Monday, April 02, 2007

Bah-stin accent

Someone wondered, after watching the first 10 minutes of The Departed (he fell asleep) if I have a Boston accent. I don't.

First, an explanation for those of you unfamiliar with Boston, or Bah-stin, accents. A few of my observations:

  1. R's are routinely dropped from words, particularly with the letter A. So car becomes cah, park becomes pahk and carpenter become cahpentah.
  2. What happens to all those abandoned R's? They are added to the end of words that don't have R's in them, again involving the letter A. Therefore Lisa becomes Liser and pizza becomes pizzer.
  3. And my personal favorite, you cannot tell the difference between a grizzly bear and an ice cold beer to drink. Both are pronounced beh-ya.

So, try your hand at a Bah-stin accent. Repeat after me:

Liser and I were driving the cah to pick up a pizzer and beh-ya when we saw a cahpentah being chased by a beh-ya.

My Southern born and bred parents moved from Lexington, Kentucky to the Boston-area when I was one year old. All research indicates that children develop their accents from their peer groups. That is why a child of immigrants can often speak English without an accent.

In third grade I came home to excitedly tell mom my class was going on a field trip.

"We're going on a field trip to Bah-stin!"

She remained facing the kitchen sink. Her back was to me. "Where?" she said, emphasizing the R.


WheRe?" she repeated, without turning around.

"Boston?" I asked, meekly.

Only then did she turn around, bent down to point a finger at me and declared, "No child of mine will have a Boston accent."

Yes, ma'am. And that is how my mother single-handily thwarted the influence of my peers.

And I am grateful.


chelle said...

hehehe that is so FUNNY!
Becca tries to use the Californian YEAH for everything I totally broke her of the habit HAHA! Mothers have power!

Alex Elliot said...

My older son has a Boston accent. Oh the horror! I have a Chicago accent and my husband has a NY accent.

Jenn said...

Most linguistics experts will promote people actually not forcing their to not have a particular accent. For instance, most people from Boston actually can say R's if they try, so it is not actually a speech impediment.

They can say it "standardly" or "correctly" but by matter of habit unconsciously choose not to. Or consciously in the case of many of my friends from the Mass area. It is like the Dave Chapelle thing - this is my interview speech and this is my comfortable with friends speech.

You see, you can tell a lot about local cultures based on dialects. About their economic status, their history. So accents are important. And people trying to correct accents tells you a lot too. People try not to speak with Southern drawls, Mass accents and Upstate hick accents all because they think it makes them sound stupid, unprofessional, etc for whatever reason.

It also happens with kids who speak a language at home that isn't the perdominant language where they live. Some kids become resistant to learning or speaking the non-English language or some become more peristent.

Jenn said...

*their whoever (kids, etc)

I should really reread stuff before I post it. Oh well.

jenn in holland said...

My husband was given the same 'parental guidance' in the years they lived in Texas, and as a result he doesn't have a drawl. I actually think mine is stronger and I didn't move to Texas until I was in my early 20's. I think the peer group influence can work even past the language aquisition age...

If it's any comfort to know I can tell you that the Brits have several of those same missing and added letters in their speech. We laughed last year when my daughters class was studying homonyms and on the list was SAW and SOAR. In American English, (western states) there is NO WAY those two words sound the same, but in British English they are identical. As in "I soar a film yesterday at the cinema"
So silly. So very very silly.

soccer mom in denial said...

Jenn (not in Holland) -

Accents/dialects do create class assumptions. My gratitude for not having an accent isn't that it somehow makes me "upperclass" but it makes me un-placeable. It was handy when I taught in Southcentral L.A. (CA) as well as New Orleans (LA). It has come in handy when I speak to the press as well as present to people I'm trying to organize. I think it helps people hear my words more than think of me as a person (I don't know if that makes sense).

And I'm not sure about the folks in Boston you know, but even folks that I've challenge to get that R in car act like they are trying to speak with 18 marbles in their mouths. And asking my grandfather to not speak with his Southern accent would mean, well, he couldn't speak.

Life As I Know It said...

As a recent Boston area transplant, we are trying our hardest to keep our children from developing the boston accent ;)

Great post!