Linguistics at Our Little House

A  conversation between friends the other day on Facebook about lingering Boston accents long after they’re no longer living there reminded me of a conversation I had with the husband not too long ago.

“You’re picking up the accent,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” I retorted. Nothing against our southern friends, I think it was more a habit reaction than anything.

My dad, being from Arkansas, never lost his southern drawl. I grew up in a decidedly Midwestern city saying, “Y’all,” and was constantly told I had a Southern accent.

I was even told early in my corporate career by a boss from New York, who had a very deep New York accent, to try to lose my “twang” once for a presentation.

“Yes, you are,” Dale said. “You used the expression, ‘down the road a piece,”  the other day.

Had I?

I have noticed, when Dale after a long week of being around his co-worker, a slight accent when he comes home.

When we first started coming down here years ago, I once had to ask a gas station clerk three times to repeat herself. She spoke so fast and with such an accent, it sounded like a foreign language.

And the fact that the locals dropped the pronunciation of “ville,” to “vl” wasn’t lost on our Midwestern ears.

I consciously tried not to slip into a southern accent. I’ve heard people fall into the accent of their surroundings and while sometimes it can seem genuine, often it just, well, feels fake and forced…que to Madonna and that horrible British accent she’s adopted.

I was talking yesterday to my hair stylist and friend, Kim, who has a native Southern accent, being from around Little Rock.

“Where do you do yoga, at the library?” she asked.

“No, at a studio in Yell-vl,” I replied.

I caught myself falling into the accent without trying.

Maybe after awhile, it does come naturally.

Do you have an accent from childhood that lingers, or have you picked one up as an adult?



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34 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    I don’t think I have an accent some people think I do because I’ve moved around a bit. Growing up, I was terribly embarrassed by my Mom saying “idears” instead of “ideas.” Guess it’s a New England thing.

    • Kerri says:

      I worked with a lot of people at the bank from the East, Susan. You brought a smile to my face remembering their accents and those added r’s.

  2. This makes me smile–my husband insists I say mountains wrong. Growing up in the West, you kind of swallow the ‘t’

  3. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I grew up in the South, but moving often meant I ended up with more of a middle American accent than a Southern one. Now after nearly 8 years in New Zealand, my accent is quite a muddle. I’ve had guesses of anything from Californian, to Vancouver, to Welsh, to Irish, to British. Usually, they are sure I’m not a Kiwi unless the person I’m talking to is an American, then sometimes they don’t even know that.

  4. Alisa Bowman says:

    I love expressions that come from certain places. My grandparents are from out west and often say, “Oh I guess I’m being contrary.” I don’t know why I love that expression, but I do.

  5. I grew up in Ohio, and at the speech department of Ohio State we were told that mid-Ohio was considered “accent free” and was what national newscasters were taught to speak. However I always thought people from Cincinnati sounded like they were from Brooklyn.

  6. Jane Boursaw says:

    My mom’s a southern gal, and she still says y’all and picks the drawl back up after being around our southern relatives. Even I start talking that way after being around them, and I was born and raised in Michigan.

  7. Donna Hull says:

    Growing up in Atlanta, I definitely have a southern accent. But it’s nothing like a drawl from rural South Carolina or Mississippi. I forget I have it until I visit NYC or some other equally foreign-speaking place in the U.S. That’s when I’m reminded that some people judge you by your accent. I kept wanting to say, “no, I’m not stupid, just southern.”

    • Kerri says:

      I know, Donna. It’s sad. I always felt that way when my boss from NYC brought up my “twang,” and I’m not even southern. 🙂

  8. Merr says:

    I lost my NY accent when we moved to CA when I was 13, but give me a few hours in NY and I can pick it back up! I enjoy hearing accents; the individuality of place and person.

  9. mat says:

    I have a natural talent for reproducing close approximations of dialects and accents–which my son loves and is already developing his own alternate speech patterns. Mostly Batman or Captain America.
    Years ago, I worked for an engineering firm with 23 branches stretched across America. I was in contact with most of them on a regular basis and would frequently catch myself drawling when on the phone with Georgia or Texas. Or getting nasaly when talking to NYC or Boston. That was a really hard habit to break, but it was seen as unprofessional.

    The more I think about it though, the more I have come to believe that temporary dialect usage is a form of interpersonal comforting. How ill-at-ease do you feel when you run across someone with a strange accent? How much more open would you be with a person who speaks just like–or just enough like–you do?

  10. Fascinating discussion. Remember how it was predicted Americans would lose their accents with the advent of TV? I know I sound like a Texan, but that’s beginning to lose whatever charm it might have once had with the drawling bozo politicians we’re so regularly sending to the national stage. I may have to develop an English accent like Madonna just to get away from the association.

  11. sarah henry says:

    True story: I’m an Aussie, and when I was reporting a story in the Deep South someone asked me, “How long has it been since you lived in Boston?!”

  12. Pittsburgh colloquialisms sometimes sneak back into my speech despite my best efforts. My husband always laughs when I say that a piece of clothing “needs washed” instead of “needs to be washed” or that it’s “slippy” outside after an ice storm.

    • Kerri says:

      That’s funny, Casey, I will say “Needs washed,” but it typically comes out “Needs warshed.” Not sure where that came from! 🙂

  13. Sheryl says:

    I am amazed at how varied accents can be, even from different neighborhoods. For instance in New York, there is the Long Island accent as opposed to the Brooklyn accent. And then there’s the Queens and Staten Island accent….and so on.

    • Kerri says:

      I spent a little time in NY when I worked for the big bank and had bosses from there, so I can tell (I think). But to most Midwesterners, I think the different NYC accents are boiled down to a NY accent.

  14. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so not much has changed for me! People from other parts of the country say we have an accent, but it doesn’t sound that way to us!

  15. Kerri says:

    LOL, Olivia. Now, Irish accents are lovely, I think.

    • Kerry Dexter says:

      Olivia no doubt knows this, and perhaps you’ll not be surprised to hear: there are very many regional accents in Ireland, too.

      and Scotland, certainly, there too.

      I was once mentioning to an Irish friend how many different languages I’d heard spoken in the main shopping street in Glasgow (which is quite an international shopping destination), and he joked probably half of them were people from other parts of Scotland. not far off.

  16. Alexandra says:

    I recognize in my speech that I pronounce some words like my mom, who was raised in New Jersey. Also, I think some people pick up accents faster than others. One year my family spent a week of vacation in Wales, when I lived in France. The accent is very sing-song. I found my speech getting influenced so that I could actually hear the changes in how I sounded. Fortunately, that did not last once I was no longer surrounded by people speaking English that way. My husband comes from a town in Sweden where everyone speaks the dialect. He has an old friend and uses the dialect when he talks to him on the phone. I don’t speak Swedish, but can always tell whom he is speaking with when he does this switch.

  17. Olivia says:

    I am told I have an Island accent: I know I “speak Island” : “from away”, “storm-stayed”, “slippy” (slippery) and so on. My mother was from Ireland but was the only one in her family who did not have an Irish accent because she had been sent to elocution classes as a child and she hated accents so she tried to discourage us but . . . it didn’t totally work.

    I wouldn’t want to sound like I “got above my raising”, however 🙂