FW: Nebraskans/Standard English

Michael Newman mnewman at QC.EDU
Fri Jan 18 22:56:31 UTC 2002

>Re what Michael Newman has said, copied below --
>The issue is not what is "best".  There is no "best".  And clearly, everyone
>has the signs of their particular origin, upbringing, or education in their

Obviously, but in folk linguistics this is how it is expressed. You
can't separate a supposedly neutral one from people's positive
evaluation of such perception. People notice European-American NY or
Boston (less Philly) and southern, but not as frequently Northern
cities. They believe that Midwesterners speak similarly despite the
fact that several dialect regions cross that area. All of which is to
say that in the area of dialect perceptions, Americans do not map
features to dialects with any consistency. So the question, is not
really doesn't workable. Think of your question:

"is there a dialect of American English that can be characterized as
having the least amount of regional marking."

Once you've established a dialect, you've established a social group
that speaks that way. Dialect is language variation by social group,
by definition.  So the only way the question makes sense is to say is
there a dialect that people don't notice much. And the answer is that
there are many because Americans aren't generally very good at
noticing dialects. As Labov pointed out, how else is that Hollywood
can get away with having a supposed NY cop on NYPD Blue speak with a
strong Chicago accent?

Ironically, there may be a dialect that really covers broad swaths of
the US without great geographic varation: AAVE, according to Labov,
although it seems clear that AAVE speakers in NY vary considerably
from those in Chicago, for instance, phonologically.

>The issue is what seems marked in a general sense, what can be assigned to a
>particular region, urban area, or whatever.  Clearly, this is subject to
>debate, and variations in the evidence, not to mention variations over time.
>What my point is, as to markedness: is there a US dialect has a minimal
>amount of clear regional "signs" that mark its origin, such that it can be
>clearly assigned to one particular region or regions?  Speakers from many
>parts of the South, or many natives of Brooklyn, Boston, or Philadelphia,
>for example, can often be "spotted" because of certain characteristics of
>their speech.
>But, such that a speaker of this
>variety would be difficult to place as to origin?
>Frank Abate
>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
>Of Michael Newman
>Sent: Friday, January 18, 2002 4:43 PM
>Subject: Re: Nebraskans/Standard English
>As a NYer who's spent time in many parts of the midwest, I have to
>say, I've heard the notion that the "best" speech is found in any
>number of cities of that region that, of course, speak quite
>differently. A related idea is that people from this or that city
>"have no accent." Besides Columbus, they include Cleveland, Detroit,
>and Kansas, so it's hardly a surprise to add Nebraska, and why not
>South Dakota too.  I've heard this urban legend backed up with ideas
>that 'communication experts' use these areas for some purpose or
>another involving language, or some variation on that theme. Now,
>anyone who's been to Columbus can tell you that there are various
>Columbus accents, and of course Clevland and Detroit are northern
>cities with short vowels that would provoke any prescriptivist to
>apoplexy if they actually noticed them, which of course they usually
>All of which is to say that actual linguistic features do not have
>much to do the origin of these ideas or supporting them. Even often
>condemned pronunciations such as r-lessness  can be "better" in the
>voice of someone like former NJ governer Tom Kean, whose r-less
>speech has been labeled "aristocratic."
>Michael Newman
>Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics
>Dept. of Linguistics and Communication Disorders
>Queens College/CUNY
>Flushing, NY 11367

Michael Newman
Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics
Dept. of Linguistics and Communication Disorders
Queens College/CUNY
Flushing, NY 11367

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