American English is not spoken the same by residents from different parts of the United States. Based on America’s history and cultural background, English used in America differs from region to region, among ethnic and social groups, even by age and gender. In this documentary film, Robert MacNeil, a journalist, travelled across the United States to discover how and why people from different regions speak different kinds of American English. From north to south, east to west, it is clear that how a person talks to one another defines whom the person is.
Robert’s discovering journey began on the East Coast, from New England to New York, to Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh, to Ohio, and to Michigan. When Robert was filling his car with gas in Massachusetts, he talked with the gas station owner. What interested me was this owner’s r-less accent. She pronounced “car” like a “cah”. This r-less pronunciation reminded me of the difference between British and American English. But I did not know that some Americans also pronounce words without r. I think this is just people’s habit to pronounce with r or without r.
In New York City, Robert had separate conversations with John Simon, the theater critic for New York magazine, and Jesse Sheidlower, the principal and North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. John expressed his negative concerns: unhealthy, poor, sad, depressing, and hopeless, toward today’s American English. While Jesse thought changes in language is a better phenomenon. As for teenagers’ spoken and instant message language, those short and simple symbols to express a person’s emotions are also popular among Chinese teens nowadays.
When Robert visited Pittsburgh, I totally had no idea what those words printed on the T-shirts meant. I heard about Detroit all because of Eminem, so I was quite curious about what American English accent is in Detroit. In this documentary film, I learned that the inner city of Detroit is 82% African American. There is no doubt that African American English plays an important role in Detroit. Hip-pop and rap, originate from African American’s street culture, go eventually to mainstream America, which is White America.
American English does vary from region to region, and dialects remain important parts of personal identity for local natives. Robert continued his journey to the south of America and enjoyed some country music during his journey. From this documentary film, I know that the south is the fastest-growing variety of English in the United States. Southern people have already recognized some of the dialect differences as a part of their cultural heritage and a way to identify themselves. Thus, southern people did not care what northern people think about them based on the way they speak.
Just as Jeff Foxworthy, a comedian, did. I admire their confidence and intelligence. Cajun is a new vocabulary for me, actually it is kind of a mixture of English and French. Besides French, Spanish has a big influence on English spoken in Texas, especially the ranching vocabulary, which I did not know before. I am surprised that there are so many words that come from the Spanish roots, such as bronco, stampede, corral, and rodeo. Molly Ivins, a writer, columnist and commentator, shared her thoughts on true Texan English with Robert.
She said that in Texas people like to speak in their own metaphors and similes. Finally, Robert visited a border town named El Cenizo. I was quite astonished that El Cenizo has declared Spanish as its official language. I’m sure this small town’s custom would be completely different from the whole American world. To sum up, in the south of America, American English mixes a lot with other languages, particularly Spanish and French. All of those languages and culture merge into the mainstream America. Next Robert went to the west coast, which is full of sunshine, beach and hot girls.
Spanish also has a strong influence in Los Angeles. I think being able to speak Spanglish – half English and half Spanish is such a wonderful thing in America. Then I realized Spanglish is not the only Spanish and English hybrid. Chicano English is a thriving street-talk of the Los Angeles Latino community. Considering some children speak non-mainstream English, some elementary schools attempt to teach their students to translate their home language into mainstream English. Robert also moved on to Hollywood, which is responsible for portraying American English to audience around the world.
Through Robert’s conversation with a group of teenagers from Los Angeles, I found that California teenagers actually talk and behave the way they are depicted in films and on TV dramas. It is a big feature in Los Angeles that girls speak “valley girl” and men speak “surfer dude”. Both of them have potential effects on California speech. On the other hand, Americans seem reluctant to give offense to anyone nowadays. As for the gay and lesbian community, people’s accepted attitudes change vocabularies associated with homosexuality.
This is a good social phenomenon ecause everyone has the right to choose what kind of relationship he/she wants in his/her life. Homosexuals deserve the society’s respect and acceptance. Along with Robert’s journey, he pursued the voice technology theme at Microsoft headquarter in Redmond, Washington. XD Huang, a Microsoft researcher, described the style of English that computers are programmed to understand. With the development of technology, many voice-automated products are being invented, such as the new BMW sedan and Siri for Iphone 4S. I think voice-activated products are now impacting the whole world and may also affect the language people speak.
People build their own identity through language. Obviously, American English is diverse, rich and lively as Americans themselves. There is no standard to define what kind of American is the standard or official American English. American is intrinsically tied to many factors, such as ethnicity, historical events, political position, socioeconomic status, and individual characteristics. Let’s just keep this diverse American English go on and do not try to change it artificially, because it is a treasure to the United States.