Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do You Have An Accent?


 I don’t have an accent. That’s not to say people from Pennsylvania don’t have accents. I have a friend everyone recognizes when she phones, and she wonders why. We tell her she has a “dutchy” accent-from the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually German descendants) of the area. And then of course she puts on the real heavy accent as a joke. 

I remember traveling to Vienna Austria when I was in college. The first Sunday there I attended church and thought, “Oh no, my German is so terrible I can’t even understand it spoken by natives.” My host family assured me that no, they had been speaking a German dialect. What we learn in school is considered High German and everyone knows it. 

So when we moved here, I thought there would be no problem. Everyone speaks English. Not the “King’s English” that we used to imitate when we were in high school, putting on the British accent, although I was never good at it, but could do a passable Irish brogue. 

I found out differently. One of the first Sundays here the pastor spoke about the “wheel” of God. Later my husband and I compared notes and the same thought had run through our minds, with the same aha! light bulb of realization. Was he talking about the passage in the Bible in Ezekiel where the prophet talks about wheels? Only reference either of us could think of where a wheel was mentioned in the Bible. No. He was actually talking about the WILL of God. 

Or the time of miscommunication over a pen. NO, I didn’t need a pin. I needed a pen. OH, that is called a writing “pin”, so you would know the difference between a pen and a pin. And of course, the same problem ariseswhen you switch tin and ten. How much money do you want? They haven't made pennies from tin since Revolutionary times!

The most humorous of all was the lady I called about a dog. She actually had two advertised and I wanted to know about them. She proceeded to tell me that were “na kid” or at least that’s what I thought she said. I thought, “They’re what? Naked? Dogs naked? They have no fur, or what?” So I said, “Excuse me?” and we repeated the exchange several times before she got frustrated with this stupid northerner and said, “They’re not related!” Oh, they’re no KIN!

Of course now that we’ve lived here awhile, we don’t have these problems anymore, although we have been back to that lady and while I had no trouble understanding her, my daughter said she was really glad I was along because she didn’t know what the lady was saying. I still don’t think I have an accent, but I can’t say the same for my son. Even his native West Virginian wife says how his accents thickens the longer he is in conversation with other natives. 

What is it? It’s not southern, it’s not anything I’ve ever heard before, but I believe it may have something to do with the Scottish immigrants that settled in the area, and the fact that for the longest time West Virginia mountain people were so isolated that their English did not change as much as elsewhere in the United States. 

So when you come for a visit, don’t worry. We do speak English and are understandable for the most part. If you need to ask someone to repeat themselves, they don’t mind. They probably just think you have a funny accent.  A soda is a “pop” and ice tea is always sweet; those are the important things.

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