Today there is a repost of an article by Jessica Love in The American Scholar titled The Disappearing Accent. In this article the author goes on to discuss how certain age groups have more difficulties distinguishing English accents than others, particularly younger age groups to focus on only familiar accents and will tune out unfamiliar accents.
Accents do help individuals determine where, geographically, someone is from rapidly without conscious thought. Interestingly, accents can tell us a lot about the history of human migration as well.
Expanding on this, even English accents and dialects demonstrate this history of human migration. The accents found throughout the former British Empire are based on the timing of colonization compared to when the Great Vowel Shift occurred, when and where the colonists originated from, and whether their English dialect originated from Victorian or Elizabethan English.
As someone from the Chesapeake Bay my accent originates from Elizabethan English prior to the Great Vowel Shift. This is unique and part of what makes accents from this area special and different sounding from all other Southern accents. Tangier, Hog, and Smith Island are the famous Chesapeake Bay islands, but there are so many others no longer occupied by more than one or two houses, if any. The watermen lived along the shorelines and worked the bay.
My grandfather was born north of the Bay and we came into the area. My parents lived most of their lives elsewhere, then raising us in towns always on the Shore as opposed to on the Islands. This is an important distinction. My accent is not multi-generational, and therefore not as thick as others.
The Accent Tag
If you haven’t been exposed by now, there’s an incredible thing called the Accent Tag. This has been used extensively for documenting the way people speak through YouTube videos and is a wonderful resource for authors who want to research how someone from a particular area would sound. I decided to read off the words from the word list after several hours of silence and white noise as auditory input to provide a baseline of my accent.
What About Youtube Videos And Podcasts?
I would love to! Based on my pronunciations above, do you think people could understand me if I slip into that? Do you think I’ll need subtitles? I’ve had students accuse me of needing subtitles before, during classes while teaching and that’s been embarrassing. In the past my accent has made it difficult for people to understand me.
In past relationships it meant I was lectured on correct pronunciation, and it may have played a role in why they never introduced me to their family. I have been told that my accent makes me sound “low class” and “uneducated”. I’ve had to explain to my own husband that he needed to back off with the “you’re pronouncing it wrong” bull crap.
Long story short, people experience accent discrimination by losing job opportunities and by experiencing people being dicks to them, sometimes their own spouses and friends. The moment this is combined with any other factor their lives get way worse. To be blunt: it’s a lot of effort to keep constantly worrying about how I’m pronouncing things. You can hear me trip up in the word list with “Spitting Image” because… That’s not how I would even begin to say that phrase because it’s not even spelled that way in my head.
For these reasons, I’m nervous about being public with my voice. I know my accent that slips out is not as thick as a Tangier Islander accent:
That said, my accent is something I think is special and unique. It is one of the most beautiful things about where I am from and about the history of the United States. And it’s disappearing. Accidentally, I may be part of the last generation of Americans to have a Chesapeake Bay accent.
The Delmarva peninsula and the Chesapeake Bay are the settings of many of my stories. I look forward to sharing these with everyone so you too can know the joy of stories of Accomack, Onancock, Harborton, Onley, Wallops Island, and more.
Accents are complicated. They are used to make judgments that are often unfair and completely uncalled for. They are used as a deciding factor in job interviews and by random people we meet in passing for an introduction.
“An accent comes with a connotation. You think you know if someone is smart or stupid because of their accent. And yet the truth is an accent is not a measure of intelligence, it’s just someone speaking your language with the rules of theirs.” — Trevor NoahAfraid of the Dark
In Trevor Noah’s quote, which I love, I think dialect comes into play. A dialect is a particular form of a language specific to a region. Think about an accent as a language being spoken with the rules of a dialect or another language than the one the listener thinks is “normal”. That’s it.
So… Next time you want to correct someone for pronouncing something “wrong”, pay attention. Is that how they always pronounce it? Are they consistent? Is that how everyone pronounces that word where they’re from? Maybe it’s okay to not correct accents that are different from your own. Besides, it’s on both of you to adjust during the conversation to improve communication.
So what do you think? If I slip up and say a word (or a lot of words) with my rounded, drop vowels and soft start consonants will it bother you too much for me to make videos or podcasts? Should I do both formats and put subtitles on the videos? Let me know in the comments!
In my personal life, I’m trying to focus on sanity and reframing my life in light of new information. I’m not ready to disclose this because the world circumstances caused a lot of things to take a nosedive into the land of waiting in uncertainty and self examination. For those within the #WritingCommunity that know more, I appreciate the privacy and support you have provided. I’m sure I will open up in time once more things come to light.
What stage of Social Isolation Insanity are you at?
In response to this picture a couple people asked if I’m okay. I promise this is me having a great time while alone and is a preview to an upcoming shenanigan.
This other picture, however, is talking about something else. I recently started feeling homesick for where I grew up. I replay the echoes of seagulls laughing off the Chesapeake Bay as skates taste my feet with confusion as they glide along the sandbars while I rake clams. As the warm waters returned with the shift in the gulf stream, so did the early morning rituals of waterman life. Standing on the back of an aluminum boat, bracing myself against the wake, I dropped crab pots off the side, each one tied to their own neon float with our family name and number marked. As we returned to the creek, the sulfur smell of estuaries warms the chest and the sea spray settles in to the early stages of sunburn this time of year. Oh, there’s that sticky, nasty, painful emotion again. I think I’ve felt it since 2011 when I moved away from the area permanently. Since then, I beat it down until I couldn’t hear that inner voice anymore and thanks to isolation it’s bubbling up. I kept following “opportunity”. Then I got married. For some reason, up until now, I always thought I’d go home.
Now, I live in Missoula, Montana in the middle of a global pandemic. Living in the middle of nowhere is a blessing. It means that besides working from home and isolating, our family spends a lot of time on our property or out and about. Montana never closed the hiking trails or parks and the campgrounds have reopened in most places. Heck, We tried to go camping this past weekend and Chief Looking Glass campground was packed!
Montana is requiring a 2 week quarantine for everyone entering the state, plus we’ve been social distancing since before it was “cool”. We are one of the few states that seems to be holding things together pretty well. We have 21 active cases in the whole state and we have expanded testing. That 1 new case is in Jefferson County.
So what happens next? Well, hopefully I’m going to post fun content that will make people smile and laugh. Maybe I’ll post something that will upset someone and that will either make me care or it won’t. We’ll see. I’m a little weird when it comes to detecting the emotions of others – sometimes they confuse me more than anything else and I need help. With that in mind, consider explaining to me what you find upsetting before jumping down my throat. I may be completely oblivious. I’m not saying you have to do this – it’s a suggestion because I promise I don’t intentionally go out of my way to upset anyone. Be gentle with each other in a time of social isolation – we’re not getting a lot of practice interacting when we live alone or live with a limited set of people.
And with that, I’m going to wrap this personal update. Thank you for reading. Without you this would be text sent into the void of space. If you haven’t heard it today: you are loved. You are a human of value and you deserve to be here. You have something to contribute no matter what that mean voice in the back of your head says and I hope you share it with me someday.
I didn’t mean to time the release of a story related to waking up in a hospital with a pandemic. Today is Day 17 of a fever of ~100-101 F (37.7 – 38.3 C). I have ice on the back of my neck as I write this. There will be a delay in the release of part 2.
It’s all surreal, right?
I grew up among hardy people that believed in staying put when the hurricane came and destroyed the town (this literally happened and I was out of school for 2-3 months in high school while we rebuilt the town). One of the places I lived was almost wiped off the map by the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Entire families died – their bodies buried in mass graves next to their homes by the brave neighbors who ventured into the houses later. The houses and all of their belongings were either burned or were left to rot until us, curious, mischievous rural kids with nothing better to do broke in and wandered around those unwired houses like the generations and generations of kids before us. Look but don’t touch. The objects are cursed and haunted by the disease. Even then the belief was that the ghost of the disease persisted and could kill.
On that note, stay tuned for a short story exclusively posted here since I’m taking a week off. Don’t expect it to be edited well because, frankly, I feel like s***.
Take care and I hope everyone is staying well. As always, thank you for reading. Without you I’m writing words into a void.
Check out this thing called the Waffle House Index – it’s used by FEMA to determine how bad a natural disaster is in the United States based on the number of Waffle Houses still open in an area. I’m not joking. It’s a real thing. Waffle House is historically known for being open 24/7/365 and has called itself a “trucker shelter” during inclement weather.