Votes and Vowels: A Changing Accent Shows How Language Parallels Politics

Are we moving toward an era where Americans will speak discernibly red versus blue accents? It’s hard to say. Social identities are complex, and can be defined along a number of different dimensions like class, race, or ethnicity. Not everyone feels that politics are a part of their core identity. But I suspect that political ideology may become an anchor for accents to the extent that large social groups collectively identify themselves by their political beliefs. According to Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort, this is happening more and more as Americans voluntarily cluster themselves into homogenous, politically like-minded communities.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that George W. Bush acquired a distinct Texan accent, despite having abundant exposure to people from the Northeast, or why Barack Obama sprouted a mild set of Chicago vowels, even though he was fully an adult before ever living there. Whether consciously or not, these politicians may be flying their partisan flags every time they speak. And if accent becomes routinely melded with political affiliation in people’s minds, it may come to play an even stronger part in how people respond to political candidates. —Discover Magazine.