accent") accent, but it pegged me as greak lakes cities (being from the chicago suburbs, this is true, but I don't use any of the Northern Cities shift "a" sounds, so how did the quiz know where I am from?!?).

Inspector said...

Oh, and for anyone needing a concretization of the "northern cities 'a' sound," think Dan Akroyd in The Blues Brothers or anyone from the "Da Bears" sketch.

I don't talk like that.

Myrhaf said...

As I recall, most of their examples sounded the same to me. Cot and caught; marry, merry, Mary. I answered that feel and fill are different.

Inspector said...

Marry, merry, and Mary are the same to me. My "collar" and "caller" are the same.

My "cot" sounds like "not" or "shot," while my "caught" sounds like "ought" or "aught" (as in .30-06) or "thought."

My "Don" sounds like "on" or "Khan," while my "dawn" sounds like "pawn" or "prawn."

My "stock" sounds like "knock" or "Spock," while my "stalk" sounds like "walk," "talk," or "caulk."

My "Horrible" sounds like "whore."

My "pen" and "pin" are very distinctly different. The "pen" sounds like "lend" or "send," while "pin" sounds like "in," "spin," or "sin."

My "Feel" sounds like "reel" or "real," while my "fill" sounds like "spill." Again, very different.

My "About" sounds like "loud;" I don't have the Canadian "oot" thing going on.

And my "bag" sounds like "hag" or "sag," and not like my "vague" which sounds like "The Hague" or "plague."

What I don't get is how I registered as "Inland north" instead of the "midland" (no accent)

Inspector said...

After some research, I think the reason I register as northern cities is because my "pen" and "pin" are distinctly different whereas, to my surprise, the standard English has them really quite similar in pronounciation.