Monday, July 11, 2011

Talk like that

One part of Saturday's drive to the Dayton area was to visit with a great aunt in a rehabilitation center. She recently fell and broke her hip. Naturally, she's not happy for how long she's going to be in this place, but at eighty years old, living alone, and with this injury, what other choice is there?

I spent a couple hours talking with her. One of the things that jumped out at me is how she spoke, both in her grammar and with her accent. When people think accents, Ohio isn't a state that comes to mind. Being nestled snugly in the Midwest, it produces, or is thought to produce, something akin to a generic American accent rather than something distinctive. (I've heard that it's what newscasters are taught to speak in, but I haven't found the documentation for this anecdote.)

Maybe there isn't an "Ohio accent", but returning to my home area again, even if it's only about an hour and a half to the west, alerts me to the differences among the parts of the state. I grew up in what this dialect map calls The Midland and within the Cincinnati subdialect. (You'll see that the Dayton area falls in with it and deviates some from Columbus.)

I never thought of myself having an accent, but when I went to college, some friends, especially those from northeastern Ohio, pointed out that I had a twang. This would be the midwestern twang more than a southern one. (Of course, to my ears, they had nasal accents more typical of the northeastern U.S.) Now I will concede that I do have an accent, although I think it is probably more pronounced around family and others with such an accent or when I'm tired.

For whatever reason, on this weekend's trip back to the area that accent seemed blatantly obvious to me whether it was my aunt, employees at the care center, or people at the baseball game. These people talk how I do. Some have stronger accents, but they're undeniably similar to how I sound. I don't have my relatives', or my dad's, habit of saying "warsh" for "wash", but I have a lot of the same way of speaking.

The grammar, some of it decidedly nonstandard, is also something I'll find myself employing. Now I know why. I even got an e-mail from my mom today with some of these usages that are the sorts of things that might be thought of as southern and, for lack of a better term, indicators of being less learned. I catch them slipping out of my mouth, and I know I like writing with some of these folksier ways of putting things.

A way of speaking is so deeply ingrained that most of us take it for granted about ourselves. We can't really hear it until we're outside of a group that speaks differently, even if the distinctions between such manners are fine ones. How we speak is a way of going home and a way of connecting with those who are gone, even if we're not aware of what we're doing.

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