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What Does A Californian Accent Sound Like?

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The Californian accent is getting ready for its close-up.

Stanford linguistics researcher Penny Eckhert says linguistic research tends to focus on communities east of the Mississippi and she is hoping to spotlight some of the accents in the Golden State beyond the world-famous Valley Girl lilt or surfer lingo in the project The Voices of California:

People certainly have stereotypes about what Californian English sound like - think Valley Girls or Surfer dudes. But these are mostly about L.A., and only particular types of people in L.A. at that. What kind of variation is there in California itself? Do people from L.A. sound like people from Sacramento? Do people from Redding sound like people from San Francisco? These are the types of questions we are trying to answer with the Voices of California project.

Much more is known about dialects of the East coast and the South than about dialects of the Western U.S., since most dialect research so far was done in these regions.

Eckhert and her researchers have so far studied Redding and Merced. This month her group focused on Bakersfield residents, whose accents (we know from firsthand experience) wouldn't sound out of place in Muskogee thanks to the wave of Dust Bowl refugees that settled there decades ago.Many of the quirks of the way native Californians talk hail back to other parts of the country, particularly the South and Midwest, Eckhert
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told NBC. Some of us (especially if we grew up among Okie descendants) pronounce "pen" and "pin" the same way. Eckhert noticed one Palo Alto resident's vowels getting so long (like in the SNL skit?) that "blacks" ended up sounding like "blocks."

Eckhert says a lot attention has been paid to Los Angeles' accents already, but we're curious to see if she includes an East L.A. accent in her study. She says she wants to study as many parts of the state as she can.

Native Californians: do you have an accent? (Okay, that's a trick question: everyone does!)

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