Race and the Rise of Standard American

Race and the Rise of Standard American

Race and the Rise of Standard American

Race and the Rise of Standard American

Synopsis

This study examines the effect of race-consciousness upon the pronunciation of American English and upon the ideology of standardization in the twentieth century. It shows how the discourses of prescriptivist pronunciation, the xenophobic reaction against immigration to the eastern metropolises - especially New York - and the closing of the western frontier together constructed an image of the American West and Midwest as the locus of proper speech and ethnicity. This study is of interest to scholars and students in linguistics, American studies, cultural studies, Jewish studies, and studies in race, class, and gender.

Excerpt

In the first half of the twentieth century, Americans began to view the accent of the midwest and west as a “general American accent” that represented a standard for pronunciation. in the second half of the twentieth century, American linguists began to reject the rubrics of midwestern and general American and to problematize the status of a standard American speech in itself. This had little or no effect upon the popular consciousness; folkish notions of a standard American and (mid)western accent continued throughout the century and were extended to include network broadcast speech, as well. Indeed, Americans came to recognize the pronunciation of network announcers as a (mid)western norm. the general features of this accent are readily identifiable; the phoneme/r/is pronounced both before and after vowels, there is no intrusive/r/, as in “I ‘sawr’ her standing there,” diphthongs like/ay/and/aw/are not monophthongized, and the phoneme/æ/is used in words like rather, bath, and calf. Americans came to recognize obvious deviations from these sounds as nonstandard and regional, such as the dropping of/r/after vowels in New York and Boston, the Bostonian pronunciation of “rather” so that it rhymes with “father,” and the southern pronunciation of “right” as/ra:t/.

The question as to why and how this (mid)western accent rose to be perceived as the standard has neither been satisfactorily answered nor engaged in a systematic way. the discourses of popular social science and popular opinion have been content with tangential and impressionistic explanations for the evolution of standard American pronunciation. the discipline of sociolinguistics has not fared much better in this regard. It has either avoided the issue, offered its own insufficient explanations, or made some late inroads, most notably in the research done in the recently emerged field of perceptual dialectology (folk linguistics).

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