CNN Audio

12 PM ET: Statewide abortion moves, surprise hearing motive, Nazi sentenced & more
5 Things
Listen to
CNN 5 Things
Tue, Jun 28
New Episodes
How To Listen
On your computer On your mobile device Smart speakers
Explore CNN
US World Politics Business
podcast

Margins of Error

Look closely at almost anything and you’ll find data—lots of it. But when you push past the calculations, what are all those numbers really saying about who we are and what we believe? CNN’s Harry Enten is on a mission to find out. This season on Margins of Error, Harry teases out big ideas like what accents say about where we live, how much money it takes to be happy, and whether the U.S. should finally switch to the metric system.

Harry Enten contemplates ideas

Back to episodes list

Do I Sound Funny to You?
Margins of Error
May 3, 2022

No one thinks they have an accent … but it turns out we all do. However, is it possible our distinct ways of speaking across the U.S. are disappearing? If so, what else is getting lost along the way?  Harry Enten goes on a journey to find out if conformity is affecting how we converse. Plus, get ready to hear Harry with an entirely new accent!

If you enjoy Margins of Error, CNN would love to hear from you.  Please visit: cnn.com/margins to take a brief survey.

Episode Transcript
Harry Enten
00:00:01
Hi again, it's Harry. Welcome to season two of Margins of Error, the podcast where I look for the personal stories behind the stats. Now you haven't heard my voice in a while, so it's the perfect time for me to ask you a question. Do I have an accent? You see, I hear myself talk and I don't think I have an accent. I'm told, though, that sometimes I sound like I've come straight out of a time machine. That does make some sense to me. You see, I sound just like my father, who was born in New York City in 1927.
Harry Enten
00:00:39
Give me your thoughts on Justin Bieber.
Harry's dad
00:00:42
Justin Beaver? Who is Justin Beaver?
Harry Enten
00:00:51
My father means a lot to me. And although he has gone to the other side of the rainbow, I'd like to think that part of him lives on through me. Indeed, my father and I share the New York accent. We don't sound like the people you hear on most national commercials, on TV or in the movies. These commercials can make you think that all Americans sound alike. There's even a phrase for this quote unquote, "general American." It's a bland accent that doesn't seem to be tied to any place in particular. This got me thinking are regional accents such as mine disappearing? There's surprisingly little information on this. One piece of data suggests that we are losing our regional differences. Researchers at UT-Austin have been tracking the decline of the traditional Texas accent in the 1980s. 80% of Texans they interviewed had that accent. As of 2013, only a third of them do. But this is just one piece of data. So I decided to investigate. And what I found on my journey is far more complicated than I thought it would be. Because just like me, some of you listeners don't admit to having an accent.
Listener 1
00:02:13
Hey, Harry, people have told me for the longest time that I have an accent. I don't agree with them. You see, I tell them that there's 20 million New Yorkers and you're out here in California or Washington. I think you have the accent.
Listener 2
00:02:28
I was told that I have a Californian accent. I did not know California had an accent. But I guess maybe once in a while I can get into the "Oh, my God, like, totally," valley girl, but not in everyday speaking.
Listener 3
00:02:42
People I grew up with would probably say that I don't have a Southern accent. And part of that is because I made a pretty conscious effort when I was coming out of college to kind of lose my Southern accent.
Listener 4
00:02:55
Hey, Harry, my name is Mansoor and I'm a naturalized American and I went to college in Iowa. And that has created a accent that's entirely American, but entirely neutral.
Harry Enten
00:03:09
Entirely neutral, huh? We'll see about that. So today we'll figure out what's happening to regional accents in the United States. As social media connects us all is a little part of what makes the different parts of America unique, dying along with it. And if so, what else is getting lost along the way? But before we talk about where accents are going, let's talk about where they've been. Our journey starts with one of my favorite little gadgets on the Internet. The famous New York Times dialect quiz. It's 25 questions long, and it asks what word or words you use to describe different places, things or scenarios. Then using that data, it predicts where in the United States you're from. Now, the New York Times quiz uses your answers to pinpoint both your dialect and your accent. We often use those words interchangeably, but if you ask a dialect coach, they mean different things. An accent refers to the way a word sounds across a country. I say New Yawk. Well, you might say New York. A dialect, on the other hand, refers to the grammar and specific words we use. I wanted to compare my answers with someone from a different state to see if we really are starting to talk the same.
Mia Jackson
00:04:43
Oh, well, hello. Hello. Thank you for having me. I'm sure the twang is probably already very apparent.
Harry Enten
00:04:50
This is Mia Jackson.
Mia Jackson
00:04:52
So I'm a comedian. I am born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, so not even Atlanta and been in New York probably since 2019.
Harry Enten
00:05:05
All right. So question number one is, how would you address a group of two or more people? Would you address them as you all, youse, you lot, you guys, you uns, yinz, you, other or y'all?
Mia Jackson
00:05:23
Y'all coming in hot with the y'all.
Harry Enten
00:05:26
So mia is going with y'all and I will tell you that that is in fact the answer that I gave. I also gave y'all.
Mia Jackson
00:05:34
Okay. I.
Harry Enten
00:05:35
Also gave y'all, which is unusual for a New Yorker, but is very prominent and very popular in the South. A lot of our answers overlapped. It turns out that we both pronounce caramel the same way. That's caramel, not carmel. And we both call those barriers that divide two-way street's medians. But on other things we were in a completely different worlds. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining? Is it a sun shower? The wolf's giving birth -- Mia is putting her hands over her mouth, as if the answer may be embarrassing. The wolf is giving birth. The devil is beating his wife. A monkey's wedding. A fox's wedding. Pineapple rain. Liquid sun. I have no term or expression for this or other.
Mia Jackson
00:06:33
The devil is being in his wife. That's the one. My grandparents would say it when I was a kid. It used to scare me and I'd be like, "Oh gosh, the devil is. That's a horrible thing to call a " -- but that's what we called it.
Harry Enten
00:06:47
That is what you call that. Not surprisingly, folks, I called it a sun shower. A sun shower.
Mia Jackson
00:06:53
That would have been less scary to a child.
Harry Enten
00:06:55
It would have been less scary. It also seems to describe what's going on.
Mia Jackson
00:06:59
But that's what that's what they call it. Very. Yeah, yeah. That's the southern term.
Harry Enten
00:07:04
And when we submitted her answers. Sure enough. Oh, my God. Check this out. Tell me if this is right. It says that essentially the three most similar cities are Atlanta, Georgia, Columbus, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama.
Mia Jackson
00:07:24
Oh, they got me because I'm from Columbus, Georgia. So, yeah, Columbus then Atlanta is where I spent the bulk of my life. So yeah.
Harry Enten
00:07:31
I'll just note quickly in terms of my own results, it knew that I was from the Yonkers. I think it was Yonkers, Jersey City, New York City area right in that line. It turns out that while we may be co-opting words from each other, whether through TV or social media and are moving around more than ever, the way we speak is still pretty distinct. So Mia and I might use a lot of the same words, but we still pronounce them differently. We have different accents. Everyone does. Still, it's hard to put a number on how many accents there are in the United States.
Nicole Holliday
00:08:12
There are some number between like three and 25, depending on what size you're going to.
Harry Enten
00:08:19
So you got that between three and 25. That's a huge range. As a stats guy, I believe the technical term for this is. That's freaking nuts, folks. By the way, that's Nicole Holliday. She's an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Nicole says it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how many accents there are because language is squishier than you might think. Experts simply can't agree on where to draw the line sometimes. But a lot of linguists defer to William Labov from UPenn. He's one of the most renowned social linguists of the last 60 years, and he outlined nine regional varieties.
Nicole Holliday
00:09:07
They are, you know, kind of exactly what you would think. So. New York City gets its own.
Harry Enten
00:09:12
You've already heard my New York accent. You've also heard the Southeastern accent earlier when Mia Jackson spoke. To demonstrate the other ones, we asked people from across the country to say this one phrase, quote, "My dad ordered a drink of water when he found out the beer was $10."
Nicole Holliday
00:09:33
There is the Western dialect. So this is like California and everything out west.
California speaker
00:09:38
My dad ordered a drink of water when he found out the beer was $10.
Nicole Holliday
00:09:42
The North Central are like upper midwest, so stereotypical kind of Michiganders. Then there is the inland north or the Great Lakes.
Minnesota speaker
00:09:51
My dad ordered a drink of water when he found out the beer was $10.
Nicole Holliday
00:09:58
Midland, which is are like supposed to be Midwest. Like I'm a midland speaker because I'm from central Ohio. There's also western Pennsylvania. So Pennsylvania gets cut in half.
Pennsylvania accent
00:10:09
My dad ordered a drink of water when he found out the beer was $10.
Nicole Holliday
00:10:14
There's the mid-Atlantic, so that includes Philadelphia, Baltimore.
Baltimore speaker
00:10:17
My dad ordered a drink of water when he found out the beer was $10.
Nicole Holliday
00:10:22
And then the eastern New England. So Maine and Boston are examples of of those. And the way that they classify these is by sort of shared features in those areas. New York is very different than Philadelphia in terms of pronunciation. Right? So intuitively, most people would say, okay, we got to draw a line there somewhere. And in fact, linguists have a term for such a line. If you're looking at a map, it's called an isogloss. It's a thing that divides, you know, dialect regions, for example. Interestingly, isoglosses are frequently natural topographical boundaries, so you frequently see them where there are mountains, rivers, things like that. And it's for a good reason. It's intuitive, right? Back in the day before, we had planes and stuff, people living on one side of a mountain did not talk to people living on the other side of the mountain. And when groups of people are segregated from each other, they develop different ways of speaking.
Harry Enten
00:11:15
So accents can tell you a lot about who migrated there and how much contact they've had with other speakers. That's why communities who live in remote places with few newcomers sound a lot like their ancestors. In fact, there's one island off the coast of North Carolina that's kept to itself for hundreds of years. And the people there, they don't speak general American. They don't even sound like other North Carolinians. They actually sort of sound like they're Irish.
Ocracoke Island speaker
00:11:47
Oh, actually, all my life I've I built the house. I built it in 1976 and then I remodeled in '94 and made it into a much bigger house.
Harry Enten
00:11:59
In the case of Ocracoke Island, newcomers who move there bring a wider variety of accents with them, which might cause this accent called the "hoi toider" or "high tider" or to go away. So is increased mobility making accents disappear?
Nicole Holliday
00:12:18
It is the case that people are exposed probably to more varieties than they used to be because we're just increasingly mobile. So if you look at the difference in number of people that have been on a plane in their lifetime, it's definitely more in 2022 than it was in 1992 or 1972, which means people are able to move around more. Also, people move away from the place that they're born more frequently for, you know, economic opportunities, jobs, things like that. And so this is the kind of language contact situation that can cause change, but it doesn't necessarily cause disappearing accents. Right? It causes modifications. So I think it's very tempting to be like, well, we're all just like consuming the same media now and we're all talking to each other and we're all traveling. And that's not actually true. We live in media bubbles that's been well documented, and most people don't live very far away from where they were born, still. But we are hearing more people that are different than us. But the thing that's really interesting about language acquisition is that we talk like the people that we actually talk to. And so it's not the case that if you spend a bunch of time on, you know, Alabama sorority Tik Tok, that you will suddenly start sounding like an Alabama sorority girl. You're not talking to them.
Harry Enten
00:13:38
Folks, I don't want this point to get lost. It doesn't matter how many online videos you watch of people with different accents. It matters whether you talk to people with an accent. If your chums don't speak with an Alabama accent, you're probably not going to develop one. Indeed, it may be that we are misinterpreting what is going on in real time. Accents as a whole aren't disappearing. They're simply changing. But we don't realize they've changed until decades later. Nicole also said that accents we think have gone away might just be used by different speakers.
Nicole Holliday
00:14:21
People are often very focused on white speakers, and there are places in which white speakers are moving in one direction, but other speakers are not. So if you think about in New York City, the rhotic thing. So like whether you say park or pahk, like that example. African-Americans are more likely to be non-rhotic than white speakers. White speakers in New York have been getting more rhotic for the last, I don't know, hundred years or something. But Black speakers also have been getting more rhotic but much slower. So when we want to say like, "Oh, this dialect feature is disappearing," maybe, or maybe it's moving, maybe its social meaning is changing, or maybe it's moving to make space for something else.
Harry Enten
00:15:05
So maybe part of that accent you think is gone has just been adopted by another speaker in a different community. After the break, we'll tell you why the idea of vaccines disappearing has a bit of the boy who cried wolf syndrome going on. And we'll take a look at the idea that an accent can change under our very noses without us even realizing it.
Harry Enten
00:15:35
American dialects disappearing." That's the headline of an article from a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon. You want to guess what year it was published? 1960. The point is this anxiety about accents disappearing isn't new. And as we learn from the linguist Nicole Holliday, it's not based on reality either. Accents haven't disappeared. They've merely changed. So why do we keep thinking they're disappearing? Well, for two main reasons. The first is that accents change so slowly that we often don't realize that change is happening. But linguists do. They track these changes by recording interviews and mapping out sound differences, among many other methods. Just ask Dennis Preston.
Dennis Preston
00:16:30
I'm a professor of linguistics at the University of Kentucky.
Harry Enten
00:16:34
Dennis tracked an accent shift that happened after World War II in the northern cities, which are Buffalo, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago. Basically the major cities by the Great Lakes. And what's crazy about this shift is that the speakers themselves didn't realize it was happening. Dennis Preston recorded audio samples from these speakers back in the eighties and nineties.
Dennis Preston
00:16:57
Our favorite is a recording of a young Detroit suburban woman who we called the "conflict girl," and she tells a story about a conflict between between her and her roommate. And she has just wonderful occurrences.
Harry Enten
00:17:14
When Dennis says occurrences, he means how many times you hear the distinct vowels of the Northern Cities shift. So when you listen to this next clip, pay attention to how the woman says her "ahs" in words like "asked," and the way she says "eh" in the word "left" near the end.
Conflict girl
00:17:34
The other day. I was sleeping at 330 in the morning. I was woken up by my roommate who was talking on the phone with her boyfriend at the top of her lungs. So I asked her if she could go on the hall and talk since it was 330 and I was sleeping and she proceeded to talk louder. So I left and walked across campus to another person's room to sleep. When I came back in the morning, she asked me why I had left because she wasn't doing anything wrong. So that's my story. Thanks
Dennis Preston
00:18:01
She says L-E-F-T
Conflict girl
00:18:03
So I laughed.
Dennis Preston
00:18:04
And we extracted this word, and then we played it even for local speakers. And they all said that. She said, laughed - L-A-U-G-H-E-D. So people, even from the same area when it was taken out of context, didn't get this word correct.
Harry Enten
00:18:22
Northern City speakers understood each other in context. But when Dennis played just one word, they didn't because the vowel had shifted so much. And it wasn't just this one clip. Dennis played other clips of Northern City speakers for people living in that region, and they still misunderstood certain words. Bag sounded like beg. Cut sounded like caught. How'd this happen. Our favorite linguist, William Labov, theorized that it had to do with the large number of non-native speakers in the Northern Cities. Here's Dennis again.
Dennis Preston
00:19:00
And he points in particular to a large number of speakers of Italian, speakers of Yiddish, particularly in the New York City's area. Now, neither one of those languages has the "ah" vowel the vowel in "bag" and "cat." And so old timey immigrants would say "a place, a place to put in the bag." Right? So they had to fix it. So what happens when you fix something? When you fix something that's on a continuum to make yourself even better, you may overshoot. And so that "ah" vowel, if you exaggerate it, where does it go? Well, is in front of "ah" and higher. So therefore, let's just, you know, take this all vowel and make it frontier and higher. Well, then you don't hit "ah." you hit something like "eh." So instead of saying bag and cat, they were saying things like "bayg" and "cayt".
Harry Enten
00:19:54
Still, that vowel change didn't last forever. As linguist perform follow up studies in the last ten years. They discovered that the pos-twar accent wasn't as pronounced as it used to be. It had changed again. Well, there was the movie "Fargo," which sort of established the idea that people in the upper Midwest or in those regions were not maybe such ordinary, normal people.
Fargo cip
00:20:22
Hey, they said they were going to the Twin Cities. (Oh yeah?) Yeah. Yeah. Is that useful to you? (Oh, you betcha, yeah.)
Harry Enten
00:20:29
Basically, once Northern Cities speakers heard what they sounded like to other people through movies like "Fargo," they retreated from that vowel shift. And this leads us to the second reason why we think accents are disappearing. Stereotypes. Whether we realize it or not, we all have biases for or against certain accents.
Dennis Preston
00:20:55
So if you have warm and fuzzy feelings about New York City, then when you hear New York City noises in words and grammars, those will awaken warm and fuzzy feelings.
Harry Enten
00:21:06
And Dennis has evidence to back this up. In the 1980s, Dennis asked people to map out where they heard regional accents in the U.S.. He had them draw a circle around each part of the country where people spoke differently than they did. Then these participants added a few words to explain what made that speech different. Here, Dennis explains what a typical map might look like.
Dennis Preston
00:21:30
So, for example, right in the middle of the country, across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, there's a label called "normal American." Well, boop. All of a sudden, there is the word "normal." What does normal mean? It doesn't mean much to a dialectologist. And in fact, the circle that he drew around "normal America" contains several different dialects. Then when he goes further west and almost everybody, by the way, identifies Texas and he's got a southern Texas accent, and then he writes "howdy." So he writes a number of interesting things which he associates with those areas. But you can see right away that they are associated with stereotypes. Who are the people who say howdy? People who are hospitable, people who are being friendly. And he also falls prey to to California. And he mentions both surfer dudes and valley girls like everybody else.
Harry Enten
00:22:24
Several linguists across the globe still perform this map drawing exercise. And Dennis points out that while the accents themselves have changed, our stereotypes have not changed. I called out to my Twitter followers for examples of this. And here's one from John Shayne of Nashville, Tennessee. He's a money manager. And when he would call companies to get their financials, he often got the same response.
John Shayne
00:22:52
"Nashville, you don't sound like you're from Nashville." This would happen over and over. And it finally occurred to me sort of like Groundhog Day. What they want is "Hee Haw." They want Grand Ole Opry, and they're just sad not to get it. So I thought, well, I'll give it to them. So when they say "Nashville, you don't sound like you're from Nashville." And I'd say, "well, I want could if I want to. I just don't want to."
Harry Enten
00:23:14
Dennis Preston says that Shayne is not alone here.
Dennis Preston
00:23:17
I just hear that all the time now where people from the American South just don't correspond to either "Gone with the Wind" or "Deliverance." And so therefore they can't be Southern. But of course, they're simply New Southern, and they still have characteristics that we can identify. So there does seem to be a bounded perception where if people deviate from it, in some ways you either reject it and don't hear it or reject it and say, "Oh, well, then that person's not an authentic speaker from the area where I thought he or she was from.".
Harry Enten
00:23:51
The truth is, there's no such thing as an authentic accent. Heck, two of the lead characters in "Gone With the Wind," Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard were British. The bottom line is people from the same area often speak in different ways. Indeed, people themselves can speak in different ways, depending on who they are talking to. Maybe you've heard this phrase "code switching."
Nicole Holliday
00:24:17
Your language is part of your community, and sometimes things about your community are things that you want to stay in your community.
Harry Enten
00:24:26
Here's Nicole Holliday, who we heard from earlier in the episode.
Nicole Holliday
00:24:30
We're on a podcast. If people can't see me, I'm Black. And so, you know, when I go and I teach my big fancy class at Penn and I talk about this, sometimes students are like, "Well, do you actually speak African-American English?" I'm like, "Yes, I do, but not to you." This is the way that I speak in particular situations. And in fact, like that can be a point of pride. Right? So it's not only that I can't speak that way. It's also like maybe this is just something I want to keep between me and my family, me and my friends, me and my community. And I have this other voice that I put on for, you know, my professional world.
Harry Enten
00:25:06
Some folks might also speak differently because of linguistic profiling.
Nicole Holliday
00:25:11
So a lot of people will be familiar with racial profiling, which is like frequently, you see the kind of case where like a Black young man is pulled over because he, quote unquote, fit the description of some, you know, person who committed a crime. Linguistic profiling is kind of like this, but imagine that you just have the language to go on. So one really famous study that was done by the linguist John Baugh has a illustrative example of this, where he was in Palo Alto because he was at Stanford at the time, he called around to get viewings to see a potential apartment. And he called in his, you know, Stanford professor, like, mainstream voice. And he called in African-American English. And then he also called in this kind of where he calls like a Chicano English, Latino accented variety. No one will be surprised that when he called the same apartments sounding Black or sounding like a Chicano English speaker, he didn't get as many appointments to see them as when he sounded like he was speaking mainstream, even though he was the same person in the same body.
Harry Enten
00:26:16
And with linguistic profiling, it's not just about the sound of your voice, it's also about the words you use.
Nicole Holliday
00:26:24
So a lot of times people will say, "hh, well, this is just bad grammar." You know, you can't you can't say "ain't" it's just bad grammar. There's nothing wrong with "ain't." Everybody knows what you mean when you say "ain't. Lots and lots of other languages use this kind of negation strategy that ain't does it's nothing linguistic. It's entirely sociological. So when we hear "ain't" it's not about like, "oh ain't doesn't make sense." It's about "I have an image of the kind of person who says ain't and it's a person that I don't hold in high regard." That's it. It's not fair that some people should be asked to change the way that they talk, and others are not, right, because of our bias. The onus to change should be on the people listening, not on the people talking. Right. And our language is something that tells the story of who we are. And so if we are going to be on this campaign to eliminate regional variation, we're eliminating a lot of the sort of rich history that people come with when we encounter different people. And isn't that the point, right? Don't we like meeting new people because they have these experiences that are different than ours? So why should we be trying to erase any part of them? Also on a larger, you know, macro level, these accents tell the story of us and where we came from. Right? So the example of some Scottish and Irish features in Appalachia, the example of Ocracoke Island, the example of African American English. There's so much history embedded in those. And so I would hate to see like, you know, social pressure sort of cause the disappearance of of these varieties that can tell us so much about the world that we live in in our history.
Harry Enten
00:28:05
Nicole has given us a lot of stuff to reflect upon. An accent tells us as much about history as it does about today. After the break, we'll dig a bit more into a politician from our past as I work with an accent coach to see what I would sound like with an entirely new manner of speaking.
Harry Enten
00:28:28
That fluffy little kitten slash the sofa a pot. (Mm hmm) And now her paw paw is hurt.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:28:36
Good. Got a little New York on the word poor.
Harry Enten
00:28:39
Paw.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:28:39
And now. And. And the word now.
Harry Enten
00:28:42
This is Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser. Josh is the interim head of voice and speech at Brown University Theater program. Basically, Josh is a dialect coach.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:28:53
Good. So that vowel is still really far in the front of your tongue. Think about if you go to the dentist and you say, ah, (ah) ah (paw) (pah)
Harry Enten
00:29:06
Pah.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:29:06
That one.
Harry Enten
00:29:07
Pah. Pah paw is hurt
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:29:10
Is hurt
Harry Enten
00:29:10
is hurt.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:29:11
Quite good. Yeah, that's quite good.
Harry Enten
00:29:14
As we learned from Dennis Preston and Nicole Holliday, pop culture has created some harmful stereotypes about the way certain folks speak.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:29:23
So that's one of the reasons why jobs like mine exist is so that we can actually, like, do the deep, detailed research to make sure that what we're representing in entertainment is as accurate and respectful as possible.
Harry Enten
00:29:36
So I asked Josh to help me learn to speak authentically in a different accent. When Josh asked me to choose someone I wanted to sound like. I opted for the late Senator Fritz Hollings, who hailed from Charleston, South Carolina.
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:29:50
This has been the darndest scam. And I say that advisedly. Now, look, Republican wise, I've been appointed by Republican President Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:30:00
I'm curious why what drew you to Senator Hollings?
Harry Enten
00:30:04
Fritz Hollings, when I was learning about politics was what he called himself, "the Last of the Mohicans." He was a Southern Democrat who was moderate but not overly conservative. He just had these with this almost wit about him, this quick sort of way of thinking. And the voice was so unique. It was Southern, but it wasn't the southern that I was used to. It sounded a little different.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:30:31
Yeah. Yeah. So Charleston is and Senator Hollings is a perfect model for and kind of older school Charleston accent. Charleston is unique.
Harry Enten
00:30:43
Understanding Hollings' background was the first step in learning how to talk like him, because as we learned earlier, your region, community, education and class all affect how you speak. The next step, according to Josh, was adopting Senator Hollings oral posture.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:31:03
Things like what parts of the tongue are more released or more engaged? How much do does a person use the jaw? You'll notice, for example, Senator Hollings doesn't open or close his jaw a lot. There's a little bit of movement, but it kind of just hangs out most of the time. Right. So the jaw is one of the places we look at. We look at what's happening in the lips, both the body of the lip and the corner of the lip. So one clue to a postural feature is what somebody does when they're thinking. So if I ask you a question and you don't know the answer, what kind of sound do you make?
Harry Enten
00:31:43
Like, uh.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:31:43
Yeah. Exactly. Uh. Mm hmm. We call those thinking sounds or hesitation noises. And when a person drops into their thinking sound, that's a clue to how the muscles in their oral cavity or articulatory tract, whatever you want to call it, the muscles of the mouth. That's a clue to how they're most comfortably kind of sitting or resting. So he does two different vowels here. He does one that we call a "schwa," which I like because my first name is Joshua. So "schwa," the tongue is really, really released with the sound. It's the one that you just made: "uh." And it's very common across many dialects. And then another one for Senator Hollings is slightly more open: "ah.".
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:32:37
Ah.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:32:37
It's quite fast, but it's more of like a the letter that my brain goes to is an "a" shape. Right?
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:32:45
Ah.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:32:46
Ah. Versus aah.
Harry Enten
00:32:49
Yes. Like I would say, like the the first is what I would think of when I am unsure of what I want to say. The second one would be what I would think of if I like, "ahhh, I figured it out."
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:33:02
Yes. He does something that's kind of more in the middle of the mouth and I would expect somebody from New York to do something closer to the front of the mouth when they do that more "ah" kind of sound.
Harry Enten
00:33:14
Unlike Hollings. My face is very expressive when I talk, so I have to physically press my hands to my cheeks to keep my jaw from moving. Josh explained that Hollings expresses his tone through the prosody of his speech, which is another word for the pitch, rate and rhythm of speech. While, my pitch remains pretty constant when I talk, Hollings' pitch is all over the place.
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:33:42
My last campaign, I was elected for the seventh time to the United States Senate in 1998, ten years ago.
Harry Enten
00:33:53
Then Josh taught me about vowels and how Senator Hollings' Charleston accent is surprisingly similar to one from another country.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:03
Let's listen to this phrase he says "in the House and Senate."
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:34:07
In the House and Senate. In the House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:10
Where else would you hear somebody say "house" maybe?
Harry Enten
00:34:14
House. (About) About. About. Maybe in Canada.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:18
In Canada. This feature is called Canadian Raising. Linguists call it Canadian Raising because it's so distinctly Canadian.
Harry Enten
00:34:25
The house in the moose.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:26
Exactly. It's also distinctly Charlestonian. And this one is starting to disappear. So speakers like Senator Hollings modeled this. But younger generations do something that is much similar to other areas in the south where they will give us more of an "ow" sound. "mowtwh"
Harry Enten
00:34:46
Mowwth
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:46
As opposed to mouth.
Harry Enten
00:34:48
Mouth.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:48
Exactly. So we've got three versions here. Mouth (mouth) versus m-oww-th, (m-oww-th) and what Senator Hollings does: "mowth"
Harry Enten
00:34:56
Mowth, mowth
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:34:58
Yes. So can you give me "in the House and Senate?"
Harry Enten
00:35:02
In the House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:03
Good. House.
Harry Enten
00:35:04
House.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:05
Good. And as little John movement as possible. Let your tongue do all of that work. In the House and Senate.
Harry Enten
00:35:10
In the House and Senate. Hold on. In the House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:15
Good. So that one House has the kind of younger generation, Charleston, but also wider south. And let's listen to him do it again.
Fritz Hollings news clip
00:35:26
In the House and Senate.
Harry Enten
00:35:27
The House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:28
Yeah. Think about the first vowel in the word "house"
Harry Enten
00:35:31
The House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:33
Starting from "uh" sound. His thinking sound. Uh
Harry Enten
00:35:37
House and Senate. (House) the House. The House. The House and Senate.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:35:42
Yeah, that one.
Harry Enten
00:35:45
I also learned that Senator Hollings flattens out his ooh sounds. So Goose sounds more like goes and his speech is non rhotic, which means he doesn't pronounces R's. Then it was time to put my knowledge to the test by reading some practice sentences in the voice of Fritz Hollings, of course. The first: the abbot liked to fish without a lure. The abbot lacked to fish without a lure.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:36:13
Yes. Now what I would say, if you go back through that. Think about just like the sound kind of like huh, little bit.
Harry Enten
00:36:22
The abbot like to fish without a law. (There you go). The abbot like the fish without a law.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:36:29
Now that we've kind of pulled it all apart and practiced it on some text, what are your thoughts about accent and dialect.
Harry Enten
00:36:38
Is there? Well, first off, you have you have, your job is very tough. That's the first thing that came apart. But what's so interesting to me is how lots of his accent that makes it distinct is that it's not Southern in the way that I think of as southern it pulls from. You mentioned Canadian.
Canadian speaker
00:36:59
This is the back door off the house.
Harry Enten
00:37:01
Is kind of sounds a little Irish.
Irish speaker
00:37:03
The house is about 60 to 70 years old.
Harry Enten
00:37:06
It sounds like something where you could imagine hundreds of years ago where these people, where people came from one place and then they kind of separated out and for whatever reason, certain things got dropped by those the interior south that were kept in Canada. Our for some reason kept on the coast as well. Is that like almost there wasn't a clean break away in some sense.
Josh Feliciano Sanchez Moser
00:37:31
Yeah, exactly. I always say to my my graduate students, it's like to really pull apart accent for what we're doing, you've got to go into history. You've got to be able to understand history and migration and also politics of the era, who had the the power and the kind of prestige. And that dialect is going to perhaps be considered the standard version of the local dialect. And if they didn't have as much power, their dialect is not maybe considered standard because there's sometimes a perception that the standard dialect is the language, but the language is the length. English is English and Standard American English and Southern American English and British English and Canadian English, they're they're all English, right? And one isn't more correct than the other, because they're exactly. They're using different rules.
Harry Enten
00:38:26
Our voices are full of history that can't be contained in a one size fits all general American, nor should they be. The fact is, I like the way that I speak. It's something that connects me with my father. And I'll hold on to anything that does that. Now, I may not sound like most Americans, but that's okay. Celebrating our differences is what makes America America. We then put those differences together into a giant melting pot to form our country. A country where the athletic shoes you are wearing, maybe called sneakers, tennis shoes or something else entirely. Coming up on our next episode. Americans are cleaner than they've ever been before. And there's a growing number of scientists who think that's actually a bad thing. Next time, the dirt on personal hygiene. Margins of Error is a production of CNN Audio and Western Sound. Our showrunner is Cameron Kell. Our producer is Savannah Wright. Production assistance and fact checking by Nicole McNulty. Misha Stanton is our mix engineer. Additional support from Tameeka Ballance-Kolasny, Dan Dzula and Allison Park. Our executive producers are Ben Adair and Megan Marcus. And me? Well, I'm Harry Enten.