Science fiction used to sometimes suggest that, as broadcast took over, we would hear less and less distinction in accents. Today though, there is of course not just one "American accent" but several, and regional accents continue to thrive and spread. Why is that and what can we expect to sound like in the future?
Image: An interactive map of American accents via PBS (which you can add your own input to here) /Rick Aschmann
In response to this post on some of the things people have blamed for "ruining" the English language through the years (some of them stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages), a discussion began about regional accents.
In some science fictional futures, accents have homogenized. In our real world, however, regional accents are not only holding their own, they are, in some cases, gaining ground. So what will an American accent sound like in 100 years? The smart bet is that, just like today, it will depend very much on just where you're asking the question:
Only semi-related: I was recently reading an Arthur Clarke novel (I think it was The City and the Stars) and there was some throw in line about how audio recording had long since frozen accents and pronunciation in place. That's something I'd never thought of, but it made sense. Our current ways of pronouncing words will probably have a lot more durability than previous centuries did, similar to the way the printed word locked spellings in to place.
There is still a lot of pronunciation change going on. If you watch 60s TV, they pronounce robot "ro-BUTT", and that's gone by around the 70s. And there is the Great Northern City Vowel Shift, which is still on going right now (because the shift stops exactly on the US-Canadian border, you can hear the difference between the Canadian and the America custom agents).
Yeah but we've had audio recording for a long time and pronunciation is still shifting. This is because, though we have access to old recorded audio in the form of movies and music, how many of us actually listen to it? How many people actually watch old movies? For most people, anything that was recorded prior to 10 years ago is old school and for the most part effectively doesn't exist. Really, just watch an old movie and you will see how different their accents were and how they pronounced words differently. And that's just in the span of the few decades audio recording has been around. Amplify this effect over hundreds of years and I doubt it will have any effect. In fact, I would argue that the differences in not just speech but behavior and taste is one of the reasons things made over 10 years ago feel old to us. I have sat in college classes where we have watched old movies and heard people commenting on how funny they used to talk. So these changes will happen in spite of everything.