I’m getting bolder as I age. Because of this, there will be several things happening in today’s blog that are completely uncharacteristic of me. The first is launching myself into a current ‘hot topic’ while it’s still…you know…hot. It’s not because I am against bandwagons or jumping upon them. Sure, I often ignore them, but if it’s a nice bandwagon, I’ll jump. The problem with me is that I am so often unaware of these hot topics until they are long gone. Elvis has not only left the building, but he’s already played three other venues and had a week off by the time I realize that he’s not coming back for another encore.

So, in a rare turn of events, I may have caught this one while I still have a chance to grab a handle and swing myself into the baggage car. And what is this hot topic? It’s a video blog about accents. I first saw it at Renee’s blog, Lessons for Teachers and Twits. She got it from Jessica at Meet the Buttrams, who in turn heard it from Jamie’s Rabbits. The chain continues but I’ll stop there. The videos that I did mention are fantastic and you really should go have a look-see.

What this consists of is a list of words to showcase regional pronunciation differences, and then a series of questions to discover variations in vocabulary between regions. Folks, you might as well have thrown up the Bat Signal. I don’t have a choice here. Do I want to discuss regional dialectal differences? As a linguist? Is the Pope Catholic?

It was impossible for me to not heed the call, despite my aversion to the idea of making this moving picture thingy of myself. This, then, is the second aberrant behavior I will be engaging in for this post. Considering how tight-lipped I’ve been about even offering up my name, it frankly shocked me how quickly I decided to go for broke and record the goofiness that is me. After about 5.37 seconds of thought, I knew I had to do it.

I’m excited about the challenge, but of course I can’t just leave it at a list of words to pronounce and vocabulary questions to answer. The first name that comes up when I think of this topic is William Labov. He is known for groundbreaking work on the unrecognized grammatical systems of non-standard dialects of English, namely that of the black community, which he called Black Vernacular English. He also performed the famous (amongst linguists anyway) Fourth Floor department store experiment in New York.

Essentially what Labov discovered was that in casual speech, the lower status salespeople at the store Klein’s did not pronounce the /r/ in “fourth floor” very often, and the pronunciation didn’t change much in careful speech, even with researchers that appeared to be of a higher social status. In Saks, the situation was almost reversed: the /r/ was spoken more often to begin with, so in careful speech, the rate was only slightly higher. The biggest difference came in the middle-status group at Macy’s. It seems this group style-shifted most often depending on the formality of the situation and of the perceived status of the listener.

Labov also went on to do taped interviews with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, recording incidences of casual and formal speech, as well as reading style and word lists or minimal pairs (i.e., are cot and caught pronounced the same or differently). Higher status interviewees used fewer elements that marked the regional accent; in other words, they didn’t have a thick regional accent at all. Lower socioeconomic status subjects used these marked forms much more often in casual speech, then tried to emulate the neutral accent in more careful speech and reading.

This work took place nearly 50 years ago so it’s possible that these findings could no longer be replicated today. However, it is still true that people will alter their speech depending on the situation or the audience. Remember that language is an identity marker. It helps us decide who’s in a group and who is not. Style and accent shifting can help us bond with a group where we feel we belong, but it can also help us distinguish ourselves as an outsider to a different group. Macy’s salespeople inserted the /r/ sound to show that they belonged to the class of people who say all their letters when they speak, which at the time was the more prestigious group to join.

So without further ado, here’s my first ever video blog post. I really don’t sound particularly “New York” in it, and I also forgot a few things but can’t bear to do it over. I meant to model the ‘fourth floor’ of Labov’s experiment for you, and I also never actually answered Question 5 (the answer is ‘You guys’ and never ‘youse’ thankyouverymuch.) There also seems to be a slight synchronization issue with the image and sound, which is annoying but I can’t seem to do anything about it Fixed it! Whew! Finally, don’t ask me how I got to over 8 minutes. Sheesh.

Please be kind as I cringe and rock gently in a corner.

The Words: Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting Image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught

Mary, Merry, Marry (my additions).

The Questions:

  1. What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  2. What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  3. What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
  4. What do you call gym shoes?
  5. What do you say to address a group of people?
  6. What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body & extremely long legs?
  7. What do you call your grandparents?
  8. What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  9. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  10. What is the thing you change the TV channel with?
  11. What do you call this type of sandwich? (my addition)

    I know what I call it. Click on the image to see the Wikipedia entry that lists other regional terms.

Here are some links for youse!

1. Nationwide Speech Project knows that people may say words differently when being recorded than they do in more natural speech, but they still made a cool map of dialects anyway. Actually, She’s a Maineiac gave a great example at 4:53 in the hilarious video that she put up yesterday about her on-again, off-again Maine accent.

2. The PBS special, “Do You Speak American?” is just a treasure trove of resources! Here’s where you can find information on different American Varieties. You could stay on that site and take a quiz there to test how well you can hear the differences, or find out more about William Labov.

3. You could also check out YouThink and take a different quiz to see what kind of accent you have.  The results will probably not be shocking, but it may be interesting to see which words are the ones that probably give you away!

34 thoughts on “Fuggetaboutit!

  1. I recently uploaded my very first video…one of me singing. I had the shakes the entire time! This was really cool. Other than watching the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ and taking a Vocal Diction class in university I’ve never looked too deeply at regional differences. I live in Southern Ontario…I’m sure if I paid really close attention I would actually be able to notice differences, but I don’t pay that close attention! Even harder is trying to distinguish different French accents over here (Belgium). I’ve been told there’s a Brussels accent (that is considered the Belgian accent, but really only occurs in Brussels), and a Liege accent and I’m sure there are others. I can’t tell the difference, lol.

    Great post, when it’s not so late I’ll enjoy checking out those other links and videos.

    • First of all, I love to sing and even have been part of a couple of choruses, but I’d never have the guts to record myself singing, so good for you!

      Hearing accents in a foreign language takes a while, but I bet you’ll eventually get the hang of it if you keep studying. I did eventually, for example, start to hear some variation in Turkish, at least between an Istanbul accent and one from the far east of the country, near the Syrian and Iraqi border. They sounded more Arabic than the folks from Istanbul.

      • I prefer singing on a stage in front of very large crowds than intimate household settings. And of course it’s the intimate one’s my Mom always makes me sing at with no preparation what so ever!

        I’m not really in different areas long enough to pick up on the accents. It’s something I’m not even that good at at home, lol. We talked about accents and regional differences in language in my French class today and the only thing I could think of for Canada was the ‘Canadian accent’ which is really just on the east coast and mostly Newfoundland and Labrador. Other than that I think we all sound pretty much the same. Unless it’s super obvious I don’t notice it.

  2. Love it, Leonore! Love it! I am getting ready to post mine. I saw Darla’s, and it looked like too much fun. It was fun, I admit. And, I enjoyed listening to you, too. The cats are wonderful!
    I used to say ‘pea’cahn’, but having been surrounded by my husband and his parents, I’ve slipped to pea’can. And you betchum red rider – it is NOT a palmetto bug.. it is a roach. Period.
    Your post prior to the video was informative, as usual. Your own spin made this great, L!!

    • Whew! Thanks so much :) I’m glad I messed up practiced a few times so I could at least get rid of this weird little Linda Blair eye-rolling-in-the-back-of-my-head thingy. It did end up being a lot of fun. (whispering) I might even keep an open mind about doing others in the future.

      Can’t wait to see yours! Darla’s was awesome, wasn’t it?

  3. Loved seeing and hearing you! You definitely don’t have a NY accent, but you said a couple of the words just like Renee, different from how I say it. (data and route).

    The girls are a hoot.

    If you get a chance stop by and see my video.

    • Yeah, I really don’t have a thick accent in most situations. If I’m tired, if I’ve had drink or two, or if I’m with a certain group of people, it will definitely get more noticeable, though. Maybe I should do a second version of this after a couple of beers ;)

      I’m so excited you did one, too! I’m on my way over…

    • Yeah, I know the /kyu’pon/ pronunciation is valid, but it just irritates me for some reason. I must have disliked someone who said it that way :)

      Are you in Eastern or Western PA? I’m trying to remember if I ever heard “Here you be” in Pittsburgh but I can’t remember.

      • Eastern. There are a lot of linguistic diversity here.

        As long as the pronunciation is valid, I let it be :-) but if you butcher et cetera, or voilà, or insert /k/ in escape, like /eks’keyp/,well, it irrates me to no end.

    • Thanks, Renee!
      We’re New York buddies :) I certainly resisted the South more than you did. Maybe part of it was that you lived in a more interesting place in the South! Now, I love me my Gators, and Gainesville was fun for college students, but it ain’t no New Orleans! But overall, I still think I just don’t quite fit in the South, so I think I ended up sounding more like a New Yorker down there than I do up here :)

      I only let the girls into the office when I am in here (to limit their opportunities for destruction) and they act like they’d never been in this room, so I knew they were going to be all over that video. Of course I think they stole the show ;)

  4. This was so cute, Leonore!! I don’t have the courage to post a video of myself quite yet. I hate seeing myself on camera! We say many things similarly. Probably because we both have those teacher voices! I’ve lived in WV pretty much my entire life, but I’m usually told that I’m rather void of an accent. Probably because I’m not in Southern, WV. I very much appreciate how you say Mary, Marry, and Merry. I once argued with a coworker over that, and you’ve now confirmed my correctness! :)
    I loved seeing your adorable kitties. I’d never noticed Zelda’s “mohawk” of stripes. Are they siblings?

    • Thank you! Believe me, I still can’t believe I put that up (still working on how to synch the sound and image. It’s quite annoying to me.) Teachers all do sound remarkably similar, don’t we?

      I remember going through the Mary, Marry, and Merry examples in one of my linguistics classes (can’t remember if it was Florida or Pittsburgh) and I was the only one in the class who had three distinct vowels. The teacher was kind of jazzed to have someone model them, but most of the students were like, “She talks funny!” Heh…must have been Florida, then! I got that reaction a lot in Florida, but like I said to Renee above, I think I sounded more “New York” when I was in Florida than I do when I’m in New York. I wanted to be sure they knew I was an outsider!

      Actually, the girls are sisters. Zelda’s little mohawk (I call it her mullet ;) is of the exact same tan/brown/orange that Mrs.Parker has.

  5. This was great! I loved the cats in the background. Funny about New Orleans. I read it so quickly, just went for it…then later I thought, God, do I sound like an idiot for pronouncing it the way I did or what? Good to know that I am okay, because I’ve never been there and wouldn’t pronounce it any other way. :D

    • I loved that you said New OrLEANS because it was proof that other people say it that way. I’m not the only weirdo ;) I’m sure there are plenty of folks up here in the NE that say it that way, but who would know because how often does it come up in conversation? I mean, now that we’re not talking about Hurricane Katrina so much.
      Thanks for coming on over. Maybe if I ever do another one of this vlog things, I’ll make sure to get a shot of the coffee cup, just to prove that I really do have one like yours.

  6. It’s so nice to see you and hear you at last, Leonore! (and congratulations on doing the video: I would NEVER have had the guts!).
    I love comparing different accents (anecdote: my brother – being a musician and therefore having a perfect ear, the bastard – keeps us endlessly entertained by imitating various accents, whether Italian American, Southern, Scottish, Jamaican, or Australian. He spent the summer working in the Duty Free shops at Paris – Charles de Gaulle airport and had a field day with the tourists: he confused a South African couple no end by adopting the distinctive Frecnh accent in English and then, back at the till, switching to a flawless Cape Town accent! All with a deadpan expression, of course…).
    About question n°9: do you know anyone who calls a sun shower “the monkey’s wedding” or is that just me and my weird family?
    P.S. I completely agree with you with regard to the pronunciation of “coupon”.

    • I’m jealous of your brother! I can do a fair imitation of a lot of accents, but I don’t think I could switch that easily and I could never get the South African accent. There’s something about their mid vowels that I just can’t pin down and it drives me nuts! Scottish is tough for me, too, but I’m a pro at an English or Irish accent :)

      I’ve never heard “the monkey’s wedding” but I love it! I’ll have to ask around but I suspect I’ll be getting a lot of strange looks. My boyfriend’s mother is from the Midwest, though, and maybe she’s heard it.

  7. This was great. I never know about these hot topics either, and don’t really know where they start, but it’s fun to read a few blogs on that one topic. You made me smile :)

  8. I really enjoy your blog and thus am nominating you for the Versatile Blogger Award. If you accept the nomination, please go to my blog to accept your award. You have to do a few things, but nothing illegal ;-)
    BTW – My dad was from Arkansas, and when I was a child, he taught me to say New Orleans as “nor-luns” and Lousiana as “Loozy-ana.” And I’m from the Pacific Northwest. People think I’m weird saying “nor-luns, loozy-ana”

    • Thank you Ms.Mouse! In fact, I just posted an acceptance of this in my previous post, though I only did the first half. If you don’t mind, I’m going to piggy back yours and will thank you properly when I post the second half (giving a nod to other bloggers). I have a tendency to tweak the rules a bit, so I’m preparing a list of blog posts that I really enjoy and that I feel showcases the writers’ skills.

      I imagine you’d get some pretty strange looks in the Northeast as well! Some say New OrLEANS like I do, but some people say New ORlins, but it’s always a more drawn out, enunciated version than the “N’Orluns” pronunciation you’d get from people closer to the actual city.

  9. “As in, ‘hell, no, I won’t marry you!'” Love it! I loved, too, how you start off with mention of how you’re going to keep it short. I inaccurately predict that a lot, as well. ;)

    I wish everyone whose blogs I follow would do this. I only watch for 20-30 seconds, but love listening.

    Once I’m caught up on comments in about 18 years (and have cleaned the pathway between my computer monitor and the opposing wall!), I might also do this.

    • Sadly enough, I really did think I was keeping it short! :) That’s why I was stunned to realize it was over 8 minutes long.

      I’d love to see yours if or when you do one! I know what you mean about catching up (she says as she finally answers a comment from 2 days ago!)

  10. Okay so I read this post and watched the video in bouts (because my kid was STAR-VING or SOBORED or whatever) and completely forgot to come back and comment!

    I LOVE your diction – it’s so purposeful and proper. Listening to you speak makes me want to sit up straighter.

    And the difference between Mary/Marry/Merry was fascinating to me. When I said it to myself before watching your video, they sounded all the same. And then I watched and tried to say them the way you said them, but failed. Miserably.

    Lastly, the picture of the SUB is making me hungry. :)

    • How sweet are you? :) That really is my teacher voice, though I’m usually a bit more animated in class (to make sure no one falls asleep!)

      I was a bit of a party trick in my Linguistics classes with the Mary/Merry/Marry distinction. It’s more common to have only one or two vowels for those three words, so teachers loved getting a real live native speaker with three distinct vowels – especially in phonetics/phonology classes, so I could model them and we could all practice our vowel transcription :)

      Ever since I posted that picture, I’ve been thinking about buying veggie cold cuts (I don’t do the real meat ones) and making myself one of those sandwiches. For it to be a real New York wedge, you dress it with salt, pepper, and italian dressing (or plain old oil and vinegar). Just in case you’ve been thinking of making yourself one too ;)

  11. Pingback: Mutiny on the Versatile Blogger ship | Seeing Clarely
  12. I have been following your blog for three months now (that’s how long I’ve been blogging), and this is the first time I am brave enough to post a comment. I love your post, not only this one, but many others!
    For this particular one, I can’t open your video for some reason. I’d love to see and hear if I could.

  13. Nope, can’t be opened either. I think it has something to do with Chinas’ internet. Oh well, thanks anyway.
    Accents always interest me, too. Since English is my second language, I am only sensitive to the most obvious. I can probably tell a Kentucky accent from a Midwestern one. I used to live in England for my postgraduate work, I can easily tell the “posh” accent from the so-called working class accent. It’s so very obvious! Here in Shanghai, I hear lots of British and Australian accents. It’s certainly one of the most obvious identities of that person.

  14. Ooh, you did a really interesting version of this blog! I love the Mary, Marry, Merry addition. I think I’ll add those in when I do mine, with a credit to you of course :-)

    Great blog, I’m going to poke a round a little more!

    • Thanks, PGMG! I always found it interesting that so few dialects distinguished three separate vowels for those words. I’m looking forward to seeing how you pronounce them.

      And welcome! Poke around to your heart’s content – I hope you enjoy what you find :)

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