Regardless of which channel you tune in to or which local broadcast you receive, news anchors have one thing in common that goes beyond professional clothing and perfect hair. They usually sound the same, from their cadence to pronunciation to a completely strange lack of a regional accent. How does that happen?
Broadcasters didn't always sound that geographically neutral. At the beginning of the 20th century, many radio personalities and actors adopted a so-called Mid-Atlantic accent or a mixture of the good British and the East Coast dialect of the United States. This sophisticated, correct speaking method was popular in Hollywood films of the 1
The more contemporary practice of sounding linguistically neutral is often referred to as a general American accent – which is a bit misleading because there is no major accent at all. Also known as Standard American, Broadcast English or Network English. General American was a term first used in the 1920s and 1930s by linguists who wanted to isolate a more common accent than New England or Southern dialects. The scholar George Philip Krapp used the term in his 1925 book The English Language in America ; The linguist John Kenyon referred to this in his 1930 title American pronunciation in which he insisted that 90 million Americans speak General American.
Throughout the century, a wider range of regional accents was recognized, and that too. It became almost impossible to generalize between New England, Southern, and General American. Although some linguists disagree with General American's definition, it is still widely viewed as a speaking voice that lacks regional flair.
Why do news anchors rely on it? One of the biggest reasons is to keep your employment opportunities open. Local anchors that deliver nightly news to partner stations are often vagabonds taking jobs across the country, and these various networks prefer a common American accent. For example, if an anchor from the south pledges to deliver the day's top stories with a southern accent, a New York broadcaster is unlikely to feel that viewers are warming up to them. A Brooklyn accent may also sound strange if the Los Angeles residents want an overview of the local headlines.
However, an accent is only part of a station's programs. Broadcasting schools train television journalists to speak at a moderate pace and to speak every word clearly. (Regardless of whether you notice it or not, young broadcasters can also begin to emulate their news anchor heroes who spoke perfect language, like Walter Cronkite or Ted Koppel.) No letters are dropped. Sentences are written to make it easier to read a teleprompter.
Simple speaking must also match the footage shown while the anchor is speaking. Uneven modulation could distract, although some anchors emphasize words by pulling them out ("muur-der") or adopting a darker tone when reporting tragic events.
Some anchors have also reported that they handle their language with more care because broadcast microphones are often unforgiving. For example, words starting with P tend to burst. The broadcasting school has the kind of casual and talkative voice that cannot be translated well into a news program.
Of course, some linguists believe that there is no way to be completely accent-free. A Southerner who tries to remove traces from a train will sound different from someone from New England who tries to do the same. We may not just notice it because people are not so good at recognizing more subtle accents, especially our own. Broadcasters sound much the same because they all pronounce and try to achieve articulatory precision. Few anchors say "Dubya". They will say "double you". But this occasional "Dubya" makes speech patterns sound different.
And that's all the news that we have today.
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