American English Varieties: Part II
Last week we looked at how vowels and the way we pronounce them can affect our speech and label it as a specific variety of American English. This week, I’d like to look at General American English. More specifically, I’d like to comment on its origin and its use. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, “General or Standard” English is the speech of educated speakers. For years, research has tried to define which region represents this variety of English. However, region is not so much the factor as is the media. Natalie Baker-Shirer of Carnegie Mellon University teaches acting students and theater professionals how to speak Standard American English, free of regionalisms, accents or dialects. She states that “Standard American,” in the context of dramatic speech, means one single standard of speech that will sound American — simple, unaffected and distinct, devoid of regional influences. Does this mean, then, that “Standard or General American” English is ideally sought after by the media and entertainment industries and not a variety of the nation’s language after all? If that is in fact true, then where can we trace its origins? In other words, if a standard doesn’t really exist but is a variety that is fabricated and can only be taught by accent coaches, where did its make-up come from? And why is it that so many of us seek to perfect it?
Labels: American English