Central Connecticut: A Strange New Accent?

I had a lengthy blog post prepared today but got caught up on a specific detail that I’d like to get your advice on.

The clip in question is that of this college TV news reporter at Central Connecticut State University. He notably has a Central Connecticut Accent:

You’ll be able to notice some of the salient features of Central CT accent here (t-glottaling, LOT-fronting, etc), but what really caught my interest was the rhythm of this young man’s speech.

This guy has something that might be referred to as a “mumble:” consonants, vowels and entire syllables are often reduced or elided completely. In fact, I found this feature so intense that I actually had a hard time understanding his accent at a few points … and I grew up 45 minutes away from Central CT.

Just to give on salient example, listen to the phrase “…ticket or showing up to class late…” that occurs at 0:37. For most accents of English, relatively equal stress would be put on “class” and “late,” so the phrase would come out a bit like:

ticket or showing up to class late” with perhaps a tad more emphasis on “late”

But for this young speaker from Central CT, the word “class” (which strikes one as vitally important to the meaning of the sentence) is said so quickly and with so little stress that I almost didn’t hear it:

ticket orshowingptclss late

So here’s my question: is this merely a marker of the supposedly lax diction of the young? Or is this an actual accent feature?

I mention this because I’ve known a number of people from this region who have had a similar “mumble.” I have (I swear) had two separate co-workers from the Hartford area who have been criticized for their diction (or lack thereof). Am I wrong in thinking this might be an actual regional feature? Or is this just how the young people talk these days?

(And if you want to comment about any other features of this young man’s accent, feel free!)

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About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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35 Responses to Central Connecticut: A Strange New Accent?

  1. Amy Stoller says:

    Notice the difference between the reporter and the interview subject in the parking piece? The reporter speaks very rapidly, which makes him more difficult to understand than the young man he interviews, who speaks more slowly.

    Even if the reporter’s diction is not up to most broadcast standards (and it seems to me that it is not), his audience would benefit if he would just … slow … down!

    Do “kids these days” mumble more than they used to? Maybe, maybe not. I think it is at least possible that:

    A. Trained speech professionals sometimes have a lower tolerance for “poor diction”
    B. Older folks often have a lower tolerance for speech differences in younger folks
    C. Anyone with hearing loss is likely to accuse others of mumbling

    I’m not pointing any fingers at you, and I’m not exempting myself from the listener failings I propose here. As it happens, I didn’t have a great deal of trouble understanding the reporter, but I did have to focus on what he meant, enough so that I really couldn’t say whether anything in particular about his speech was an accent feature or a personal idiosyncrasy. I do agree that he doesn’t seem over fond of consonant articulation.

    As a side note, in my personal lexicon, “mumbling” involves speaking in a tone so low that the listener has to strain to hear the speaker, although it may also involve a lack of consonant articulation. What this speaker is doing is what I used to hear described as “swallowing his words” – a term I never use professionally – but which means essentially what you said above: “consonants, vowels and entire syllables are often reduced or elided completely”

  2. Marc L says:

    Trawicks:
    I agree with your assessment of the accent, but that’s not the problem. The kid’s in the wrong business. You, as an actor, know how to articulate. I’ve done TV, and audio, acting and singing during my career, and if I were auditioning him for anything, he wouldn’t make the cut. He speaks at 78 rpm when the situation calls for 33 1/3. Reminds me of Alvin and the chipmunks. I think he’s atypical, or to put it another way, if everyone in central CT talked like him, no one would understand anyone.

  3. Marc L says:

    Trawicks:
    I agree with your assessment of his accent, but the kid’s in the wrong business. He’d last 35 seconds on commercial radio. He’s not typical of the region. I have relatives there and no one talks like that.

  4. Mig says:

    Are you sure it’s an accent and not just somebody who (like me!) speaks too quickly?

    • Krysia says:

      I literally live on the same road as ccsu. honestly that person is just a fast talker, nothing more than that.

  5. NV says:

    I thought Vin had a pretty distinctive accent too. The way he said gettin’ (a ticket) was interesting. I thought I used a glottal stop in that word too, but I don’t say it like him, so I guess I don’t. But I don’t pronounce it as [t] either, so I’m not sure what I do.

  6. trawicks says:

    @Amy,

    I don’t know that younger people have laxer diction, per se. Although it’s very easy to see things as “lax” which are actually just shifted, different, or hard to understand. To use a different part of the country, for example, I’m pretty sure I’ve secretly made some horrible judgements about younger Californian English as being “loose” or “lazy” or whatever other stupid attribute you can think of, even thought that accent is the product of a systematic shift, not just a case of young people letting their “vowels slide.” It’s hard not to be prejudicial though: we’re wired for it!

    @Marc, @Mig,

    Since I grew up nearby, I may be projecting a bit here. What is perhaps just idiolectical is something I’m perhaps attributing to a specific accent close to my hometown. So indeed, this may just be a young man who speaks too quickly!

    • Amy Stoller says:

      Ben, I agree with everything you’ve just said here (not surprising, as I think you began by restating my point B. šŸ™‚ )

      Personally, I have a strong aesthetic preference for the Mary-marry-merry distinction, and the hurry/furry distinction, and a SPA vowel in Florida – in other words, features I grew up with, and which are not shared by most of the US! But I leave these preferences at the door when I work, as I know you do. (It’s one thing to have prejudices, it’s another to be ruled by them, instead of rising above them.)

      • dw says:

        Personally, I have a strong aesthetic preference for … a SPA vowel in Florida

        or, for the benefit of those of us who learned the language outside North American, a LOT vowel šŸ™‚

        • Danny Ryan says:

          As a speaker of British English I find it hard to imagine how you can even survive with the Mary-marry-merry-, the cot-caught- and the hurry-furry-merger!!! šŸ˜‰
          Are there US accents that have all these mergers, or do they occur only one or two at a time? Thanks.

        • dw says:

          @Danny Ryan:

          Are there US accents that have all these mergers, or do they occur only one or two at a time? Thanks.

          Absolutely, they do. Indeed I would hazard that a majority of North American speakers have all three mergers you mention plus father-bother and nearer-mirror.

          Some places will have all those, PLUS the pin-pen merger (e.g. Phoenix, Arizona or the California central valley: see http://aschmann.net/AmEng/#SmallMapUnitedStates)

          Of course, an American might be equally amazed that most Brits can’t distinguish father-farther, pawn-porn, caught-court, dear-idea, or, increasingly, tour-tore.

        • Phil says:

          A majority of Americans probably do have the father-bother, Mary-marry-merry-, nearer-mirror and hurry-furry mergers. I don’t know about the cot-caught merger though. According to the Atlas of North American English, the majority of Americans do not cot-caught merger a.k.a. the low back merger. I think it’s probably right about that.

        • Phil says:

          *have the cot-caught merger

        • Phil says:

          P.S. It might be hard for some English people to hear the cot-caught distinction in American speech because the phonetic distance between the phonemes may not always be as large as they would expect, i.e., it might be more like [ɒĢœ] vs. [ɑĢŸ] rather than the [ɒ] and (something closer to) [oĖ] they would expect.

        • dw says:

          @Phil:

          Throw in Canadians, and I think a majority of North Americans have cot=caught. Of course, the merger has probably been spreading since ANAE was published.

        • trawicks says:

          Most definitely. I myself grew up in an area that is not supposed to be “caught-cot” merged, but show some signs of the merger. In particular, I only seem to keep the phonemes distinct before morpheme boundaries and voiced consonants. So while “cot” and “caught” themselves are merged, “pod” and “pawed” are not. But words of the “-aught” and “-ought” is pretty much neutralized. Further confusing things, I maintain the LOT-CLOTH distinction for reasons that are unclear.

        • Phil says:

          You can think it. I don’t know if it’s true though.

  7. lynneguist says:

    I know some teenagers in southern England who’ve shifted into mumbling for their mid-teens, and I think they’ll come out of it again.

    I once read somewhere that mumbling is a feature of the Rochester, NY area accent, and I’ve never been able to find that again. So if anyone knows where I can find that in print, I’d be happy to know!

    • trawicks says:

      Teenagers snap out of a lot of things, linguistically-speaking. As an adolescent in 1990’s New England, I recall a lot of hip-hop obsessed suburban teenagers picking up features of African American Vernacular English when talking to their friends. I’d bet anything that’s not how they talk now. Likewise, I once saw an interview with Pierce Brosnan about how he picked up a Cockney accent in his teenage years in London, but he’s obviously lost any trace of it!

  8. Erica Walch says:

    He sounds a lot clearer when he’s fooling around at the end of the video. I hear a lot of youts (that’s youths to yous) who talk like that when they’re giving reports and such in college classes — he’s trying to sound all serious and talk quickly and he is indeed eating his consonants and flattening out his pitch as a result. But accent? What accent? (I’m joking — this is my region — I’ve even parked in one of those CCSU lots).

  9. Keri says:

    It’s awesome to see a post about home =) I tend to agree with the other commenters in that this particular student is speaking very quickly, maybe out of nervousness. But I don’t think that discounts the possibility of a unique mid-CT accent. I’d love to read more about the topic! Thanks for another great post =D

  10. Salamander says:

    He is speaking very quickly, probably out of nervousness. But he would have that Connecticut mumble even if he slowed down.

    I grew up in Fairfield County and yes, we do mumble and talk really fast. I never thought that was a central Connecticut characteristic, though; people from “upstate” talked a lot slower and shared some characteristics with Western Massachusetts dialect, like pronouncing “else” as “elts” and saying things like “I’m going down cellar” instead of “I’m going into the basement.”

    The Fairfield County mumble was actually pretty notorious. You heard it most from rich preppy people from Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien. I always thought it was somehow decended from the patrician New Englander habit of not moving one’s jaw when speaking, and influenced by the fast-talking Noo Yawkas of adjacent Westchester County.

    I moved away from Connecticut when I was in my early 20’s and had to make a conscious effort to speak s l o w l y and enunciate so that people from other parts of the country could understand me.

    • trawicks says:

      @Salamander,

      I don’t know much about the accent of Fairfield (I grew up in Northeastern CT, and believe it or not, have never once set foot in Fairfield Co!) I’ve been told it has a bit of a New York flavor to it, but I’m guessing that isn’t as much the case these days.

      @Erica, @Keri,

      Thanks for representing CT, guys šŸ˜‰ Funny, any time I hear this accent again, I find it kind of remarkable. Not that it’s a particularly unusual American accent, by any means, but because it’s almost more akin to accents in Michigan or even Wisonsin than nearby Boston or New York.

      • Salamander says:

        Hmm…well, there is a faint New York flavor to a Fairfield County accent, at least in the southwestern part where I grew up. Blue-collar neighborhoods in particular seemed to have more of a New York influence. That has probably changed a bit in the past 25 years though, as an influx of wealthy hedge fund types from other areas has occurred.

        My father-in-law commented recently that I have a Boston accent now after 12 years in Massachusetts, based on my pronunciation of “coffee” as “cawffee” so I guess I’ve lost the New York “o” dipthong. (I am not sure that is the right linguistic term for it – I mean the way “dog” and “coffee” come out as “dooawg” and “cooawffee”).

  11. AL says:

    I’ve heard a stereotype that New Englanders speak very rapidly. It reminds of this McDonald’s coffee commercial from about a year ago:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ittuQhZ6K2U&feature=related

    The quality isn’t good. What struck me (besides the local terms) was that they spoke quickly, at least to me. (I grew up in California and Maryland.)

    • trawicks says:

      I have heard that New Englanders do tend to have a more “clipped” quality to their speech. Although some of this, I might suspect, is because it’s a more industrialized region of the country: except for Downeast Maine and the northern halves of NH and VT, you’re never more than two hours from a metropolitan region of more than 500,000 people.

    • Jason says:

      It doesn’t sound terribly fast to me. There are people who talk that fast where I’m from in Michigan. Some people talk really slow too. I think it really depends on the person more than it does where they come from.

  12. Stuart says:

    The first thing I thought when I listened to this was that I had no trouble understanding anything either of them said. I wondered if that might be in part because, like all native NZE speakers, I find that almost ALL US English speakers seem to speak very slowly. I smiled at a comment by an earlier respondent, “The reporter speaks very rapidly”. I could tell that this is true when compared to US norms, but to my NZ ears, he was only speaking at a pace that I would consider normal. Maybe that’s why I had no trouble parsing him.

  13. Darcey says:

    My husband teases me often for t-glottaling; “cotton” becomes ‘co-un’, and so on. He says “You speak more clearly and enunciate better, but there are a lot of similarities. You don’t slur as much as he does, but you definitely clip your words like he does.” I grew up in New Milford, which is more Northwestern than anything. I also have training as a linguist and in a few foreign languages, which may be bane or boon in this case.

    I do agree with the poster who mentioned the speed of speech; he did seem to pick up a bit, which happens when you’re nervous, as he very well might be. Still… I had little problem understanding him, so I’m not sure where I fit on this field.

  14. Danny Ryan says:

    Mumbling is probably a confidence thing. The more confident you get, the less you mumble. Also, a youngish non-professional man doing a TV interview is bound to be a little nervous and that might also lead to slurring his syllables…

  15. Eileen Unger says:

    Having been brought up in Middletown, spending time in New Haven, New York, Biston and Philly and now almost 25 years in Atlanta, I am continually asked where I am from as I have what is perceived as no accent that can be pinpointed. This is not a result of where I grew up or where I have lived but a conscious effort on my part to not sound like that young man in the video. That was nothing but pure laziness and lack of anyone pointing out his poor diction. I have what I believe most people from Central Connecticut possess, a dialect that is so not implosive to a foreign ear that it has become what people expect and consider a non dialect at all. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means that people recognise it as the quintessential ‘American’ dialect, therefore not noticing or being able to pinpoint it. The young man in your video needed speech lessons, that’s all. His rushing to get the next word out caused that mumbling. As a young person, between family and school into day, that would have been unacceptable. So still today, although I can do a number of accents quite well and authentically, I remain the ‘girl with no accent’, much like you, Colin – the accent less man.

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  17. Ryan says:

    I can completely understand his speech, but I also have a range of newphews and nieces ranging from 8 years old to just a few years shy of 34. I think there are three main factors to consider: age, location and intention. Personally, around my family in a cozy setting, we talk fast, we mumble, we make little sense to the outside world. We understand each other fairly well. I grew up in Danbury myself and was influenced by a lot of school teachers from New York, my father was from Providence and my mother grew up in a family that traveled between Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. I also took acting lessons as a child and subsequently went into the insurance industry which required heavy contact with people all across the country. Most people I interact with outside my family seem to think I’m accent-less. However, I have traveled to visit relatives or friends in various regions of the country and they’re just baffled because I don’t sound New York and I don’t sound Boston…so how could I be from the North East? I guess it’s all about perception. I know many will disagree, but I’ve found that people in coastal and central Florida and certain parts of the midwest and Northwestern Pacific regions have a speech I feel most comfortable understanding or can barely hear a difference. Of course I myself love a good New York accent…to me it sounds like home and something from my childhood.

  18. Henry says:

    I didn’t know I had an accent until I watched this video. I’m from New Haven CT and speak exactly like this guy.