October 18, 2010

Do You Have An Accent?

So here is the question of the moment, Do You Have An Accent? Not clear on what the meaning is, take a look at this link.

The latter part of the definition is really what we are talking about.
The word accent in English is also understood to mean the pronunciation and speech patterns that are typical of a speech community;
As a child I never realized that all people have accents, or should I say that it never occurred to me that people would think that my own speech has an accent. I grew up on the West Coast, Los Angeles born and bred. We didn't sound like people from Long Island, Brooklyn, Nashville or Alpharetta.

And we certainly didn't sound like we had rolled out of Tel Aviv, JoBurg, Sydney or Mexico City. To be clear, I have always enjoyed accents. It tickled me pink to hear people speak English yet sound so different. In fact, there was a point in time in which I was disappointed that I couldn't speak with an English accent, but that was short lived.

It was during that famous summer of 1985 trip to Israel that I learned that people thought that I had an accent. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I do remember some Israeli boy telling me that I speak Hebrew with a thick American accent.

Whoa. What do you mean that I have an accent.

One of the other people with me confirmed it. He was a Jewish kid from Buenos Aires. He said that I sounded like an American.

I was truly dumbfounded by this because until that point, I had never thought of myself as having an accent, that was something that other people had. But I had to admit that it made sense, it hadn't ever come up before.

In the years that have passed I have been told by others that I have an accent and I am sure that many of my international readers would agree with this. Upon occasion people tell me that they can hear some East Coast influence, or that pronounce some things like a Chicagoan.

I laugh when people think that I am from New York. IMO, my voice doesn't sound like that at all. If I am around people with a thick Southern accent it is not unusual for me to start to affect a drawl. I have been asked if I am from Texas.

As for Chicago, well half my family is from there, including my mother so there is probably some truth to that.

One of the funnier occasions came during a wedding I once attended. The bride was Irish and quite a large number of the guests had come to the states to help her celebrate her nupitals. During the reception I walked over to the bar and placed an order for a drink.

The bartender smiled and began preparing it. While he was doing so he looked at me and said:

"I have Irish relatives. What part of Ireland are you from?"

I laughed and said "Hollywood."

The bartender scratched his head and said "Wow, you know that we have a city called Hollywood too."

Now I'd like to say that it was an easy mistake to make. I'd like to say that he was competing with the band and that some trombonist was especially loud, but that wouldn't be true. The band was on a break. It was relatively quiet so I said,

"Begorra, this ale do taste mighty fine."

It probably sounded more like pirate than Irish, but it fit my mood and was lot kinder than asking him if I looked like Lucky the Leprechaun from the Lucky Charms cereal box.

And while we are on the topic of accents let me share something else. Someone once told me that Australian women loved to hear American men speak. The legend said that if you found a nice Australian girl your voice would give you an edge. As a scientist I have always been disappointed that I couldn't test that theory. In the interest of discovery and human development I would have enjoyed running a lab on that.


Let's go back to the topic of the post. Do You Have an Accent?

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