Native American English accent

AAllan at AOL.COM AAllan at AOL.COM
Tue Oct 3 18:38:19 UTC 2000

<< > This is a very interesting question addressed at length in this book:


> William L. Leap, American Indian English. U of Utah Press, 1993.


>>As I live in the boondocks (quite literally: in the French Alps) and a

million miles from the nearest research library I would very much appreciate

a summary in a sentence or two or three. <<

OK, here goes. Here is a small excerpt from a book called _How We Talk_, on
the subject of American regional and ethnic dialects, to be published
(Houghton Mifflin) next month, author (ahem) Allan Metcalf:

>>>. . . a proper discussion of American Indian English would have to go
community by community, treating each separately and with attention to the
native language spoken by the Indians and the variety of American English
spoken by others in the area. Surprisingly, however, there do seem to be a
number of tendencies that distinguish American Indian from other varieties of
   One is a tendency to use present tense where others would use past. This
happens especially when referring to something habitual, as African American
English does with _be_. Researchers Walt Wolfram, Donna Christian, William
Leap, and Lance Potter noted these examples in two Puebloan communities in
the Southwest:

        They all speak in Indian when we first started school.
        Kids now go bowling, but we don’t have that during our time.
        Well, now they are, but before they aren’t.
        We were very poor when we were young. When they give us a nickel that
means a lot, and nowadays the kids don’t want a nickel.

   Similar use of the present tense has been noted in American Indian English
in other parts of the country as well, and as far back as several centuries
ago. It may have arisen in the first contacts between speakers of English and
speakers of various Indian languages, when there is a tendency to simplify as
each tries to learn the other’s language.
   Another characteristic of some varieties of American Indian English is a
slower pace. Speakers may talk slowly and pause to allow themselves or their
listeners to consider what they are saying. One Southwestern Indian said his
most difficult adjustment to an off-reservation college was to learn to "talk
without thinking."
   The manner of speaking in some American Indian languages is also different
from what is typical for English. Such languages incline to brevity of
expression, inviting listeners to join in rather than remain silent, and they
often use figurative language. These characteristics then often are adopted
into American Indian English. One example used to illustrate this was written
by a Northern Ute fourth grader:
        Autumn is like a million of colors
        floating in the air
   But such characterizations can easily become overgeneralizations; that
haiku-like description could well have come from many other ethnic groups. .
. .<<<

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