From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Accents and Dialects

Language with a personal flavor



In my opinion, I don't have much of an accent when I speak my native tongue-- but I suppose that most people don't hear their own accents very well.

I am thankful that my grade-school teachers (in a tiny, one-room country school in Nebraska) taught me standard English and proper grammar. They had a fit if anyone said "ain't," and I still don't say it four decades later. Saying things like "I seen" or "I done" was not permitted either. Those ladies did not hesitate to correct a student's grammar whenever necessary, and I am glad they taught me well.

After living in Missouri and Kentucky for 20 years or more of my adult life, I've added "y'all" ("you all") to my vocabulary. This makes my Nebraska friends say that I've picked up a southern accent. However, native-born Kentuckians say to me, "You're not from here, are you?"

Various dialects can be heard in Christian County. One characteristic of our local speech is that people talk slowly. My speech has slowed down too, and that's another reason that people say I've developed a Southern drawl.

Two words that I know I pronounce wrong are "wash" and "milk." I say "wush" (rhymes with "mush") and "melk" (rhymes with "elk".) I think that's a bit of flat Midwestern accent that I retain from my childhood.

My aunt, a native of Gordon, NE, who now lives near Chicago, told me that she can hear her Midwestern accent when she says "potatoes." She actually says "podadoes"  because of the place in her mouth that her tongue touches when she pronounces the "t."

  Plowing a potato field near Andersonville, TN, 1933

4 comments:

Mark said...

Accents are interesting. I found that people in eastern Georgia have a distinctly different accent from those in my area of northwest Georgia. Theirs is more like the TV and movie "Southern" accent, while ours is flatter and less attractive. My own accent is influenced by my mother, who was born in south Georgia but grew up in Ohio. But my father, a lifelong resident of NW Ga, didn't have a strong accent, unlike his sisters. Maybe his years in the Army during WW II changed his accent. I always thought the Midwest was the source of what we consider standard American English accent because so many TV people (like Johnny Carson) spoke that way.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Mark. Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, being in the military does tone down some of the really strong accents, I think. They sometimes get teased about their accents and also, they're completely removed from other people who talk that way.

We have a strong regional accent in the Hopkinsville area, combined with dialect. I can't speak in it, but my kids can imitate it very well, having grown up here.

A fellow from here once told me that when he went to the Marines, he learned that he talked differently than a lot of people. He said he consciously toned down his accent and he has never talked the same since.

Larry said...

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, Genevieve! I enjoyed your story about dealing with a salt-cured ham.

As for accents, I've absorbed a certain amount of the local North Missouri rural accent... I'll use the word "ain't" when talking with certain locals, and "y'all" as well.

I've noticed that my accent changes depending upon with whom I am talking. I enjoy talking with some of the older Hannibalians who retain the Southern rural drawl, a legacy of growing up before the advent of TV.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Larry. "Y'all" is probably a permanent word in my vocabulary now. It's a useful pronoun, since English doesn't have a distinctive word for the 2nd person plural.

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