When you think about different kinds of English, your first thought is probably about the varieties spoken in different countries.
For example, British English has clear differences with American English in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and more.
Production companies are accustomed to localizing content for these two distinct audiences.
With that being said, it’s also important to understand the variations in English usage within countries themselves.
Just as French speakers in Paris speak differently from French speakers in Marseille, there are many different versions of English throughout the United States alone.
In this article, we’ll take a look at four of the most common English accents found in the United States.
The most immediately distinguishable American English accent is the southern accent.
While there are no clear borders between regions with southern and non-southern accents, this accent is generally associated with the deep south as well as some surrounding states.
The image below from the University of Georgia provides a good estimate of the range of the southern accent.
This region includes all of the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee as well as most of the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
The accent is also present in some parts of Florida and Maryland.
Of course, just because people in all of those areas have a southern accent doesn’t mean their accents are exactly the same.
For example, a speaker in Texas might have very different vocabulary usage and speech patterns compared to someone in Kentucky or North Carolina.
The idea of a southern accent is more of a general classification than a specific dialect.
When most Americans think of a southern accent, the first thing that comes to mind is the southern drawl.
The clearest sign of the southern drawl is the tendency to turn single vowels into diphthongs — for example, by pronouncing the word “here” with two syllables (hee-yuh) instead of the usual one syllable used by Americans from other regions.
On the other hand, southern speakers also tend to move some vowel sounds in the exact opposite direction.
Instead of the usual diphthong found in words like “my,” a southern speaker may contract the word to a single syllable that sounds more like “mah” to other Americans.
You can learn more about southern accents in the video below.
There are some words that have their pronunciations changed even more dramatically from a typical American accent.
The word “get” is usually spoken by southern Americans as “git,” meaning that it rhymes with the English word “lit” as opposed to the usual “debt.”
With such distinctive features, southern accents are one of the easiest accents for most American speakers to recognize.
Boston accents are another one of the most widely known speaking styles in the United States.
Most people associate Boston accents with a missing “R” sound, especially at the end of words with an “ah” sound.
For example, people from Boston might pronounce the word “car” in a way that sounds more like “ca” to speakers from other parts of the country.
Even though this tendency is mostly tied to Boston in the popular imagination, similar accents are found in other northeast cities such as Philadelphia and New York City.
This video is a perfect example of the classic Boston accent.
Like many other regional accents in the United States and around the world, there is concern that the Boston accent is going away.
Many different factors contribute to this trend including mass media, an increase in people moving around the country, and a preference for more neutral accents in corporate environments.
According to a 2018 study, the Boston accent is most persistent in the historically Irish neighborhood of South Boston: “although the traditional features like fronted-start and fronted-palm are receding amongst younger populations in New England, their presence remains in speakers in South Boston.”
California is the biggest state in the country in terms of population, and it’s also much larger than most other states in terms of land area.
In fact, there are only two states in the USA — Alaska and Texas — that are physically larger than California.
The video below offers an example of slang and speaking patterns from southern California, but these could be very different in other parts of the state.
With that in mind, it’s impossible to narrow down such a diverse region into a single accent.
Ultimately, there are distinctive speaking patterns associated with Californians, but there are also major differences between different parts of the state.
For example, people from San Francisco or other parts of northern California tend to have different accents compared to those from southern cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.
Run by Stanford linguistics professors, the Voices of California project is one of the most important studies currently being conducted on California accents.
Once per year, the group visits a different area of the state to get an idea of how people tend to speak in that region.
According to their website, for example, they are planning to be in San Luis Obispo during September 2022.
The Voices of California group approaches this issue by interviewing California residents.
Along with linguistic features, they are also interested in how different communities understand themselves as a part of the state and country.
One of the questions they commonly ask is for people to say the words “pin” and “pen.”
While these two words are pronounced differently by the vast majority of American English speakers, some Californians say them exactly the same.
People from Southern California are also more likely to replace “were” with “was,” even in cases with a plural third-person pronoun.
According to the United States government, the midwest region is made up of ten different states:
Some people and organizations also consider Kansas and Missouri to be in the midwest, but the main part of the region is clearly located north of these two states.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the midwestern accent is that speakers don’t notice it — according to author Edward McClelland, “an important element of Midwestern identity is believing you don’t have an accent.”
Naturally, midwest accents are at least as varied as the accents seen in California.
Even though the ten states above have a much greater combined land area, their overall population is comparable to that of the state of California.
The midwest contains large stretches of rural land as well as a number of major cities including Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Cleveland.
Here are some examples of common features seen in Chicago and other midwestern cities.
In popular media, the most famous example of a midwestern accent might be the distinctive speaking styles of characters in the Fargo movie and TV show.
However, McClelland and most other linguistics see three distinct accents being used throughout the midwest: inland, midlands, and north-central.
The inland region starts from around Rochester on the east and goes all the way to the state of Iowa on the west side.
The most distinctive features of inland accents stem from the northern cities’ vowel shift, which leads to unique pronunciations of a variety of vowels.
For example, inland speakers may pronounce the word “naturally” in a way that sounds closer to “neturally” to people from other areas of the United States.
On the other hand, the midlands region is considered the most linguistically diverse of the three main parts of the midwest.
The midlands are generally south and west of the inland region, stretching from cities like Columbus and Indianapolis in the east to Omaha, Wichita, and even Oklahoma City in the west.
Furthermore, the midlands are usually considered the closest to a “general American” accent, although this is more accurate in the northern part of the region compared to the south.
At the same time, linguists have still isolated certain elements as distinguishing a midland way of speaking.
One clear example of the unique midlands accent is the presence of an “r” sound after the “a” in words like “wash,” “squash,” and “Washington.”
This feature is posited to stem from the influence of Scottish and Irish language and culture due to the unique history of immigration in the midlands region.
Finally, the north-central or upper midwestern accent is closer to what Americans think of as the “Fargo” accent.
The north-central accent is most closely associated with the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but its features also pop up in other northern states.
For example, north-central speakers often pronounce the word “absurd” with more of a “z” sound than the typical “s” sound.
Another unique element is the addition of a “t” sound to the end of words like “across,” making them rhyme with the normal pronunciation of “tossed” instead of “toss.”
With that in mind, this really contains at least three unique speaking styles rather than one unified “midwestern accent.”
If you’re aiming for hyper-localization, you need to be sensitive to the differences within this region as well as the differences between the midwest and the rest of the country.
Speakers all around the United States can usually understand each other, but there are still substantial differences in the way the language is spoken in one region compared to another.
Understanding the distinctions between different US English accents will help you produce content that’s better suited to your unique audience.
If you’re looking for a voice actor who speaks a particular US accent, you’re in the right place.
At Voice Crafters, we work with an incredibly talented team of professional actors who come from different areas of the country.
Check out our list of American English actors to learn more and to hire the right voice actor for your next project.