An ear for language and regional tongues don't quite meet

ALICE STEINBACH

August 16, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

I'm writing this column in a desperate bid for help. If anyone out there has any ideas about the following dilemma, please fax me immediately.

OK, here's the problem: I have just received a message on my voice mail which I think may be very important to my career. Problem is, I can't make out what the voice on the other end is saying. It sounds something like this:

"Dis is duh sauce ya tawked wid atda cawfee stoor downair in Lawnguyland daudderday. Cawl dis numbuh fawda hole stawry. Toidy-toid, toidy-toid, toidy-toid."

It's possible, of course, that it's someone using a cellular phone to call from a dentist's chair, where he is sitting with his mouth stuffed with cotton waiting for the Novocain to take effect. Or it might be my Aunt Claire's hyperactive parrot, Squawky. Or it could be . . .

Oops, never mind. A colleague of mine, reading this over my shoulder, has just translated the message for me.

He says it means: "This is the source you talked with at the coffee store down there in Long Island the other day. Call this number for the whole story -- 333-333."

The colleague who translated this is from New York -- excuse me, New Yawk -- and says he speaks New Yawk Tawk fluently. Says he learned it as a kid growing up in Brooklyn and never forgot it. Says he's trying to bring up his kids so they are bilingual too.

"By da way," he asked me, "you wanna glasso wawta or a soder from downa cafeteria?"

I love accents. And I've been thinking a lot about them lately.

Partly that's because I've just come back from a vacation in Texas. It was a festive occasion, one party after another, offering lots of opportunity to engage in conversations that went something like this:

"Well, lil' lady, if that don't beat all, ah'll be dancin' in the hog trough to-gnat."

Or: "Shoot, ah mean this lil' ole gal just stomped on mah heart lak she maybe could mean serious bidness."

Or: "Now, doggone it, let's don't reee-act to the Pee-rot decision like we wuz a basket full of possum-heads."

Happily, I have an ear for language. Which enabled me to talk Texan -- so to speak -- by, oh, maybe the third day of my visit. "Shucks, if that don't beat all, doggone it," I would say, "then ah will whup my weight in rattlesnakes rat now."

My love of accents makes it all the more thrilling in this political year to turn on the TV and hear: "Ha, ahm Sinnator Al Gore from Tinnesey."

Shoot, my only regret is we don't have a candidate running from Louisville, Ky. I just love the way Kentuckians pronounce it "Louvul."

Why, heck, ah decleah, there's nuthin' finah than a rat good Southern accent. In fact, a recent poll done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that 82 percent of people in the South say they like their Southern accents.

When I told this to a friend, a man who listens to sounds for a living, he just snorted. "Yes, Southern women think their accents are just so attractive they have it made," he said in his accentless voice. Still, he later confessed that at the age of 12 he had affected an English accent so people would think he was more intelligent.

"And did they?" I asked him.

"It was so effective," he replied, "that everyone started asking me if I was from Montana."

By golly, that's a rat sad story, don't y'all thank?

It reminds me of a brief period in my own life -- my Bohemian phase -- when I wore a French beret and affected a French accent. Quelle horreur! Beaucoup persons also questioned moi authenticitie ala Francaise.

I told them I was from Francaise Guyana. And merci for the memories.

Bostonians, of course, do not admit to having an accent. Theprefer to regard the rest of the country as having an accent.

It doesn't matter to them that the sentence, "I have to go to the bathroom, for sure, in Cuba," becomes in BostonSpeak: "I have to go to the baathroom, foah shoe-uh, in Cuber."

What I don't understand about all these regional accents that exist in the United States is this: Given the studies that show most of us spend about three-quarters of our time in front of the television set, how come we all don't speak the same flat, unaccented Network English?

And, by the way, does anyone know where all these Stepford Announcers come from? Or do they all have to undergo Accent Surgery as part of their contracts?

And, hon, if youse know the answer to that one, please write to me in Ballmur, Marelun.

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