what speech do we like best?
new york city skyline

Mapping Attitudes
Discover what speech you like

Standard American?
A universal standard is elusive

Correct American
To judge or not to judge

Additional Resources
What Speech?  Index 

What Speech Do We Like Best?

Prestige & Prejudice

Detailed Article Index

Language as Prestige

Crossing Over
Linguists study "crossing" to understand how and why individuals copy the speech of another group. "Borrowing" another language variety is often an expression of identity. Cecelia Cutler explains.

How Hamlet Lost His Drawl
Can Americans speak without betraying their origins? Natalie Baker-Shirer of Carnegie Mellon University teaches acting students and elementary school children how to speak Standard Speech, free of regionalisms, accents or dialects. It can come in handy during a job search.

Do You Speak Presidential?
In politics, it's not always what you say, but how you say it that makes an impact. With the help of author Allan Metcalf (Presidential Voices) and Web site contributor Anna Marie Trester, we look at how commanders-in-chiefs have commanded the language and how their speech often reflects broader social change.

Language  Prejudice

Watch Your Language
We use language to express our identity. Our way of speaking varies and changes to reflect who we are and who we want to be. Carmen Fought asks the provocative questions: What does your speech say about you? And why is linguistic prejudice harmful?

They Speak Really Bad English Down South and in New York City
Southern pride falters in the face of linguistic stereotyping … and New Yorkers are uncharacteristically abashed about their accents. Regional residents seem to buy into the idea that something's wrong with their dialect, reports Dennis R. Preston.

Women Talk Too Much
No, they don't. Rather, they don't in every situation. Social context and relative power determine who talks more, men or women. Janet Holmes sets the record straight and establishes the reasons for the lingering myth of female chattiness.

Talking with Mi Gente
Chicano English: It's not "beginner English," it's not Spanglish and it's not watered-down Spanish. Chicano English is a distinctive U.S. English dialect. Carmen Fought discusses the dialect common to the Southwestern United States and how misconceptions about it can cause problems for young students.

"You say po-tay-toe, and I say po-tah-toe…" Our appearance, manner and the way we speak broadcast a social message. Language gatekeepers - often self-appointed - judge how we speak. Author John Fought explains how linguists try to keep it language-neutral.

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Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • Bauer, Laurie and Peter Trudgill. 1998. Language Myths. London & New York: Penguin Books. (A collection of useful and easily understood articles, each dealing with a common myth about language structure, use and history. A good way to sample linguists' perspectives.)
  • Bloomfield, Leonard (1887-1949). Though much of Bloomfield's work is very hard to approach, a 1927 paper, "Literate and Illiterate Speech" (American Speech 2.432-39) is a clear, easily understandable illustration of usage differences among speakers of Menominee, an "unwritten" Algonkian language spoken in rural Wisconsin, that Bloomfield studied and described over a period of many years. The paper was reprinted in Hymes 1964.391-96.
  • Hymes, Dell, ed. 1964. Language in Culture and Society, (New York. A still-useful anthology.
  • Chambers, J.K., Peter Trudgill, and Natalie Schilling-Estes (Eds.). 2004. The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Wolfram, Walt and Natalie Schilling-Estes. 1998. American English: Dialects and Variation. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Allan Metcalf, 2004. Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W Bush, Houghton Mifflin.
  • Alim, H. Samy. (in press). "Hip Hop Nation Language." In Ed Finegan & John Rickford (eds.), Language in the USA. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bauman, Zygmunt 1991. Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Cutler, Cecilia. 2002. "Crossing Over: White Teenagers, Hip Hop and African American English." Doctoral Dissertation, New York University.
  • Hill,-Jane-H. 1995. Junk Spanish, Covert Racism, and the (Leaky) Boundary between Public and Private Spheres. Pragmatics 5, 197-212.
  • Labov, William. 1980. "Is There a Creole Speech Community?" Theoretical Orientations in Creole Studies, Albert Valdman and Arnold Highfield, eds. Pp. 369-388. New York: Academic Press.
  • Rampton, Ben. 1996. "Language Crossing and Ethnicity in Sociolinguistics." Paper presented at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference (NWAV XXV), Las Vegas.
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National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York