On July 4, 1960, the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard rang in Independence Day with a dire Associated Press report by one Norma Gauhn headlined “American Dialects Disappearing.” The problem, according to “speech experts,” was the homogenizing effect of “mass communications, compulsory education, [and] the mobility of restless Americans.” These conformist pressures have only intensified in the half-century since the AP warned “that within four generations virtually all regional U.S. speech differences will be gone.” And so as we enter the predicted twilight of regional American English, it’s no surprise that publications as venerable as the Economist now confirm what our collective intuition tells us: “Television and the Internet are definitely doing something to our regional accents: A Boston accent that would have seemed weak in the John F. Kennedy years now sounds thick by comparison.”Northern Cities Vowel Shift
Before you start weeping into your chowdah, though, I have some news: All these people are wrong. Not about the Boston accent, necessarily; that one might really be receding. But American linguistic diversity as a whole isn’t dying—it’s thriving. Despite our gut-level hunch about the direction of the language; despite the fact that 70-cent, three-minute, off-peak, coast-to-coast long-distance calls that cost four inflation-adjusted dollars in 1970 are now free; despite cheap travel, YouTube, and the globalization of film and television, American dialects are actually diverging.