Colloquial accents and mass media have never gotten along particularly well. In decades past, radio, movies, and TV have all been blamed for homogenizing language and teaching people to talk the same way. And in the new millennium, the regional drawl may be facing its most formidable opponent yet: Apple’s prerecorded, voice-activated digital assistant Siri, whose eerily calm, accent-free utterances can be heard piping from iPhones everywhere. Siri is a whiz at finding nearby restaurants and businesses, and she can even (sort of) keep up her half of a conversation. But, as revealed in an article by Tom Dart in The Guardian, Siri doesn’t always know how to deal with regional accents and expressions. The article concludes: “Siri is at her best when addressed in standard English, with accents toned down and slang avoided where possible.”

That’s potentially bad news for anyone who delights in the endlessly customizable variety of the English language. While Siri is rapidly improving, the article says, the real threat comes from people adapting their own speech to better communicate with the machine. Human beings are adapting to technology rather than the other way around. Australians are pretending to have fake American accents. Texans are suppressing their local slang. In short, intentionally or not, Siri is effectively reteaching the English-speaking world how to talk, like a disembodied Henry Higgins for the smartphone age. According to the article, Texans are starting to use their “telephone voices” in day to day interactions. Meanwhile, a generation of children is growing up with this new technology and may never develop a regional accent in the first place. They may avoid colloquial slang as well, all to better talk to Siri and other electronic voices. “In other words,” Dart writes, “the future holds less southern charm, but fewer problems getting to the rodeo.”

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