Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Accents Y'all

Reagan has a cute little way of saying ok. She says it with a sing-song "okaaaaayyy" that is so reminiscent of Forrest Gump we call her Forrest when she says it. So far though, that is her only hint of an accent. I started thinking about her "ok" and started wondering if she'll have an accent and where she would develop it from? What plays the biggest influence how you speak? Is it possible one of my children might develop a Southern accent and one develop say, a Canadian accent?

Do they develop their accent from hearing their parents speak? Bill and I are not originally from the south, but we have both lived in Georgia over 20 years. I am originally from the Midwest, Bill from southern California. My parents don't have any accent to speak of and Bill's mom has the endearing North Dakota Scandinavian "okey dokie" accent straight out of the movie Fargo. Yet we both have slight southern accents, with mine being decidedly chameleon like. I'll explain.

I have several Midwestern words that I will never lose. I cringe when I hear myself say "bagel" or "gold" or "boulder." The vowels are quite over exaggerated and in the case of "bagel" quite nasally (is that a word?). Even though I am highly aware of it, I can't seem to change it. Then I had several years where I probably spent at least nine months out of the country. That will remove your southern accent in a hurry. I have to admit to being a bit like Madonna or Gweneth Paltrow and starting to sport a bit of a wannabe British accent after being around Brits for any period of time. And after being around some of my true southern friends sporting the deep south accent I've been known to throw out the occasional, "bless her heart" or "I tell you what" in a draw that would make Jessica Simpson proud. For those of you not from the South, I should point out that, "I tell you what" is not an introduction to a story where they are actually going to tell you something. "I tell you what" is the complete statement. It is the beginning and the end of the story. When I first heard that phrase I kept waiting for what it is they wanted to tell me. It took me a while to understand they already told me what they wanted to. But I digress.

So what does our accent mean for Reagan? Will she be sporting the chameleon Midwest/British/Southern accent because that is what I have? Even though we didn't develop the same accent as our parents? Or are there others that influence her accent as well?

Take for instance her teachers. Do they get their accents from their teachers? They do spend a lot of time with them. Reagan has many teachers and I think at least half of them speak English as a second language. But the primary language is different for all of them and they all have very different dialects and accents. What kind of accent might she pick up from hearing such a hodge-podge of speak all day long? Does it all cancel out and you develop no accent?

Then there are friends. Reagan has developed quite a kinship with several of her little friends at school; some of which I have already noticed have a decidedly southern draw. Will she want to talk like her friends so she feels more included?

Or maybe she'll change her accent when she gets married. One of my sisters has developed a very southern accent after marriage. She has even picked up some of her husband's grammatical nuances like putting an "s" at the end of words such as "nowheres", "somewheres", and "underwears." She actually teaches English and her grammar is perfect otherwise, but that "s" has just permanently attached itself to the end of words that just don't deserve it. Her children all add the "s" too. This is despite my frequent promptings and pleas to ditch the "s" when I hear it. My request has so far fallen on deaf ears. I wonder if she marks it wrong on an essay if one of her students writes "somewheres"? I'll have to ask her if she even notices.

So what makes an accent decidedly yours? Where did your accent come from? What have been the biggest influences on how you speak today? Do you have distinct regional phrases you've picked up from somewhere? I'm interested in hearing your stories. Give me your feedback and tell me who you talk like.


LauraC said...

The first month Jon and I lived in Raleigh, we attended a Sierra Club conference. At lunch, our fellow tree-huggers told us we had the thickest midwestern accents!!! I said that made no sense bc a midwestern accent is considered no accent in the US since that is what they use on NPR, the news, etc. I said - y'all have CRAZY southern accents! And they were completely surprised to hear they had any accent.

Anyway Jon is from Fargo and he has no North Dakotan accent and neither do his parents. I am from Florida but my parents are midwesterners.

Our neighborhood is mostly transplants so no accents here, despite being in the deep south.

Stacey (Sparker111) said...

In an anthropology of childhood class I took in college, the professor told us that studies of language development have shown that children speak with the accent of the larger community. So, children growing up in the U.S. with parents from other countries will not develop their parents' accents.

I had a friend in college who was born in the midwestern U.S. to parents from Taiwan and Scotland. He spoke with a plain old midwest accent, but occasionally dropped words like "dressing gown" that weren't part of the local language.

Mama Mia said...

makes me thing of my cousin..both her parents were implants to Brooklyn, neither having a NY accent...however she has a major N will be intersting to see what Ms Reagan comes up w/

MrsMoma said...

I'm definitely an Arkansan. Veryy "Southurn" LOL! I can just imagine Reagan saying "okayy" like Forest Gump. hehe!

Tara said...

Okay - so "somewheres" is not a word. But who notices when words like "yonder", "whatcha doin?", and "gonna" are normal? And at school - I can guarantee no one notices when we are deciphering phrases such as "where you stay?", "yo homie, wazzup?", and "Mizzie (Mrs. E) - when we gonna be done wit workin? - I'm tared." It's amazing my grammar hasn't gotten any worse....

Steph said...

Being an Air Force brat I moved often growing up. The first move was from Northern California to England when I was about 1 and I learned to talk there. I definitely had an English accent at that time. Three years later we moved back to California and I lost the accent. Since then, I think I picked up slight regional variations, but pretty much have a typical Midwest vibe overall I think- I would love to lose a little of the harshness in the vowel sounds. Three years in ATL helped a little with that and after that time I found myself slipping in a ya'll now and then. Now that we are in New England I can tell Cooper is picking up a Boston feel to his speech which is really hilarious coming from a toddler.