Thursday, March 27, 2008

American Accents, or Lack Thereof

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, then is there really a sound? So, if I "don't have an accent," but my speech still sounds different to other American English speakers, then is there really a lack of an accent?

I just took a GoToQuiz suggested by Thomas MacEntee at Destination: Austin Family. Here are my results for "What American Accent Do You Have?":

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I'm a Bay Area girl, through and through. I grew up next to Berkeley during its Hippie Haven heyday, although I can't say I participated (just a tad too young at the time). My speech, or accent, however, has been influenced not only by my early Bay Area schooling, but by my Minnesota born relatives, and my love of all things English. I say "neither" and "either" with the "ei" pronounced as a long "i" and not a long "e."

Let's also keep in mind that California is one big area, and the Valley Girl intonations so prevalent in the media were nowhere to be found in my part of Northern California. Valley Girls in Berkeley? Shut-UP! No-WAY!

And, the southern lilt in my sister's voice after several decades of her living in the south sounds quite foreign to me, as does my first husband's habit of saying "Wershington" instead of "Washington." He spent his formative years in Chicago.

This test indicates that I'm just about "accentless" by virtue of something called the "Mary-marry-merry" merger, among other telling tidbits. See the American English Regional Differences article at Wikipedia.

Thomas asks if our ancestors had any difficulties in learning the language. Early Norwegian immigrants were known--and made fun of--for their pidgin English, in which Norwegian and English terms were freely combined; it was a language all of its own and usually understood only by other Norwegians struggling to learn English. Along with English came certain pronunication difficulties. Norwegian does not have a soft "th" sound, so "that" becomes "dat," and "throw" become "trow" and "three" is "tree." The English letter "w" is pronounced as a "v": Vould ya please trow tree more vood logs in dat voodstove? Tanks!

But, I guess I don't think of myself as being "accentless," since I've always recognized something similar in the voices of old friends from the Bay Area. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it is definitely something regional. We are tied to our roots in more ways than one, and recognize, almost subliminally, songbirds who nested in the same tree.

1 comment:

footnoteMaven said...

Mountain Girl:

I am the only blogger out there who has actually heard you speak and I would have to agree. There is something there. A real accent?

I can't put my finger on it, but I know it when I hear it!

I took the test and it said I have a Northeastern accent. I don't think I have an accent at all.

Maybe we do or do not have an accent only on paper.