Monday, February 27, 2012

You Sure Talk Funny

One of my favorite classes in college was a certain literature class taught by a certain eccentric professor.  One of the random things I remember him saying was that the most proper and correct American English is thought to be spoken in the central to northern region of Iowa; not so much in terms of grammar, but properly spoken words, the language unhampered by accent or regional dialect.

I remember taking him for his word at the time, but also believing that the English spoken around my home probably wasn't so different from this "proper and correct" version that is supposedly spoken in Iowa.  I had spent almost all my life in Southern Kansas, and couldn't hear a trace of an accent in most of my fellow residents.

Then I moved to Connecticut.  For the most part, I worked with people who were native to that state, with the exception of a girl from Arkansas.  Some of our co-workers determined that she sounded like a Southern belle and I sounded like a cowgirl- never mind that most of these people had probably never seen an actual cowgirl in their lives.  Besides, they were the ones with the accents- New England/ Yankee accents, with a few easily recognizable dialects like those from Boston or Maine.  I, of course, spoke proper English.

Since moving to Iowa, I haven't gotten nearly as many "Where are you from?  I can't place your accent," comments, cementing my belief that I am speaking properly and correctly.  After all, isn't this the place where perfect American English is spoken?

We traveled to southern Kansas a couple weeks ago, visiting family.  Not for the first time since moving away, I was able to detect a kind of rural twang in the speech of the people around me, whereas a few years ago, I was all but deaf to this accent.

So fine.  Maybe I was wrong in college.  But I'm not wrong now.

One of the people I saw was my dad.  I have been aware of his accented way of speaking since he had me practically in tears, going over my first grade spelling list, insisting that I was misspelling the word "hoe."

"Spell 'hoe.'"

"H-O-E."

"No, 'hoe.''

"H-O-E."

"Kristy, that's not right!  Now, try again."

"H-O-E!"

Finally, my mother came along and said in her mercifully un-accented voice, "Kristy, spell 'hole.'"

"Oh.  H-O-L-E.  But Dad was saying 'hoe'!"

Given a lifetime of hearing these kinds of things from him, it wasn't surprising in the least to hear words like "coon huntin'" come out of his mouth.  I've learned to let conversations about things like how high in cholesterol squirrel is just wash over me, nodding along like I agree:  Tell me about it.  I hardly ever get squirrel or ranch dressing on my salads anymore; I mean, what's the point of eating salad if it's going to be bad for you?


It further wasn't too shocking to hear land descriptions like, "Well, I believe that house used to be pert'near to that ol' crick..."  from my grandparents.  So, yes.  Certain members of my family have an accent.

I, however, talk like my mother.  She does not have an accent.


I truly believed this, right up until we were at my sister's baby shower, and I overheard my mom in conversation and she exclaimed, "Well, bless her little pea-pickin' heart!"

I have heard her say this many times, but it wasn't until that day that I realized this is not the kind of thing I ever heard in Connecticut.  Nor have I ever heard it in Iowa.

A memory then floated to the surface of my mind of several of my friends in Connecticut laughing at me for saying, "She was as happy as a pig in mud!"  Another of my mom's little expressions.

Apparently my mother is in possession of several of these little colloquialisms.  Which means I may just be, too.

It wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong.

2 comments:

  1. I'm chuckling with you here, as I'm reminded of college myself. My broadcast journalism professor (my degree is in communication with an emphasis in journalism) said the same thing about the Iowa "lack of accent" and even cited famous broadcasters who studied in Iowa for a time to learn to speak. :)

    And those sayings. . .oh, my husband has a "down-home" saying for every situation. "busyer than a cat covering crap on a tin roof" is one of the more charming illustrations. chuckle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, yeah, because what's busier than... a cat... covering crap... on a tin roof?

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