August 26, 2005

Say Not What I Say

I enjoy listening to people’s accents, trying to figure out from where they’ve come. Sometimes my ear is good and I’m spot on. Once I was talking to a counter guy at a bagel shop here in town and I said, “Where are you from? I am detecting an Atlanta accent with a mix of Boston.” He laughed and said, “Oh, you’re good. I grew up in Atlanta and then spent 10 years in Boston.”

Yeah, it was a bit of a fluke. My favorite accent is the true Atlanta accent. It’s soft and it rolls…

Anyway, I have what blog son Contagion has aptly named, an ‘elastic voice’. Typically to hear me speak, I have not much of an accent at all. The only real issue with my speech is that it is very quick, akin to gun fire, so I’ve been told. Other than that, occasionally a soft Gulf Coast accent is detected, but not much.

However, get me with a group of Southern folk, and my accent gets very strong. I think that is typical for many people when they go back to where they grew up. I know that my husband is a Jersey boy and once we were vacationing in NYC and Jersey, we had been there a week already, when we drove up to a toll booth. My husband made some small talk with the toll booth operator and out of his mouth came THE STRONGEST NY/NJ accent I think I’d ever heard. Holy crap. I sat in the passenger seat, looking at him and thinking, “Who is this man sitting next to me?!” Heh. It was kind of sexy. I couldn’t figure out if I was sitting next to a character from the Godfather or some grown up street punk.

So I am guilty of my voice taking on the inflection of others if I am immersed with them long enough. It’s not intentional, it just happens. I know for a fact that if I hung out with blog bro That1Guy, from Drunken Wisdom, with time, my ‘o’ would sound like his…. Heavy Wisconsin! Although not as bad as Contagion (he has a really funny story that I hope he blogs) where he picked up a full on Scottish brogue while talking to a client on the phone with a Scottish brogue, given time, I blend. I noticed it first when I worked in that Chinese restaurant in college (ref, the street master post) when everyone I worked with spoke with heavily accented English. Given a month, so did I. I’d be at work, catching myself, the American girl, speaking choppy Chinese accented English. Lovely.

That summer I was mistaken for being from Germany and Britain too. That has happened since.

So you can imagine my horror, being full aware of my issue with my accent and speech patterns, when I was on the phone with one of my customers last week… and I realized… to pick up his speech patterns would have horrific consequences. For… this gentleman… has a terrible time with stuttering.

I would never make fun of anyone for their speech (other than affectionately with T1G and his heavy Wisconsin accent! Heh heh heh!), and I realized that this in fact could be a problem for me. When I speak to this gentleman on the phone, I have to concentrate on my own speech. It is not just accents I can adapt, but full on speech patterns… the clipped way someone talks, the speed, the phrasing, the cadence… it’s a problem.

And there is no doubt in my mind, if I let my guard down when speaking to him, I will in fact develop a stutter.

Posted by Boudicca at August 26, 2005 07:22 PM | TrackBack

Since 12th grade. I've been asked if I'm from England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Auatralia. Just got Ireland last week, in fact.

Posted by: Toluca Nole at August 26, 2005 08:00 PM

That's because you're multidialectic. But they didn't think you were from Macedonia or Romania, did they? You need to work on those accents.
TGOO */;-)

Posted by: TGOO at August 26, 2005 09:15 PM

I haven't run into many Romanian or Macedonians...In particular Macedonians. Maybe you and Mom can move there so I can be exposed a bit more. :)

TN can work on those accents. He's got the whole Ireland/Scotland thing down as witnessed at the ceilidh.

Posted by: Bou at August 26, 2005 09:20 PM

Some people just think I'm a jackass.

Posted by: Toluca Nole at August 26, 2005 09:28 PM

This is an interesting post to me on several levels...I too do the same thing. (remind me of this at a blogmeet, for a story not fit for print).....but also because I am quite good at guessing regional dialect, as well as international dialect. Even though I have only been to Mexico, and am terrible at other languages...(hell you see what I do to English).....My husband and I pick up on accents and sppech patterns quickly. We once read somewhere it was a sign of evoloutionary adaptibility or some nonsense......I digress....I really should put this on the shelf for a later post.....

Posted by: ArmyWifeToddlerMom at August 26, 2005 10:11 PM

I'm glad you are good at detecting accents. I am terrible at it. Once, I asked this guy "What COUNTRY he was from" because I couldn't place his accent. I felt really stupid when he replied, "Illinois".

Posted by: Sticks at August 26, 2005 10:21 PM

Me too. My parents families are from SW Louisiana and I'd spend a good part of each summer there. Each time I'd return home my mother would nag me for a week to knock the flat Cajun accent out of me. She tried hard her entire young life to be accent free, as she felt it sounded "uncouth", she wasn't about to have her daughter sound like a swamp rat (her thoughts, not mine. ;)

It's a good thing I live in the Houston area where there is no real discernable accent. We have every Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and African accent covered in addition to the Carribean, Australia and Europe, but in this part of Texas there is not a real accent unless you are an "old timer" like my brother-in-law who still says "Youston".

I had a hard time when I worked first for a British engineering company early in my career, then as a trader that spoke to New Yorkers and Jerseyites 8 hours a day. Finally I worked for a brokerage firm that had considerable dealings with South American clients and a majority of Latin employees. I spent a great deal of the time on the phone with our clearing company in the heart of Manhattan. Add to that my secretary from Honduras who was married to a Norwegian, her best friend was Greek and Greece was her favorite place to vacation and SHE had picked up ALL of those accents as well. To throw in the final curveball, my closest co-workers were all from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Oh and lest I forget, my last assignment was working with Swiss officials setting up a new branch there. I was a mess - my accent and speech patterns would change on an hourly basis. I welcomed the times I got to spend in our Denver office with no accents at all. Oh, and the mountains were nice too.

Posted by: Momotrips at August 26, 2005 11:04 PM

Ah dont tok funny-it be ebberwon else wit an akcent

Posted by: GUYK at August 27, 2005 08:49 AM

TN, maybe you speak Esperonto man

Posted by: ArmyWifeToddlerMom at August 27, 2005 05:36 PM

I have no accent. It's the same no matter who I talk to.

But I can detect accents like Bou. I am so good at detecting accents that I can pick up on Canadian accent. They pronounce their U's funny.

Posted by: Machelle at August 29, 2005 08:52 AM