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What Do You Think a California Accent Sounds Like?

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You've probably heard an impression of a stereotypical California accent or dialect at least once on TV or in the movies. The surfer's slow drawl, the Valley girl's declarative sentence spoken like a question....

But c'mon, Californians don't really have an accent or a dialect.

Do they?

A team of Stanford researchers is working to find out. They've started recording interviews with native Californians to help determine the state's vernacular for a project called Voices of California.

KQED's Charla Bear recently talked about the project with Penny Eckert, a Stanford professor of linguistics and anthropology, for a story on The California Report.

"We realized that nobody really knows anything to speak of about the dialects of the West, and people can say just about anything they want," she says. "And some people were saying just about anything they wanted. I mean, we're all familiar with Moon Unit Zappa's imitation of valley girls, right?"

Eckert says like, obviously, it's pretty far out to stereotype all Californians as having a San Fernando Valley girl accent. But there aren't many examples of what "authentic" California speech is.

Is "surfer" a California dialect? Photo by Nathan Rupert/Flickr
Is "surfer" a California dialect? Photo by Nathan Rupert/Flickr

Some Californians agree that it's difficult to describe the state's dialects.


"I teach foreign exchange students in California," wrote Cari Blackmore Noble on the NPR Facebook page, one of more than 200 people who commented on the story. "Lots of the kids have traveled to other states, and all [of them] say I have a Californian accent. I tried to get them to pin it down for me, but they couldn't really explain it."

"Keep in mind that all of California is a mix of cultures, so if you're down with people of different cultures, it is not uncommon for people to pick up on the slang and sometimes the accent of other people," noted Patricia Boynton.

Other commenters had a very specific definition of California vernacular.

"A proper California accent is as smooth as butter, naturally sonorous, and as rich and deep as a butter cream mocha cake from Just Desserts," wrote Ethan Cranke. "Dignified and divine, i.e. the only accent accepted into heaven."

Still, several pointed to the stereotypes presented in pop culture as examples of the accent. We've shared some of their comments, divided the comments into categories and included videos as illustrations below.

What do you think the California accent sounds like? KQED is partnering with KPCC in Los Angeles to get your thoughts on the subject. You can call us at 866-588-8883 and give us your best impression of the Californian accent. If you're a SoundCloud member, you can click here to record your answer from your computer. KPCC, KQED, and The California Report may feature your voice on our air or website.


"Hella sloooww naaimean?" Kendra Lee Adams, who calls herself an Oakland transplant via New York.


"Oh my God! Like California TOtally doesn't have an accent. What-EV-er!," Allen Bagwell, Oakland.


"As for SoCal....have you seen the skit "The Californians" on SNL?" Julie Dietrich, Mammoth Lakes.


"DUDE!" William Scott Hutton, Venice.

Are you a SoundCloud member? Click record below and give us your best impression of a California accent. Also be sure to say and spell your name and say the California town where you live or grew up, as well as your phone number. Then click submit. Phone numbers will not be broadcast on air or online.

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