Wednesday, October 07, 2009

WNW: Mr. Smith, You Have an Accent Too

I get the Utah jokes. I really do. I get the cultural jokes. The political jokes. I can laugh right along with the best of them.

I do, however, get a teeny, tiny bit annoyed with what I call the California Syndrome. I first ran into it in the form a kid named Jake in high school geometry who had unwillingly just moved from California. In hindsight, I think he was just bitter over his parents' divorce, but the way he lashed out, everything in Utah was just plain stupid.

Back then I was a very quiet and shy kid (you'd never know it, huh?). I still had strong opinions, but I kept them bottled inside nearly all the time. But this kid? Man, he just wouldn't stop. One day I turned around finally laid into him about how Utah isn't the the armpit of the world, so would he shut up already? He pretty much hated me after that. Like I cared.

More years than I want to admit later, my son has a teacher at the junior high who is from California. He loves to poke fun at the Utah accent, or what word nerds would more accurately describe as the Utah dialect.

His favorites are how we leave out the "t" on mountain so it comes out as moun-ain and how we leave off the "t" at the end of words like right. (Oooh, he's creative . . . Utahns use lots of glottal stops. I could have told him a lot more than that about the Utah dialect.)

So Son comes home from school thinking that Mr. Smith is downright hysterical, going on about how funny Utahns speak, and Mom, did you know that we talk like this?

(Um, son, you do know who your mother is, right? A word nerd person? So yeah, I'm very aware that many Utahns speak like this. And I could add a whole lot more to the list than Mr. Smith did. So can your linguist grandpa.)

I say that in a more gentle form then add, "Did you know that Mr. Smith has a California accent?"

After a moment of puzzled silence, Son says, "He does? Really?"

What both Son and Mr. Smith don't get is that everyone has an accent. It doesn't matter where you live. Standard English as a variety of pronunciation does not exist naturally. We just think it does.

I had theater major friends who, for an assignment, had to choose a Dr. Seuss book, practice it in the Standard English dialect, then record themselves reading it. It didn't matter if they were from Spokane, Mesa, Salt Lake, Boston, LA, or Tallahassee. This was a tough assignment, because every one of them spoke with a dialect that they had to learn to overcome and instead speak in a fake dialect that sounded geographically neutral.

After I was first married, I told my linguist father about some neat quirks in one of my new grandmother-in-law's speech, assuming they were indicative of an Idaho dialect. Not so, he told me. They were definitely a Southern dialect. Confused, I asked my husband about it. Sure enough, his grandmother grew up in the South. Her accent had softened a lot in the 50 years she'd spent in Shelley, Idaho, so I didn't pick up on it right away, but some of her Southern dialectal quirks still came through. It was fascinating.

Back to my son. "So what does the California dialect sound like?" he asked. I had no idea, but I knew it existed, because every location has its own dialect.

So I looked it up and showed it to him. I pointed out something I'd already guessed, that northern and southern California have different speech patterns. Something else I read made sense too: California didn't develop a clear dialect until after the Gold Rush, Dust Bowl, and other immigration settled down. In other words, not until they developed their own community where their own dialect could develop.

But develop it has.

I showed my son several words that Mr. Smith probably pronounces differently than Utahns do. For example, stand for southern Californians often becomes a slight diphthong with a long E at the beginning, so it sounds a bit like stEand.

Son was downright fascinated as we went through the list and even listened to recordings of two words in the southern California dialect. (You can see the web page we were looking at HERE of linguist Penny Eckert's work.)

Yes, some of the older farmers in Spanish Fork, Utah, might refer to the crick instead of the creek and their harse instead of their horse, but in California, the brook is the bruck and and it meooves instead of moves and if you ask whether you went there, you say you ded instead of you did.

We all have our quirks, no matter where we hail from.

Or in Utah, that might be "where we hell from."

And that's okay. No dialect is inherently better or worse than any other. To show we're educated, we do need to learn Standard English and use it in writing and speaking (although good luck getting rid of your dialectal pronunciation).

So here's my plea: regardless of where you're from, don't fall into the California Syndrome by thinking you're better than someone else because you're from another area and supposedly "don't have an accent."

'Cause guess what? (And I'm talking to you, too, Mr. Smith.)

You DO have an accent. Just like everybody else.


b. said...

So, when we're talking it cray-on or crann?

Jules AF said...

I actually knew that about northern and southern California dialects. And I believe the northern dialect is placed in the same group as the Utahn dialect.... I'm from northern California, so I guess I have similarities to the Utahn dialect.
Man, you just made me miss my Varieties of English class so much.

Kristina P. said...

I grew up in Southern California but have lived in Utah for a very long time. We all have accents, and I know I do say Utah words. But I would rather sit through Twilight 10 times before saying Crick.

Heffalump said...

Hmmm. My Mom says melk instead of milk, and both she and I say beg instead of bag. I have tried and it just hurts to say it the way everyone else seems to think it should be said. Bag doesn't rhyme with hag the way I say I am wondering where that comes from. Not everyone in my family says it that way.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Hey, I'm from California! California syndrome? I don't think it's particular to Californians. When Utans come to live in New England (and I know a lot of them in my ward), they do just like what you described with the Californians. They also complain about lack of mountains, that we don't have all the chain restaurants you do in Utah, etc. That totally annoys me too. I think it's just inherit when someone moves to a new place to start pointing out how the locals are different. I, however, find it fascinating. I don't pick on the locals (even though I'm from CA). I find the differences fascinating. I love listening to the different dialects. Here in Connecticut we have a mixture. There is some of that NYC accent here, but also hints of Boston, etc. It's so cool!

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

I happen to love this post! You are so smart my dear. I think it's just that many Californians think they are superior, that we are all hicks from Hickville--like there's something wrong with that--here in Utah. Why do city people think they are better than country people anyway? Darks! Or Dorks! (how ever you want to pronounce it! lol)

Annette Lyon said...

Alyson, You're right--it's not inherent to Californians. It's human nature to complain and compare. My experience has been with Californians coming to Utah and whining, so that's just what I called it. But it's really just anyone putting themselves above anyone else.

I know! The Nephite Syndrome! :D

Don said...

Alyson beat me to it. When we lived in Hawaii, it tended to be certain people from Utah who complained about everything, but I'm sure that was just because, in our community, Utah is where the new people tended to be from.

My wife and I giggle as our twelve-year-old gradually slips into a Texas dialect. There's just no helpin' it, y'all.

ali cross said...

Haha that was fun Annette!

I'm a Canadian, from the mid-eastern area (moved around, so my speech has a smattering of it all on that side of the country.) I no longer sound at all like my family, who still say "Sohree" while I say "Sahree" (for sorry) and pinch their vowels while mine have grown more round.

But I'm still enough of a Canadian to be bugged when my sons say "skool" for skull (which I still pronounce "SkUHl"), goingh instead of goeeng.Or Aa-Men instead of AH-men, lol. I stand out like a sore thumb at church. But I refuse to change just because I live here, lol.

But changing I am, whether I like it or not ;)

Randi said...

I've been told more than once that I have no accent. AT ALL. Which has always kind of made me sad.

I just googled "Colorado accent" and it pretty much confirms that Coloradans have as close to the Standard American Dialect as it comes.

But I will tell you that I love the Utah accent, and I pick it up whenever I go to Provo. Not on purpose... it just happens, and it amuses me to no end!

Wonder Woman said...

I grew up in Kansas and we leave the "T" out of a lot of things, too. Or turn it into a "D."

I'm down here in Spanish FARK and the accent of one native in my ward drives me completely bonkers. She's always talking about the LAAAHRD (Lord) and the WAAHRD. She is like 85, so maybe I should give her a break.

Randi said...

The more I read about this, the more it fascinates me. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Maybe I DO have an accent, and it's just other Coloradans telling me they can't hear it!!

Que and Brittany's Adoption Journey said...

I was at Walmart the other day (don't judge me) and the checker was having problems ringing up a package of 0-3 onesies I wanted. I looked at the register and it said "Sell Not Authorized". Hahahahaha

PS: I never did get those onesies. Maybe Target has similar ones for sell.

Lara Neves said...

Oooh...I've been thinking about this a lot lately, living in my new place with a brand new accent to get used to.

I'd been very familiar with Wisconsin accents before, and this one is similar, but it has this Finnish element that is very surprising. Plus the locals here will say things like, "Let's go store", which is apparently a Finnish language construction (you'll have to enlighten me on that).

I've already noticed that Chloe has picked up some of the accent. Cracks me up. And I'm pretty sure everyone thinks I talk funny.

Teri said...

I love this post as much as I loved my linguistic courses in college, which is to say, a lot!!! I find it so interesting...I live in Lay'un. Of course, I've wasn't born here, so I actually say Lay-ton. People look at me like I've lost it, those that are from this neck of the woods. :)

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Love this post, Annette! I laughed quite a bit, but it also made me think about all my friends and how we each talk differently.

Cheri Chesley said...

This is fun, and, like almost everyone else, you've got me wondering what I sound like. I grew up in Phoenix, moved to Oklahoma (where my husband started to drawl horribly), and then we moved out here about ten years ago. I catch the UT dialect (it's the sell instead of sale that always catches me off guard), but I'm smart enough to know and have been around enough to notice people sound different in different areas of the country.

Just like in England there are different dialects in different areas. It's the same here.

To me, making fun of the way people speak when you move to a new place is like going to someone's home and making fun of them. It's just rude. So I don't. :)

Jeff and Rebecca said...

So true, Annette! Once in college, I was at a party when someone asked me where I was from. I told him, and he was surprised that I was from here, in Utah, because I pronounced almost all of my Ts. It startled me as well, since I didn't even realize I was doing it differently from most Utahns. I think it actually comes from the years of choir and having to enunciate everything.

Erin said...

My grandparents, who live in Washington state, pronounce it "Warshington." Yep, dialects are found everywhere.

Jillybean said...

What about the word "to" being changed to "ta" or that slight rolling of the ''R" that I hear from some people in these parts.
My grandparents were from Sanpete county. I grew up hearing things like "The harse is in the barn eating carn."
I still don't get why one of my cousins can't say my name correctly. She calls me Jell.
For some reason, my kids can't tell the difference between the words pin and pen.

Oh, I almost forgot about the word ingnernt. (love it)

Fun post, I love this stuff!

j. luthy said...

Oh, Annette, I Loved this post! I smiled and laughed while I read it! I was born and raised in CA--LA then Central CA--but my dad moved from OK during the Dust Bowl. I Still catch myself saying weird things and phrases to say nothing of 'warrsh' instead of 'wash'. Drives your G. Uncle H. nuts! (makes me feel really old to be your great aunt!). Thanks for helping us each laugh at ourselves and the (Truly!) California Syndrome--because California is Really the "Center of the Universe--didn't you know?"

Rebecca Irvine said...

A regular Henry Higgins post. Or should that be Enry Iggins? :-) Great job.

RobisonWells said...

After two years of grad school, a student from Spain admitted to me that it took her a year and a half to figure out what I was saying. She said that of all the weird American accents (and most of us were from Utah) she said I was by far the worst.

That was quite a surprise, and I still don't know what she's talking about. Maybe I mumble or something.

Annette Lyon said...

Rob, I doubt it's a mumbling thing. I'll have to pay more attention now, but my gut says it's a vowel thing. Utahns tend to drag out their vowels, which can confuse the heck out of foreigners.

Janice Sperry said...

The Utah dialect makes learning to spell a nightmare. My kids can never tell if they should use a d or a t. They write wader instead of water. I try to pronounce all my t's but it's hard to remember all the time.

I knew someone (an English professor at Westminster) who had a foreign exchange student. She asked the student to clean her room. The student said, "What's a yerroom?"

Anonymous said...

I love dialects. (My Fair Lady and all that. I wish I could be Professor Higgins half of the time.) I don't care where a person hails from, I just lvoe listening to them. On the other hand, when they rag on me because of the way I sound, that's when I pull out the big guns. ;)

I could kiss you for that website reference. That's just playtime!!

Carina said...

I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. I love listening for dialects and trying to parse out the geographic origins--so fun!

Charlie Moore said...

I don't know about all these dialects and accents and all of that. I just know the way I talk is normal.

As an Idahoan, I was taught from near birth that Utahans were the master race. Not Californians or anybody else. Luckily, many of my ancestors are buried in Utah cemeteries so I'm covered.

Disclaimer: I'm joking.


Annette Lyon said...

Charlie, I never would have guessed.

:D :D :D :D :D

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I'm a dialectal chameleon. Within minutes I begin mimicking the speech patterns of those around me. This has at many times in the past been acutely embarrassing. Most notably when a friend from Australia came to visit us for a week.

But then I toss in a few eh's just to muddy the waters, as it were...

That Girl said...

I might have to print this.

My hubby's a Utahn and I'm a Michigander. Both very distinct accents. (Or dialects?) We love to heckle each other constantly, but we're both well aware that EVERYONE SPEAKS FUNNY TO SOMEONE ELSE.

I'll never understand why Utah gets so much flak. It bugs. Majorly.

Julie P said...

I love your blog. This one made me think of my neighbor-friend who says "crayon" as "crown". HUH?

Shelley said...

I've only been to Canada once, but my Grandmother grew up there. My dad, her son grew up in So. California. Anyway every so often I'll be talking to someone on the phone, or meeting someone for the first time, and they'll ask if I'm Canadian. I truly can't figure out what they hear. I don't talk about beer or say "eh."

P.S. thanks for the movie advice, I am so going now.

wendy said...

That's a good post. I do sometimes get tired of people making fun of the "utah accent" --duh, sounds normal to uthans -----YOU have the accent dip wad. Now that I am in Canada, I have the Yankee accent I am told, but I think Canadians talk funny. No matter where you are ---it is different from where you've been------and one is as good as the other.
don't cha know eh

InkMom said...

Great post, Annette.

As a southerner, I am more than aware of my dialect. I only made the mistake once of telling my roommates I was "fixin'" to go do something. And my speech major mother did what she could to enforce an American standard, neutral accent, but when your dad sounds just like Andy Griffith, a southern accent is bound to happen.

My roommates and I came to an agreement the first week at BYU: I promised to pronounce Nevada and Colorado their way if they would pronounce Appalachian my way.

And their ridicule gave me license to make fun of the one Utah thing they all had in common: the univowel: pan, pen, pin -- the letter doesn't matter, because the pronunciation of all three of these words is IDENTICAL.

Sabrinamommy said...

I am from CA but I live in Utah now. I tend to think that the pronunciation pointed out here is more lie 80's "Valley Girl" talk rather than typical CA talk. We can find people that talk crazy wherever we are. My kids growing up in Utah talk more and more "local" all the time.

Cranberryfries said...

So interesting and so true. And I agree. I totally dislike it when people are ragging on each other for something when they're clearly just the same or doing it also.

(Wow now I'm a little nervous that my word choices and placements are gonna make you squeemy with 'wrongness'. Haha)

LisAway said...

LIAR! I do NOT have an accent!! :) This is a little problem for me because I hear the accent when (some) Utahns speak, even though I'm from there (till age 11). Of course there's the dialect stuff, but I really think there's a lot of accent, too. Dragging out the vowels and pronouncing the Rs more strongly and stuff like that. It's definitely only some Utahns, though.

I don't recognize any of the examples you gave as being a California accent, at least not from where I lived (LA County).

Also, I think anyone who pronounces the "t" in mountain, kitten or button is a wierdo. :)

Anonymous said...

I was raised in Western Mass by two San Diegans. People back east always thought I sounded "Californian." My CA-with-a-TX-twang husband and others who know the area think I sound like a New Englander. Although I believe that has more to do with my word usage rather than my accent.

Helena said...

I do remember having my Utahn roommate say "kitten" over and over and snickering a bit.

My almost-five-year-old seems to have picked up a northeastern "a" from somewhere. No idea where she got that from, but other friends have reported similar experiences with their children.

Luisa Perkins said...

What's interesting to me is how my own accent morphs depending on where I am or in whose company I am. I say words differently around my Swiss mother-in-law than around my Texan brother-in-law or my pals from Brooklyn or New Jersey.

I'm sure linguists have a name for that kind of chameleon-ism, too.

acte gratuit said...

When I moved from Utah to So Cal as a 16 year old, I noticed (and mocked) the (as I called it) "whiny A": i.e. "Hey Emily, I like your PEEants!"
When another new girl moved in our Senior year from the East Coast she was thrilled that I said her name, Johanna, right. Jo-hah-na instead of Jo-heeah-na.
But one California friend always mocked me for saying the word "tour" like "poor". She said it "too-er".

As an adult, we lived on the East Coast and I loved the accents. But I did wonder how my son would ever learn to say his "r's" when his kindergarten teacher was always dropping hers and relocating them to the middle of other words! :)

Jenny P. said...

A southern girl here, and one that can definitely turn on a "southern accent".

Great post. The thing is, the judgement can go way beyond just picking on how someone sounds. I met someone not from the south who very ignorantly assumed that all people from the south wave confederate flags and cry over the day that slavery was defeated. To them, southern equaled racist. End of story. That's just narrow minded.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Fascinating post! I grow up in Los Angeles and then lived in Provo for 9 years and I have now been in the Pacific Northwest for 6 years. I think my accent morphs depending on whose company I am in. Though I would be really curious to know what my main dialect is.

And am I the only one who sometimes has a hard time hearing the slight difference in people's dialects? Sometimes things sound the same to me?!

Also, I am with other people on this one. When we're talking it cray-on or crann?

Annette Lyon said...

OM, I would have said CRAY-ON with no hesitation, that CRANN in something you'd find in only a handful of dialects. But here's a bit of a trippy one:

Meriam-Webster online has CRAY-on as the main pronounciation, but then it says, "also" and puts the "CRANN" one.

Lynxsey said...

Thanks for this smart post! I didn't believe I had an accent until a Canadian could tell I was Californian even though I was calling from Colorado. I think the verbal ticks of each region help make it unique and memorable--I loved that in such a small country like Scotland there was such a difference between even small towns apart in the dialect.

Annette Lyon said...

Lynxsey, Thanks for dropping by! And Scotland's a great example. My sister attended an English-speaking international high school in Frankfurt for a year.

By the time she came home, she could distinguish British accents as well as Henry Higgins--she could correctly guess where student originally lived, even if it was only about 50 miles from another dialect. It was amazing.

Allison said...

I live in Utah and it gets annyoing when people make fun of my accent. Yea it's weird and I don't know why but I love the accent and I think there is nothing wrong with it. Why is it also California people that think it's the funniest?


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