In his post about Gawker’s “America’s Ugliest Accent” series, Joseph Fruehwald notes, “Predictably, the kinds of accents and languages which get dumped on the most, and get branded the ‘ugliest,’ always wind up being spoken by socially disadvantaged people.” And that’s really the ugliest thing about this Gawker gimmick: it’s pretty much the epitome of punching down. In particular I noticed that while linguists find accents in cities, suburbs and the country, all the accents that Dayna Evans chose are urban accents. On the plus side, it means that we’ll be spared the racist comments about inbreeding and Deliverance that always pop up when rural Appalachian accents are mentioned. On the minus side, it means lots of racist comments about inner-city black people. Is it a way for Evans, a native of Leicester in the British Midlands, to impose English class-consciousness on the American people? Or just an effort to mimic the championship sports brackets, which are usually filled with teams named after cities?
I have to be honest with you: I’ve never been to Scranton, and I haven’t met too many people from there. Off the top of my head, the most famous people I’ve heard of from Scranton are Joe Biden and Jane Jacobs, who are both known for their ways with words. The right likes to portray Biden as a “gaffe machine,” in the words of Brian Williams, but he does have a certain wit and sass.
Even though I haven’t been to Scranton, I did go to college in Binghamton, about sixty miles to the north. From what I understand, the culture and language in the two cities are not that different. The area is influenced by both the Appalachian mountains and the Rust Belt. I had two classmates at Binghamton with two different accents. One sounded like most of the SUNY students who weren’t from the city or Long Island; the other could almost have come right out of a West Virginia farmhouse. These women were best friends, and they had grown up down the road from each other in a subdivision on the outskirts of Binghamton.
All that is a long way of saying that I don’t really know what a Scranton accent sounds like, but it can’t be that bad. I bet most of the people voting up Scranton for “Ugliest Accent” haven’t heard anyone other than the Vice President. And I don’t know what a small city like Scranton is doing on Gawker’s list of sixteen accents, while there’s no Dallas or Houston. I guess Evans didn’t want to mess with Texas.