American English shift: northern vowels on the move

Aug 22, 2012

US President John F. Kennedy (C) wipes his forehea

US President John F. Kennedy (C) wipes his forehead as he delivers the State of the Union address before Congress in Washington, DC, in January 1963, as Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (C, back) looks on. Credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Since the dawn of television, conventional wisdom has held that American regional accents and dialects are on the wane. The prevailing belief has been that mass media communication has homogenized the regionally-specific diversity of our American English. But a new essay by Rob Misfud says our linguistic diversity is growing, specifically in something called the North Cities Shift. It’s a vowel-manipulation you hear sometimes from people native to Chicago, the characters in the movie Fargo, and even Sarah Palin.


Are we all going to sound like Michelle Bachman in the future? Do people who speak in this manner have any awareness of their accent? What’s in an accent, anyway?


Rob Misfud, columnist at Slate and author of the essay on the NCS

Aaron Dinkin, assistant professor of sociolinguistics at Swarthmore College

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