The three words I choose for this project are, Orality, Technology, and Consciousness. These three words describe one aspect of the impact future communications around the world. I am focusing on the debated topic of the loss regional accents and cultural identities that come with the technological advances in communications of the last quarter century. Are we loosing this cultural piece of identity through the use of electronic communication? Is the neutral accent of the global market place taking over regional accents? Are we all communicating on a single world accent based on technological habits? Marshal McLuan explains in his book ‘The Medium is the massage’, that communication technologies evolve and are comprised of spaces and media of which overtake the previous. Is technological advances in communication such as texting, email, and internet micro videos taking over the written word and face to face communication?
The orality, or the spoken language in America is as diverse as the United States is large. Across the regions in America we find different and varied forms of communication known as accents. These accents to the English language were primarily introduced through migration patterns of immigrants moving across the country and settling in communities together. Some of the inflections, tone and style stayed with them and the regional accents became part of the regional vernacular. Some examples are, Brooklyn accent of New York is a classic example of the influence of English settlers and the dropping of the R’s in its accent. This influence is wide spread along the east coast and is often called the R-less corridor of New York, Boston, and Charleston. There is also the southern American accent, widely referred to as the southern drawl. This accent is varied with inflections and tones from a variety of immigration of settlers throughout the 16th and 17th century’s, but can be closely tied to a southern British Isles influence and the post creole speech of African slaves.
I will focus my efforts on the region of the 12 Midwest states. There are three distinct regional accents as described by linguists William Labov, Sharon Ash and Charles Boberg and their website that maps regional dialects across the United States. www.atlas.mouton-content.com/ North – Central, Inland North, and Midland. In the area that I grew up in, the Inland North dialect, is fairly strong. It can be described as long vowels, with a Finnish or Swedish and a strong German influenced type accent. Of course this reflects the community’s inhabitants from the earlier 19th century.
Here is a common example albeit exaggerated, but one can distincty hear the elongated vowels.
This accent is part of the cultural identity of the region. It is as distinct as a southern drawl, it connects its population to their blue collar, steel mill and farming roots of the late 19th century. All of these accents and dialects formed over several hundred years of immigration patterns and communities of settlers. The primary technology for these peoples was the spoken word. Then the written word, reading and writing became more important with the ushering in of the industrial age, these regions were primarily encapsulated within themselves. Books, and newspapers were largely regional and were distributed as such. As postindustrial technology, such as the telephone, television, and national print became available some of these regional lines blended. Now with the information age we have the Internet and mass media where world regions have access to each other media streams. Born out of this is the Neutral accent of the information age.
The regional accents are being threatened by technology. The widespread use of mobile devices and broadband services have played a role in introducing a neutral accent to the world. A neutral accent can be described as an accent that is not discernable as originating from one specific region or country.
As the world business model has changed so too has the need to service customers. With the influences of global technological reach and global companies providing goods and services to customers on a global scale, companies had to find a version of speech that can be best understood by the most people. Born out of this need was the neutral accent. Large outsourcing practices by corporations helped fuel the need for the neutral accent. The call centers in India and the Philippines with multi language support structures adopted this neutral accent to provide the easiest to understand speech for their customers. As the Internet matured in the late 1990’s so too did the mass media companies as they adopted an Internet reach to broadcast to the world. The rise of the micro video, and the global reach of hand held digital devices such as smart phones, pushed the Internet new media and neutral accent even further.
The American ‘Midland’ accent is known worldwide as a neutral accent. It is the most common English that is taught worldwide as English as a second Language. For instance, news broadcasts and written journalism is largely American Midland English. Large portions of the Internet are made up of this neutral accent. With the influx of micro video, texting, and electronic communication, we are slowly loosing these regional accents to more time spent communicating on digital devices as we hear the neutral accent. In a recent Gallop pole Teachers did see an increased use of digital devices in teaching methods and believe the trend will continue. However, they also noted a strong concern for student’s physical and mental health as it relates to communication and ability to communicate effectively. This maybe one indicator of how the exposure to the neutral accent of the internet is eroding away the regional accents.
As we consume more and more communication through the use of digital devices we are slowly training our brains to the neutral accent. Being born into the digital age is also having an effect on children. They are the digital natives. They were born into the digital age, whereas the rest of us are digital immigrants. Meaning, we lived in an analog world and made the migration into the digital age. In a paper written by Marc Prensky in 2001 he coins the phrase ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ and explains some of the effects of being a native and an immigrant in the structure of the American public school system. He describes a disconnect with digital immigrant teachers struggling to keep pace with the digital natives and communicate effectively. I believe that this disconnect is also a factor in the loss of the regional dialects. The digital natives are processing and consuming more data that we did as immigrants and therefore are learning the new digital neutral accent of the internet. As children are being brought up and taught in the digital age they will adopt the new digital neutral accent as their own and pass it along to their children. As they grow older the digital space is immersive and the digital natives will continue to consume and push out the new digital neutral accent. The age of the digital immigrant and our analog life is closing.
I believe that we are slowly losing the cultural accents as an identity of regions not just in America, but the world in general. As technological consumption continues we will eventually all speak the neutral accent of the internet. We see early signs in the children of the Midwest that do not speak the strong inland – north accent of their blue collar grandfathers. As we continue to use digital tools at work and at school to communicate and learn we teaching ourselves how to communicate as they do on the Internet. Mass media and global businesses have adopted the neutral accent as a way to communicate more effectively with more and more clients. There will come a time when the digital natives will take over, and with it the loss of some of our cultural identity.
McLuhan, Marshall. This Is Marshall Mcluhan: the Medium Is the Message. New York: NBC, 1967.
Gallup, Inc. “U.S. Teachers See Digital Devices as Net Plus for Education.” Gallup.com, 6 Apr. 2018, news.gallup.com/poll/232154/teachers-digital-devices-net-plus-education.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=LEAD&g_campaign=item_&g_content=U.S. Teachers See Digital Devices as Net Plus for Education.
Lesson Nine GmbH. “The United States Of Accents: Midwestern Accent | Babbel Magazine.” The Babbel Magazine, www.babbel.com/en/magazine/the-united-states-of-accents-midwestern-american-english/.
“Preliminaries.” The Glottalic Airstream, www.atlas.mouton-content.com/.
Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Digital Natives Digital Immigrants, On the Horizon(MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5), Oct. 2001, www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky - Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants - Part1.pdf. PDF
Tripathy, Abhiyansu. “What Is a Neutral English Accent?” What Is a Neutral English Accent?, Quora.com, 27 Aug. 2017, www.quora.com/What-is-a-neutral-English-accent. article
Language Text and Technology final project.
Michael Mason, November 2018