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General American

General American (abbreviated as GA or GenAm) is an umbrella variety of American English—a spectrum of accents[1]—unified by a sound system separate from the dialects of the American South and East Coast, including New York City and New England,[1][2][3] but today widespread throughout the United States. Despite persistent debate,[4][5] General American is popularly perceived as lacking any notably regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics;[6] however, modern studies link its origins to northern speech patterns of the non-coastal Eastern United States,[7] originating from interior Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and the adjacent Midwestern region prior to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.[1][8]

The term was popularized by the American linguist John Samuel Kenyon, who, in 1930, considered it equivalent to the speech of "the North," or "Northern American,"[9] but, in 1934, "Western and Midwestern";[10] however, the term was disseminated earlier, for example, by the American Anglicist George Philip Krapp, who in 1925 considered it "Western" and wide-ranging.[9] According to British phonetician John C. Wells, typical Canadian English aligns to General American rather than England's Received Pronunciation in every situation where these latter two differ.[11] He also concluded that, by 1982, two-thirds of the U.S. population[more recent figures would be better] spoke General American English.[6] Due to its prevalence, General American is sometimes, controversially,[12] referred to as a de facto standard accent of the United States.[6]

General American in the media

General American, like British Received Pronunciation (RP) and most prestige accent varieties of many other societies, has never been the accent of the entire nation.

The General American accent is most closely related to a generalized Midwestern accent and is spoken particularly by many newscasters. This has led the accent to sometimes be referred to as a "newscaster accent" or "television English". It is thought to have evolved from the English spoken by colonials in the Mid-Atlantic states, evolved and moved west. General American is sometimes promoted as preferable to other regional accents.[13][14] In the United States, classes promising "accent reduction","accent modification" and "accent neutralization" generally attempt to teach speech patterns similar to this accent. The well-known television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who worked hard early in her career to eliminate a Texas accent, stated, "in television you are not supposed to sound like you're from anywhere";[15] political comedian Stephen Colbert worked hard as a child to reduce his South Carolina accent because of the common portrayal of Southerners as stupid on American television.[13][14]

Regional home of General American

It is commonly believed that General American English evolved as a result of an aggregation of rural and suburban Midwestern dialects, though the English of the Upper Midwest can deviate quite dramatically from the sounds of General American, especially since that region's twentieth-century Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS). The local accent often gets more distinct the farther north one goes within the Midwest, with the Northern Midwest featuring its own dialect North Central American English. General American is also highly divergent from the accents typical of larger Midwestern cities and the Great Lakes region in general, such as Chicago and Minneapolis, where speech has undergone the NCVS. The fact that a rural Midwestern dialect became the basis of what is General American English is often attributed to the mass migration of Midwestern farmers to California and the Pacific Northwest from where it spread. However, General American has origins dating back even before conservative Midwestern speech, itself stemming from interior Pennsylvania and upstate New York.[1]

File:Map General American.svg
The area of the United States where the local accent is most similar to General American

The Telsur Project[16] (of William Labov and others) examines a number of phonetic properties by which regional accents of the U.S. may be identified. The area with Midwestern regional properties is indicated on the map: eastern Nebraska (including Omaha and Lincoln); northwestern, southern, and central Iowa (including Des Moines, Sioux City and the Iowa-side Quad Cities), with an adjacent narrow strip of northern Missouri; and western and central Illinois (including Peoria, the Illinois-side Quad Cities, and Bloomington-Normal). Notably, this section of Illinois does not include the Chicago area.

According to Matthew J. Gordon, a sociolinguistics and American dialectology researcher:

The fact that the NCS is well established in Michigan is particularly interesting in light of the dominant beliefs about local speech. As research by Dennis Preston has shown, Michiganders believe they are "blessed" with a high degree of linguistic security; when surveyed, they rate their own speech as more correct and more pleasant than that of even their fellow Mid-westerners. By contrast Hoosiers tend to rate the speech of their state on par with that of Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find Michiganders who will claim that the speech of national broadcasters is modeled on their dialect. Even a cursory comparison of the speech of the network news anchors with that of the local news anchors in Detroit will reveal the fallacy of such claims.

Nevertheless, the Michiganders' faith that they speak an accentless variety is just an extreme version of the general stereotype of Midwestern English.[17]

Particularly important in setting standards was John Kenyon, the pronunciation editor of the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary.[18]

Phonology

Consonants

A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below:

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
alveolar
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [[bilabial nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.m]]
[[alveolar nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.n]]
[[velar nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ŋ]]
Stop [[voiceless bilabial stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.p]]
[[voiced bilabial stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.b]]
[[voiceless alveolar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.t]]
[[voiced alveolar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.d]]
[[voiceless velar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.k]]
[[voiced velar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɡ]]
Affricate [[voiceless palato-alveolar affricate#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.tʃ]]
[[voiced palato-alveolar affricate#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.dʒ]]
Fricative [[voiceless labiodental fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.f]]
[[voiced labiodental fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.v]]
[[voiceless dental fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.θ]]
[[voiced dental fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ð]]
[[voiceless alveolar fricative#Voiceless alveolar sibilant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.s]]
[[voiced alveolar fricative#Voiced alveolar sibilant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.z]]
[[voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʃ]]
[[voiced palato-alveolar sibilant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʒ]]
[[voiceless glottal fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.h]]
Approximant
/Lateral
[[alveolar approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɹ]]
[[palatal approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.j]]
([[voiceless labio-velar approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʍ]]
)
[[labio-velar approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.w]]
[[alveolar lateral approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.l]]

Vowels

File:Midwestern American English monophthongs chart.svg
Monophthongs of typical Midwestern English, approximating GA. From Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009a). The symbol "ɔ" here refers to r-colored /ɔ/ (/ɔr/), found in such words as warm.
File:Ranges for RP and GA English weak vowels.svg
Ranges for GA and RP weak vowels. From Wells (2008, p. XXV)
File:Midwestern American English diphthongs chart.svg
Diphthongs of typical Midwestern English, from Mannell, Cox & Harrington (2009b).
• When monophthongized, // and // tend to be closer to cardinal [e] and [o], respectively.
• For many speakers, // is more fronted in GA than what appears on this chart.

General American has eleven or twelve pure vowel sounds (or monophthongs) that can be used in stressed syllables (for some, typically in diphthongized combinations) as well as two to three vowels that can be heard only in unstressed syllables. The monophthongs of General American are shown in the table below:

Monophthongs
Front Central Back
plain rhotacized
Close [[close front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.i]]
    [[close back rounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.u]]
6
Near-close [[near-close near-front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɪ]]
[[near-close central unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɪ̈]]
~[[near-close near-front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɪ]]
~[[mid central vowel#Mid-central unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ə]]
3
  [[near-close near-back vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʊ]]
Close-mid [[close-mid front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.e]]
1
  [[close-mid back rounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.o]]
1
Mid   [[mid central vowel#Mid-central unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ə]]
3
[[r-colored vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɚ]]
5
 
Open-mid [[open-mid front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɛ]]
[[open-mid back unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʌ]]
4
[[r-colored vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɝ]]
~[[r-colored vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɚ]]
5
[[open-mid back rounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɔ]]
~[[open back rounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɒ]]
Near Open [[near-open front unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.æ]]
2
    [[open back unrounded vowel#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ɑ]]

^1 For most speakers, what are often transcribed as /e/ and /o/ are realized in actual speech as the diphthongized [eɪ~ɛ̝ɪ] (e.g. in laid and pray) and [o̞ʊ~ʌʊ] (e.g. in so and load) respectively, especially in open syllables.

^2 For most speakers, what is transcribed as [æ] is always raised and sometimes diphthongized when appearing before a nasal consonant (that is, before /m/, /n/ and, for some, /ŋ/). This allophone is especially audible in monosyllabic words, and it may be narrowly transcribed as [ɛ̝ə̯] (About this sound pronunciation of /æn/ as [ɛ̝ə̯n]; About this sound pronunciation of /æm/ as [ɛ̝ə̯m]), or, based on specific dialect, variously as [e̞ə̯] or [ɪə̯] (see Æ-tensing in General American or click "show" below).