By Horus Alas
When I first met sophomore government and politics major Sarah Denlinger, I imagined she was from Brooklyn or somewhere around there.
She didn’t look any different from your standard common white girl who attends this university. She wore medium-length, wavy golden brown hair, and she was probably sitting on her bed, doing work on her computer the first time I entered room 2125 of Somerset Hall.
There was just a certain je ne sais quoi about the way she spoke. Her “talk” sounded more like “tahwk,” and when she said, “I don’t fuck with you,” it sounded like, “Eye don’t fuck witchu.”
After about 15 minutes of conversation, I felt inclined to ask her, “So, are you from Brooklyn or something? You sound like you’d be from there.”
“No,” she said. “I’m from Columbia.”
“Colombia, the country?”
“Nah, Columbia, Maryland,” she said with a laugh. “I wish I was from someplace interesting like that.”
“But you have this mobstah-like sort of accent. If I could tahwk the same way, could you oblige me and do the same?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Eye could do dat.”
There’s a certain way each of us speaks based on our particular acquaintance with the English language. The night I met Sarah Denlinger, two Marylanders effected Italian-American, New York accents based on what we thought were their defining characteristics—conversion of “walk” and “talk” to “wahwk,” and “tahwk.” Sharper, more angular consonants as in, “You tahwkin’ to me?” Crisp, clipped vowels, as in, “You’re tellin’ me.”
Per my acquaintance, a New York accent has those attributes and is delivered with a blasé, “fuck you” sort of tone. I spoke thusly to Long Island-raised Bloc copy editor Kira Sansone, asking her if she “ever find[s] [her]self tahwkin’ a certain sorta’ way?” when walking down the streets of New York City.
“My accent tends to come out when I’m around other people from New York,” she said with impunity.
And I guess that makes sense. Those of us with distinct regional accents tend to dissimulate them when we’re around people who don’t have those same styles of locution. We would probably go into a standard, nondescript American English that can be orally defined by medium-length vowels, well-defined consonants and a general intonation that evokes the coherence of speech along the East Coast.
In the southeast of the United States, things get syrupy. Vowels are elongated into a drawl, and consonants are diminished in prominence, as in, “Oh, maaay! It’s so haawt and suunny this ahfternewn.” You can more or less think of this accent as molasses.
Bostonian is most prevalent in New England. Its chief styles of locution are marked by non-rhoticism (not pronouncing “r”s) thus that “car” and “water” become “cahh” and “watuh.”
Its vowels are short and clipped, and consonants are sharp and well-defined, thus that you can always think back to JFK saying, “… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” for a good idea as to what this accent sounds like.
On the West Coast, vocal styles generally become a bit more reminiscent of standard American English with vowels whose intonations are often more pronounced. This might result in sayings like, “Cowabunga!” courtesy of the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series.
There are plenty more regional accents I might go over, but frankly, I don’t have the word cap. And I expect at some point, you won’t have the patience.
Let’s let this work as primer thus far. I didn’t tell you what people sound like in Kentucky or Colorado, so I do apologize if you’re visiting either state in the near future without a proper pronunciation guide.
But, you know. You’ll survive.
The broad landscape of our 50 states comprises a plethora of verbal styles for you, as a reader, to discover. I’ve done my part in pointing you in the general direction to seek out what these sound like.
Don’t let me likewise deprive you of the journey of hearing what they’re like of your own volition.