Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Accents

For the most part, I tend to get more annoyed than anything else if someone intimates that I have a funny sounding accent.

I'll freely admit that I have a bit of a New York cut to my voice, but I assure you it's only out of laziness and it in no way sounds funny. In fact that only people who could pick up on it within the U.S. are those who have much heavier regional accents which would be openly mocked in New York, likely through the use of name-calling, questioning of sexuality and perhaps metaphors for corn fucking.

Yes, I have something of a lazy tongue. It does not like to work hard and sometimes, in a comfortable environment, it is perfectly willing to give up precision for expedience and minimum effort. A consonant or two might get dropped, an odd N swallowed here or there. If I am suitably drunk, I apparently drop down into a full-on Brooklyn accent, which is somewhat disconcerting as I have never lived in Brooklyn and my family exclusively comes from The Bronx, and even then only two generations back. Depending on which lineage you choose, I'm either the third or fifth generation to be born and raised in my small town. But I digress.

As I was born in a small town in Westchester, New York, and as I was raised Jewish as a condition of my parents' protracted divorce process, I was bar-mitzvahed, the up-shot to which is basically receiving a free year of public speaking and diction classes.

Frankly, when I have the time to formulate a full response before having to speak, I can enunciate to the back row of any room, pause and punch on par with presidential candidates, alliterate most eloquently and defer any semblance of provincialism from my thoughts and mannerisms.

And I say this now: I can speak without any accent whatsoever.

Any accent. I don't care what the British or Professor Henry Higgins say, Americans speak English the way it's supposed to sound. If you were to pronounce every syllable as it should sound according to modern linguistic phonetics it would come out sounding like a West Coast news anchor (who are incidentally trained to remove all accent and speak correctly). The British swallow every end consonant and depending on class and region distort every single vowel sound in the most ghastly ways. There's a reason it's easier for Englishmen to put on a fake American "accent" than it is for an American to intone a believable British accent: we have to say things wrong in a precise way, they merely have to say everything correctly for once.

Unfortunately my argument loses something of its edge. As it stands, my friends and I have spent so much time together that we have complimented the little off nuances in our speech patterns, and unfortunately nearly all of us come from boisterous, Irish upbringings.

Jay, for instance will invariably return from his yearly family visits to Boston with an inability to pronounce the letter R.

"Aw, dammit, I left my lighter in the cah."

"The cah?"

"Dammit, shut the fuck up."

Sadly, we've all adopted this to a lesser, year-round extent. I recently discovered how Irish my group of friends are: Dave Zucker ("Murray" on my mother's side), Dean Thomas Luke McGowan, Daniel Murray, Mac Russel, Terrance Kennedy, James "Jay" Connor Michael O'Neill MacDunough of the Clan Brae. Dropped outside Boston College I am absolutely certain we could not only survive penniless for days, but do so smiling and drinking.

It's weird how much we were affected by listening to Dropkick Murpheys, Flogging Molly, and watching The Boondock Saints 837 times through high school.

Especially considering all my friends are Yankees fans.


  1. Because I pretty much minored in linguistics, I feel very qualified to comment here. I know you're being a little tongue in cheek, but from what I hear, most newscasters are trained to speak in a Midwestern accent. Yes, believe it. Even without dropping any consonants, you've got to pick the positions where you say your vowels, and vowels from newscasters are like the midwestern accent's vowels.


    In my opinion, I mean, and I'm probably totally wrong!

  2. I'm very aware. However unless they affect some kind of artificial drawl, they're pronouncing all the vowels pretty accurately.

    And for the record: at SADM we believe truth is secondary to comedy. They can go together just fine, but if they ever got in a fight comedy would totally kick truth's ass.


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