“You sound funny,” my son said.
“I know. I’m from Ohio.”
Too many of my conversations with my kids begin this way. But it’s true:
I sound funny here in Maryland. I am a linguistic fish out of water. My Maryland-born kids and I may speak the same language, but regionalisms and accent say a lot.
This time, my recorded voice was one half of a mock interview conducted by my son. I played the author of a book he’d read for a second grade school project. He sounded normal; I sounded every bit of my Cleveland-area upbringing.
Of course, growing up, I thought I sounded normal. Because Clevelanders “do naht hayev ayaccents.” Whether you cop to having an accent or not, they can raise spirited debate; they do in my house, where my Maryland-native husband’s “league” somehow rhymes with “pig.” Huh?
Accents seem to be having something of a heyday. Last month, a Bawlmerese–that’s Baltimore-ese–video went viral; in it, innocent words like “water,” “Tuesday,” and “ambulance” are murdered to become “wooder,” “Toosdee,” and “amblance.”
Back in my native land, Cleveland’s Belt Publishing has just published How to Speak Midwestern by Edward McClelland, who says:
Accents are part of our regional identity. And there is a feeling that these distinct accents aren’t as distinctive as they used to be.
In addition to regionalisms (like “pop” instead of “soda”), accents are a way to represent one’s native place. I do this with not a bit of shame! My “plaza”–hold your nose and you’ll get the a-sound right–is my son’s “plahza”; my “pajamas” is his “pajahmas.”
In this article, McClelland explains that the Cleveland accent is the Inland North accent, “marked by a raised ‘a’ that makes ‘cat’ sound like ‘cayat,’ a fronted ‘o’ that makes ‘box’ sound like ‘bahx.'”
What does all this mean for us writers?
Accent can be portrayed in our writing, and it can work well if done with a deft hand. In my current WIP, I’m writing characters who have an Italian accent, which often drops the “h” sound and rolls or taps the “r” sound–there’s a real musicality there. Not easy to write, but worth it to try.
Veering into dialect can get a little dicey. This Guardian article puts it plainly:
“Do ‘dialect-lite’ or be damned.”
Whether blogging or engaging in other creative writing, accent can provide interesting subtext.
Does your accent shine through? What do you say funny? I’ll start, below.
Comment here or join this Rust Belt Girl on FB.
*Title borrowed from the amazingly funny David Sedaris’s book of essays: Me Talk Pretty One Day