It’s been conventional wisdom in linguistics circles for a long time now – America’s dialects, under assault from mass media, are fading.
Only it’s not true, and they’re not (emphasis added):
Although the United States is an international melting pot and the average American makes a dozen moves in a lifetime, regional accents are alive and well. In fact, regional accents are becoming stronger and more different from each other, says William Labov, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, although it’s not entirely clear why.
So why would that be?
Well, there are explanations that seem like linguistics, sort of…:
One possibility, says Labov, is that these original sound differences are being exaggerated, like trains moving in opposite directions on two railroad tracks.
Others? Well they sound like Paul Krugman plain linguistician:
“The other is that dialect differences have become associated with political differences, so that the Blue States/Red States division comes close to the boundary between the Northern and Midland dialects,” he explains.
On the one hand – please tell us what a “Red State” accent sounds like? Anyone?
On the other – there’s an interesting point there; there is at least a correlation between linguistic groups – maybe:
The “Northern”dialect group covers everything from New York to the western Great Lakes (and on west through the Dakotas and Montana, which kinda scrubs the whole “northern dialect is a red-state dialect” thing.
Labov says that our dialects change little after age 18 and we tend to retain the accent we grew up with. Young people first match the dialects of their parents, but then they often change to match their peers. These changes, though, are unconscious, he explains.
Oh, ya. You bet.