Sunday, November 18, 2007

I can finally die in peace...

...for I have actually had someone say to me, in the dulcet tones of the Bronx, "Where you from? You don't tawk funny like dese udder peeple around here."

There was a whole tribe of them, calling back and forth to each other across the store in their native tongue. I think if I was exposed to those mellifluous sounds for ten minutes more, I'd have flipped out and killed everyone in the room. I don't see how Noo Yawkers live with it; I guess you get used to it, but damn if it isn't like fingernails on a blackboard to us poor hicks.


(For those imagining I have some sort of magnolia blossom accent from living in the South, unfortunately I do not. My early years in the midwest have permanently scarred my diction, so that while I use Southern grammar and slang, it all comes right out my nose in tall-corn style.)

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

You suffer the same problem that most folks that moved from the midwest. You have the midwest dialect that is quite hard to overcome.

I know the problem since even though I lived in the west most my adult life, having spent a few years in the upper midwest has scarred my language to the point that even today it does not fit in.

If you not though, most if not all major announcers on TV or commentators are also from the midwest. That midwest dialect is the de facto one for outright communications because from the NY to Florida to Alaska just about everyone can understand the Midwest, while the same cannot be said about most other areas.

But don't worry, at the rate we are being overrun down south with illegals, Midwest dialect won't matter because you will answer "Habla engla?"

BryanP said...

Hee. I can top that. When I first came back to Nashville from living in Japan for four years a friend of the family looked at me, and in all seriousness said (in a classic thick rural TN accent)

"Ah don't lahk them Jap-nese, they tawlks funneh."

He couldn't figure out why I thought that was so funny.

And yeah, I have the classic midwest accent as well. On paper I'm from the south, but in reality I grew up all around the US and around the world thanks to my dad being in the USAF.

phlegmfatale said...

I love the way others mistake a southern accent for hick-ery, because I believe it's better to be underestimated than over-estimated - that way it's more fun when you really surprise someone by cutting them off at the knees. I'm no fan of H. Ross Perot, but I love the idea of all the east- and west-coast arses that got chapped to think this "rube" running for president was a billionaire. Accents can be deceiving, and I think southern culture and the language (spoken and un-spoken) it has spawned is complex and lovely.

No offense-- I'm sure there are vast numbers of good folks in the northeast, but I couldn't live around all that clipped, metallic phonation. That said, one of my closest friends is a recent transplant from Pennsylvania, bless her heart.

B&N said...

"mellifluous"

I don't often run across words that I've never used or even seen before, but I'm storing that one for future use.

phlegmfatale said...

Come to think of it, I'd love to hear you in that online radio interview thingie. I think it would be interesting to hear you riff off the top of your head, where I suspect you toss out your best bon mots.

comatus said...

Until the BBC won the war, this was called the "Midlands problem."
First a warning: just being interested in accents, let alone studying them, turns you into an unwitting and obnoxious mimic worse that a high-school drama major. Guilty: when I visit 'relations' in NW Conn., in 20 minutes I'm a Berkshireman, and I grew up speaking South Detroit.

Now you all know very well that there is no one "Midwestern" accent. That's myth of TV, where Dan Rather once passed as a midwesterner. I can recognize an Indiana accent, and they're only 60 miles from me; when we travel to Are Staid Cabdal, Clumbzz, we pass through two linguistic zones.

Your language is not supposed to 'fit in.' An accent is a broad brush, and in our travels, physical and literary, we get tinged with a lot of bristles. It's fun to define the mottles and hues (I credit Ms. X for, once in a while, footnoting why and how she says some of that wacky stuff), but no one needs to aspire to speak his pure regional dialect. We'd be dull if we did.

I had a motor cycling friend from the actual, real Midlands, and he moved to Tronna. One day he stopped to settle down a two-party traffic fracas that was a-boat to go to knuckle city. On a first hearing of his dulcet tone, the native Upper Canay-Gin sez, "You with yer long drawn-out way-a-talkin, guh back whur ya come from." That was a first, for him.

CGHill said...

I've been fortunate enough actually to hear the voice of our hostess, and she's describing it accurately: if Iowa and Mississippi somehow shared a border, that's where she sounds like she's from.

This particular situation is not unusual. My brother once played host to an old Navy buddy from somewhere in New Jersey - Exit 14, I believe - and one night while they were glancing at the tube, a local car dealer, a New York transplant, was doing one of his usual annoying commercials. Perked Joisey Boy right up, it did; he'd been wondering if anyone in dis benighted state could tawk right.

Billy Beck said...

"On paper I'm from the south, but in reality I grew up all around the US and around the world thanks to my dad being in the USAF."

That's me, too. Born in Little Rock, went to three different schools in the sixth grade alone (Marrieta, Ga., and then Waikiki and Kaneohe, Hawaii). My baby sister was born in Tripoli, Libya.

I don't have an accent, but my Mom does. Born and raised in Little Rock. The family settled in the Finger Lakes region of central New York state when Dad separated out of SAC in 1974. The accents here are very different: nothing at all like The City. In any case, however, my mother recently told me that at the height of the Don Imus rubbish, she was outraged that damned Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were delivering moral lectures, but she kept her mouth shut during conversations, etc.

She was afraid that people would instantly conclude from her accent that she was a racist, which is the furthest thing in the world from the truth.

It was heartbreaking to hear her describe that.

Rabbit said...

Comatus is quite correct; studying accents can turn you into a horrific mimic. My affected accent is reasonably midwestern; that is to say, when I'm on the phone with clients, I'm Mr. Flyover Middle America.

When one of my contacts remarks, 'I'm so glad I got someone who speaks English' when calling in, I gently correct them- 'I was born and raised in East Texas'- I don't really speak English'. When I'm in more casual environs, then my ETx accent comes out little by little until I sound like a chicken farmer from Carthage by way of Teneha.

I do have an ear for them; I can usually get fairly close on the continent for Europeans and Israelis. South Americans are a little more difficult, because a lot of them sound European, especially Argentines.


Regards,
Rabbit.

affe said...

Grew up in deepest Brooklyn in the '70's and '80's, where Saturday Night Fever was filmed, and never developed an accent - I think it had to do with speaking another language (Polish) at home.

Next time just yell out, "Freakin' guidos, get outta here and go back ta Art-her Avenoo !" :-)

Anonymous said...

I somehow developed an Austrian or Central/Eastern European accent as child despite only ever speaking English.

It's mostly faded, but I still occasionally have pronunciation difficulties that give it away.

Rev. Keith said...

Ok, Speaking as the only Native New Yorker here...We don't all have THAT accent. I grew up on Long island... Oops, sorry Lawn GUYLAND!!!...Different parts of the state have different accents. Now me, I get people asking what COUNTRY I'm from, because I grew up watching Brit Coms on public television, and consequently picked up a life long mild Anglophone trend in my speach...

TC

Rev. Keith said...

Oh, 1 further thing. My half brother David was born and raised in Memphis. Every summer we were regaled chapter and verse on how "Ya'll talk funny"

Rev. Locke

Will Brown said...

Since you ask, herewith my contribution to the Language, People! chronicles.

The second former Mrs. Brown grew up in the English Midlands city of Lincoln. She invited me to "meet the family" over the Christmas holidays when they would be happy to put me up in their house for the week.

All went well enough for the first few days (well, there was that minor incident when I showed my potential-future-father-in-law just what I meant by "the Isfahan School of Offensive Driving". He had grey hair before we left the house, whatever calumny you may hear to the contrary), but over the course of the actual Christmas Dinner I uttered a linguistic faus pas that might have gotten me shot in certain parts of the USA.

Responding to a bantering challenge from my girlfriend, I rather loudly said, "... and that'll be enough out of you or I'll paddle your fanny".

The subsequent resounding silence lasted perhaps a second or two at most (and felt like a mere eternity I assure you), at which point literally everyone at table but she and I began determinedly speaking about something entirely unrelated to anything previously said, or being said by anyone else for that matter.

I was later informed by she-who-continued-to-acknowledge-my-existence-in-spite-of-my-best-efforts that in the English vernacular, "fanny" is a coarse slang word for a portion of the anatomy unique to the female and a bit further forward from it's American placement; the other side of the 'taint, if you will. Out of deferment to our hostess's shy and retiring sensibilities, I will say only that it's a bit less offensive then T _ _ t, but not quite on par with the American usage of C _ _ t, if you take my meaning.

I should like to further point out that, other than my not-yet-ex having a quiet word with me after the meal, no-one ever said a word to me about the entire affair. Ever.

Nice people; I miss them.

Despite my early experience, I often use English english in my written and spoken language. I'm not sure which nationality is most annoyed by that habit.

Roberta X said...

Tam and I probably have much the same accent, though we took different paths picking it up. In the dialect of my youth, the capitol of our great nation is WaRshingtun and most vowels are a schwa, the "uh" sound. The city accent here is nasal, laid atop the surrounding mild Southern dialects (the major dividing line between Southern and Northern American English runs right though the center of town). Working in radio (a decade on the air!) took the sharp corners off; once I moved on to real work, I found I needed to sound like a human being and have ended up with a softer version of my childhood speech patterns.

The only North American accet that gives me problems is full-speed New England; it's not the accent per se, I just can't listen as fast as they sling it!

B&N said...

"if Iowa and Mississippi somehow shared a border.."

Yes, they do, and it's called Missouri, or, if you're from certain parts, Missouraahhh. If you must have a spot that is somewhere close to halfway, the St.Louis pukes have a rather distinct accent, kinda like a midwestern version of NoooYawker. No shit.

Missouri may lack a defined border with Mississippi, but if anyone has ever been to the bootheel, well, let's just say that they grow a lot of cotton on the floodplain. Common cultural roots, and all that.

I'm kinda suspicious of Tam having that Lou accent, so I can now imagine that she'd sound like most of the folks 'round KC, maybe.

Tall Corn. That's us.

joe r. said...

Born in Maryland but grew up in St. Louis ( actually St. Louis County ), MO. Living in New England makes me cringe when I hear the R's and the A's butchered here. I guess I have an accent but only one person has gotten it right since I've been living here.

Joe R.

avenger29 said...

As a park ranger, I have to deal with Northerners just about every day. Most are decently polite, some I can't tell that they are from the North because of their lack of accent and some outright make fun of the dialect down here.

My flight instructor was from Ohio and was depressed because she did not have an accent. I told her that if she hung around me long enough, she would pick one up right quick. Women love my accent for some reason...

Southern accents are the most pleasing accents to listen to, IMHO.

Will said...

Grew up mostly in SE Penna, just south of Philly. Plus time in Phoenix and South Florida. 13 schools, including 4yrs at one high school. Turns out my sisters and I became very good mimics, to fit in at each new school. Funny thing is we didn't realize we had this talent until later. Hey, we were just kids!

When I have a confrontation, some kind of southern accent often draaawls out of my mouth. Why? No idea.

A friend told me that he was born/raised in Brooklyn, and moved to Silicon Valley about 10 yrs of age. Decided he needed to work on his diction when some local kids came to the door and asked his mother if he could come out and talk funny for them. If he worked at it, he could resurrect it, but it didn't sound easy for him.

comatus said...

avenger, Ohio, and no accent? Maybe to you...That language line Roberta maps takes a sharp northerly turn just east of the Meridian. A thin, thin margin of Northernish clings to the lake shore. More likely, like all the pilots cited by Tom Wolfe, she just felt a need to sound like Yeager. They named the Charleston field after him because he's the only one who'd want to land there.

And Nyaakers think all Southerners "drawl." Confronted with a fast-talking New South Urbanite, they get all flustered.
Sorry, "fluster-ated."

comatus said...

http://www.gotoquiz.com/what_american_accent_do_you_have

There it is, in today's NRO "The Corner," in a write-up about how N'Wenglanders just can't bring themselves to trust a southern accent.

The Mary/Marry/Merry question was in a Disney educartoon back in the 50's, and will nail you square.

Anonymous said...

How could anyone ever mistake the way a newscaster talks with a midwest dialect? Most midwestesterners talk through their hose and pronounce their vowels unlike newcasters. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am from Atlanta and have only a slight Southern accent. I have been accused by some Southerners to be from the North. However, people from the North hear my Southern Accent....so I guess I'm more in the middle. I recently spent a week in Chicago and was exhausted from the nasal talk by the time I returned home. It became very abrasive to my ear over the course of the week. My speech is much more neutral than the accents from both the rural and urban areas of the Midwest. I think these people are in major denial if they think they talk like newscasters. Try recording your speech and listening to it. I have!

Southern said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to leave my comments from "Anonymous." Let's try this again:

How could anyone ever mistake the way a newscaster talks with a midwest dialect? Most midwestesterners talk through their nose and pronounce their vowels unlike newcasters. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am from Atlanta and have only a slight Southern accent. I have been accused by some Southerners to be from the North. However, people from the North hear my Southern Accent....so I guess I'm more in the middle. I recently spent a week in Chicago and was exhausted from the nasal talk by the time I returned home. It became very abrasive to my ear over the course of the week. My speech is much more neutral than the accents from both the rural and urban areas of the Midwest. I think these people are in major denial if they think they talk like newscasters. Try recording your speech and listening to it. I have!