The United States of America is a big country, with large variations between its various areas. One of my favorite part of this variety has been the many regional accents through which locals pronounce American English. My English friends will undoubtedly snicker at how American English is, itself, one gigantic funny accent, but then I will ask them why they pronounce “aluminum” with five syllables (“al-you-MIN-ee-um”) and they usually go off muttering something about being right.
I grew up midwest – where nobody had an accent – it was like the place where Chicago, Michigan and the east coast all mushed together and turned all of the vivid colors to gray. Or at least I never thought I had an accent until my cousins in the Philadelphia area accused my sister and me of having enough of an accent that they could laugh at it. But sis and I knew the truth – that THEY were the ones with an accent.
I knew that accent because my father grew up there. My father never completely lost that Philly accent, which came through when he said words like water (pronounced “wooder”) and orange (pronounced “ahrange”). I was once at a nice restaurant when the middle-aged waiter asked if we needed more wooder. He was taken aback when I asked if he was from the Philly area and he admitted that he grew up there. I cannot really speak it myself (it is sometimes called Delco for Delaware County) and is supposed to be one of the hardest accents to pick up. But I sure know it when I hear it.
New York accents are much more common on television and in the movies. I love a good old fashioned New Yawk accent. Where people “woawk theah doawgs” (walk their dogs). Really, the list of fun accents in the northeastern U.S. is almost without limit – Boston? Maine? Rural New England? I love listening to people from those areas say things – but especially New York. In fact, let’s do that for a moment:
Growing up in northeast Indiana, we were closest to a couple of other well-known accents. One was Michigan, the land of really flat “a”s. Another is Chicago where they do those flat “a”s in another way (Chic CAA go). And where they ask for something behind the counter with a “Gimme wunna dose – not dose, dem dare.”)
A little farther away is Wisconsin and Minnesota – two other places I love hearing the natives. The Minnesota accent was shared with the world in the 1990’s movie “Fargo”. See if you don’t agree:
Having occasionally visited my mother’s aunt and uncle at their Minnesota dairy farm, I got some first hand exposure to Uncle Gerhard who was always ready with a “By golly” to finish a sentence.
I had cousins who moved from northwest Ohio to eastern Tennessee, and I learned an entirely different family of accents. One time our family went on a vacation across the deep south and stopped for a night at a hotel in Atlanta. I was amazed that I heard exactly nobody speaking with that classic southern accent. Until the next morning with a maintenance guy offered me a good morning (“Mowre-nin’). I smiled and said that he was the first guy I have heard since I got here who had a genuine accent. His reply was classic: “Ain’t nobody fr’m A-lana, ev’one’s a trayns-playnt.”
Just like the trayns-playnts from A’lana, I fear that we are losing the regional accents in this country. Television seems to demand a way of speech that is like a homogenized vanilla. People on TV evidently have to work hard at losing the accents they grew up speaking. And now, I hear young people being interviewed in different parts of the country and quite often they sound like they are from down the street instead of in Massachusetts or New York or A’lana. Too much television?
I say that we all need to become proud of our regional dialects and not hide them under a pillow on the sofa. For myself, I have been making an effort to shake off the Indianapolis drawl I have picked up (from the place once described as the northernmost southern city in America) and am flattening my “A”s a bit. And proudly saying “pop” instead of “soda”. I know, as a northeast Indiana native I don’t have a lot to work with, but it should stand out with my east coast cousings.
COAL Update: When raising a growing family, go big or go home.