It’s pretty significant to note that, on a show featuring both conjoined twins and a clown serial killer, one of the most controversial aspects of American Horror Story: Freak Show is Kathy Bates’ accent. The New York Times referred to it as “wander[ing] around the Southern states, periodically landing on something vaguely Appalachian,” while Vulture put out a guess of “Wisconsin Mennonite.” The A.V. Club’s own Erik Adams was more cautious, simply referring to Bates’ character as “ambiguously accented.” Meanwhile, people from Baltimore maintain, very strongly, that it is a Baltimore accent.
Well, yesterday Vox precluded the inevitable bloodshed by asking an actual linguist what the hell is up with Bates’ accent on the show. And Reed College assistant professor of linguistics Kara Becker has confirmed that, yes, it is a Baltimore accent—just kind of a crappy one:
“[W]here I think she’s trying to be from is the more appropriate question to answer. I don’t think she’s doing the best job of the accent she’s attempting, as people have seemed to note on the Internet. There’s some variability, and she’s overdoing a couple of features. But the features she’s identified are relevant to the place where I believe she’s attempting to be from, which is Baltimore.”
A more detailed analysis, including a discussion of so-called “goat vowels,” is available over at Vox.