Generational Accents: An Underappreciated Phenomenon
|awesome dialect map (source)|
Of course, our perceptions of these places' accents do have a basis in reality. However, I think that geography and place, while still important, are becoming less relevant to the way Americans speak. I believe another type of distinction deserves a greater amount of attention - generational accents.
Studies show that before the age of twenty, a person's accent is relatively fluid and can be substantially molded or remolded by changing influences. Clearly, parents, family, and people one is closest to are almost always going to be the biggest influences: I know my speech greatly reflects that of my parents, including many identifiable quirks. Because our speech becomes "set in its ways" after young adulthood, though, whatever other influences there are on a person's accent can noticeably set them apart from their family. (After all, the "Valley Girl" phenomenon I linked to in my first paragraph is definitely generational.)
|a still of McNamara from KGO News|
Much more change goes on among those whose voices are not marketed for wide appeal: The development of slang goes on at a rapid pace - perhaps at an accelerating pace - and although we may believe we avoid slang in public or formal settings, it still very much affects how we talk, how we write, and even how we think. Many words that seem normal to a 30-year old American are laughable and strange to a teenager, and of course the reverse is true too. I already feel a little separated from tweens and young teenagers: Our childhood linguistic influences were simply not the same.
Now, my point in this post is not that accents in the United States are becoming more homogenized, although that is probably true. Rather, my point is that even in the age of more-massive-than-ever mass media and (potentially) mass linguistic convergence and standardization, there will still always be accents. Think about how comedians imitate how the elderly talk. In fifty years, people will be doing the same for the way we Generation Y people speak today!