Tuesday, April 7, 2009
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.)