California’s regional slang is hella easy to pick up once you know what to listen for, just like if someone taaalks liiike thiiis? Reaaally sloooooowly? You might guess they’re from SoCal.
But there are subtle California accents within our rich diverse state that haven’t been studied or documented. Until now.
With the “Voices of California” project, Stanford linguistics professor Penelope Eckert and her team of recorder-wielding grad students are investigating how English is spoken in different parts of the state:
“It’s really important to portray California as it is. People have this view of California based on Hollywood, and California really is a very diverse state.”
This multi-year research project involves hundreds of interviews with California residents who are asked to have free-flowing conversations, as well as speak certain words like “wash” (some say “warsh“), “greasy” (versus “greezy“) and “pin and pen,” as some pronounce it the same.
So far the team has travelled to Merced, Redding and Bakersfield to study differences in slang, pronunciation and ways of wording sentences.
Eckert’s team have discovered a couple factors that affect how a person speaks. She says the first are from migration patterns during the Great Depression or Dust Bowl that have caused some in the Central Valley to speak using Southern drawls and syntax:
“If you look at Redding, the importance of the Dust Bowl migration is huge. A lot of the Okies landed up in that area, so there’s a huge influence of Southern dialects.”
The second is a person’s political attitude towards their surroundings. Young people from an economically depressed community may choose to “Eliza Doolittle” themselves to speak differently, for example.
The team have begun presenting their findings; however, Eckert said they still have a long way to go in documenting all of California’s voices:
“I see this going on for a very long time. There are areas of California that we really haven’t explored. Everywhere we go gets us interested in somewhere else.”