Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Trip - Talking Texan

I want to start by saying I'm good with languages. I got fairly fluent with French when I took it in school. And when I learned some beginner Polish for my first trip to Poland in 1997, everyone there said I pronounced it really well.

I think it's at least partly because I'm an auditory and visual learner, and the auditory part makes me speak the way I hear things. And that means I start picking up accents.

My normal accent is West Coast Standard, that non-accent that national news broadcasters cultivate to hide the shame of their roots (although Peter Jennings was never able to completely erase his Canadian "aboot").

But it's happening again, just like it has every other time I've visited my sister in Texas. It's nothing conscious. I'll say something, and when the sound of my words hits my ears, I hear the way I just let that last word sli...iide.

The first casualty, accent-wise, is always the vowels, especially the ones where the difference between mine and theirs is the most subtle.

When I was 19, I had a summer job in Yellowstone National Park for two months, and my roommate in the dorms was someone from Ohio (Janice, that would be Shaker Heights). I picked up her way of saying the short 'o' sound, and it would pop out every once in a while for years. I had a repair guy come to the house one time, and he asked me what part of the East Coast I was from (nowhere), just because I said "shahp" instead of "shop."

In Texas, it usually starts with "Thank yew." And now my long 'i' is starting to droop--not as badly as the natives though. On the weather channel, the guy was talking about the approaching thunderstorms (BTW, did you know there are places that actually get WEATHER in the summer?) that were 50 "mahls" away. I don't think I've said it quite like that, but I think I'm headed there.

What I don't pick up are the other ways of saying things, the "y'alls" and "fixin's." Those are completely different from my native language, so I don't drift into that territory.

A word of note about "y'all" is that different states make it possessive in different ways. I was in Atlanta for a class one time, and I heard a teenager yell to her friends (in a friendly way), "It's yer all's fault!" But at the Dairy Queen yesterday, the waitress added the apostrophe-'s' to the end of y'all, to get "y'all's." Interesting. But I don't expect to be saying either one.

Still, I have no way of knowing how much of which accents I'll have when I get back from this trip next spring. I'll probably sound really confused.


janice said...

Ah, Shaker Heights, upscale in the day.

My husbands Nana and Nanu (italian for grandmother/grandfather) had a house on Chagrin Blvd.

Malott said...

I picked up y'all in college in Tennessee, and it currently supplements my "you guys" quite nicely.

By the time you get to New England you could... drav yo kiah to Medfuhd and pick up some fan lobstuhs to uheet with yo Muthuh...

Or does a complete metamorphosis take place at the state lines?

A lingual chameleon art thou...

CG said...

Remember when our southern co-worker (now devoid of accent) taught us the difference between singular (y'all) and plural (all y'all).

Charlie said...

I played a cowboy named Rowdy in VBS last week and used this piece for some guidance on how to talk Texan.

And CG, I beg to differ with your southern friend, but in North Carolina where I grew up y'all is always plural. Use "y'all" for a small group of known size (it's an intimate pronoun), "all y'all" for a larger group whose size is uncertain (and may include strangers). Singular is you.

Branddobbe said...

One time we were in some Scottish bakery, and my mom (skyepuppy) was talking to the owners, who were from Scotland, and after a couple minutes she had picked up their accent. It was weird.


Bekah said...

I visited an area of the south once for about four days and was completely speaking southern by the time I left. The stupid part was, I liked it. Maybe because all the speakers I hear (ladies, anyway) on the radio that I like are from the I figure it's some sort of prerequisite to speaking.

About the y'all - I was watching Ellen one day and she had some fellow southern guest on that was quizzing her on southern words. She asked what the plural of y'all was, and while I was trying to figure it out, Ellen looked at her with this "well duh" look on her face and said "all y'all." I never noticed that it had a plural, but after she pointed it out, I realized that's very true!

Since I was already a y'all user, I have noticed that I've added all y'all too. Great.

SkyePuppy said...

Wow. I go away for the better part of a day, and everybody's been talking behind my back, so to speak!


I'll have to watch out for my plurals when I'm in North Carolina. CG is right about Texas, where "all y'all" is definitely the plural. Our southern friend (now devoid of accent) was from Houston, considered "The South" to many Californians, but not to people in the real South (like NC).

Unfortunately, y'all and all its many variations have no universal standards, so I will probably be making linguistic gaffes everywhere I go.

SkyePuppy said...

And my son is right about the Scottish bakery. My kids got mad at me because they thought I was making fun of the owner, but I wasn't.

It's the long "o" sound. The Scots say it more O-ish than anywhere else. Their lips make a tighter circle than we do. It's really easy to slip into without noticing.

Freedomnow said...

My sister also has that newscaster accent and she grew up in NY.

It is sort of a national accent.