Accents Will Happen


Despite being a true Son of the South (raised in central North Carolina by a dad from eastern North Carolina and a mom from the low country of South Carolina), I don't have an especially strong accent.  In fact, there are those who've heard me speak who deny that I'm FROM North Carolina, apparently assuming that a Mayberry accent is de rigeur for any true Tar Heel.

In fact, the reason I don't have much of an accent has nothing to do with my birthplace, but is that I'm an auditory processor.  I learn primarily by hearing, I have a very acute sense of pitch, and I unconsciously shift into the accent of any person I'm talking to.  I don't usually do it so hard that it comes off as mockery to the person with whom I'm speaking, but any third party listening to me will notice the shift in my tone, inflection, and sometimes even vocabulary. 

(There are two exceptions to this rule: first, when I'm talking to a law enforcement officer of any sort, my accent becomes distinctly Southern; I think this is because I unconsciously equate "polite" with "Southern," and I try very hard to be polite to anyone legally entitled to make my day significantly more difficult purely on his own authority.  Second, when I'm driving, I start talking like my dad, who taught me to drive, and whose driving habits I've worked hard to duplicate; apparently I picked up his mannerisms in the process.)

mention this because yesterday I was on the phone with my friend Simon.  Simon is an Englishman, now living in Leicestershire, with whom I became friends during my time at Manchester University some (gulp!) twenty-five years ago.  When I speak with him, it's only a matter of moments before I start broadening my As and changing the past participle from gotten to got.  I'm not trying to do it--it just sort of happens.

What makes it funny is that Simon is ALSO an auditory processor and does exactly the same thing.  Consequently, in our conversations he gets more American, I get more British, and we wind up sort of compromising on Australian, though neither of us has ever been Down Under.  Kelly came in just as I was hanging up and called out "G'day, mate!"

But tonight I was checking out some lyrics at the website of Virginia-born and Texas-raised alt-country singer-songwriter Steve Earle, and after I'd mentioned that the song I was looking for was apparently not on the album Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator, Kelly drawled, "My god, you're sounding like Steve Earle just from THINKING about Steve Earle!"

I'm starting to worry about what I might sound like if I ever happen to run into Nelson Mandela or the Pope, or both at once.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 8, 2008 6:44 PM.

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