Accent Bias: Do You Have It? By the Speech Doc / Bonnie Engel Lee, Ph.D. Speech/Language Pathologist

If you’ve seen the movie, My Fair Lady, which I had a chance to see again after many years, then you have some notion of the concept of changing an accent.
Henry Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, is a linguist who places a bet with wealthy gentlemen that he can pass off Eliza Do-little (Audrey Hepburn) as a member of the upper class. When Eliza is introduced to high society at a party, a self proclaimed language expert calls her a fraud and claims that she is probably a foreigner. His reason in saying that she is probably “not” English is that she speaks English “too well” to be from England.

An internet search of several sites about American regional dialects illustrates a lack of agreement about the number of different American dialects. On the most basic level, there are at least three regions: northern, Midwestern and southern with many researchers subdividing regions even further. What emerges from some of the discussion is a common bias that speakers from other regions “speak with an accent” and that speakers from one’s own region are “accent free”.

Here’s an example of this bias from a speaker who developed a test to determine if you have an accent.
The author, Joe Hicks, comments that he is from Arkansas. Here is a direct quote from his test.
“Most people say I talk "country" when I don't think I talk any different at all. I guess when you live somewhere for a long time you don't realize how you talk. But I lived in New York for a little while and I noticed that they have an accent. They say the letter “I” like EYE. Well that’s about it. Take the quiz and see what you get.”
Link to the test:
After answering a series of questions about how you pronounce certain words, test takers receive a summary of the extent to which the test taker’s speech pattern is characteristic of southern dialect.

If your speech pattern or accent isn’t typical of southern dialect, you receive the following feedback.

“Ouch! You talk funny. I bet you get made fun of because of how you talk. I kinda feel sorry for you. Maybe you should move to the south where we don’t have accents.”

People from each region view others from different areas as having a dialect and that their speech is dialect free. By the way, if you speak with a southern dialect and want to do some “accent reduction”, you might want to check out my blog post, “Want to Lose or Gain a Southern Accent? ”

In this blog, I’d like to focus on New Yawkuhz (New Yorkers) since I live near and was born close to The Big Apple.

To determine if you sound like a New Yorker, there’s a go to quiz designed just for you. It was written by a person identified as Dylan who also displays accent bias. Here’s what Dylan had to say about NY accents.

“Do you have a New York accent? Do you think you do? I’m sure you wish you do. Don’t lie. You know New Yorkers are super cool. Now, it’s ok if you’re not… we won’t make fun of you. NY Rocks!”

Here’s a link to the NY test:

After you take the test, if your accent is not characteristic of New York, you’ll receive the following comment from Dylan.

“Well, keep on working on it….you know you want to. (I LOVE NY).”

So, what can you do if you do sound like you’re from New York and you want to “neutralize” your accent?

Here are some practice materials to reduce or eliminate signs of your “New York” accent.

Pattern: Omission of the initial “h” sound
Word: human (“h-you-min”)
New Yorker “you-min”

Word : huge (“h-you-juh”)
New Yorker: “you-juh”

Word: humongous (“h-you-mong-us”)
New Yorker: “you-mong-us”

Pattern: Use of the unstressed “er”
Word: idea
New Yorker: “eye-dee-er”

Name: Amanda (“uh-man-duh”)
New Yorker: “uh-man-der”

Pattern: Substitution of “t” for the voiceless “th”
Word: third (“th-erd”)
New Yorker: “t-erd”

Word: three (“th-ree”)
New Yorker: “tree”

Pattern: Substitution of “d” for the voiced “th”
Word: that (“that”)
New Yorker: “dat”

Word: this (“this”)
New Yorker: “dis”

Word: those (“those”)
New Yorker: “dose”

Here are some similar words to practice: the, these, though, them, then, their, there, they’ll, etc.

There are other dialectal features but these are the most prominent ones.

I hope you’ve found a little humor in poking fun of different accents and gained some insight into some of the dialectal differences associated with the various regional American dialects.

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