Born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit, I grew up on American radio and then American television (which arrived at our house when I was about 12.) And so, yes, I do speak American. I found this out when I arrived at an Eastern Ontario university and got jumped on for my 'American' accent. I turns out that I have a characteristic vowel shift in found
one of the largest American dialect areas. [This] most dramatic change involves about thirty-four million people around the great Lakes - Chicago, Syracuse, Rochester, Cleveland and Detroit - the area Labov calls Inland North.It involves a thing called 'oo fronting' - saying the word 'do' more like 'dew', for example. In the Northern Cities Shift, the fronting is found in several vowels; "block" becomes "black", "buses" sounds like "bosses" and "socks" becomes "sacks". Labov, whom the authors quote extensively, calls this "a revolutionary change".
I spent four years of university frantically trying to correct my accent and expressions, with some success. Although I will probably never attain the gold standard of "oot" for "out", I was once asked, on a street corner in York, England, if I were Canadian. I still say 'fer' for 'for', and use some typical 'American' expressions, things like 'you guys' for a mixed group. Partly this is a tin ear inherited from my otherwise wonderful father, a man who said 'lie berry' and 'la SAG na' all his life, in spite of my mother's hissed corrections.
One thing this book says is that there is, indeed, a Canadian accent. Imagine my giggles when I read the following: "One of the reasons there are so many technical-support call centers in Ontario is that the Canadian accent is not perceived by Americans as regional". Peter Jennings, anyone? Of course, that was then. We are all now very frequently instructed by voices with the Indian sub-continent's rhythm and sing. Or, in one joyous experience I had, by a voice with the characteristic round vowels and drawl of Newfoundland.
The main thesis of this book is that accents and dialects are alive and well in the United States of America. 'Y'all' and 'You all' are perceived as friendly and are spreading like kudzu. the Mid Texas accent and expressions are flourishing. And what is referenced as either 'Black American English' or 'Ebonics' is holding its own in spite of the best efforts of frantic pedagogues to erase it. In fact, it is now being studied to death and people are trying to decide if it is a creole. People want their speech to reflect an identity inside mainstream America, the authors say, and in spite of the levelling influence of television, they cling to their vowels, expressions and cadence. 'Valley speak', notably the overuse of 'like' and the rising sentence end inflection, may be here to stay. My francophone step grandson has been putting three or four 'like's' in every sentence for years, and so this saddens me greatly.
The book also addresses the surging use of Spanish, but avers that by the third generation most children of immigrants traditionally have lost the second language. The authors see no need to declare the USA as an English only zone. American English, they surmise, will acquire a second round of Spanish words and expressions and remain the main language of communication, a victory for the 'melting pot' theory of integrating immigrants.
Canada does not do 'melting pot'. Here some language groups make a determined effort, funded in many cases by the federal government, to teach their children the 'old' language. A great deal of government money also goes into maintaining French as an official language. My personal bias is that it is a very good thing to teach children a second language when they are young enough to soak it up easily. Unfortunately, a second language that is not used is often buried or even lost. Even so, I think that a second (or third or more) language is well worth knowing, if only for its different insights and ways of thinking.
I love, for example, the French expression 'ventre à terre'. It means 'at high speed' but it translates literally as 'belly to the ground'. But, according to Little Stuff, the bilingual grandchild, I don't pronounce it properly.