Is there a Seattle accent?

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by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 4:16 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 4:00 AM

SEATTLE – Do people in Seattle speak with an accent? The answer seems pretty simple to most who live here.

“People here speak like, perfect American English,” said Duke Davis, who has lived all over the continent but currently calls Seattle home. 

A survey of people in Seattle finds that very few believe there is a Seattle dialect.

But if you post that question to linguist Betsy Evans at the University of Washington, the answer is a bit surprising.

“Maybe,” she said.

Evans pointed to work by her colleague, Alicia Beckford Wassink, who recorded Seattle voices and found a few distinct pronunciations that suggest a slight accent.

Her research found that, for some people in Seattle, the word “bag” sounds like “beg.”

Another example: the word “egg.” A number of people in Seattle pronounce it with a long “A” sound.

(For more on Beckford Wassink’s research, visit her Web page for the Pacific Northwest English Project: http://www.artsci.washington.edu/nwenglish/index.asp)

We asked Woody Braden, a Washington native, and his fiancé Jenna Williams, a Florida native, to both pronounce the word. There was a slight difference between the two pronunciations, which Williams noticed, but Braden did not.

“There is a Seattle accent,” she said.

“No way,” Braden replied.

These pronunciations – using the long “A” sound in “bag” and “egg” – are typically found in the Upper Midwest, places like Minnesota.

“We really don’t know yet why this pronunciation exists here in Seattle,” Evans said.

More research is needed to figure out why those dialects are so prevalent in the Pacific Northwest.

Researchers have also noticed another trend in Seattle: the low-back vowel merger, something that is common in the western half of the United States.

People in Washington tend to pronounce the word “cot” the same way they pronounce the word “caught.” They also tend to pronounce the name “Don” the same way they would say the name “Dawn.”

Put those words in front of someone who is from the eastern part of the country and you will likely here a difference in how those pairings are pronounced.

Meanwhile, Evans is studying how people perceive accents in Washington.

“What I’ve found is pretty consistently that people feel that Eastern Washington sounds different,” she said, noting that people perceive more of a “country, southern” accent. 

But more research is needed to figure out if that is even true.  Evans plans to visit the eastern half of the state to record voices and determine if there’s a distinctive accent.

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