I was out shopping last night and was waited on by the cutest little college-age girl -- who spoke just like Snow White -- in a very, very high, very feminine, sweet little voice. She was adorable. We talked about how it's a pain to take the hangars off of some of the clothes and how the young man who was supposed to be helping someone at the jewelry counter couldn't have moved much slower to get over there. It wasn't until she handed me my bags, and I said good-bye and "have a good evening," that I realized I was talking in a high-pitched voice that matched hers. Um, oops. I hope she thought that's how I always talk.
My Mom does this when she's around her southern relatives -- and I may actually be guilty of it, too. We don't even know we're doing it, but we pick up the accent -- and sometimes even the mannerisms -- of the person we're with. That sweet drawl just sorta rubs off, ya know? It's contagious!
I never thought I had an accent. My whole life I figured I spoke in "news broadcaster" standard midwestern -- like my Dad (who was meticulous about speech and pronunciation and eschewed my mother's occasional southern twang). But then I got to know the guy who used to spray our house for bugs. I needed an excuse to keep an eye on this bug-guy while he poked around all the corners of my house, so I engaged him in conversation while I trailed after him. One day, in the middle of some comment I was making, he stopped me mid-sentence, exclaiming, "Where the heck do you come from? You have the craziest accent!"
Well! I beg your pardon!? Me? I don't have an accent! Hmph!
I mean, seriously. At the time I didn't have Google to look this stuff up and prove him wrong. But, now I do. And, let me tell you, it's fascinating research! I've spent more time than I should this morning trying to classify everyone I know, myself included. Scrolling through the dialects at this site, I think I have pinpointed my patterns as mostly Tidewater Mid-Atlantic dialect, crossed with a smidge of Baltimorean, and a dash of Dixie. But flattened out by Military Basic. This is because my Dad's family is from Maryland, my Mom's family is from the woods of North Carolina, but I spent my formative years in the Tidewater region of Virginia. And I was a Navy brat.
So I prounounce orange likeahr-ange, and Florida likeFlahr-ida. My long i's occasional soften out to ah's, but I don't throw r's around indiscriminately like some Tidewater Mid Atlanticans and I don't add extra syllables into words like there; I never say they-ah, in other words. (No pun intended.) And my o's don't sound like the back-rounded inflection, eou (pronounced as one syllable), of my Baltimore relatives, nor do I say "youse all" and flatten out my oi's to sound like aw's. If I spoke real Baltimorese I would say, "Youse all deount spawl yer dinner; I'm bawlin crabs fer crab cakes. Hon." But I do say fahr'ed for forehead and I pronounce Norfolk as Nah-fk and Baltimore as Bal-di-mr. So you can tell I'm not a native, but I'm hip to the lingo of my ancestral climes.
Isn't it int'restin'? And proves exactly what I'm saying. I don't have an accent. Everyone else does.