General American: Wikis


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General American (GA) is a major accent of American English. The accent is not restricted to the United States, as it is quite common in parts of Canada. Within American English, General American and accents approximating it are contrasted with Southern American English, several Northeastern accents, and other distinct regional accents and social group accents like African American Vernacular English.


General American in the media

General American, like British Received Pronunciation (RP) as well as most standard language varieties of many other societies, has never been the accent of the entire nation. However, it has become widely spoken in many American films, TV series, national news, commercial ads, and American radio broadcasts. Local ads, in contrast, tend to use the local accents because they are often made using salespeople or owners from local businesses.

The General American accent is most closely related to a generalized Midwestern accent and is spoken particularly by many newscasters, in part because the national broadcasters preferred to hire people who exhibited similar speech.[citation needed] The famous news anchor Walter Cronkite is a good example of a broadcaster using this accent. General American is sometimes promoted as preferable to other regional accents. In the United States, classes promising "accent reduction" 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"; political comedian Stephen Colbert worked hard as a child to reduce his South Carolina accent because of the portrayal of Southerners as stupid on television of the day. General American is also the accent typically taught to people learning English as a second language in the United States, as well as outside the country to anyone who wishes to learn "American English". In much of Asia, for example, ESL teachers are strongly encouraged to teach American English, no matter their own origins or accents.[citation needed]

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 what would be considered a "regular" American Accent.[citation needed] The local accent often gets more distinct the farther north one goes within the Midwest, and the more rural the area, with the Northern Midwest featuring its own dialect North Central American English. The fact that a Midwestern dialect became the basis of what is General American English is often attributed to the mass immigration of Midwestern farmers to California and the Pacific Northwest from where it spread, and of Mormons from the area of Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah.

The area of the United States where the local accent is largely free of regional features

The Telsur Project[1] (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), southern and central Iowa (including Des Moines), and western Illinois (including Peoria and the Quad Cities but not the Chicago area).

Since the 1960s, northeastern Ohio and much of the rest of the Inland North have been affected by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.[2]

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, Michiganians 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 Indianans tend to rate the speech of their state on par with that of Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find Michiganians 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 Michiganians’ faith that they speak an accentless variety is just an extreme version of the general stereotype of Midwestern English. [1]

Particularly important in setting standards was John Kenyon, the pronunciation editor of the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary.[3]




A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below:

  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Fricative   f  v θ  ð s  z ʃ  ʒ     h
Nasal m     n     ŋ  
Lateral       l        
Approximant       ɹ j (ʍ)  w  

The phoneme /ʍ/ is present only in varieties that have not undergone the wine-whine merger. /ʍ/ is often analyzed as a consonant cluster of /hw/. Also, many Americans realize the phoneme /ɹ/ (often transcribed as /r/) as a retroflex approximant [ɻ].


General American has sixteen or seventeen vowel sounds that can be used in stressed syllables as well as two that can be used only in unstressed syllables. Most of the vowel sounds are monophthongs. The monophthongs of General American are shown in the table below:

Monophthongs Front Central Back
plain rhotacized
Close i     u
Near-close ɪ     ʊ
Close-mid e[4]     o[4]
Mid   ə ɚ  
Open-mid ɛ ɝ ʌɔ
Near Open æ     ɑ

Depending on one's analysis, people who merge the vowels of cot and caught to /ɑ/ either have no phoneme /ɔ/ at all or have the [ɔ] only before /r/. Words like north and horse are usually transcribed /nɔɹθ/ and /hɔɹs/, but since all accents with cot and caught merged to /kɑt/ have also undergone the horse-hoarse merger, it may be preferable to transcribe north and horse /noɹθ/ and /hoɹs/.[5] Thus, in these cases, the [ɔ] before /ɹ/ can be analyzed as an allophone of /o/. [ɝ] and [ɚ] are often analyzed as sequences of /ʌr, ər/, respectively. [ə] is actually an indeterminate vowel that occurs only in unstressed syllables. Since the occurrence of [ə] is mostly predictable, it need not be considered a phoneme distinct from /ʌ/.

Among speakers who distinguish between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/, the vowel of cot (usually transcribed /ɑ/), is sometimes more of a central vowel which may vary from [a] to +], while /ɔ/ is phonetically lower, closer to [ɒ].[6] Among cot-caught merged speakers, /ɑ/ usually remains a back vowel, [ɑ], sometimes showing lip rounding as [ɑʷ] or [ɒ], and, since these speakers do not distinguish between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/, their retracted allophones for /ɑ/ may be identical to the lowered allophones of /ɔ/ among speakers who preserve the contrast.

The diphthongs of General American are shown in the next table:

Diphthongs Offglide is a front vowel Offglide is a back vowel
Opener component is unrounded [4]
Opener component is rounded ɔɪ [4]


While there is not any single formal definition of General American, various features are considered to be part of it, including rhotic pronunciation, which maintains the coda [ɹ] in words like pearl, car, and court. Unlike RP, General American is characterized by the merger of the vowels of words like father and bother, flapping, and the reduction of vowel contrasts before [ɹ]. General American also generally has yod-dropping after alveolar consonants. Other phonemic mergers, including the cot-caught merger, the pin-pen merger, the Mary-marry-merry merger and the wine-whine merger, may be found optionally at least in informal and semiformal varieties.

One phenomenon apparently unique to General American is the behavior of words that in RP have /ɒrV/ where /V/ stands for any vowel. These words are treated differently in different North American accents: in New York-New Jersey English, Philadelphia dialect, and the Carolinas they are all pronounced with /-ɑr-/ and in Canadian English they are all pronounced with /-ɔr-/ (thus a Canadian's sorry sounds like sore-ee to an American). But in General American there is a split: the majority of these words have /-ɔr-/, like Canadian English, but the last four words of the list below have /-ɑr-/, like New York-New Jersey English, for many speakers.[7] Words of this class include, among others:

RP NY/NJ, Philadelphia, and the Carolinas GA Can.
orange ˈɒrɪndʒ ˈɑrəndʒ ˈɔrəndʒ
origin ˈɒrədʒɪn ˈɑrədʒɪn ˈɔrədʒɪn
Florida ˈflɒrɨdə ˈflɑrədə ˈflɔrədə
horrible ˈhɒrɨbl̩ ˈhɑrəbl̩ ˈhɔrəbl̩
quarrel ˈkwɒrəl ˈkwɑrəl ˈkwɔrəl
warren ˈwɒrən ˈwɑrən ˈwɔrən
borrow ˈbɒrəʊ ˈbɑroʊ ˈbɔroʊ
tomorrow təˈmɒrəʊ təˈmɑroʊ təˈmɔroʊ
sorry ˈsɒri ˈsɑri ˈsɔri
sorrow ˈsɒrəʊ ˈsɑroʊ ˈsɔroʊ

See also

  • See navbox at bottom: English dialects by continent

External links


  1. ^ Telsur Project home page
  2. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:187–208)
  3. ^ Seabrook (2005)
  4. ^ a b c d For most speakers, what are often transcribed as /e o/ are realized as [eɪ oʊ], especially in open syllables.
  5. ^ Wells (1982:479)
  6. ^ Wells (1982:476)
  7. ^ Shitara (1993:?)


  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. pp. 187–208. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  • Roca, Iggy; Johnson, Wyn (1999). Course in Phonology. Blackwell Publishing. 
  • Seabrook, John (May 19, 2005), "The Academy: Talking the Tawk", The New Yorker,, retrieved 2008-05-14 
  • Shitara, Yuko (1993), "A survey of American pronunciation preferences", Speech Hearing and Language 7: 201–32 
  • Silverstein, Bernard (1994). NTC's Dictionary of American English Pronunciation. Lincolnwood, Illinois: NTC Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8442-0726-8. 
  • Wells, John C. (1982a). Accents of English. 1. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-22919-7. 
  • Wells, John C. (1982b). Accents of English. 2. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-24224-X. 
  • Wells, John C. (1982c). Accents of English. 3. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-24225-8. 
  • Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman. ISBN 0-582-36468-X. 


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



  • IPA: /ˈdʒɛnɹəl əˈmɛɹəkən/, SAMPA: /"dZEnr@l @"mEr@k@n/

Proper noun

General American


General American

  1. The form of pronunciation of the English language considered to be typical of the United States, largely derived from a Midwestern accent.



Simple English

General American (GA) is a major accent of American English. Within American English, General American and accents approximating it are contrasted with Southern American English, several Northeastern accents, and other distinct regional accents and social group accents like African American Vernacular English.


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