Monday, May 26, 2014

Accents


I overheard this conversation recently at a motel breakfast room in Missouri:

“Where are you from? I hear that accent,” a well-dressed gentleman asked a fellow in warm-ups and running shoes.

“Mississippi. Yes, I noticed your accent as well.”

“Me? I do not have an accent.”

I could tell the Southerner did not want to sound pedantic and explain that all human beings have some sort of accent, some “spin” they put on their native tongue based upon their parents and friends in their region. So, he just said, “You are from California, are you not?”

“Why, yes, I am. Did you see my license plate or something?”

“No, sir, I noticed the way you said the word ‘accent’ is a west coast pronunciation. It is almost as if you pronounce the word with an initial ‘y’ sound and the first syllable comes through your nasal passage.”

“Well, are you saying I pronounce the word incorrectly, then?”

“Heavens, no. We should never judge people by the way they speak. The only standard for language is, does it communicate. I knew perfectly well what you meant when you said accent in your way that seems peculiar to the Southern ear.”

“Are you a linguist?”

“No, I have studied English intently, though.”

“What are some of the other differences?”

“You say slippers and I say house shoes. You say soda and I say cold drink or cocola. You say half-past-five and I say five-thirty. You start sentences with ‘like’ and I never do. You say ‘amazing’ and ‘definitely’ a lot and I find other descriptors where possible.”

“You are getting a little insulting. I meant accent. What are some other words we say differently?”

“’You guys’ is your version of  ‘y’all’. You say ‘cahfee’ and I say ‘cawfee.’ You pronounce the word ‘hell’ as ‘hell’ while I say it this way, ‘hail’.”

“That is enough. I get it. I am now a little more conscious of variations in pronunciation. I know in New England, instead of asking for an ice cream cone at those drive-in places, you ask for a custard. Also, some of those people call a milkshake a cabinet. Where they get that, I don’t know.”

“Probably put everything in the cabinet in the drink, you know, like sweep-the-kitchen pizza.”

“What!”

“Never mind. I got to boogie.”

The Californian looked at the fellow strangely. I guess he did not know he meant he was in a hurry. They say that in Mississippi.”

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