In the summer of 2011, Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Bill Murphy paid tribute to a group of 15 youths who had painted murals that now grace the front wall of the LAPD’s Northeast Division station on San Fernando Road. In a casual conversation with a journalist before Murphy unveiled the murals at a well-attended, media-studded ceremony, the Boston-born commanding officer remarked that although he had been living in Los Angeles for 25 years, he still retained much of his East Coast accent.
In particular, said Murphy, he had trouble twirling his R’s—that is, he pronounced “car” as cah, “art” as aht, and "park" as pahk. From the point of view of linguistics, Murphy had a non-rhotic accent—a form of speech in which the “r” sound is missing at the end of syllables.
Non-rhotic speakers are of course not just limited to the East Coast but have long been present in large parts of Britain and the nations of the former British empire. But the question of whether Los Angeles, of all places, is becoming non-rhotic is as new as it’s flummoxing—and it’s the subject of a fascinating blog.
The blog, posted on Oct. 16 by an amateur linguist named The Writer Sam Huddy, argues that the non-rhotic accent is “most prevalent in northeastern neighbourhoods like Highland Park and Eagle Rock,” and that for that reason “it is sometimes called a ‘hipster accent.’” (Note the British spelling of “neighborhoods—the only hint available that this particular blogger is “a bit of alright,” as the English like to say.)
“Others have referred to it as ‘Cockney,’" the blogger goes on to say before proposing three possible answers to the accent’s origins.
The first centers on the British media, which, according to Sam Huddy, has made more inroads into American society than ever before. “But if this were the case, other features of British English would be part of the dialect,” the blogger goes on to argue, “which they aren’t.”
Sam Huddy’s second proposition focuses on the idea of “reactionary broadness,” which, he says, would explain how “local inhabitants of an area subconsciously exaggerate their native accents to distinguish themselves from recent transplants.” The problem with that explanation, he then counters, is that it would require non-rhoticity to be “an old feature of Los Angeles English, which it never has been.”
The blogger’s third and final attempt to explain non-rhotic enunciation among Angelenos is probably the most abstruse, especially because he doesn’t go to any great lengths to simplify it beyond saying that it’s “a hypercorrection of the long retroflex r’s evinced by stereotypical 'valley girls' and 'surfer dudes,' stereotypes that have morphed from the mere spoiled brats of Amy Heckerling’s films to the uncultured and ignorant.”
What Sam Huddy does do is invite us to watch a YouTube video of Irish comedian Dylan Moran. In the video, which is attached to this article, Moran proposes that “stupid Americans sound more stupid than other stupid people.” Moran, says Sam Huddy, also “imitates what sounds to me like a Los Angeles accent.”