Accentuating the positive

This is a response to today’s prompt at The One-minute Writer – Do you have an accent?

First of all, let me just say that I can not write for just one minute unless I am playing Scattergories. I get like two sentences down. And text-blogging on my phone? Forget it. One minute is just a place to start.

Do I have an accent? It never occurs to me to think that I do until I take note of another’s accent. Even then, I often think of them as having the accent. I have been told that I have an Eastern accent by my previous boss, similar to one of our vendor reps in Indiana; but after having lived in North Dakota for five years I have definitely picked up some linguistic tendencies that define the local regional accent and dialect: a longer “o” sound that is commonly associated with people from Canada and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; as well as phrases like “you bet”, “what the heck!”, and “I suppose”.

I imagine that the tendency to pick up an accent has something to do with the part of the brain that is responsible for sympathetic yawning, or sympathetic anything – a hard-wired drive to fit in and create a communal vibe that can connect one to the rest of the community, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But while it is easy for some to mimic accents, there’s really no need to force it; it comes around on its own through adaptive changes in phonemic pronunciation. It sneaks up on you – a pleasant, if not self-conscious surprise. This is what we think of as a softening of the accent, and so now. . . Do I have an accent? Sure, to someone with an accent.

Sometimes, though, I will slip into that urban inner-city accent from living in the Detroit area for over 30 years. That one usually comes tied to phrases like “I don’t know!”, “that’s what I’m saying.”, and “whatever!”. It come out with attitude and is squelched with tact.

There’s nothing wrong with creeping accents, though. They are savory spice for the linguistic stew; they give our voices subtle and complex hints, richness and depth, ensuring that like a fingerprint, no two voices are exactly the same.

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