There Are More Than Two Ways to Say Tomato

Memory Monday

That Armish blue cheese a few weeks ago really got me thinking–about accents in general and about accents local to me in particular.

Even though I mostly grew up here, I do not have a local accent. I have a flat, boring, Midwestern television accent, more or less. (I definitely heard some Minnesotan-leaning vowels in the beginning of my sermon, which is weird, because I have never lived in Minnesota.) This is probably because my parents also have that accent, also more or less, but I can’t begin to tell you why theirs are like that, because both of them originated in states known for accentual distinctions, and Grandma M boasts what I call an “Old Rhode Island” accent like you have never heard before or since.

When our family moved from Honduras to New England, TheBro was little enough not to have been conscious of accents until then, but he knew about different languages. He knew that in Honduras the language was Spanish, and in the United States it was English, so when Grandma M read, in a story before bed, about the beahs going to the mahket, he said with maybe a little bit of condescension, “Grandma. In Spanish we say maRket.”

These were the beahs in question. I remembah.

These were the beahs in question. I remembuh.

Having started (and largely continued) my life in terror of doing, saying, or thinking something wrong, my brother’s “mistaken” correction mortified me. This felt need not to make any mistakes is also what prevented me from learning actual Spanish at all during the six very formative years we lived in Honduras, and it is, I believe, the real reason I did not pick up the accent of the area where I have spent most of my life, and why I haven’t picked up any other ones, either. (I am also dismal at mimicking any–to the current dismay of three of the Youth Group girls who are in a play where one of them needs to fake an Irish accent and was hoping I could provide some coaching.)

They'd be better off with one of these...

They’d be better off with one of these…

It has to be admitted that around the same time TheBro was still trying to discern the true differences between English and Spanish, my parents were getting our new house ready while we stayed with the Grandparents M, and that sometimes they would come back after these preparations and joke about the accent native to the area we were about to move to. Because at age almost-eight I took everything my parents said intensely seriously, I assumed there was something inherently wrong with this accent, and/or that if I spoke in that way, I would be laughed at. Since being laughed at was one of the worst things I could think of, I immediately became very vigilant to keep from picking up any local linguistic idiosyncrasies.

Sometimes I regret it, but on the other hand, if you remain something of an outsider, you can sometimes notice funny things that a local wouldn’t necessarily pick up. For example, my Paul doesn’t believe me when I point out that there is a very localised sub-accent within our county which not only removes r‘s, but puts them in places where they aren’t. (Waste not, want not, I guess.) But I know this because not only is there Armish blue cheese, but I have known multiple people from Our Fair City’s county who speak this way. (This happens in some parts of the UK as well.) The most notable was my Sunday school teacher, who taught us about Mary and Mahther” in the New Testament. I used to sit around on Sunday afternoons mulling over this phenomenon which, even as a young child, amused me greatly.

It was also funny to me when one day during a sentence correction exercise in third grade, one of my friends posited that the error in the sentence was that idea was spelled without an r. You know, as in, “I have an idear.” Conversely, it turned out that vodka really IS spelled and pronounced vodka, and not vodker as I had assumed, based on my knowledge of dropped r‘s.

Nowadays, I wish I could at least plausibly imitate this accent, but although I can tell you when someone (like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, for example, for all he filmed the opening scenes at our airport) is butchering it . . . I also butcher it when I try. So you won’t hear me trying. You might hear some other people trying to get rid of it, though.

(N.B. There are surprising variations even on New England accents, so the ones in this video aren’t exactly local to me, but they’re close enough that you’ll get the idea. Plus I just love this video.)


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