Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Say What?

Recently, I realized that I unabashedly use words like daggum and heck and dang to express myself. I don't think I ever used the word daggum before moving to the country. I may have used heck and dang as a kid to keep from getting a taste of Palmolive, but it's been a long time since those words were common parts of my spoken word.

I tell you this, not because it bothers me really, but because I've become aware of how my language and pronunciation has changed over the years, based on where I live and around whom I speak.

When I left little old Rising Sun, Indiana (very near Cincinnati) for the big world of college (okay, so it was Ball State, but all things being relative), I found myself hanging out with people from Northern Indiana. Northern Indiana Hoosiers don't have the same accent or weirdo Midwestern twang-drawl common to Southern Indiana Hoosiers. Some of my new friends were quick to point this out and I was rather insecure and embarrassed by it.

So during my first year at Ball State, I worked on flattening my accent, hardening the soft corners, squaring things up so that I no longer dropped the g or dragged out the vowels, making them into two or three syllables when one was all that was necessary. I took a couple of acting classes and concentrated on my diction. I became more aware of grammar, too, and pushed myself to use it properly whenever I was in a situation that warranted it. No more ending sentences with prepositions or ignoring adverbs. I got to the point where it was like nails on a chalkboard to hear someone say "Drive safe!" instead of "Drive safely!"

Look, when I do something, I don't fuck around. I dive in, get all wet with it and then suffer the backlash and consequences later. It's a flaw, I know.

Later, when I met MathMan, a Chicago native, he put the final touches on my English language transformation. Mocking me for transgressions such as placing the emphasis on the wrong syllable in the words umbrella (you say umBRELLA, I say UMbrella), inSurance versus my pronunciation of INsurance, ceMENT and CEment......you get the idea. He also teased me for saying things like "the house needs painting" or "the lawn needs mowed." He insisted that the correct thing to say was "the house needs to be painted" or "the house must be painted." Technically, he was right.

Even after twenty plus years together, whenever I said the words pen or pin, I pause to check my pronunciation, making damn certain that if I mean a writing utensil, I pronounce the word "pen." If I mean something with which to prick or stick something, I carefully say "pin." I am very precise in my pronunciation of each word so that MathMan won't ask me annoyingly "Do you mean (pin/pen)?"

That question always leads to a wrestling match or an invitation to "take it outside."

Speaking of pricks, I make MathMan sound like one, don't I? You know he isn't really prickish at all. When we first met, he was was just teasing me on one of my few vulnerabilities. Because, you know, I was such an emotionally strong and together person at age 22, it was hard to find anything about which to tease me. (Stop laughing, MathMan. I just defended your prickish behavior!)

No matter. I fixed him. By plunging him into the Deep South, he got a taste of what it feels like to be the one who talks funny. Added bonus - his favorite child, Garbo, has developed a bit of a Southern accent. Ha bloody ha.

When I chose to major in French in college, it was partly because it just came so easily to me. Wasn't that a swell way to pick a possible career path (she types, trying to avoid glancing at the blinking Word document that will be a finished mail merge as soon as this post is written). Anyway, my ability to mimic sounds was a great help in pronouncing French words. It also allows me to do a fair job imitating other American accents.

Lately, I've noticed that I'm getting better at identifying where Americans come from based on their pronunciation of certain words and, particularly, vowels.

Some accents are easy - New York, Boston, Chicago (especially the South Side). Others a little more subtle - Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. Southern accents can sound like a jumble, but when you have a room full of people from the Southeast and Texas, the distinctions become more clear and easier to pick out.

All of this comes to mind now because I've been on the phone with some of my blogpals of late and was struck by how their myriad of accents illustrate just how diverse this community of ours is. I spoke to giggles and she sounds quite a bit like home. Having grown up in Ohio and now residing in Pennsylvania, she had that special way of pronouncing the vowel O that screams to my ear "Cincinnati!" I'll bet she even remembers a time when she substituted the word "please" for the phrase "excuse me?" or "pardon?"

On the other hand, Karen Zipdrive has this velvety soft sort of Texas accent (note I did not say twang because it's not really twangy) that belies her rather edgy self in the blogosphere. I would have had trouble picking out Karen's accent, but then I do believe she's lived in both Texas and California. Does California have an accent? I know I have commenters who can educate me on that.

Over the weekend, I picked up an audio book from the library. The narrator has a lovely voice and does a beautiful Scottish accent? I listen to the book during my long commute to and from work. As I came into the office this morning, I realized that I was thinking thoughts in the narrator's accent. I had to check that at the door or I sound even crazier than usual. My colleagues have gotten accustomed to my early morning mania fueled by amphetamines and coffee, but to be drifting about the office rolling my Rs might be a bit much.

Of course, the challenge of saying daggummit with a Scottish accent has a certain je ne sais quois to it......


(Thanks to Maria at Just Eat Your Cupcake for turning me on to these guys.)


  1. I lived in Amarilla texas fur a summer, and dang it? I was sayin "Y'all" by the end of the first week!!

    In Pa, they (and I can say "they," 'cuz I grew up in Ohio) all say "wudder" instead of water ...
    Can't y'all get it right??!!

    Did you notice my giggles as we chatted? (Damn. I miss Ohio.)

  2. I was in Washington, DC for a week a few years ago, and everyone there seemed to know pretty much immediately that I was from the Ottawa Valley. Also happened to me when we were at Disney World one time.

    Problem is, I don't have an accent. Honest.

  3. When you give directions, do you ever say, "over yonder?" I grew up in Georgia hearing that one. Another favorite is "chilllld" as you might say "grrrrrl."

  4. It's funny what settles in and sticks. I still say UMbrella and INsurance from my Carolina days.

  5. I have lived in the NorthEast, the deep south, AZ, Chicago (as a child), and up and down the state of my birth..Cali.

    Only place I got a lot of shit for being from Cali was when I lived in Boston. Those fuckers would never cease making fun of my Cali accent.

    I still don't know wtf a Cali accent sounds like.

  6. Here I sit, all alone in the house, sounding out words - to hear if I have an accent. Just shoot me now. Damn girl, don't get me thinking this hard, in the middle of the day! I'm so happy you rectified the "prickish" part of Mathman! Laughing hysterically, as usual.

  7. My hubby and other folks around here will say warsh when they mean to say wash. I always point it out to them that there is no r in that word but to no avail :)

  8. I try not to have an accent but sometimes a drawl is more comfortable than having to keep track of all those "ing" endings.
    Californians tend to have harder 'r's. You can tell when they say root beer or surfer.
    San Antonians lack the creepy southern valley girl Dallas accents or the shitkicker accents of Houston.
    In all of Texas, I'd have to say we San Antonians have the most neutral accents.
    But not all are "velvety soft."
    Heh heh heh.

  9. I know I have an accent... but mine is deceiving, born and raised in Missouri and most people guess somewhere in the south. And I swear it is more north MO than the south.. only thing south is the river...lol But, what can I say... I yam what I yam..and when I was driving.. if I spent anytime running across the lower roads.. it got worse...or better depends how you look at it...lol

  10. From northern Indiana I say wa-r-sh. I have tried to break this habit now that I live in Washington.

    I'm home sick today, so I thought I would visit. The weather has turned absolutely beautiful. On the deck the thermometer actually said 72 degrees!

    Have a joyful spring day Lisa.

  11. Keep this going, you could be the 'Enry 'Iggins of Georgia.

    Re: the California accent: I haven't picked up the distinctions in the Northern California speech patterns, but Southern California is characterized by the "ah." That is, the word "awesome" has a first syllable pronounced almost like an "o" with an open mouth and semi-closed throat, except in Southern California, where it is pronounced more like "ahh-some," with an open throat. There are probably other differences, but that one I can hear. (And in retrospect, I can hear Art Linkletter, who probably had it full on.)

    (We will know voice recognition software is ready for prime time when it can deal with the Texan accent and the Maine accent.)

  12. Thanks for the pointer to Maria/Just Eat Your Cupcake.

  13. I am very easily influenced by other people's accents. It goes beyond regional accents; even people's quirks I pick up fast. I spent a week in Virginia Beach and my friend and I met a guy from South Carolina that we hung out with; by the end of the week I came back pronouncing "five," "fahv."

    I have a friend who was my college roommate for 2 years. All I have to do is have lunch with her and by the end of it I've picked up her way of talking, which involves ending her sentences with a kind of trailing off of emphasis. Hard to explain but it's distinctive.

    Too bad I didn't pick up the French accent that well when trying to learn French!

  14. I am envious you can speak French....ah well, I pick up a southern accent so fast, it's been embarrassing in the past! otherwise, I don't happen to think we here on the left coast have an accent unless you live in the san fernando valley....

    so thrilled you are all moved in and garbo has her gang in order...all is finally right with the world again ;)

  15. Having grown up in PA and spent most of my time in the mad-atlantic states, I know I had an acent but I didn't think it was that strong. Then I moved to NC and people know I was not from the South, but then I started pronouncing certain words with a bit of a Southern accent which threw people I knew off a bit. They would tease me about it and I never even realized I had a southern accent. Now I in IL and I hope I don't get a Midwestern accent, I just so prefer the southern accent. And I use y'all all of the time, it is the best way of expressing the idea of you to several people. In PA they used to say yous or yous guys which bothered me.

  16. Pen/Pin? Never heard that one.

    If it’s any consolation, were I to try and correct Lady M on pin/pen, I’m pretty sure she’d stab me in the eye-socket with either, tout de suite…

  17. I think I sometimes write in a Southern accent. If I read my writing aloud to myself, I read it in a strange mixture of backwoods Ozark's, West Texas small town, and my imaginary channeling of Carson McCullers. But I can do broadcaster accent neutral. And, if asked, I can lower my register, yet still sound female.

    I sure envy you your French major. Smart choice, cookie. Pass that along to Garbo will you? Can't be much cooler than French spoken with a southern accent by a girl with a gang.

  18. Professor X says we are going "down the shore" when we head to his old digs in NJ. Excuse me? There is a "to" missing. My Chicago upbringing taught me to speak properly. Bet you wouldn't detect an accent, though.

    My east coast man mocks me mercilessly for my utter failure to distinguish the pronunciation of Mary, merry and marry. He can do it. I can't. So what?

    Now that we're in the Pacific NW, we can spot outsiders in a minute. It's OR-e-gun, NOT Oray-GON!!

    Speaking of Scottish accents, have you checked out my post for today? :-)

  19. I once watched in amazement as a language professor, who had been insisting that she could place the origin of ANY PERSON by their accent/dialect, argued with my then-wife Pagan Sphinx, insisting that she (PS) was from the Upper Mid-West, Michigan if I recall.

    Argued with her.

    Last time I checked, Portugal wasn't in the Upper Mid-West...


  20. He he he.

    Cunning Runt's comment reminds me of the My Fair Lady scene where she fools the linguist (who no doubt thought he was a cunning linguist) about her origins.

    I love that the guy argued with his wife. The arrogance!

  21. I grew up in California, with a mother from Arkansas and a 1st generation Norwegian father from North Dakota, so I ended up with an accent that was a curious combination of southern - northern. When I married my N.Y. Jewish husband, he made it his life's goal to purge me of all those "inferior" accents and word usages. Now I talk like a Californian, which means a mixture of all regional dialects mixed and homogenized until they have become the standard "American."

    I haven't thought about this subject much in recent years, so it was fun reading your interesting comments.

  22. ha ha ha. . .
    Ball State, AKA Testical Tech. I remember it well!
    Go, Fighting Illini

  23. As a British born Canadian moving to Providence, RI came as a shock to my delicate ears. The first time I found myself in a room full of natives I stood amazed to listen: dahlin! close the light! where's tha bublla, I'm paached.

    At work my friends would have me say things to other people so they could laugh at the way I talked.

  24. pin or pen? Move to New Zealand and have the last laugh.....

  25. i love our aussie accent- but there are so many in the mix today, its hard to pick out which one is which........you guys ( americans- always stand out) lol xx

  26. I'm a second generation Californian and third generation west coast native with a lot of English relations thrown in for good measure. Our regional accent is technically "clean" compared to anything east of the Rockies, so I've been told.

    Oddly enough, when I'm around people from Scotland, I take on their own accent to such an extent that they invariably turn to me and ask "so how long have you lived in the US?" Um...

  27. To quote the Wedding Singer, "I am an asshole". Sorry about the teasing. Now that my hearing is going it doesn't much matter anyway, I miss have of what anyone says.

  28. Le goshdarnit!

    La doggone!

    Since I'm from Ohio, everyone else sounds weird. Why can't you fuckers pronunskiate properly?

  29. On occasion I have been accused of being Canadian based on the way I talk. Close but no cigar, Canada is on the other side of the lake.

    When one of my cousins was in college, she got teased about her accent by students from other areas. What got her was that by the second half of the school year they could tell what town she was from!!

  30. Ball State U. = "Testical Tech?"

    No, it's "Fruit Jar Tech."

  31. Ooh! A peachy Southern drawl delivered with *just* a touch of *je ne sais quois" ... ? Divine! ;-D

    I once fell in love with a Southern man who had the most intoxicating softness to his voice ... It helped, too, that he looked a lot like Colin Firth and a little like Tom Hanks ... ;-)

    Up here in Canada there are as many regional quirks in accent and language as there are in the US ... Bill Casselman is probably Canada's premier collector of Canadianisms ...

    I especially love Qu├ębecois -- to my ear it is a delightful mash of French, English, and dialects from all over the place, eh?

    I adore accents. There is nothing in this world like a velvet voice ... I love being cooed to and comforted by my spiritual mother, who's Yugoslavian ... I'm a goner when flirted with in French ... My husband and I cuss in Italian, and "I love you" in whispered Russian sounds like a psalm --> "Ya TEE-bee-ya LOB-lu" (if I remember correctly). I adore how Swedes say "bathroom" -- "toa" -- and a purring, storytelling Scottish burr puts me right to sleep. I could listen all day to the lilt and joy of African languages, and German can sound exquisitely lulling when it's spoken softly. The sound of Aussie tongues always makes me want to giggle ... and Middle Eastern tongues in song go right through my soul.

    Some of my favourite humour is done by the masters of cultural spoofery ... Robin Williams is one ...

    About having a Canadian accent ... there is furious (tee hee) debate afoot about whether there *is* a Canadian accent ...

    Lisa, you write like a dream :-)

  32. These are all the issues I too have to deal with, coming from the far east of the country with my my oldish lilt. My "mathman" is British so you can just imagine the abuse.

    One of my issues is spinach. He insists I say Spinitch but I can't say it any other way. Then he laughs and me and begs me to say it again.

    Ok asshole. Eff off. How's that.

    Listen to my podcast and analyze my accent. Pleeeeese.
    (Search on iTunes for Gifted Typist)

  33. Ah, but there's no accent quite as funny as the Wisconsin/Minnesota accent. Every word that has an "oh" sound in it turns to "oh-ah." Examples? Boat becomes "boh-aht"--just saying "Oh" turns into "Oh-ah." Hanging out with my Wisconsin family often makes me giggle! :)

  34. The house might not need painting, but perhaps it wants it.

  35. After reading this post, I realized:

    A. that I write in vernacular when I always thought I was just writing in English

    B. I have the weirdest fucking accent ever: New York hick, Jersey shore, Georgia and...what was it? Oh, yes, Valley Girl Dallas*, not to mention a smattering of *other* people's accents I have picked up.
    For example: The fuckin' [NY] bloody git [England wtf?] went over yonder [GA]. Y'all [GA & TX], I'll tell you what! [all TX--that is *so* a complete sentence] Please, do the needful [India] and shoot [TX] his sorry ass [GA].

    */sticks out tongue in friendly teasing manner at San Antonian/ Just go walk the river, why don't ya? BTW, inventive name that. Was "Sidewalk" taken?


And then you say....

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