Skip to main content

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.
accent
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.

Anyhooo.................................................

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

Well, do you? And if so, how would you describe it?

Comments

One of my pet peeves is that some Americans think they do not have an accent. They all do!

I have an Australian accent. A Melbourne accent to be precise. You can tell the difference between other cities sometimes and the country people. The local slang/vernacular adds to it.

When I was overseas people often thought I was British or, in Israel, American. I did have to put on an American accent a bit in LA/NY just so I wouldn't get annoying questions and so that people could understand me better.

Whoever told you that theory about Australian women... it's a bit flawed. At least in my case, I can't say the American accent is my favourite :P
Val said…
I'm from Brooklyn but lived in upstate NY for the first 10 years of my life. We moved to San Diego for 3 years and I was taunted by all my friends say "Dog", "Walk", "Talk", etc... they loved the AW sound in these words the way I said them! To me, at the time, I didn't think I had an accent!
I think of my accent currently as New England, but not anything like a Bostonian one.
torontopearl said…
My accent, for some STRANGE reason, is a blend of Montreal, Boston and New York. But I've ALWAYS lived in Toronto. But I've always been asked: "Are you from
Montreal/Boston/New York?"
PsychoToddler met me last summer and thought I had a Bronx accent. Go figure!
Richmond said…
Not really, though I can mimic quite a few...

I do have a very distinct voice though. Does that count?
Jack Steiner said…
Sarah,

All theories are somewhat flawed. Of course the fact that I am married now gums up the works entirely, but one can dream. ;)

Val,

That "Aw" sound is a dead giveaway.

Pearl,

The Bronx? That actually makes sense.

Richmond,

Distinct counts.
Bill said…
When in the US most people seem to think I'm from Los Angeles. Pst... never been there.
cruisin-mom said…
Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, I don't need to tell you what my accent is, like, do I?
Anonymous said…
Being from the South, I can more readily tell the difference between accents of those from Tennesee, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.

What's really bad is that when I'm talking to someone from MS, I can usually tell if they're from north, central, or south MS.


However, when I talk to a Yankee, most sound like there're from New York.

I used to think I didn't have an accent until I started working and had to converse with people from all over the country. The first reaction: What part of the Sourh are you from?
Anonymous said…
when i finally learned hebrew i went to a restaurant and ordered a complete meal all by myself...the waiter looked at me...smiled and said...with ketchup and coke? oy
Anonymous said…
A professor who specialized in accents once correctly identified me as being from "either Baltimore or Washington" after talking to me for a few minutes. But that was before I spent two decades in Texas. Which has a way of altering one's speech. To Texans, I still sound like someone "not from here." To most other Americans I sound Texan.

My mother has a strong Brooklyn accent. She lives in Israel now, and I swear I can hear Brooklyn in her Hebrew.
kasamba said…
Mine is pure New Yawk.

Have a G'mar Chasima Tova and an easy fast!
Anonymous said…
I have a New Haven accent- it's a strange combination of Yankee and New York, with an occasional succinct final consonant thrown in just for fun. I'm a complete failure at mimicking other accents, although I can fake a barely passable cockney when I've drank a little too much.
Anonymous said…
The college I went to was founded as a school of oratory, so speech courses were mandatory. I discovered something called Middle American (striving for accentlessness), which is the 'dialect' they try to teach newscasters so they sound 'natural' to anyone in the country. I don't have an accent, but it's really in the ear of the beholder, isn't it?
Shoshana said…
Having spent a lot of my years in Alabama, I have a bit of a Southern accent, though not nearly as much as I used to. People often ask me where my accent is when they find out I'm from Alabama. Other than that, I would say I have an "american" accent, a bit of this, a bit of that, but nothing distinguishable.
Irina Tsukerman said…
I have a very pronounced Russian accent. I hate it.
I have sort of a generic midwestern accent most of the time (thanks 8 years in Ohio), though there is a fair amount of New Yawkese working its way in there. My mother thinks I talk like a Yankee now.

If I get around other Texans, though, or talk to my Mom or sister on the phone, or get mad, I start twangin' in that Texas accent.
Jack Steiner said…
Bill,

You must sound amazing. ;)

Randi,

Fer sure.

Sea,

I always laugh when people call me a yankee. But I do know what you mean about being able to distinguish regional dialects.

Marallyn,

Sounds pretty funny.

Miriam,

That Texas twang hits everyone, doesn't it.

Kasamba,

G'mar Chatima Tova.

Judi,

Drinking has an affect, doesn't it. ;)

Rhea,

The ear of the beholder. Makes sense to me.

Shoshana,

I would imagine that when your accent sneaks back whenever you are home.

Irina,

At least it is authentic. Try Sean Connery in the Hunt For Red October.

Dottie,

That is not hard to imagine.
I grew up in Massachusetts, so I used to pahk my cah in Hahvahd Yahd, but I've lived in Ohio since 1982, so compared to my relatives, I sound like a TV news reporter (with an occasional 'ahnt' instead of 'ant' that my husband chuckles at).
I don't have an accent. But the rest of y'all sure do talk funny!


But seriously. My parents were both children of American military persons in Europe after WWI. I was born in Southern California. We moved to the Netherlands when I was two years old. Most of my parents crowd in Eindhoven were multilingual.

I have, upon returning to the US, been advised "go back wherever the hell you came from, what part of Ireland are you from, you're from London then, Scotsman are you, Australian, Boston I can always tell, you Germans, we loved Denmark".

An English woman calling from Florida was convinced that I was from either Surrey or Sussex, and described my accent as 'educated upper middle class'.

Somebody else, on hearing the Queen ("anuus horribilis") said that she must've had the same broomstick up her dotdotdot before I got it, because we spoke alike.

In Dutch I have a Den Haag (Hague) accent - which is a good thing.

In Indonesian I sound like someone's hick auntie from up in the hills - not a good thing.
Jack Steiner said…
Chana,

That is a novel change. Most people move away from Ohio and you moved in. ;)

BOH,

The good old Dutch are a fun crowd. I recently was called a klotzok by one of them. I smiled and offered to take him to the parking lot to discuss it in greater detail.

I think that he was surprised to find out that I was familiar with the term, not to mention that I knew it wasn't a compliment. Helps to have Dutch relatives.

But the real highlight of your comment was this In Indonesian I sound like someone's hick auntie from up in the hills

We have got to audioblog that.