In 1960, linguists predicted that compulsory education, the mass media, foreign immigration and the “mobility of restless Americans” would eventually standardize English, and that in just a few generations, regional accents would disappear.
Today, some scholars, such as sociologist William Lebow of the University of Pennsylvania, note that while some pronunciations are disappearing, others are strengthening.
One example, according to Kalina Newmark, is Native American English, commonly known as a “rage accent”, found in many indigenous communities in the United States and Canada. Rage is the short word for reservation.
Newmark, who is Dene and Metis from the Sahatu region of Canada’s Northwest Territories, attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, a school renowned for its diverse, indigenous student body.
“I’m a Dene person, but I don’t speak Slavey, my heritage language,” she said. “My mother can understand and speak it, but she did not pass it on to us. She learned it from her great-grandmother. My grandmother decided not to pass with the language because she wanted to take it easy when her kids went to school. ,
At Dartmouth, Newmark met Indigenous students from all over North America and observed an interesting phenomenon: despite their different linguistic backgrounds, their English shared some distinctive characteristics, especially when socially gathered. He found that this was also the case with students who had never learned their heritage languages.
When assigned a project studying a non-English language, she and fellow Dartmouth student Nakole Walker, a Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation in North and South Dakota, decided to investigate rage pronunciation, which had never been studied before. had not been.
“There are other types of studies around different groups, such as African-American vernacular English or Chicano English, where linguists have noticed similarities. We knew something unique was happening. [with indigenous English] And wanted to reduce it,” Walker said.
The Dartmouth team recorded interviews and conversations with 75 people from tribes and nations across North America. Their findings, “The Rage Accent No Borders: Native American Ethnic Identity Expresses Through English Prosody,” was published in September 2016 in the journal Language in Society.
They found that Native American and Canadian First Nations communities speak distinct English dialects, but many share similar patterns of pitch, rhythm, and intonation – characteristics that linguists call prosody, the “music” of the language. Even students who didn’t use the rage accent were familiar with it.
“The most important feature we found is ‘contour pitch pronunciation’,” said Dartmouth sociologist James Stanford, who referred to his study. “We called it the ‘Thomas’ feature.”
The character refers to Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who was played by actor Evan Adams in the 1998 film Smoke Signal, the first commercial feature film written, directed and starring indigenous peoples. Thomas, a frequent storyteller living on the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho, speaks in an exaggerated rage accent. Her voice rises and falls in a melodious tone (watch a clip from the film below).
“Another feature [that] Study participants were identified as ethnically distinct, which is what we call terminal mid- or high-rise,” Stanford said.
In Standard English, Stanford explained, the speakers’ voices drop in pitch at the end of a sentence. Many Indigenous speakers – such as the Thomas character – end their sentences at mid or high pitch.
“Another important feature we noted was syllable timing — or rhythm,” Stanford said. “Each syllable takes the same amount of time.”
These accusatory features can be heard in the three YouTube videos below.
The ‘Whispers’ of the Ancestors
Although she does not discredit the influence of individual heritage accents, Newmark believes that the reg accent is rooted in interethnic contact during the 1880s reservation era, when children of various language backgrounds of origin and First Nations were admitted to residential homes. was forced into schools, or during the resettlement era of the 1950s and 1960s, when America sought to relocate Native Americans to cities and end reservations.
Coming together in schools or urban communities, Native Americans were forced to converse with each other in English.
“They were all learning English together,” Newmark said, “and making up an Englishman of their own.”
“What we are seeing is adaptation – and Native Americans have always been experts at adaptation,” said Twela Baker, a Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHRA) citizen and president of Nueta Hidtsa Sahnish College in the north of Fort Berthold. Dakota on reservation.
He pointed out that before coming into contact with Europeans, tribes did not live in a vacuum.
“We traveled. We engaged in trade. We got married. We formed political alliances with other tribes,” Baker told VOA. “The ability to learn other languages was important, and for people four or five It was not uncommon to speak languages, as many Europeans do today.”
She knows that some people, natives and non-, make fun of the rez accent, or dismiss it as “inappropriate English.”
“One of my major goals as a teacher is to reject the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are, where we come from, how we speak English and that we ourselves How to present it in a very Western society,” Baker said. “I would love for my youth to feel that they are accepted not only in the places where they live in the Indian country, but also when they move away from the reservation.”