Do People in the Northwest Have an Accent?
"I don't have an accent," is what you'd likely say if confronted with the question. We all think that, because, well... Everyone around us talks the same way, unless they're from somewhere else. Right?
West Coast vs East Coast Accents
My wife used to have a co-worker in New York who had a thick East Coast accent. A few examples:
- He said "kwah-fee" instead of coffee
- "Dolla'" when he meant dollar, and
- "Harr-able" in place of horrible
And he would tell my wife, born-and-raised in Washington State, that she talked funny; that she was the one with the accent.
"Let me ask you something," she said one day. "When you watch the nightly news, does David Muir sound like you? Or does he sound like me?"
Mic drop. Her NYC counterpart conceded.
Bag vs Beg
My wife follows beauty vlogger, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Taylor Wynn. Taylor lived in Seattle for some time, and has collaborated with Spokane's Project Beauty Share.
One day Taylor remarked how her friends were making fun of the way she said "bag." It sounded like "beg." "You've spent too much time in Spokane, you've picked up their accent," they teased.
Were they right? Does Spokane have an accent?
The answer is yes. But it's a Pacific Northwest accent. Maybe Taylor and her friends didn't notice it so much in Seattle, because that city is more cosmopolitan than the Lilac City.
The Pacific Northwest Accent
We like to think we speak without an accent. This ideal, "neutral" accent is called General American. But if you listen to conversations in Washington and Oregon, you will likely notice a Pacific Northwest accent when we say:
- "Don," when we mean "dawn."
- "Ag" (like agriculture) when we want an "egg."
- "Cot" when we say "caught."
The difference in the sounds of these words is mostly how wide you open your mouth. It seems that we pronounce our vowels a little differently here in the Northwest.
Why Do We Speak the Way We Do in the Northwest?
Our Pacific Northwest dialect is a mix of the "neutral" General American, Canadian, and Californian accents.
The Myth of A General American Accent
The idea of a neutral accent is a myth. The closest anyone comes to such a thing is on broadcast news, because they are trained to hide their hometown flavor.
Everyone has an accent. So think of General American as the center of a spectrum, with every region in the country peppering in their own linguistic quirks. And our accents will continue to change as people move from state-to-state, or immigrate to other countries.
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