Me talk pretty one day*? Probably not.

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Mentor-on-the-Lake (pronounced Menner-on-the-Lake), Ohio. Photo credit: Bill Moon. Thanks, Dad!)

“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

 

I’ll drink to this: Cleveland vineyard does good

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Image of Mansfield Frazier. Photo by Jan Thorpe for Good.

“Oh my God, we’re in Hough,” my mom said.

I was a teenager at the time, sitting in the front passenger seat beside my mom, who was driving, her nose just inches from the windshield, as she strained (pre-GPS) to find her bearing–inspecting road signs, as we passed boarded-up houses and sketchy markets we viewed out of our periphery. (One of inner city Cleveland’s most notorious neighborhoods, Hough wasn’t the sort of place you looked at head on.)

And then she did it:

She locked the car doors with a resounding “click” I was sure could be heard by all in a mile radius.

“Oh my God.” A devout Catholic, my mom wasn’t one to take the Lord’s name in vain. So I knew this was serious–being lost in Hough–but I also felt shame. Here we had been in Cleveland, taking in the sights at the art museum, grabbing a bagel or bialy in University Circle, maybe? I don’t remember if we were heading back home from a theater performance at Playhouse Square–or maybe I had had a ballet rehearsal.

Anyway, a few wrong turns and we were in Hough, the site of riots during my mom’s years as a student at nearby (Case) Western Reserve.

We got out of Hough; my mom found her way back through the parts of the city she’d known as a  student and young married woman, and we made it back to our house in the country.

It wasn’t until later that I contemplated those who never got out of neighborhoods like Hough; and much later that I contemplated those who didn’t want to.

Reading The Cleveland Anthology, I came across a piece by Mansfield Frazier called “A Vineyard In Hough.” Yep, a vineyard.

Here’s how it started: Frazier, who writes about “the problems of the underclass” and his wife, who holds a master’s degree in social work, didn’t want to be “arm’s length liberals,” so they moved to inner city Hough in 2000 in an attempt to “recreate a vibrant middle class neighborhood.”

There, they created a vineyard, a sustainable green project that encourages neighbors–including recent parolees–to work together on a project that creates “a much stronger social fabric.”

My mom passed away almost 12 years ago now, and in that time Cleveland–and Hough–has changed. I like to imagine how a trip to Hough might go now.

If you can’t pick up a copy of The Cleveland Anthology, here is a great article by David Sax on Chateau Hough, which uncorked its first bottles in June 2014.

What does urban revitalization look like where you live?

Cheers to the weekend! ~ Rebecca