Absorbing accents

-A A +A
By Meaghan Downs

Accents cling to me.
I don’t invite them in. It just happens, every time I move and anytime I constantly hear a specific regional dialect.
Chameleons change color. Tigers stalk prey in striped fur to match their dark jungle habitat.
Speech becomes my camouflage.
As I adjust to living here, I’ve caught myself falling into a Southern dialect when I’m talking. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t mind having a Kentucky accent.
I’m just never consistent.
I never notice that I’m doing it, and others don’t notice until it’s really too late. Certain words or phrases stick around long after I’ve left that dialect and the people who speak it behind.
Examples: drawer, tour, coffee, ricotta, compass, coat.
When I’m angry or argumentative, out comes the granddaughter of a New York City cop and a full-blooded Irish woman from Brooklyn.
Shyness overwhelms me, and suddenly I’m rounding my vowels like my seventh grade friends did when I lived in Minnesota.
Many politicians have used a change of speech to their advantage: George W. Bush, although he grew up in Massachusetts, took on a Texan drawl. Jimmy Carter played up his Southern coastal accent to match his home-down roots. Sarah Palin is noted for her particular Alaskan way of talkin’ while even President Obama, who hasn’t been labeled with any unique regional accent, has been lampooned “Saturday Night Live” style for his crisp, short phrases.
Accents are not just playgrounds for the politician; actors such as New Yorker Sylvester Stallone and Queens native Fran Drescher are more known for their voices than their acting careers.
An accent identifies you, allows a person to claim a place as her own. You know you who are, and who you belong to. The red clay of Mississippi. The city streets of Boston.
The winding, goose-pimple raising, death-defying curved roads of Kentucky.
Seriously. If you see a very slow-moving car in front of you with Illinois license plates, that’s me, gripping the steering wheel and cringing.
Come winter, driving on Tyrone Pike should prove interesting.
Accents come with a sense of belonging, and with that, stereotypes. New Yorkers are mobsters. Southerners are rednecks. Midwestern people are boring.
In order to prove to you, Anderson News readers, that I indeed have an accent, I took a very reputable and comprehensive 30-second quiz online to see what kind of “American” accent I had.
Turns out, I have a Midland accent, which means I have no accent at all.
I think I need a second opinion.
Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to have a couple of phrases from different parts of the country up my sleeve. Many of the memories I have of those places can be attached to the words I use to speak about them.  
Who knows, maybe in a few months maybe I’ll be a true Southerner. Or at least, sound like one.
I still haven’t quite figured out what it means to be from Kentucky. Or Lawrenceburg for that matter. I don’t believe that’s something you can learn in two weeks.
With the exception of how to find the shortcut to Versailles. I nailed that one.

What does your accent say about you? Comment at the
andersonnews.com or e-mail mdowns@theandersonnews.com.