by kelly

I never cease to be amazed  by the universal human propensity to believe that (only) other people speak with an accent.

Now, I happen to have what I refer to as a chameleon ear.¬† That means that I can’t help but to absorb and to speak with the type of language/dialect/accent in which I’m immersed at any given time.¬†¬†l’m convinced that this is a trait that some people have and some people don’t.¬† I find that those who are skilled in music tend much more in the chameleon-ear¬†direction than those who aren’t.¬†

In my case, my impressionability extends even to speech mannerisms and the kind of impression made on the listener.  I learned long ago, therefore, that I need to choose my surroundings carefully.  During my brief stint as a telemarketer, I always had better sales successes when sitting next to a successful seller.

I became aware of this trait in myself as a child, when I would leave the confines of Southern Indiana each year for a month-long stay with my grandparents in Bethesda, Maryland, just over the Washington D.C. city line. 

I distinctly remember being suddenly aware,¬†when calling¬†my mother from Maryland, of¬†her very southern-sounding drawl – and I knew that when I was at home, she had less of an “accent” than many fellow southern Hoosiers.¬† She would also comment on the Easternization of¬†my speaking during, and just after, my summer visits.

My ears almost fell off when, after just having arrived home from a year in Germany, some relatives at a dinner party in Kentucky asked if I wanted to “triiiiiiiiiiiiy some piiiiiiiiiiiiiie.”

All of this brings me to living now¬†in Wisconsin.¬† I vividly¬†remember that when I met Paul in D.C., I was struck by the strength of his marked and earnest Wisconsin/Minnesota accent.¬† I tried and tried, but couldn’t properly imitate it.¬† But I could hear¬†it from a mile away.¬†

And now that we live here, I must sound pretty much the same as he does.¬† When people here learn that I’m not a Milwaukee native, they express surprise.¬†

Last night – I love it -¬†while getting my hair cut by a new person at my favorite salon, the hair cutter asked, upon learning that I’m from Indiana, whether I “used to have an accent.”¬† I laughed.¬† Several different kinds of responses internally competed for expression, especially since, to my thinking, I currently have more of an accent than I did in Indiana.¬†¬†His question also presumed, in a way that I find charming, that to speak in the distinctly Wisconsin way is to speak accent free.¬†

I love that the Cheeseheads have no idea how much, to anyone outside the state, they sound unique.¬† In many conversations here, I’ve heard the assertion that Wisconsinites don’t have an accent.

And my mother, who lives here now, too, gets asked almost every day about just which part of the Deep South she is from. 

Oh, geez!¬†¬†Den dis¬†Wisconsin Dictionary mus’¬†jus’ be for hoots and hollers, next time dey’re by deir friends for a beer, hey?

One Response to “Accent”

  1. Lee Says:

    Accents, such an interesting and intriguing subject. I have travelled almost all across this country and the sharpest accent I could find to my ears was in northern Wisconsin.

    The difference is amazing from Wisconsin to Minnesota, I expected the total opposite.

    If you want a real surprise, go to eastern Oklahoma. They talk as if they are in Louisiana!