Perceptions of correct speech

Professor Ian Clayton, adjunct professor in the English department, was once talking to a woman on the phone who had a noticeable accent. Out of curiosity, he asked where she was from. “Virginia,” she said. “You can probably tell by the way I talk, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.” Clayton thought to himself, “Why is it bad to sound like you’re from Virginia?”

The United States is the third largest country in the world, covering a total of 3.8 million square miles. Within those miles reside nearly 300 million people, who speak a range of different dialects. The regions of the United States are not quite clear and may be defined differently depending on who you ask.

“I guess it depends on where you’re from,” said Bernard Garrard, a native Idahoan. “I have no idea what’s going on with the East Coast.”

According to Clayton, many people divide the different regions of the United States depending upon which dialect, or accent, of English is spoken there.

“In some cases, people may have an idea of what the region is that doesn’t necessarily correspond with the reality of the geography,” Clayton said.

People tend to attach certain stereotypes to specific speech patterns that are associated with these different areas. Clayton explained how some speech patterns have negative connotations.

“People often encounter negative reactions when they display a Southern type of dialect,” Clayton said.

Clayton attributed the display of these types of accents in our media as part of the reason why these negative stigmas exist. He noted the film “Cars” and the character Mater, who speaks with a Southern accent.

“The dialect is performed for us with the express idea of allowing instant characterization,” Clayton said. “As soon as Mater opens his mouth we know something about him, because of the way he talks.”

A comparable stereotype perpetuated in the media is the association of a New Jersey accent with being a gangster or mobster.

Susan Hill, a Boise State alumni, used to work with a woman from the East Coast who had a thick Eastern accent.

“I just associated her with being someone who’s from a different part of the U.S.,” Hill said. “I hear people on the East Coast are worldly, so I associated that with her.”

However, Clayton explained  how not all regions are divided solely upon the accent that is spoken there, but also by the history that surrounds each area.

“The South, for instance, is probably the one that is most clearly defined in our minds for historical reasons, obviously with connections to the Civil War and slavery,” Clayton said.

Clayton described the majority dialect spoken here in Idaho as being referred to as general English, though, he noted, “every dialect has some sort of non-standard way of saying a word.”

As part of this story we asked several students create color-coded maps using different colors to outline the different regions. Some samples samples are shown below. This maps were chosen because they the diversity of the responses we received.

Key:

Northwest                 Midwest             West Coast              South West             East Coast              South                   North East

 

map1 map2 map3

About the author  ⁄ keelymills

Keely Mills is a senior communication major with a media production emphasis at Boise State. When Mills isn't writing or reading, she plays musical instruments such as the drums, guitar, piano, and accordion. Mills is always ready for travel and for learning new things. Follow her on twitter, @PelozaJ and check out her photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/104422559@N08/