What are the key features of a “Californian accent”?

Answer by Marc Ettlinger:

Some features of California English that I've noticed include:


  • The cot~caught merger, meaning those two words are pronounced the same way.
  • A fronted-u – stick your tongue forward as you say coool and you'll sound Californian, particularly in certain contexts.
  • /I/ (ih) raising in Northbayer's pronunciation of ing as "eeng" instead of "ihng". (I've heard this to the point where the ng sounds almost like an ñ
  • o backing as in Mom for example, with an almost pharyngealized vowel.

These corroborate the findings and additional changes described here:

There are also some instances of pin/pen merger in the valley.


Californians drink soda (not pop) with their sub (not grinder or hoagie) which has a heel (not crust). They use a water or drinking fountain (not bubbler) and play with roly-polys (not pill bugs or millipedes) and fireflies (not lightning bugs) in their tennis shoes (not sneakers).  Not to mention the intricate highway naming conventions described here: California English

Obviously hella is a famous neologisms but so is Hyphy (NorCal represent!) and you can credit Californians for popularizing awesome, totally, fer sure, harsh, gnarly, and dude for the rest of the country a few decades back, for better or worse.


Nothing strike me in particular as Cali grammar (contrast double-modals, He might could run the race, for example or positive anymoreGas is expensive anymore). The exception I've heard of is dramatic so which is supposedly characteristically Californian (e.g., I will so go with you).


Historically, the big influence on California speech was the Dust bowl migration of the 20s and 30s, with the Okies flooding into the valley. This is one of the major sources of valley speak, or valley girl.

(I've heard that pictures of Nic Cage gets you many many internet points)

Today, the cities of SF and LA see a tremendous amount of national and international migration, so it's difficult to figure out who is speaking what. That might explain why it seems like you hear a lot of ASE — the people you're speaking to will likely be from elsewhere or at least have parents from elsewhere.

A lot of the dialect projects focus on the valley, for example, to try to get a sense of what the California dialect is all about. As a new state, there's still a lot to learn, so keep your eye out for new developments on the key features of the California accent.

The leading expert on California English is Penny Eckert and her Voices of California is the go-to resources for learning more about, well…, the Voices of California.

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