January 16, 2003

You Say Potato, I Say Putayter

Some excerpts in italics from Teaching Tolerance Magazine article called "Everyone Has an Accent".

My kids used to razz me when I would be on the phone talking to a neighbor.

"Daddy, I can tell if your talking to the Criggers or somebody from the college, 'cause you talk different".

They were right. I would find my inflection, intonation, vocabulary and sentence structure changing, depending on who I was talking to. I really hadn't realized it, but it was easy to lapse back into the natural southern speech patterns I had grown up with when talking to the neighbor folks in our new home in southwest Virginia. But even here, words were a bit different. They didn't say y'all like I grew up with in Alabama, but y'uns (a conjunction for 'you ones') which I learned later was a vestige of the Elizabethan language of their ancestors who settled this broad valley centuries before.

If, in my work, I came across a 'education professional' that didn't use "broadcast English" in his or her work setting, they lost esteem points quickly. "Educated" people didn't talk like the locals! In language realms, you'd better shift language-gears and rise above your raisin' or else suffer mild derision or outright dismissal as a bumpkin. Passing judgement on dialects starts early. Children were especially hard on the 'new kid' from Jersey whose language set them immediately apart from the 'normal' kids.

Language/dialect discrimination is common. According to author Rosina Lippi-Green, dialect discrimination is "so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open." There is a knee-jerk tendency to believe that, if a dialect or word choice is alien to us, it must be wrong. If people belong to a socially oppressed group, they can count on having their language stigmatized; if they belong to a prestigious group, their language will carry prestige value.

What 'funny words or phrases' would I hear if I heard you speak? What words that you use every day in your home would seem strange to this Alabama boy living in rural Virginia?

If you heard me say "I'm fixin' t' git smore farwood" (which I AM) would you think me a moron? I really would like to hear from you... Joni in California, Cody in Texas, Anne in upstate NY, BeneDiction in Canada, Terry th' PossumMan in my hometown... What are some of your 'localisms' and their roots? What kinds of dialect-discrimination have you inflicted on others or been the victim of?

Not to go to the ridiculous extreme of promoting Ebonics for Appalachia, I do suggest that we need to watch how we judge the book by the words on its cover. Teach your children to be proud of the uniqueness of their diverse speech traditions, even while they are learning "good English" in school. There is a place for both in this rich word-world of ours.

Posted by fred1st at January 16, 2003 06:01 AM | TrackBack

I grew up in rural Missouri & now live in SoCal.

When I first moved here, I said "pop" instead of "soda" & people looked at me funny. I eventually switched over to soda, because it was easier to get my point across. I still say pop once in a while, especially when I have just visited family.

I find it very easy to slip back into my accent & way of "missouri-speak" when I go back to visit family. Working in a University environment, I do change my verbage and intonation to fit the situation. It's so easy to slip in & out of it that I hardly notice when I do. Someone will point it out.

I still have phrases that I "come off with" & people look at me funny. I just explain what it means. Sometimes, it even catches on & a new colloquialism is born.

And I do think there's a bit of an intelligence prejudice against southern accents. As Jeff Foxworthy pointed out, your IQ automatically drops several points. It's not fair, or right, IMHO. I get tired of people calling my kin rednecks just because of where they live.

I managed to learn to speak properly & can do so when needed. So what's the big deal, anyway?

Sorry to go on, Floyd. You touched on one of my pet peeves. I should say this on my own site, instead of yours.


(I have a new site, too, BTW)

Posted by: Cyberangel at January 16, 2003 12:32 PM

Here in Texas there are people who make their careers making fun of the Texas accent.

Everyone's pretty much "fixin' to" and "y'all" all over the place down here. My high school's cheerleaders yelled, "Far up! Far up! Far up! And up. And up and up and up!"

Texans have a lot of regional pride and the accent kind of goes along with the characteristic swagger. While there are certain times when the vernacular is probably frowned upon -- defending one's English dissertation, say -- I don't detect any outright prejudice. We do make fun of Yankee, Minnesotan, and California accents. But 'round these here parts, ever'un says "y'all."

Posted by: Cody at January 16, 2003 03:11 PM

Here in northern New England there are a number of phrases that seperate us from the rest of New England as well as the rest of the US.

One thing that is quite common in New Hampshire, Maine, and parts of eastern Massachusetts is the absence of the letter 'R' in much of the speech. It takes on more of an 'ah' sound. In Maine and New Hampshire 'R' is inserted where there would normally be an 'ah' sound. An example of these two idiosyncracies: Ida Farmer would be pronounced 'Ider Fahmah'.

In eastern Massachusetts and parts of southern New Hampshire 'soda' or 'pop' is referred to as 'tonic'.

In New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, any kind of cola is called 'coke', even if it's a Pepsi, RC, or generic brand soda.

But no one would ever mistake a Moxie for a coke, or anything else, for that matter. A Moxie is a Moxie.

In Connecticut, submarine sandwiches, or subs (also called 'hoagies' in other parts of the US) are referred to as 'grinders'. In New York, they're called 'heroes'.

In New Hampshire and parts of Maine, it is quite common for anything ending in 'ing' to be pronounced as if it ended in 'inn', with the 'n' sound being drawn out a bit.

But here in N'Hampsha' (it's the official pronounciation of the state name), we have a tendency to add a little word or two to the end of a sentence to emphasize that we've reached the end of the sentence and are expecting a response, don'tcha see.

So don't be gettin' your knickers in a twist, 'cause we'll still be able to understand you when ye' come visitin', ayuh.

Just don't expect to be understandin' us.

Posted by: DCE at January 16, 2003 05:55 PM

Funny you should mentioning switching whole accents and vocab etc in speech when talking to different people.

I grew up in post-colonial Malaysia where English is heavily creolised. So heavily creolised with lots of Malay and Chinese terms inserted plus Chinese/Malay/Indian sentence structure imposed (all with a singsong lilt) that "native" English speakers from the West sometimes think that we're speaking a whole new language! Nope... unfortunately, we're just speaking English.

After living in the West for almost 10 years on both sides of the Atlantic, I've picked up the weirdest mix of accents and terminology now. Gone is my Malaysian accent (although when I speak to family, I lapse back into it quickly) and it's replaced by a mix of clipped British pronunciation and the occasional American drawl.

When I'm in England, I sound bloody British with only the occasional lapse into U.S. twang... when I speak to my American friends or visit America, I start sinking into the American drawl again...

Ack! But I do sound all mixed up!

Posted by: glovefox at January 16, 2003 07:27 PM

Becky, I used to say pop as well. Unfortunately, people thought I was saying POT. That stopped quickly.

Fred, (BTW....Joni's in Texas and Joanie's in California....easy mix up) I would know exactly what you were fixin' to do. And, I'd go help you carry it in.

Posted by: Da Goddess at January 16, 2003 07:52 PM

In the SF Bay Area we tend to use a dry nasal tone and a clipped speech pattern.

Old timers have a soft burr ...not unlike Irish crossed with Italian...which is pretty much what it was...spoken very fast without inflection. One doesn't hear that dialect much anymore.

We also tend to use a lot of jargon adapted from the high-tech industry in which we are submerged. We are "early adopters" *G*

for example you might ask a friend how things are going at work. "Not good, we've been amazonned" Means you've lost a significant chunk of your business to a dot.com.

After pulling an all nighter you might say. "I am really cached out today."

Everyday the cappuccino cowboys and cowgirls commute with roadies in hand hoping their project hasn't been kevorked.

Nah..really? "You're gonking me."


Posted by: feste at January 17, 2003 12:32 AM

Pretty much what Glovefox said: spoken English in Malaysia tends to get interspersed with many words from the Malay language, various Chinese dialects, and the odd Indian word or two. Sentence structures also suffer. It's said we speak "Manglish" (Malaysian English, or mangled English, take your pick!). Click the link for examples...

Posted by: irene at January 17, 2003 05:22 AM

"Pop?" "Soda" Surely you must be referring to "fizzy" or "soft" drink.

Variations in Australia are more of accent than vocabulary, although these differences do exist. Will try and think of some for you later. bathers, swimming costumes, togs are all worn here. Queenslanders eat their peanuts boiled instead of roasted. Yuk!

Posted by: Jan at January 18, 2003 05:12 PM

I made a discovery while in the Air Force and a long way from my home turf of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Besides the fact that we too, end sentences with "ay" occasionally, but vehemently deny it to annyone who asks. We also end many of our sentences with a questioning vocal inflection as if we're unsure of ourselves. So that sometimes even declaritive statments sound like questions. Ay

And if I go to the "deli" I'm "gonna" order "uh" "sub" and "uh" "pop".

Posted by: Dietz at January 22, 2003 11:19 AM

The most obvious one is the American term "rooting" which has a very different meaning here in Australia.

American: "I'm rooting for the Dallas Cowboys"
Australian: "I walked in the bedroom, and Steve was rooting Tanya on the bed!"

Always causes a few giggles while watching U.S. movies.

As an Australian travelling in North America, I found the regional accents a lot more pronounced than over here. After a few months I could easily tell New York vs Boston vs Canadian vs Californian within a few minutes. It is a lot harder to pick here.

Posted by: Yobbo at January 22, 2003 01:55 PM

I can't figure out what my accent is. I just moved from Connecticut to Seattle, WA, and people tell me I have an accent although I hear none in their speech. I always thought CT spoke "TV talk"... that is, we didn't have much of an accent... but now I'm starting to believe we have a little Boston in our speech.

Just today, I asked a co-worker if he needed to make a copy of something, and he stopped, said "caaahhhpyyy," giggled, and walked away. I can't figure out, for the life of me, how he's saying it differently!

Posted by: Katie at January 22, 2003 02:44 PM

My Father was career Army, so I have lived in Alabama, South Carolina, Germany, Kansas, and after seven different schools between grade 8 and 12, joined the Navy. The Navy is a whole different story. Anyway, After the four years in the Navy I lived in Missouri, Kansas(again),Vermont, Alabama(again). Florida, Now retired in Georgia. In my travels I learned to speak the local terms. You cannot imagine the look of puzzlement of a gas station attendant when I ask how to get to Leominster when I pronounced how it is spelled.(It is pronounced "lemonister".

With out getting into a whole lot verbiage, I learned that, for instant, that in Vermont That the front yard is a "door yard", and down town is "down street". I found out at an early age that even though I speak with a southern accent, If I use the proper terms I am less visible.

I also change the manor of my speech, depending on where I am and to whom I am speaking to. Comes from a lifetime of being an outcast.

Posted by: Don Lovelady at January 22, 2003 05:42 PM

As an Aussie born and bred I'm stumped by how many other Australians think I have a foreign accent. I always believe being in broadcast media and advertising that my English is a little better than the average Aussie's, perhaps like you I have adopted different ways of speaking to accommodate different friends I've had down the years, Canadians, Texans, A couple from Brighton UK.

Here's an Australian term that I never really hear from Americans. Buggered!

Useful as a word for both tiredness or exhaustion and to convey that you are puzzled or stumped by something. ie

"I'm buggered if I know why I'm so buggered."


Posted by: Shane at January 22, 2003 11:43 PM

Hey, Fred! Interesting topic, and a lot of, erm, interesting responses.

I think the one thing that I say on a regular basis that folks from outside of Oklahoma smirk is, in response to something someone has said that I didn't quite get, "Do what?" Now, this is a generic interrogatory and doesn't have to necessarily be a response to a described action. My dad first heard it in the eastern part of the state and at first made fun of folks that said it, but now I find that he (and I) have incorporated it into our everyday speech.

He also tells a story, the veracity of which I cannot attest to, about someone he took with him to visit one of his eastern Oklahoma clients that heard someone remark, "Ah'm gonna go to tha' john an' reench off", to which he later confessed to wondering if the fellow was going to abuse himself in some manner.

God bless!

Posted by: Wylie in Norman at January 24, 2003 06:02 PM

I grew up in a rural area of Central Missouri to teenage parents with no education beyond high school. Neither sets of grandparents had beyond a 5th grade education and were mostly subsistence farmers. I am now a physician in the Seattle Washington area. I am occasionally harrassed by my collegues and my wife who is also a physician for saying "We was" as in "We was goin to the store". I was not even aware that this was incorrect speech until I met my wife at the age of 30. I still use it, unaware of what I'm saying until someone corrects me. I would have to say that the constant reminders about my speech are annoying, but I really can't help it.

Posted by: J. Gibson at March 25, 2004 01:56 PM

Yes, I am a student from the rural area of HeNan province in China whose economy is not very good.Now I am studying in a famous university of China and I have the feeling of dialect discrimination when I speak HeNan dialect.

Posted by: Maggie.Q at May 26, 2004 10:05 AM

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