From Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless,” Hollywood loves to celebrate the California accent. But besides the Valley girls and surfer dudes, do Californians really have an accent? One Stanford team is testing that idea and studying dialects across the state. What are they finding? Do certain words or tonalities make us classic Californians? Do you think you have an accent?

Penelope Eckert, linguistics professor at Stanford University, spearheading Stanford's "Voices of California" project
Geoffrey Nunberg, author, adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information, commentator on language for NPR's "Fresh Air" and former chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary

  • Like, dude, whoaaa… I got no accent, you know?

  • Chris

    I’ve noticed that Californians swing up the last word as if it were a question even if it isn’t a question. Could your guest speak to this?

  • FayNissenbaum

    I was in Trader Joes just last night hearing two college age girls build a veritable black hole of california-speak from which light could not escape! It was far more affected than the movie clip played on today’s show – one might say *cloying*, with the speaker begging to be liked. Have you noticed statements made as questions, as if the speaker is asking rather than just stating? That also indicates a desire that the listener ‘approve of the speaker’s statement, again asking permission or trying to be liked. Any comment about that aspect of the calif accent?
    Good show, love your guest.

  • Lucina Sandoval

    What about African American accents? Is there a diffidence between Californian African American accents as compared to other states? Same question but with Latinos?

  • Bonnie Rose

    Having lived on the east coast, in the mid west, and now in California, I can hear regional accents pretty easily. I don’t hear much of a California accent, and I’m not aware of regional California differences. However, I do hear one consistent “California” pronunciation in words such as “not.” That “o” sound is pronounced “nawt” both in northern and southern Cali, as opposed to “naht” which is how its pronounced back east and in the mid west.


  • Brian

    I’ve been in California for 9 years and am originally from Pittsburgh. I’ve assiduously attempted to rid myself of my Pittsburgh accent, but I am amazed at its persistence in other Western Pennsylvania transplants that I meet. Although I am proud that Fred Rogers had it, pronouncing “Hugh”, “hue”, and “you” identically has always bothered me.

  • Lucina Sandoval

    Ooo, what about Californian Spangilsh?

    • John Baltierra

      That’s a family-level idiom. Spanglish is as varied as a family’s tortilla recipe.

  • Angelino

    Speaking of the Hispanic accent, where does the entrenched pronunciation of ell coming out as al (as in Al Capone) come from? Los Angeles’s mayor, Villaraigosa pronounces L.A. as allay.

  • rollypeterson

    Lately I’ve heard many teenagers pronouncing the word “strength” as “shtrength”. At first I noticed it from people that are living in or had lived in ethnic urban areas, but lately I’m hearing it all over, including from teenagers in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, which are not ethnic or urban. I’m also hearing it in radio and television interviews. I travel to the east coast a lot, and I’m not noticing it happening there. Could your guests comment on this?

    • hajaxavier

      A teenager from Palo Alto may not be urban but they’re definitely ethnic. Everyone has an accent and everyone has an ethnicity.

  • campfiregirl

    What about black Californian accent?

  • disqus_iMBhxSqovO

    I’m from Australia living in California 35 years and have been mistaken for a Bostonian by some Americans. I travel back and forth to Australia frequently and very consciously change my vowels to fit in with my local environment in order to facilitate communication! It works in Australia where I am told I lose my yankee accent however I think I always sound Australian here.

  • Lucina Sandoval

    How lame is that? They did not mention Californian African American accents. :/

    • John Baltierra

      Blacks are less than 8% of California’s population and they’re dispersed regionally. There shouldn’t be a uniform “accent”. Blacks of my ancient California childhood in western San Bernardino County didn’t have a particular “accent”. In northern California, blacks don’t have a uniform accent.

  • Bob Bacardi

    I LOVE this topic. I could listen forever. I’m fascinated by vowel mergers & splits (cot-caught, hurry-furry, Mary-merry-marry, horse-hoarse, pen-pin, fill-feel), velarization, vowel-fronting, and how that all plays out across geography, ethnicity, class, age, and cliques. California definitely has an accent, on top of distinctive speech patterns and usage.

    By the way, those of you that hate uptalk should avoid Belfast, Northern Ireland — it’s endemic there, though I can’t imagine that it spread from California.

  • kcunning

    Almond is supposed to be pronounced without the L sound, but with an ah first syllable. Palm & calm are also (correctly) pronounced without the L sound.

  • hajaxavier

    Excellent show. Spanish is my first language but i was educated in the midwest where i perfected my English. People say i don’t have an accent and i love correcting them by saying i have a flawless midwestern accent (which could be Californian, I don’t drop my “g”s). On occasion I give myself away with two words, leave and live. I tend to reverse the correct (in American English) sounds if I’m not careful, i leave in San Francisco, where do you leave?

  • MattCA12

    How I miss the diverse flavors you find in the dialects of the South: New Orleans, East Tennessee, Coastal North Carolina, Virginia Foothills…or the Midwest: Chicago, Iowa, Minnesota…or the Northeast: Boston (Brahmin, Southie), New York (Brooklyn, Queens), New Hampshire, Maine…and on and on. Aside from the obvious Valley and bearch/surfer accents, Californians’ accents are genrally as flat and uninteresting as the words coming from their mouths.

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