Gwenda Bond linked an interesting article from Southern Cultures. The author, Meredith McCarroll, who comes from Western North Carolina, talks about her efforts to blend in and hide her cultural heritage and eventual acceptance of who she is.
Yet while I was proud of my home, I was also learning that powerful stereotypes about Appalachia had arrived in places like Boston well before me and had influenced the way that even the most considerate people thought about me. The banjo lick from Deliverance backed many introductory conversations when I said where I was from. Instead of calling people out for their ignorance, I distanced myself from Haywood County. I laughed along. I waited longer and longer to reveal my background. I blended in. During this time, I applied to graduate school. In my visits to prestigious universities in Boston, I actively tried to “talk right” and hide my accent. One lingering linguistic marker caused me the most panic when I slipped. Long after I attached ‘G’s to my gerunds and bleached out the local color from my language, I stumbled over the word “on.” When my mom told me to put my coat on, those words rhymed. She told me to call her when I was on the road. And those words rhymed. To my Appalachian tongue, “own” and “on” were pronounced exactly the same way. But not for the rest of the world, I learned. This reminder that I was not from around here meant, to me, that I might not belong in a Boston graduate school.
I learned to always use adverbs. I took my groceries from a buggy and put them in a cart. I (nearly) stopped calling my hat a toboggan. I forced my vowels into shape. It worked. I got into graduate school. I got a PhD. I learned to pass. But I lost my voice. With Granny’s chiding in my ear—“You’re talking uppity now that you live in Baaaaahston”—I developed a new way of speaking. And it wasn’t until a decade later that I heard my own repressed voice echoed back to me in West Virginia.
I still say buggy. I learned my English in North Georgia. My first trip to a US grocery store, featured Piggly Wiggly. I could by now lose the accent, but I don’t care to, because that’s who I am. My daughters are the same. Neither of them looks typically American, both of them picked up a slight accent from me, and people comment on it. Both of them tried to fit in when they were teenagers but now they are adults. Kid 2 was trying to cheer Kid 1 one after someone said something snide to her out of pure spite.
The truth is that you and me both are very pretty in a foreign way. We don’t look American. We bring attention to ourselves even when we’re not trying and some girls see that and are immediately threatened.
This is true. Our kids are unusual and memorable, both in their looks and background, and people react to it, mostly with interest but sometimes with spite.
So I get feeling like an outsider.
That said, I intensely dislike Western North Carolina and Appalachia at large. ( By this I don;t mean places like Asheville. I mean deep mountain towns.) People come there and see beautiful mountains. I see crushing poverty. I see people who start the conversation with “who you’re kin to” before deciding if they’ll repair your car and say things like, “You’re foreign. You don’t need to be here.” I see self-segregation. I see a lot of religious intolerance. No church in Jackson county would marry us unless we went there for a year and proved that we were good enough, which was fine with me, but getting constantly judged because you don’t go to church to get saved every Sunday got old fast.
I see a culture where – if you’re not from around there – it’s okay to take advantage of you. It’s okay to charge you double for the same repair, it’s okay to bump you down the line for work you need to get done, and it’s okay to feel superior to you while all of this is happening, because you’re either a Floridiot, who obviously has a ton of money to spend on vacation house or you’re a foreigner and you don’t belong in the country anyhow.
Gordon probably has a different perspective, but I have to tell you, after living there for five years, I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Gordon here: I will say only this, there is a reason we haven’t lived in Jackson Co, NC for a very long while. I lost my accent like Meredith did, but I don’t miss it.
While we enjoy interesting accents, I feel they can define you in other people’s minds.
I was born in London, migrated to Australia at the age of 2, and returned to England 24 years ago. Without ever trying, I have acquired a mixed accent. People in the UK immediately ask about my ‘twang’. Australians think I am English and are amazed when I point out that I spent most of my life in Australia. In the minds of others, I don’t belong in either country. I am ‘different’ and something about an accent seems to signal that to people. I found it difficult to get a permanent teaching job in the UK, even though everyone was happy with my work. I suspect that the whole time I talk, the listener’s brain is saying ‘Not one of us’ and it makes life a little more difficult.
Accents are funny things.
There was a point where my paternal grandparents had lived in the US for decades and had lost most of their regional accent, but my grandmother was greeted with “Who hung the monkey? ” from a bus driver who had recently immigrated from England.
Yeah, West Hartlepool was notorious for that.
I use both buggy and cart. MO isn’t known for a strong accent, but I definitely did change a few things once I got out into the wide world (e.g., “wash” used to be “worsh”). Now I sound pretty generic most of the time, but some accent and colloquialisms come out when I’m on the phone with my family.
And after growing up in a very small town, I prefer the city. 🙂
Patricia Schlorke says
Depends on where in MO you’re from with how strong the accent is. I lived in northern Missouri and the farmers up there had a slight accent. I lived in southern Missouri, and some people had an accent so thick you could cut with a knife. I use to have an accent when I was really young. I got rid of it when I started singing in junior high school. My mom use to sing and gave me the advice that got rid of my accent. She said “don’t talk through your nose”. But there are times when I get ticked off that my accent comes through. I call it my inner hillbilly. 😀
I live in the West Coast of Canada, with a distinct language/way of speaking of its own. I lived in the East Coast (the true East, New Brunswick) which again very distinct language and I grew up in Europe for most of my teenage years. When people here me speak there is confusion as I incorporate many different tones, inflection and languages. To add to this, my grandparents, who I spent my childhood with, were Scottish, I never heard the brogue as they were my grandparents and I was around them constantly. As a result my I and my mom adopted many terms and tones from them. Added to this is I worked for a two bosses for many years, one from Manchester and one from Newfoundland. Yup I am a hodge podge of tones, terms, languages and ways of speaking. Oh and add on to this the French from both high school and France… embrace your way of speaking, be who your life has lead you to be. I find it encouraging when people chat with me and ask where I am from. I would do the same. Never have I nor will I ever judge someone on how they speak.
Lol right on! Im canadian too ehhhh 😉 love it.
What I find facinating is the change in accents from state to state, from NY to Maryland . That was a week ago.
Years ago an online friend called from Tx. My parents were going to stop by. “Your husband is so Cdn with the “eh’s””. Yet all I could think, and didn’t say, was, could the drawl get any thicker?
Online we “hear” each other as we do on ourselves and seem so surprised that other’s speak differently and yes, the shunning was amazing when we moved to my in laws farm. It’s a rural thing, all those small town romances are some sugar coated fantasy. But a year or so ago a multi generation local complained about the reverse shunning taking her grandkid to library program by the no longer minority group . All I could think of was…. what goes around . …
Kid 2 sounds very wise for her years. I’ve experienced this all myself having emigrated from USA to NZ with my family at a young age, and could have done with her advice when I was finding my way through early adulthood! Now the son of a good friend of mine is about to head from NZ to a West Virginia College on an academic and sports scholarship – I think I’ll get him to read this before he goes…
I’m a born and bred Southerner. In fact, both sides of my family have been in the South since the 1700s. On my mom’s side, we can trace our roots back to American colonists in the 1600s. And when I say I’m a born and bred Southerner, I mean states like Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina. So the accent is there, and it’s a natural by-product of my upbringing. On the other hand, I’ve never lived anywhere that was tremendously rural. I’ve always lived in larger cities, or on the outskirts of those cities. I think that softened the accent to significant degree and also prevented my language from becoming too ripe with regional colloquialisms. (I don’t say things like “God willin’ and the crick don’t rise” or “finer than frog hair split three ways!” but of course I have heard them. I also do not say “Bless her heart!”)
Nevertheless, I have a vivid memory of being about 8 or so and deciding that Southern accents sounded stupid, and making an effort — even at that young age — to not be quite so tellingly Southern in my speech. It must have worked. I know I have been asked on many occasions where I’m from, and when I tell folks I was born in GA and raised in the South, they’re always surprised. (This one older gentleman, who himself had a very thick Southern accent, got quite indignant with me when I insisted that I was a Southerner who had been raised mostly in NC. He refused to believe it.)
A friend of mine from high school who now lives in Canada came to visit a year or so ago. She said my accent is very Southern, but a little different, because I pronounce all my consonants. I enunciate my words. It’s not British, necessarily — “butter” for me is still more like “budder,” in the generally American way, and “bottle” is more like “boddle” — but I do love my consonants.
Incidentally, even though I am a Southerner through and through, I’m the last person in the world who will criticize an actor’s Southern accent for a TV show or movie. People need to realize that there is no ONE Southern accent. Some are slight and a bit posh — I call it the genteel Southern accent. Some are thick and country. It all depends on so many factors: where you were raised, how you were educated, whether your parents were educated, how your family spoke, etc. My mom used to say, “You act like the people you hang around with.” I think that’s true of language as well: in the fast majority of cases, you speak like the people you hang around with.
Karen the Griffmom says
The “who’re you kin to?” and accompanying wariness may be a function of rural living. I’ve lived all over Michigan because of my husband’s profession, mostly in rural or very rural areas (the Upper Peninsula), and “Are you related to X or Y family” was the first question. Our family name was always the only one of its kind in the country phonebook. Getting along in small town? Pick any two of three: Join local clubs, or join a local church, or have kids in sports/school teams.
It is interesting how different words and accents are from state to state, even states you consider fairly close. I grew up in Michigan and don’t think I have an accent (of course), but when I moved to Raleigh, NC, my coworkers kept asking me to pronounce “car”, because apparently how I say it sounds very different from how I hear it.
And word difference is interesting. For me, a toboggan wasn’t a hat — it was a piece of plastic or wood with small skis that you sat on to ride down a snowy hill in winter. (It was a verb and a noun.)
I don’t honestly remember if we always said stuffing or dressing. I think stuffing, but dressing will come out, too, so we might have switched back and forth.
I had to teach myself to say soda instead of pop, because pop is apparently a midwestern thing. (Unless you’re in Georgia – or maybe just Atlanta – in which case you say Coke.)
No, Coke for soda is more widespread than just Georgia. When my family moved to North Carolina from New Jersey, I had several very confusing restaurant encounters along the lines of:
Waiter: What would you like to drink?
Me: A Coke please
Waiter: What kind?
Me: Just regular coke
Waiter: What kind of regular coke?
Waiter: We have coca-cola, sprite, etc
Anyway, the lightbulb eventually went off for me that “coke” and “soda” were synonyms…
Definitely a Texas idiom, at least. I offer my son “a coke”, when we both know all I have is Dr Pepper.
I grew up with stuffing being what’s cooking inside something, and dressing being what’s baked in a dish, but my family is so mixed it’s kind of absurd. (Plus, I was fairly serious about food for a while there…)
Yes! Stuffing is literally stuffed in the bird to cook, whereas dressing is cooked in a totally separate dish. That said, in actual usage, the terms were used pretty interchangeably in our house.
I used to host more than twenty, some of whom were vegetarian, and with various other dietary requirements at various other times. Dressing that had never touched flesh was some times a very big deal. (It could get a little nuts. Before I imposed signup schedules for oven times, my sister and her son’s dad were showing up, showing vegan propadanda videos,* and trying to get into the wood burning prick oven to make pear and gorganzola pizza.)
* My friends were all whaddevah. Pass the lamb. But I think it was just one more reason the in-laws were traumatized.
I grew up overseas among a hodgepodge of nationalities, and while many of my teachers were American, most were not. My English teacher was English. So when I came back to the states, my accent was, as nickole so beautifully put it, a hodgepodge. I got marked down on one paper for spelling words (I think color or some similar word) “colour.” There were enough of these spellings that instead of an A, I got a B on the paper. I would have just let it go, but my Daddy was infuriated on my behalf, and confronted the teacher about it. I had been raised with those spellings, and they’d always been correct before. The teacher only said “Well, she’s in America now, and has to do the things the American way.” Daddy took it all the way to the top and the principal. The grade got changed, but I was told from now on, I had to spell color and honor and such the “right way.” Being a teenager, and already embarrassed that my Dad (who I’m proud of now as an adult) made so much noise that the kids in the hall knew about the disagreement, I agreed and spelled those things the American way. I stopped putting cross-hashes on my sevens, too, as the math teacher didn’t like it. Now my hodgepodge accent only comes out after I’ve had a drink or two, or if I’ve watched a few episodes of BBC. I’ve been 30 plus years in Texas, and if I go to another state, I get a comment or two on my Texas accent (which I honestly don’t hear at all). Sometimes, there is just no pleasing people.
My dad was Filipino and he always cross-hatched his 7s. I always wondered why he did that, it looked so cool. But I never asked why and now I can’t. He never went to England.
I do it but was taught that in engineering . Became habit . Never thought of it being the norm elsewhere .
I learned to speak Spanish in Barcelona. When I moved to Madrid everyone told me I had a Catalan accent. I stood out in those days because I looked so American – nobody could have taken me for a native – yet they focused on my accent. Regional identities are amazingly rigid the world over.
I have gotten an unbelievable amount of ribbing for having a very strong Beijing accent (I like to think I’ve toned it down over the years) and… look, I look Mediterranean, or near eastern, or not-northern European, or, well, I could give a list of other places where I can pass just fine (though I’m pretty tall, so there’s that). Do you know where I don’t pass at all? East Asia!
(It would be one thing if it were my cousins, who have a right, but noooo.)
As an immigrant from India, I came to NYC for graduate school at the age of 22. Learned how some words were spoken (Organism rhymed with Orgasm in India!), changed some language usage (active vs. passive voice), but never felt like I lost my identity. I have never felt that I had to substantially change myself to fit in. So what if you have an accent? You still have the same brain and had the same skills/scores to get in. Also, NYC is more multi-cultural than Boston.
I still speak with an Indian accent but proudly go to my kids’ schools on Pi Day, Star Wars Day etc. to talk about Science, Math and on on Diwali to talk about our cultural traditions. Maybe because we live in NJ – no one has ever brought up my accent.
That and I think an “Indian-spiced” accent is one of the prettiest accents around…:)
I’m listening to Brene Brown book at the moment called Braving the Wilderness. It’s a little depressing at times (mostly because I don’t know any other way to be), but also incredibly inspiring – she talks about learning how to accept that NOT fitting in is a great thing. None of us completely fit in anywhere, and that’s a beautiful thing, because we should be celebrating who we are – not trying to change ourselves to fit in.
I haven’t finished it yet, so I don’t know if there’s a big twist at the end.
I’ve done the same thing with my vocabulary. Listening to my dad talk with his brothers is sometimes like listening to a different language (we’re from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). When I moved to Wisconsin, I started altering how I say certain words, but even now my kid and partner will make fun of me for the way I say “out”. I think I’ve reached the age where I just don’t care to try to make my mouth form differently – it feels wrong.
But I’ve learned I’m definitely a person who tries to fit in…I’m working on that though. Being different is a great thing. I know it in my heart, I just need to start living it. 🙂
Greetings from a former Troll, Zann. 😉
Karen the Griffmom says
Another Troll greets you – still have a chook and a set of choppers from Chassell.
Now you’re just throwing out random words. ?
I have no idea what that means.
I am a Michigander living in Dallas. Every single time I open my mouth someone comments on my accent. This week the cardiologist told me, ” I play a game with myself to see if I can figure out where people are from by their accent. Are you from Michigan?” He was from Milwaukee! In the hospital last week a PA said, “I hear a little up north when you talk.” It really does get old. I feel slightly judged.
For some reason, nothing says “hick, and probably ignorant” to a northerner than hearing a southern accent. One of my husband’s students, an extremely intelligent young man, was selected to represent his school district in a history- and science-based interscholastic bee. One of the northern state kids was very condescending and asked Dustin with a sneer, “so what do you hicks do for fun?”. Dustin smiled and said, in the thickest drawl you’ve ever heard, “Well, for fun, me and some of my friends go around in our pickup trucks and shoot at stop signs with shotguns.” The kids with him cracked up, the northern state kid looked confused, and the hicks from Texas went on to win the bee.
Same way people hear certain British accents and think the person must be educated and cultured.
I’m Brazilian, born and raised (with the exception of the one year I spent in England). Even though Brazilian Portuguese is my first language, I’m still considered a foreigner, all because I am hard of hearing (have been since birth), and that reflects in how I speak. It doesn’t help that I’m very light-skinned, have strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes.
In other words, because I don’t look and speak like a Brazilian, I’m labeled a foreigner in my own country. On the other hand, I’ve been to Canada (Toronto) and was told my English doesn’t have an accent. Guess that means I should move to Toronto.
I just saw your comment right above mine! Kismet!!! Kind of anyway…?
Oh boy, do I have experience with this. Being at the intersection of ethnicity and disability, it’s come up more times than I care to count.
Although I’ve lived in Midwest America my whole life, I’ve often been told by family, friends and people I don’t even know that I “talk like a white girl”. I have to admit, it was deliberate on my part. I didn’t want to speak like my family which, as a child, meant uneducated.
As a person with a visual impairment, I also spent a great deal of time around other fellow blind people. I cannot tell you the number of times I had to convince people that yes, I actually am Black. I actually had arguments with people because they automatically assumed I was white from the way I spoke. It got to the point where I would actually open with the fact that I was black whenever I was talking to guys I was interested in who couldn’t see me. So yeah…I get it. V
Olivia, I had the same experience as you growing up with people I don’t know and knew said I “talk white”. I’m a black American women who grew up in Oakland CA. In Jr. High and High School I heard that same comment all the time. When I was dating and had phone conversations with men they always argued with me on where I grew up because it had to be impossible that someone who look and sound like me grew up in Oakland. When I started working some people in the office’s made weird facial expressions when they heard me speak.
It is a life experience that I will never forget because it still happens to this day and I don’t mind one bit. I’m one of the people who love accents from everywhere. Any movie that has Actors with accents I’m always watching, especially actors from the UK.
Damietta Armstrong says
I love accents
I was raised in San Antonio, Texas….where there are military personnel, from more different parts of the world than you can shake a stick at.
[Omigawd, a regionally based phrase of emphasis!]
Truly, I do not remember hearing a “Texas Accent” except in Movies and TV.
When I was 14, and ready to start High School, we moved to WISCONSIN. Talk about your culture shock. These kids lived in their Parkas from September until May, and they had the weirdest drawn-out vowels. This was where I had an argument with my English teacher about whether it was ‘Tawk and Wok’ [her] or ‘Talk and Walk’ [me].
Over the years, I’ve collected more than a few accents…and I’ve been asked “whereabout’re ya’ll from” from all sorts of people
When I told Momma that I collected accents….she replied that that was one collection that would never need to be dusted.
I remember listening to an argument between my dad’s friends. One was from Texas, one from New York and the third from Australia. The argument was whether or not the plural of “all of you” was “all youse guys”, “all of you” or “y’all”.
All ya’ll, just for variety.
There you go!
Jenna L says
Accents have always been a source of consternation for me – I was born in Ohio, but grew up in New England (Mass & Maine) with adopted family from Germany & Spain, spent summers in the South and my grandparents are from Ireland, Scotland and Wales… was only allowed to watch PBS and BBC while a kid and in my teens lived in Amish Country (I still know WAY too much profanity in too many languages). Needless to say, by the time I was talking my accent suffered serious Multiple Personality Disorder which has merely worsened over the years. Toss in all my moves and I am a serious linguistical magpie – and the frustrating thing in the majority of the time, I don’t notice I’m sliding until someone calls me on it. I’ve ALWAYS ‘Talked Funny’. Took me forever as a kid to lose the Boston from my accent, but it was the only one I actually did my best to lose after the millionth time someone demand I say ‘something funny’ like “wolk the dog in Havad yahd” or ‘pahck the cah’. Without realizing it, even my spelling is often critiqued because I lean towards the Irish/UK version of English, not American. Ditto with my phrasings (buggy, lift, biscuit, etc). My accent depends on my mood. Exited and I sound like my grandparents (Irish and Scottish mostly), pissed off and it is ALL Boston, laughing and it all slides southern, worried and the German comes out. I think what upsets people the most is how hard I make it for them to ‘place’ me. I know how to speak ‘properly’ and how to behave in pretty much most situations, equally able to manage in a high end restaurant as a dive bar and can fade pretty quickly out of notice when I want. That… seriously seems to piss people off. If folks can’t quantify you quickly, they seem to freak out. It bugged me a lot as a kid… now, it’s just a way to get a good handle on people. If you can’t get passed my accent, if how I speak is something that makes a person act out (astonishing how often that occurs) I now from the start I’m dealing with an idiot and they aren’t worth my time. Notice the accent? Cool, fine, yeah. Obsessively pull back to it? Go away. Same deal with having unusual coloured hair and tattoos. You don’t have to like them, but if you can’t be polite, I know to not waste time and energy on the situation.
This is so interesting to me. I studied Linguistics in college because I did something quite similar. I grew up in a black, working class family in Oklahoma City. Of course my family speaks African American Vernacular English (AAVE) mixed with Southern American English. Both of which are considered substandard dialects of American English. I was the quiet, smart kid in school and eventually went on to attend a fairly prestigious university. I learned to code switch to Standard American English (what you’d hear on tv) pretty early on and remember going through the process of actively changing the way I prounced certain words and adding the g to my gerunds and adding that copular “be” verb back to my phrases. “My momma crazy” would become “My mom is insane….”. It was very clear (to my 12 year old self) that “educated” people spoke a certain way and if I wanted to be taken seriously and respected I would need to change the way I spoke.
It’s mostly unconscious now and depends entirely on my mood, the people I’m around at the time, my comfort level, and the formality of the situation. When I’m pissed or tired that AAVE/country speech comes straight out of me. And when I’m with friends or family it’s generally a mix of all the American dialects of English I speak. I struggled when younger because there is a level of rejection of a part of your identity that comes with deciding that how hou were raised to speak was “incorrect English” or not “good enough”. In college, I got some validation by learning to think about my root dialects as non-standard dialects of English instead of sub-standard dialects of English.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate all the bits that make me who I am. I came to the conclusion that some people are going to be assholes no matter what. They’ll have issues with the way you look, the way you speak, your culture or race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender. We’ll always be some sort of too different for somebody to take. But that’s their loss.
Until people are no longer assholes, I think it’s essential that speakers of nonstandard dialects of American English are taught how to successfully code switch. Especially in situations where class and poverty come into play as well. Unfortunately, it’s a survival technique if you’re trying to successfully navigate academic, corporate or other professional circles. I guess if you have a kick ass perosnality, are a prodigy or you’re independently wealthy you could probably do what you want.
On a lighter note, I find regional differences in pronunciation and slang super interesting. My college friends were from all over the US and we had a lot of fun comparing words and phrases. Apparently, to other folks the words “pen” and “pin” don’t sound the same. Fascinating.
Yes to this! I didn’t realize what I was doing was called code switching until I was in college. Even now when I try to explain this phenomenon to people, most don’t get it. I find it hilarious because people do it all the time.
Also, I had no idea that AAVE was even a concept. I too was led to believe it was substandard English. I learned something new today…thank you.
Jamie Josserand-Miller says
I was born in San Antonio TX but we lived in Montana when I started talking. And from there to the Philippines. My accent is from everywhere. Folks in the north comment on my southern accent. Folks in the south comment on my northern accent. Oh well. It’s my accent.
Spent my learning to talk years in Lansing where I was born & Augusta where my folks moved pre-divorce then the rest of life to date in Phoenix while working 10 years with folks from San Antonio.
Toss in the tendency to mirror accents & being a Whovian, mixed mouth is totally a thing. Especially when I’m very tired or very relaxed 🙂
I am from Wisconsin. There we call a water fountain a bubbler. Hey, the water bubbles, doesn’t it? I’ve used it a couple of times and people look at me strange. Toboggans are sleds. Never heard it used any other way. I say pop all the time, not soda. In the upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota), a’s are usually said like ah. When I say Wisconsin I pronounce it Wiscahson (accent on the ah). Can’t help it. Wisconsinites sound similar to some of the characters in the movie Fargo. What bothers me is that people still use your accent to discriminate. It isn’t just Appalachia that judges your accent. I feel it is a shame people feel they have to hide their accent.
Yep, spent my freshmen year at U of W-Milwaukee where I first heard of bubbler. Haven’t heard it anywhere but there. And when I was in Raleigh, they said I pronounced wash as “warsh” and car as “cahhh” or something like that.
At least in Wisconsin they knew what euchre is.
Karen the Griffmom says
Got the right or left bower?
Right, of course. With four 9s to back it up. 😉
As a Canadian I find the variation in accent and dialect (for want of a better word). Yes we have different accents in Canada but not quite as many. I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario (near Niagara Falls) but went to Teacher’s College in Thunder Bay (roughly 16 hour drive north west). The difference wasn’t accent but word choice. For example what I called a summer cottage they called a camp. I couldn’t figure out why they would have permanent tent sites. One of my classmates was from Labrador and consequently spoke “Newfie” if he was riled up. So instead of something being side by side it was side by each. And no one used “eh”.
I’ve got a friend who has a “camp” in Vermont. To me, a camp was where the kids went in the summer to be away from their families and to learn to fish and archery and sing songs by a campfire and sleep in a cabin. It took me quite awhile to realize her camp was just one cabin by a lake.
Can so relate to this. Growing up lived in Illinois, Missouri, Newfoundland, Maine, Florida. Accent and word choices defined if you fit in or not and I learned to be a mimic. My best friend in Newfoundland was from Ireland and my speech pattern there was definitely tilted to Irish. Now that I’m grown, I find that I speak a mish-mash of all of it unless I’m with someone who has a distinct accent that is close to one of the ones I grew up around and then give me ten minutes and I’ll end up speaking that way for the whole day. Not consciously, I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I am away from them and hear myself and try to switch back and have trouble. Reminds me every time of how being a mimic in childhood was such a survival tactic.
Although I was born in Wisconsin, I grew up in Texas where I attended kindergarten and all of my grade school and middle-grade years, and then we moved to Illinois when I was 14. My mom was from Michigan and my dad was from Connecticut, and now that I’ve lived in Ohio for 25+ years, I have absolutely no Texan accent … until I get tired … or taaarred.
Canadian here. Moved to a small town in GA at age 13. I had a hard time understanding the southern accent as it was very thick. Took a couple of months to get used to it. Started school
Girl: “You talk funny. Where you from?” Alberta. “Alberta is that over by Alabama?” No it is a province in Canada. “Where’s Canada?” After taking a few minutes to explain where Canada was I was then asked “How many dogs did you own?” Excuse me? “For your dog sled”. After much frustration by this time I responded how we had modernized and we now have polar bears pull our sleds because bears run as fast as horses.
I’ve gotten rid of the “eh” in my speech decades ago (along with the Likes, yeah, ums and ers). I’ve lived in all 4 corners of the county and my speech is now pretty neutral. But the Candianisms still come through on occasion. Like the word “about” – sounds more like “aboot”. It’s a dead giveaway. At that point people will ask if I’m from Canada.
Patricia Schlorke says
Simone, love the comic. I’m use to the Canadian accent since I watch NHL hockey matches when I can.
Didn’t they talk like that in the movie “Fargo”, too? I haven’t watched the TV series.
ALL I can say is Wow and it can be three syllables if you like. I was born and raised in WV and never felt birthplace was a cause for pride or shame. I felt I should be judged on my merits. And never cared all that much what anyone thought of me, because isn’t judging wrong?
My accent must be mild (Maryland border) because when I told people I’m West Virginian, I always got ” you don’t sound like it.” Actions should speak louder than accents.
I’m from a small town and schools were integrated when I was in first grade. Pretty smooth transition though I’m aware there had to be problems at times. If you have to be from an area or be related to someone to get along, that is a place I would leave too. I have a huge problem with the fact that writer felt she had to conform to Bostonians. Talk about prejudice. I’m 67 and have few reasons to doubt my worth. None of those reasons include my birthplace or accent. Seems totally screwed up to me.
As a native of the deep south, I reject the notion that there is widespread discrimination against southerners. I have 2 graduate degrees from Georgetown. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were elected president, for godssake. It’s entirely the other way around, in my experience.
My accent and I live in CA now.
Patricia Schlorke says
I can relate to the rural segregation (as well as the accent). I grew up in rural Missouri for the first 25 years of my life. When I was in high school a counselor told me “why do you want to go to college? You’ll only get married and have kids.” I was livid and told my mom. She was steamed. Education was not very high on the list of things to do after high school. Both my parents told me and my siblings to get our education. People would ask my parents “what do your children do?” in a very snotty tone. My mom answered at the time “my oldest daughter is going to law school, my oldest son is a physician in northern Indiana, my other son is getting his masters in Divinity, and my youngest daughter is going to St. Louis University studying history.” The person who asked wouldn’t talk with my mom after that. I also got shunned because people would ask about my education.
Oh another memory popped up. Word of mouth about services went through like wildlife where I use to live. To the point where a small mechanic shop had to expand because the owner treated women with respect and not thinking women were dumb.
So, Ilona and Gordon you’re not alone.
Earle Davis says
When I was 16, my parents moved to Australia and was there for 2 years. When I got back I had a wonderful cross accent that people loved to hear. Even today that accent still is noted.
You know you have the same issue in the British isles.
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While the focus of the article is dialect, the deeper truth is that people will use anything to define insiders and outsiders. Accent, color, religion and are markers that can be used to define a group. And to some, it boils down to “we, right thinking people” and “you, inferior not quite good enough people”
Sadly, some people only include a limited number in their group. It can be as small as the family unit. Other can expand the group to include those of like religion, or in the same town, but no larger. I can’t help but think life would be easier if the groups were more inclusive.
I’ve lived in the south my entire life, though different states. I hear different accents and think that person sounds ‘really southern.’ I’ve noticed varying degrees of the discrimination mentioned. Not really clear on what spurs that on, skin color, accent, mode of dress, IDK. But, I have to say it’s there. I’ve also heard people speak with what sounds to me like an exaggerated and fake southern accent. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. Perhaps it give them a feeling of fitting in.
BTW, some of the strongest southern accents I’ve heard comes from Oklahoma. Weird.
Roxanne Wynne Davenport says
I was born and raised in northeastern North Carolina, and have a pretty thick drawl. And while I don’t have the Elizabethan vocabulary of the Ocracoke Island natives, I do still use some older English words like mommick and young’uns. Upon graduating high schoo, I left my small rural hometown and went to UNC, where the first words I heard from my academic advisor was “You need to lose the accent.” I subscribe to Tom Wicker’s theory that you stick with the accent and delude the elitists as to your competency. Then you have to put out much less effort to bumfuzzle them, with the added benefit that they never see it coming. I also mash elevator buttons, cut off lights, and use grocery baskets (which works for either four-wheeled or hand-carried.) And “y’all” is never singular. “Y’all” is a group, and “all y’all” is a group of subgroups and/or individuals, but never individuals alone. As to the “kin” question, one of my granny’s first questions upon meeting someone new was “Now, who are your people?” It was a means of establishing familiarity or even kinship. I took a friend from college home for a weekend who was from Pennsylvania, and I swear within 15 minutes Granny had found a mutual relative of several degrees’ distance.
I literally just yesterday was trying to explain to someone where I live now what bumfuzzle meant….. I had to drop the y’all here, too many interruptions to ask what did you say?
I grew up in Trinidad in the Caribbean, I learned to move my accent around because I had a very hard time getting a job. If I am at home or speaking with family and friends its like I never left. Ive softened it a bit for the kids schools, but I can sound very American when I need too. My two oldest have a very slight Trinidadian accent and its heard when they pronounce their vowels, which they do get made fun off for sometimes. My youngest goes to a mixed English and Japanese school so his accent is quite literally all over the place. We leave Japan next year so it will be interesting to see how it changes.
Kathleen Kennedy says
I’ve always loved meeting people with accents. I love to hear about where they’re from and what they’re journey has been. I hope I’ve done it with sensitivity but if I’ve offended anyone, I’m so sorry.
My eldest son, born and bred here in Australia, has an American accent. We have no idea why. I don’t hear it but it seems everyone else does. He gets questions about it all the time and his nick name at school was Yankee. People give me odd looks if I’m with him, not sure if they think I’m a bad Mum or perhaps a kidnapper.
Could it be tv and music influence? I grew up with kids that identified more with american tv shows and music and their accents began to sound more American than they realised.
People are people all of over the world. Every place tries to charge more for outsider than their own friends. I grew up moving all over the US. Then I married a Chinese and now we take our children all over the US and Asia. We always get noticed (one of the family jokes is that we are our own parade because everyone watches when we go by) and we separate to ask for prices. If they don’t quote the same then we just won’t buy from them.
On the other hand, everywhere we go, have also met people who cheerfully help out when we need it. Sometimes this is a bus driver who jumps out of his seat to help us find where we are going. Sometimes it is the shop keeper that gives us a recipe for cooking some new food. Good and bad happen everywhere. I am sorry that some places have not been as good for you all.
Oh, my primary martial arts master* hates the price switching so much. She grew up in China and moved the US as an adult. But now that she has a Finnish husband, when she goes back she gets treated like a foreigner – and she is not having any of that! She was fuming at me about that after one of her last trips. (She is one of the nicest people ever, so even her fuming isn’t bitter. But she can be fierce!)
My experience traveling has been like yours, I think. A lot of my favorite experiences have been in out of the way little corners.
* Also my adopted older sister – life is complicated, but wonderful, isn’t it?
I’m from South Carolina, the sixth generation from my town. Before that we came from North Carolina lol. My first grade teacher was from New Jersey. I don’t remember her having an accent, I just remember loving her the way you do when you’re little and your teacher is really nice. At one point though, my mother is upset because I came home saying school, schul (one syllable) and not schoo- el, (two syllables). I just did hear the difference, but momma kept trying to get me to say it her way. By the end of the conversation she had tacked on about 5 more syllables, schoo- e- e- el or some such nonsense. I still just said school and still do. While I definitely have a southern accent, between Mrs. Merritt, and I think the influence of television my accent is on the mild side still much to my mother’s chagrin.
I have always thought that Texans were some of the friendliest people in the world and have always been very proud of us. But, people can be very insensitive everywhere including in Texas. I have a southern accent and a Texas drawl. Boy, do I sound weird. I was shocked to hear myself on tape. I tried to learn Italian. No one could understand me. You have raised very wise children and it’s natural to get upset. I am proud of you (group you).
I don’t understand people who look down on others for a regional accent. As my husband often says, “I speak with an accent, I don’t think with one.”
I was born and raised in northern Louisiana where I literally grew up in a library (pronounced locally as liberry). I absorbed the written word like a sponge… but it doesn’t help with pronunciation. Syntax yes, pronunciation no. But my imagination always tries to provide the proper accent when reading… This, I think, led to my chameleon accent. I have since lived in the Caribbean, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas… etc. If I haven’t velcroed an accent from a local, I usually get told that I have a weird lack of accent. On the other hand, I regularly have accents attach themselves to my tongue like velcro-unasked, unwanted, unintentionally – and unremovable. And if I try to consciously make myself drop the accent, it get thicker. Ugggh. And mostly, I’ve lived in small towns. I don’t try to fit in at all… I become the mysterious new person that marches to the beat of a totally different orchestra.
The thing I have run into the most in my life is ” that’s not how that word is pronounced ” but have found that the dictionary usually has a different way still. And the accusation that I am talking “all educated”. I simply inform the person that my education (all DVM btw) did Not teach me how to use the English Language- a well used library card did, and anyone can attain the same level of syntax through reading.
barbie doll says
I spent a year in Switzerland working . It was always assumed that I was Canadian. That made me acceptable. When I said I was an American the acceptance disappeared. I don’t think anyone mentioned an accent.
Ah well I guess there is and always will be an us and a them. So sad
I have a question, if it’s alright. Is it okay to write out accents?
When I read, I like reading the accents written out. It helps me figure out how the words are pronounced with that specific voice. But I’ve heard some people say they don’t like it when their accents are written like that. Is that just a personal thing or is it really something that’s offensive?
I think that would depend on the context, Alex. If you’re a writer, maybe an accent dictionary at the end of the story/book? Or for particularly important differences in punctuation, have a character think about the differences. It’s very easy for the accent emphasis to overwhelm the story being told or to be taken as patronizing.
Anne Schultz says
I grew up in Michigan, and according to my grandparents I am a product of ” that foreign krout” and “backwoods hick”. Yes, my grandparents did like each other, but both had pronounced accents that I picked up with ease. A talent that has continued to help me out all my life. I’d go to Tennessee for visit and have drawl for about a week.
After nursing school, I move to Hawaii. What a culture and language shock!!! A lot of my patients’ primary language was not English. I learn Hawaiian pigin. Pigin is a product of plantain life where multiple language groups need to learn to communicate. It sounds like broken English but it sprinkled with Chinese, Portuguese, Talalog , Japanese and Hawaiian words. My first year was difficult and frustrating, but I learn a lot. You can either dive in and enjoy its diversity or grit your teeth and try to build a little mainland here. It which case you will leaving soon. Culture customs exist everywhere. Some can be charming and some can be annoying. You can focus on the annoyance or why they exist. In some places relationships matter greatly- that is why they ask about family, where you went school or where your from? They are trying to place you on the map their world. You can either help them out or not. Questions will vary but whether you answer them is up to you.
Misconceptions about places and people continue to exist. If your from that place or culture it difficult. I swear you think the Internet and TV didn’t exist. For all the times I had to confirm that I have electriticity and don’t live in a grass shack. Hawaii is a state and I am still US citizen.
Liz F says
I was born in the deep South and lived there until I was 5 or 6. My dad was military and we moved around a lot, including several years in Europe living in base housing. I know I had a southern accent as a young child but I think so many years living amongst military families from all over washed out my accent. I don’t have one. None of my siblings have one either. I can mimic accents of those I’m speaking with like a vocal chameleon.
Our daughter is 10 and speaks with an accent occasionally. My husband & I were both born & raised in the Pacific Northwest. Our kids have only ever lived in Oregon & Washington.
She has watched so many YouTube videos made by people mostly in the UK- now the English accent pops out at the most unexpected times! Often she doesn’t realize it unless someone mentions it.
So, so true. Accents and dialects as cultural signifiers are, objectively, interesting. But…when they are used to pigeonhole and/or dismiss you, rather less so. Linguistic diversity is wonderful, narrow-mindedness not so much.
I am from Liverpool (UK) which is the only place in England where a local dialect and accent are still strengthening (elsewhere in England, the trend is to a more homogenous speech). There are a lot of negative stereotypes in the UK around being from Liverpool, and, I have (and continue to) come across that quite a lot in my professional life. The fact that such bias comes from the stupid and/or ignorant is scant comfort. It is sad how small-minded people can be, isn’t it?
For various reasons, I never had a strong Scouse (Liverpool) accent, so I did not have an accent to ‘lose’, if I had, sadly, I would have chosen to do so: the harsh fact is that I would have struggled professionally working in the South of the UK if I had sounded strongly Scouse. Are there people that have succeeded in doing so? Yes. But it is harder.
My accent is generic Northern England, but a Scouse inflection is still there, and, when I am tired, with family, or, when swearing (yes, I know. Profanity), I can sound noticeably more Scouse. My family still call me a ‘plastic Scouser’, as I do not sound ‘proper’ Scouse.
In Scouse venacular, I have ‘gegged in’ to this post (gone, contributed, or butted in, uninvited).
trailing wife says
No, no, Caroline — if you are here, you belong. I’ve noticed that the book devouring horde is spread all over the world, which is great fun.
Alas, I grocery shop with a basket. I think that originally the term was a brand name – “Bas-kart”. Over many years, that has slid into “basket” without my noticing it until this discussion.
I have spent 65 of my 68 years in Texas. My family has been here at least 6 generations, so my roots are sunk pretty deep. I have never had the deep Texas accent of cliché , but I do have a Texas accent.
On occasion, some one who does not recognize my roots will start complaining about how rude and stupid Texans are. I do take exception to being insulted and belittled and will tell the poor soul to look in a mirror for rude and stupid. “I didn’t know you were from Texas” is the usual excuse. My reply (in the thickest Texas drawl I can manage) is “Ah kin twayng with th’ best uv ’em, but Ah trah not ta.” They don’t have to know that the thick accent is fake, and maybe they’ll learn something.
Amusingly, my German professor told me I spoke German with a Spanish accent. No clue there.
I grew up in Eastern NC in a very large family. My father had 36 first cousins and my grandfather over 50.
When I was 18, I moved to WV and adapted to a new way of speaking. The word wash picked up an “r” somehow while push’s u was replaced with oo.
It was soon evident that a normal conversation didn’t include ascendancy after introduction. It didn’t matter who my father was or my grandparents because this new individual in my life didn’t know them either.
It was so freeing to find my individuality there that when I moved back to NC, I began to look for a way out. There were places in the world where I was free to fall in love with no fear that I might find out one day I was related to to that person even in a trivial way. Places I would call my home.
Yet for all the downside, my childhood was stress free. With my family watching, my cousins and I fished in the irrigation ponds, rode ponies bareback through the plowed fields, and learned courtesy at the dinner table. Early mornings in the garden were common because lunch was the large meal of the day. Everything was fresh and yummy. (Still will not eat canned corn)
Living away, I learned that not everyone is that lucky. Some people grew up hungry, some were abused in horrible ways, and others only got school supplies due to fundraisers.
No one is perfect, no life is. It took years to learn to accept the fact the grass isn’t greener anywhere.
I am one of those people who comments on accents. To me they are like a mini mind vacation. I grew up in Texas, but have lived moved multiple places in the US and abroad, and love all the different ways things are said. If I’m around Texans, or really tired, the Texan comes out. Otherwise I’ve been told I don’t have much of an accent. Names are the same way. I like to try and figure where a surname originated. America is such a stew pot now, there are lots of mini mind vacations with those as well.
The other thing I love is slang. Those funny expressions make me laugh, once I figure out what they mean! I did learn not to use much slang when I lived abroad, but now that I’m back in Texas, it’s definitely back.
My accent is a bit eclectic, because I’ve had some speech therapy, I study languages, and I have a fondness for precision that makes me borrow useful terms with impunity (like “flatmate”); but on some words, in some phrasings, my first half of childhood in the Mistake on the Lake comes through, and folks fluent in Michigan-ese can hear it. I spent the latter half in SC, and I’ll drop “y’all” in the same sentence as “you guys”.
I’m currently living in Appalachia between those two locales, and Ilona, you have nailed one reason I prefer cities. More options for working around the stuffed shirts.
I presently live in NC. I’m from up “up north” and a “damned Yankee”; I don’t let it bother me anymore. When I was young, I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., people made fun of my accent there because I sounded “Spicish” (Spanish). Then moved on to NJ; sounded way too “Brooklyn” and people assumed I was stupid bcse of the way I sounded. I’m happy, was always happy with the way I talked. I can speak three languages read two and understand four. My extended family is so totally multicultural we can be called the United Nations. Some isolated peoples (?) can be ignorant of differences but that’s on them. I’ll close with this:
I started a new job here in North Carolina, and met some fabulous people. One was speaking about what he did on his day off. Being new here I hadn’t become accustomed to the local vernacular. He said he was helping a “widder” woman with the lawn. I replied with : “Her windows?” He said No a widder woman. Me: Huh? Him: “What do you call a woman that’s lost her husband?” Me: ” I don’t know, lucky?”
Cindy Montalbano says
I LOVE LOVE LOVE your reply to what do you call a woman that’s lost her husband!!!! LMAO
Barbara Cunningham says
I am a sixth generation native Texan, and throughout my life I have been accused of being from all sorts of unlikely places because I don’t particularly have the “Texan Twang”. Don’t get me wrong, when I set my mind to it, I can “twang” with the best of them. But I have to think about how to pronounce the words to achieve it.
And I’ve experienced the closed against outsiders mindset here in Texas. I rather imagine it is quite common to smaller communities, as well as communities without much resources other than its people. I consider it a sort of intellectual inbreeding, and the small community we lived in for 30 years was a prime example of that sort of mind set. They were very proud of their “Czech” heritage, when the Czechs did not arrive until the 1890’s, and my ancestors helped to settle that part of Texas.
The high school students would graduate and go away just long enough to get a college degree and then come back to work for the school system. No one ever learned anything from the outside. They were too busy reinforcing their stereotypes.
I guess I have to brag a little on my local area. I live in northwestern Louisiana – generally not looked upon as a fortunate circumstance 🙂 – and people here are incredibly kind and welcoming, especially to those from somewhere else. I guess we feel badly for them, since they are away from their extended families, so we do our best to make them part of ours. But Louisiana is different in a lot of ways from the rest of the South and everyone who visits comments on how friendly the locals are. We have a large Air Force base here and many choose to retire here in part because it is just a friendly place to be. It makes up for a lot of our shortcomings in other areas.
Suzanne, I’d guess the area around Barksdale is different. I surely wouldn’t give Louisiana at large, or north Louisiana, as much credit as you do. I grew up in Monroe and now live in an Appalachian town of similar size, and I don’t see that much difference in attitudes. They are friendly and helpful as can be to anyone who’s accepted (as a neighbor, a fellow church member, or same economic class, for example).
But in their attitudes and outlook, most people in each town are deliberately anti-intellectual and they think that anyone different from them needs to leave.
I can understand why racism exists in north Louisiana, but I was surprised by it in Appalachia. It’s the whitest place I’ve ever lived, but people still act like anyone with darker skin is suspect and likely dangerous. In both places the white people I know won’t even try to imagine why a black person might feel nauseous about a confederate statue in front of the local courthouse.
There’s a patriotism that says that if you disapprove of an action by the military or the government, then you’re anti-American. If you fail to notice any opportunity to loudly and publicly reinforce your patriotism, you are suspect. Also, Christianity and patriotism are as close as red and white stripes on a candy cane; non-Christians are threatening.
In Monroe and in Appalachia here are some things that can make a typical resident feel open-minded and able to tell themselves (and friends) that they’re not prejudiced or small-minded:
— having a black friend,
— knowing a man who’s a stay at home dad,
— working with someone who’s LGBTQ and not complaining all that much,
— having a Democrat in the family that you like okay,
— having at some point had a passport,
— owning any books beyond the bible, bible-study or self-improvement books,
— liking any ‘foreign’ food, and
— eating sushi, ever.
I feel like you nailed it. The only thing I would add to your list is “having some Indian blood.” Despite the fact that we quite literally annihilated their entire way of life, and relegated them to reservations, somehow a hundred and fifty years later, claiming to have some tenuous amount of Native American blood bestows some sort of mystical extra Southern rural Americanism cred to the family. I have never understood it. My own family for instance is basically French and Scottish, yet I have heard the pale blond, blue eyed relatives claim that some mysterious ancestor was Native American. I just bite my tongue.
I am from the Shreveport-Bossier area and feel that O.S. is the closer truth. Certainly, people are friendly but there is still that sense of “not from around here” if you are not local born and raised. Also, This area is not really small townish. There are small towns close by but the area has over 400,000 people. Barksdale is one of the biggest AFB, so naturally people are more friendly and inclusive due to the large amount of military and their families.
I hate to tell you this, but there are people who think it’s okay to take advantage of you everywhere. North, South, East, West, town, country, city – doesn’t matter. They don’t need an excuse but they will take one if available. The religious intolerance is endemic across the rural South, not just Appalachia. In general, urban and suburban areas are more tolerant than rural ones. Happily, there are exceptions to all of this. When people get to know actual human beings, it tends to change things for the better.
“Actual human beings.” Wow.
Sorry, I just realized that could appear critical. I meant the quote as an appreciation of the phrase.
Yep, once they get to know them, they recognize them for what they are. Amazing!
That’s absolutely true. Actual human beings are usually awesome.
I come from a country where you had to bribe people left and right. I get that culture. But deep Appalachia just destroyed me. We were dirt poor. We would scrape up and give people money to do simple things, like repair the floor. They wouldn’t show up. We wouldn’t hear from them for days. One time while I called, I heard the woman on the phone say, “Are you going to that foreign girl’s place?” And the guy was like, “Naaah, they can wait.”
One time I called to check if an autopart shop had windshield wipers, and they told me to put my husband or my daddy on the phone. I have so many stories. So many.
Yuck:( That area probably doesn’t get enough oxygen.
I lived in TN for 8 years, born and raised in south Jersey, been in Austin TX for almost 20. I worked in a Waffle House until I left for grad school. Being a catholic I was told constantly that I was going to hell unless I was saved. I would tell them I would see them down there I guess because that’s not how my religion worked. I was also constantly told I needed a man in my life so I always told them that I know how to change the oil in my car and a flat tire, I choose to pay to have it done. I need a man for only one thing in my life and most of the time they aren’t any good at it and they make toys to take care of the problem.
We moved to Utah in 1972. Mormon country was interesting. No bars in town limits but outside was okay and bring your own bottle was the norm. My husband picked up a part-time job at the local garage. They were an interesting couple, yapped at each other all the time about anything and everything. (She pointed out a man to me one day, told me he was a church bishop on Sunday but any other day he’d rob you blind.) I was at the laundromat one morning talking to a young woman while we waited for the wash to finish. She informed me her mother told her, when she was 14, if she was old enough to think about marriage she was old enough to be married. I was stunned to say the least. Anyway, I carpooled to work with a woman who worked at the same clinic I did. She warshed clothes and bath’d the cat. She was the only person I ever heard say that so I’m not sure where it came from. Nice people for the most part but some days it was real culture shock for the 20 year old newlywed I was at that time. As I’ve gotten older I occasionally wonder how they are and where they ended up. I have fond memories of a few of them, some very nice women worked at that clinic. Life is interesting, a sense of humor is required, and always “consider the source!”
I love the US. But as soon as I open my mouth I know I will get comments. People are friendly and complementary but my difference is pointed out several times a day. I once had to tell a family that their critically I’ll father was coding and probably would not survive. After a long pause one of them said, ‘where you from?’.
*facepalm* Y’know, there was a time when this reaction would have surprised me.
Pa Ch says
This discussion reminds me of My Fair Lady and Henry Higgins: “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”
My God! I grew up in Haywood County (as did the writer of this article) from the ages of 7 to 13 as a Korean-American bookworm (girl) with educated medical professionals as parents. I know this town! I stood out in ALL the ways a person possibly could. This article brought me right back to that time and place. I had such a carefree childhood and didn’t realize until later that my parents were miserable. I was miserable myself but didn’t have the ability to recognize this until much later. It has been 25 years since my family moved away and I was very happy to live in NYC as a young adult and now LA. I’m with Ilona and Gordon; I never want to go back. Also, my accent is a complete mess. 🙂
Oh man, did this post resonate! I’m from Alabama, but from the biggest city (Birmingham) so I don’t have all that strong of a Southern accent. I went to college in NC, but at a school with lots of students from NY and NJ, and I got asked a lot of questions like did we have indoor plumbing when they found out where I was from. On the flip side, after college I was a waiter’s assistant at a fine dining restaurant in Birmingham, and a couple refused to believe I was a local because I didn’t have a strong accent and because when they asked how I was doing that evening, I said “well” instead of “good.” There’s not a lot of the small town “who are your people” here (except possibly in the most affluent suburb) (because it’s a city with a strong medical university and we have tons of people from all over the world here.)
When I was younger I did distance myself from where I was from when I went elsewhere–in a lot of ways it was easier to play into the preconceptions people had about the south. It was kind of like being proud of being “one of the guys” when you’re a woman–you’re not like those *other* women/Southerners/whatever, so *you’re* cool. Only later did I realize what a toxic mindset this was, and how it was a dick move to all those other people and was basically repudiating part of myself.
I’m sorry you’re daughters have had to deal with people judging them & being spiteful. Kid 2 sounds like she has a great perspective on it.
The posts above about code-switching were definitely food for thought as well. My mom is from Louisiana and most of the time, you’d never guess (until she says New Orleans)–except if she’s on the phone to one of her siblings. Her accent thickens up like a roux. 🙂
Argh! “your daughters”.
Rejana Clark says
I just wonder how your fans, who live in the areas discussed and love their home feel when dissed in a worldwide forum!
Maria Mensik says
Yeah, as a native of Asheville, NC, this makes me sad and I’m trying really hard not to be defensive, especially since I’m a fan. I lived in the mountains of NC for the first 25 years of my life and only moved away after I married. In the last 20 years, my husband (a Chicago native) and I have lived in several different places including a foreign country—although it was Bermuda, so not that foreign—and I’ve gotta say, it’s tough to be an outsider anywhere. Appalachia does not have a monopoly on this.
Oh please, you’re from Asheville. That’s a different country. I am talking Cullowhee. Or better yet Andrews. When I came to Andrews for Christmas break with my roommate, they had two restaurants, Hardees and a Chinese Place. I was told to not eat at the Chinese place because when you go to Hardees, you see fat people, so food must be good. When you go to the Chinese place, you see racial slur here, who are skinny so the food is crap.
For the entertainment, my roommate and her male friends loaded me into a truck and we drove around in the dark in the snow on mountain roads while they drank beer. I was handed an empty beer bottle and told to throw it at the STOP sign.
I am not saying one can’t love Appalachia. I am saying that I got to see the ugly of it and it made me want to move.
I agree with Maria. It’s hard not be be defensive since I love you guys. But I’m from Lincolnton, North Carolina which is between the mountains and Charlotte. I also lived in the Eastern part the state for 5 years, which is where I experienced more of what you spoke of than I ever have in my home town.
But, the mountain area is my heart and home. Yes, I have a southern accent and I’m proud of that. I have also been stereo typed, when i have to make calls to other non-southern states for work, as being a “dumb southerner” because of the way i speak . Yes I hunt, but I don’t lock bears up in my back yard. I’m a christian and a republican. But, I also read science fiction and have a gay best friend.
I hate you guys had such a terrible experience. But, we all aren’t bad nor do we all hold the same views. I think there are pros and cons to any areas of the world. I just think mine is the best. 🙂
The buggy/ cart dilemma confused me slightly at first – in English, I think you are talking about a trolley to put shopping in! A buggy is where you put your very young children to take them out when you go shopping and so on.
Wherever I’ve travelled in Europe, North America and Asia, people hearing me speak usually ask where I am from and suggest things to see or do in my free time, so my experiences abroad have been positive. However, I have been mocked by people with regional accents in my own country – to them, I’m clearly not from ‘around here’. I really like to hear regional accents, and my ears pick them up fast enough that I develop some of the local accent in a couple of days. That causes problems though – people can think I am mocking them. I never had a defined accent to lose, so maybe that’s why they fascinate me so much!
Not speaking like everyone else is a problem for refugees and migrants, as well as returnees whose accent has been toned down. As long as a person can be understood, that should be enough 🙂
Katie s says
Just goes to show how varied the English language really is. In Ohio we use grocery carts when shopping for food. Baby buggys (or strollers) are used to transport infants (toddlers) by foot. Trollies are mass transit vehicles that run on electric train tracks and move people around town. In Cincinnati we use the words please and pardon interchangeably due to our large German heritage. It’s a crazy language.
I am so out of touch. At first I thought someone was referring to a horse drawn vehicle, a buggy. So out of touch LOL. English is such an interesting language.
I’m a Canadian,,, but up until a few years back I’d never have claimed to be one. I’d have proudly said, “I’m a Newfoundlander, born and bred.” 🙂
With very few changes your article could be written about us. The only real change would involve the going back portion. Without exception, Newfoundlanders want to go home.
A well known (?) person once said, “When you get to heaven you’ll recognize all the Newfoundlanders, as they’ll be the ones begging to go home.”
What does, “looking American”, look like? My mother is Hispanic, my father is European (their heritage) – would I be considered as looking American?
By “looking American” in this case, Kid 2 meant looking like a typical white kid you can find in Texas, because that’s how people judge them. Other white people literally told them before that they “don;t look American.” The American really should be in quotes, but because this was a text, she didn’t bother since her sister knew what she meant.
The stereotype is a corn-fed Iowa kid, blond and blue-eyed. Your daughters are exotic looking, much more attractive. They are also smarter with a broader world view than most, from what you have written. And it’s hard being young – even the prom king and queen have issues. It does get better, though; as you have proved, you can move.
….most blondes I know all get there color from the same bottle, not their DNA. 🙂 No judgement, I get my “youth” from the same kind of bottle.
I loved what you told us via Nevada and her conversation with Rynda and where we find our security. As always, thank you for interesting conversation.
It’s a cruel, crazy, beautiful world and I’m glad to share it with all of you. Sometimes on really rough days I re-read blogs and the comment sections where the BDH weighs in. Here, unique and imperfect souls meet and mingle, slay monsters, plead for snippets, critique color choices, cure itchy throats… I imagine each of you with your own voice, back story, challenges, victories, and point of view. It makes my world bigger, better, and more interesting to be part of this forum. You all take me out of myself and into vast universes of exceptional wonders.
There are always going to be little pockets of inbred ideology and values. Oddly enough they are not restricted to small towns, though the effect is intensified by isolation. These common bits of local color/local flavor have value in the fact it shows us how exposure to varity broadens everyone’s horizons and how lack of varity can be a steely toothed trap otherwise known as ‘comfort in what’s familiar’.
I am grateful that this forum sometimes shows me where I’ve been ensnared while respecting me where I’m at -that is a rare sort of courage the Authorlords and members of BDH seems to have in common. It’s a cruel, crazy, beautiful world and I’m glad to share it with all of you.
At first I was thinking of this only in terms of accents in other languages – the ongoing teasing about my Chinese accent (not to mention the general hilarity of an oversized white girl who speaks Chinese), or living in Turkey when what I really spoke was Kazakh (they’re more or less mutually intelligible, but not only did I have a noticeable accent, vocabulary reads as more archaic – imagine someone wandering around babbling in Shakespearean English. My modern Turkish did get a lot better…) I grew up around a large University on the west coast, and between that and my multicultural family I remember being told that it sounded like I’d spent time traveling before I even had. These days, I mostly seem to blend in or stand out at will. Well, in terms of accent.
But then I think about moving to Cleveland, and the huge amount of culture shock around doing being a woman wrong. I’d wear the same clothes I wore in Seattle – loose yoga pants, a t-shirt – and all the sudden, a barrage of catcalls. A lot of feedback that my level of assertiveness and self-assurance wasn’t socially appropriate (and, well, tough. If the men were toning it down, I’d have taken it as a different social norm, but…) Then I had multiple people (like people at blood drives, intake people at the doctors) ask if I were transgender. And it was clearly not a standard question. Okay… seriously, I’m tall, I have fairly broad shoulders, and I’m muscular. I’m also curvy as heck – I’m not saying it’s impossible, it’s totally possible (though far more likely if someone got on hormones early). But they pretty much went “Oh, she’s tall, strong, and confident – she must be trans!” …which is so many kinds of messed up.
People are people everywhere, and human nature doesn’t change that drastically, but as it’s expressed within a culture or subculture beyond accents and appearance can seem so different because we tend to think it’s the other culture/appearance that is bad and not the behavior.
It took me so many decades to realize that prejudice and racism and cliques aren’t necessarily personal, and that just because some people makes a snap judgement about me based on whatever information they processed first doesn’t necessarily mean that person is racist or prejudiced, but just a person doing what most people do when they meet someone new – classify you! (And that I finally accepted I will probably never fit in anywhere for very long, so now I don’t worry about it.)
Since where I grew up was very racially and culturally divided with some ugly behavior that was entrenched in some families, It was a breakthrough for me to realize it’s the diehard racists who are truly hateful and to be avoided, and that judgmental people are not by default racist. It made it so much easier to accept the “you’re not one of us” attitude from other people when I realized that’s essentially what they’re acting out, and not necessarily “I don’t like you or trust you because you’re [insert wrong race/culture here].”
This is a really difficult concept to explain, though. It’s also very difficult to explain to non-outsiders why anyone who might be considered another race or ethnicity or culture would be sensitive, because they really don’t think people are being judgmental or exclusionary or discriminatory and that the “other” person is being too sensitive. It’s equally difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t match the current cultural/ethnic group that hurtful statements and exclusionary behavior are not necessarily related to that person’s culture or ethnicity. Sometimes it is, but I now believe that at least half the time it’s just “you’re not one of us, you’re not from around here, you’re interrupting me, you’re rude, you’re taller, you must think you’re better than me, etc.” and that that person or those people would react exactly the same way to any outsider for whatever reason happens to irk them at that moment. And some people are easily irked and overly fixated on their own opinions which does NOT make them racist.
For me a toboggan is something long and made out of wood with a curved front end that you and your friends use to slide down a snowy hill ? A toque is a knit woolen hat, often with a pom pom your wear when its cold. Still get asked to say about and roof when I travel to USA. And when I moved to Vancouver I had several people comment on my country accent even though there isn’t a pronounced difference like there is in Texas or the south. In Canada it is more likely to be a difference in the speed of speech although certain areas do have distinctive accents, more so in the Eastern provinces. Torontonians for example are famous for calling their city Toronno eluding over the last T. French Canadians can speak very quickly in Quebecois a mixture of French and slang while people of the Gaspe Peninsula have a heavier accent in general than someone in Montreal. And yes some Canadians do use the all inquisitive eh? IE What you gonna do eh? Or Good times eh? You know it eh. It is not used as often as people outside of Canada think.
I lived in Toronto for a year (and yes, I do call it Toronno) and found it really interesting that my Aussie accent was more easily understood by the immigrant/non white Canadians.
And travelling in the US was even more interesting. Some people would stare at me blankly as if I wasn’t even speaking English….
Katie s says
I’m from CINCINNATI and grew up very near our University. Thus, I was blessed with a multi-cultural upbringing early on. Then we moved to the burbs when I went to Junior high. Such a different world. No people of color. The kids at my new school asked me what it was like to talk to “colored people”. No one in my new school had ever met a black person in their entire life. Well, I grew up I moved back into the city and have worked for my beloved university for almost 40 years now. I have had the privilege of working with people from around the planet. Even holding the hands of foreign students who are crying because they are homesick in this strange land of ours. Thanks to all for sharing your stories. My love and respect to all of you.
I’m a Brit so don’t really know much about regional identities in the US. However, some of the comments on this thread remind me of a book I read called ‘The Moonshine Mule’ by Tom Freemantle (another Brit). It’s an account of how he walked with a mule across the US from the Mexican border to New York. More or less everywhere he went he was treated with generosity and kindness but whoever he came across would warn him about the folk in the next county/state and tell him that he wouldn’t be treated well there. He’d get to the next county/state and be treated with generosity and kindness but would then be warned about the next place on his journey…
I was reminded of the only time I have heard my husband say something like this. We were watching “Firefly” 1st run on TV, and Morena Baccarin came on the screen for our first viewing. He choked a bit on water and said, “she doesn’t look american!” After that we never missed a show. Until cancellation.
Ah well. It doesn’t matter what your accent is, what your religion is or what you look like. Someone somewhere is not going to like you just because of that. I’ve worked for an airline, travelled a little and the only places I have ever been afraid for my life was once in rural Georgia. That was a truly threatening group .And once in my native city of Baaahstun. That was just an attempted mugging. I am blond, hazel eyed and fair skinned. I worked for an Asian airline and sometimes was surprised by my reflection after a day of being with Asians. Sometimes they would forget that I was American and would tell each other tales about “stupid” or “lazy” Americans. I’d just sit. Sometimes there would be a sudden silence that meant, “Ooops, we’ve got one here.” On the whole I’ve never had a lot of trouble getting along., but we are considering moving from NH to SC. Guess we’d better think hard.
To grow up with different “cultural backgrounds” (in regards to geography, mother tongue and other factors) it’s a blessing. It provides you with a unique insight, and sometimes it also makes you stand out sweetly. I am glad kid 2 has helped kid 1 to realize that (great brothers and sisters learn from each other) Thank you for sharing your experiences with us ♡
Cheryl Anne farley says
Lived in Kentucky Louisiana Oklahoma and deeply despised the deadly combination of generational poverty deep dish commitment to ignorance and pride before simple common sense. The book hillbilly elegy got it exactly right.
I was once given a train ticket to leave the country, because the ticket seller thought I sounded foreign. Two towns with the same name, one in USA and one in Canada. You have a “Canadian” accent, therefor you must go to Canada. Doubly annoying because that happened in my home town. My accent is local, but it’s 100 years old, learned from my grandparents.
I can’t comment on Appalachia, having never been there, nor close…but your daughters’ experience strikes home. I’m the foreign mom and we live in Japan. My daughter and son are that almost mystically cool combo, Caucasian “halfs” (usual phrase, and overall a “positive” thing, except when it isn’t.) Humans are remarkably sensitive to the faintest scent of other, however it is defined. My son had to dye his hair black so a teacher would allow him to go on a junior high excursion…lots of issues were at play, so didn’t meet/ gently confront said teacher until after the dye job…his shock at my “blondness” (I’m brunette) led to an apology, particularly to son. They have learned, with tears and triumph, to own the difference and enjoy who they are, and the opportunities that come along. I hope your daughters also rock the difference and celebrate the “extra” in who they are.
I’m with you Ilona. I sadly live in Virginia. I moved here in 1998 with my parents; I wait for the day that I can finally escape this hell back home north. I have very few or positive memories/experiences of living here; almost none of them envolve humans. I’m an outsider and always will be. A damn Catholic Yankee with a degree and a love of my heritage. Though I’m not in Appalachia, I think it’s just as bad; I live in a small rural town. I’m always asked who my “kin” are; lots of interactions are based on that alone. I recieved death threats and intense bullying during school; with some teachers who helped or enjoyed it. I’ve even had people say that the domestic violence I experienced by an ex was deserved; my favorite was when I was told that was my punishment for dateing a “good Southern boy”. While I’m sure this isn’t solely due to where I live (there are always good and bad people/places/sterotypes) it’s certainly shaped my view and feelings about Virginia.
In FL I met a woman who had a self admitted seriously “hick” backwoods Georgia accent. It took me a considerable time before the accent stopped jarring my ears every time I saw her. She turned out to be, once I could actually hear her words and not her accent, a brilliant, creative person with a self deprecating sense of humor and the energy and pure drive that put most people that I know to shame. She’s had reversals in her life and come out on top. She reinforced something I learned a long time ago, don’t assume anything about intelligence from an accent or dialect — no matter how jarring!
I’m 70, European born, and don’t have much accent left, you’d mainly hear NY, and I’m a US citizen. Having lived in a few countries, and in more than a few US states, I can say that people judge people for all sorts of reasons, no matter one’s age. I’m married to a man of a religious minority’ and I converted from Christianity to a non-Christian religion where I felt at home, I learned to deal and so did my girls. My main prejudice is against those who have the capacity, but who lack intellectual curiosity. I see coastal urban US areas as being less constricted in thinking and outlook. Mainly because the people who live there have been exposed, at young ages, in school, to people who are diffferent from them, who may know nothing about one’s culture or home country, and exposed on a regular basis.
People who are born, live and die in the same town, county or, in some cases the same US state (especially if it’s myopic one) seem to have (in my experiences) far less tolerance. I attribute that to the lack of exposure to differences in their everyday lives. If they can separate themselves from personal encounters with those who are different, in any way different, they can assure themselves that life is as it should be. Their lives become self fulling prophecies, and the certainly of same-ness assures them that life should be the way they perceive it to be.
I often wish every HS student could live abroad for 6-12 months. International exchange programs, or even regional exchange programs (within a country), are nothing short of transformational experiences. I’ve read the research that proves that. I’ve also experienced geographic change as well as major life changes many times, and so have my girls. Change and being forced outside of one’s preferred mental, physical and emotional ‘box’ is an enlightening thing. Well that, or it forces you back into a hole, where you stay peering out the world, for the rest of your life! If one can be open to new voices, places, and new experiences, life has a lot of wonderful things to offer and to teach, tolerance of differences is one of them.
Oh boy… this hit home for me but in different ways. I live in Vermont, (so therefore I’m a “hick”, not a “hillbilly” or “redneck”), in the top third of the Appalachian mountain range in a section affectionately referred to as “The Green Mountains”.
I can relate to the lady in the article. People usually single me out immediately if I’m not careful to “bland” my language. The “country” accent is softer here, for sure, in New England and sometimes a little “foreign” according to some out of state folks. I’ve never really understood what they meant… all I know is that people often ask if we are European when we put on our best pronunciation. Maybe it’s because we sound slightly French when we swallow our T’s… Vermont is not said as “VermonT”… it’s pronounced more like “Ver-mon”…
True story: a group of my classmates in high school went to a youth Government trip thing in DC and many of the other groups from around the country kept asking why they were there and what country they were from. When my classmates told them they were American and from Vermont, they were usually asked what state that was in…
Some people to this day believe we are a part of Canada… and some of us wish we were… especially now… I cannot tell you how many times I’ve personally had to explain to people that Vermont is in fact a real state and is not a part of New York or New Hampshire… despite what both of our neighboring states tried to pull off in the early days of our country… (Sorry… a bit of regional bristling there…)
Unlike what Whoopie Goldberg claimed during the last presidential election (shudder), Vermont is NOT a wealthy state. There are still a very large number of poor and working class poor families disproportionate to our total permanent population who struggle with being priced out of their own communities by rich city folks purchasing vacation homes that empty out towns during the off-seasons. My family on my mother’s side has literally lived in Vermont since the mid/late 1600’s, and were mostly farmers. My mother’s family was horribly poor, and my own childhood was only better in comparison to hers, really. Maybe there aren’t many people quite as destitute as those in the southern reaches of the Appalachians, but at that point it comes to splitting hairs about who is MORE poor. (I kid you not… the “who is more poor” is a real argument… )
There are even regional arguments here in Vermont… the northern third thinks the bottom third are “Flatlanders” (NOT a compliment… it’s a pretty rude way to refer to a non-Vermonter, regardless if they are from a place with or without mountains…), we in the middle get it from both ends, and the Northeast Kingdom (referred to locally as The Kingdom up there) is our personal “banjo” area and is more or less the most rural and most likely to give gunshot warnings… That said… Vermont on the whole is far less religious and much more liberal than our southern cousins… so perhaps there is something in that to explain our differences… I’m not sure…
As different as we are from the south, we are also alike in that we are usually written of as ignorant country bumpkins with our own culture often mocked and derided… sometimes deservedly so, to be honest.
I remember being shocked and outraged when a friend in California laughed about how he could pick up a truck load of Mexicans and get them to re-scape his lawn for $50 and a case of beer each. It sounded like slave labor to me, or taking advantage of people in a particular situation in the very least. I’m still pissed about it to be honest. I’m sure there was some kind of local-ism I was missing, but I cannot to this day comprehend it when someone in one breath complains about illegal immigrants and then laughs about taking advantage of them in the next breath. How can they resolve the two points of view? I guess this shows that everyone has issues.
In my own family I see a cultural split. On one hand many were proud of me going to college, but on the other hand many of those same people despised me for “being uppity” or trying to be better than they are. When I’m with my extended family, I usually slip a little bit back into my familial accent (“Poor Hick Vermonter from the wrong side of the tracks”) so they don’t ostracize me. However, I have to carefully choose and pronounce everything I say to my boss and to my fiance’s much more affluent family, and get odd if not downright disapproving looks the few times I slip a little Vermontism into my speech.
My fiance says that when I get mad, I slip the most accent wise, and I’m too mad to care in the moment. He thinks it’s adorable… his affluent and very German parents don’t… I get frustrated to say the least. It’s not that I particularly WANT to cling to my native accent, it’s just that I wish I didn’t have to care one way or the other.
Oh well… I guess you really can’t get there from here…
Erin Valentine says
I like your balanced perspective, and I’m sorry you were treated with legalism and not kindness by the church.
My first day in Atlanta, Georgia, after moving from New Mexico, I was baffled by two other kids who told me they ‘fell.’ It took a southern translator to explain that they were sharing their inability to pass seventh grade.
vicky pappas-villafane apn says
My experience was in Hendersonville NC. I am from NYC and have a noticeable NY accent. My father had bought a second home in Hendersonville for his new wife. They both loved the mountains and when he passed I went there to assist his wife with taking care of his estate as he also had a house in NY . My first shocking experience was when I met their neighbor who wanted to know who my daughter was and why did she have such dark skin (she is Hispanic greek and Armenian ) and then asked me if my s–c husband left me holding the bag. My brother daughter and I were speechless. He then told me that Yankees are not usually tolerated but my father and his wife were ok . The second experience was at the court house where I needed a legal form for my father’s estate and was told that Yankees could wait until everyone else was taken care of . I waited 3 hours and when I asked why I had to wait she told me that I could come back next week if waiting was a problem, Needless to say I never have returned to Hendersonville and have no desire to ever return to see the smokey mountains