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Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

I don't pahk my cah in Hahvad Yahd

I've been thinking about regional accents today. I don't know why, it just crossed my mind and I'm inherently curious (ok, nosy) so I asked the Boy if a lot of the kids in his high school have Bahstun accents. He said he couldn't think of any one with the kind of accent you hear in certain neighborhoods around the city. So how regional is an accent if you live 6 miles outside of downtown and people around you don't have the accent, but folks in certain parts of the city do? What's up with that?

Is it a class thing? I wonder because although people claim Boston to be a racist city, in actuality it hasn't been any such thing in 20 years. Last night the principal of the high school said that there were 54 native languages other than English spoken in the homes of our high school students. I can't even think of 54 different languages. Boston is a diverse, polyglut city. You hear so many different languages spoken in the malls, on the streets and in restaurants and shops. Sometimes I like to listen to see if I can identify the language, but many times I just don't have a clue. Because it's rude to say, "Hey, what language are you speaking?" I've not been able to discover just what languages I've heard, but I've heard plenty.

Thus, I don't think it's simply class, since we live in a very upwardly mobile wealthy community. Not that WE are upwardly mobile or wealthy, but the vast majority are. That rules out economic status...except that our city is comprised of 13 separate villages, and one particular village is known for it's Boston accent. This village is the poorest neighborhood in the city. This particular village is the "italian" section of town (although many of it's residents are Asians, Irish, and Caribbean). Even the streets have red, white, and green stripes going down the center instead of yellow. Really! When you head up to that part of town, you do hear the thick Boston accent. Is that because the Italian families originally came from Boston' North End? And if so, how come the Jewish families don't have the accent? They also lived in the North End, and in Dorchester before being redlined into Brookline and other suburbs.

Boston is famous for it's Irish population. Even the dogs dress up for St Paddy's Day here. Corned Beef and Cabbage, the quintiessential New England boiled dinner, is served all over the city. They show the parade on TV, the parade that marches through South Boston, in what used to be the "Irish" section of the city. The parade that excludes any gays, btw. South Boston has become, in an ironic twist, the newest turnover neighborhood, and the triple-decker condo rehabs are being bought by gay couples. I love that. The Irish tend to have the thickest Boston accents. The police and fire departments have heavy Irish representation, as does the local government. For some reason, these folks tend to have thick accents. So is it ethnicity?

Or is it location? People from Charlestown that are real townies, not the neauvau riche who rehabbed and took over Monument Square, have uberthick accents. People from South Boston, the North End, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and parts of Dorchester also have thick accents. Back Bay and Beacon Hill? Nope, not at all. I'd say it's almost a color barrier thing, but plenty of people of color in this city have thick accents. More don't, though.

My father, who was born in Boston, attended Boston Latin, and lived in the state a large part of his life, had a Boston accent. It wasn't thick, but it was pronounced. He was never able, for example, to tell us the amount of dollars you would have if he had 4, and someone gave him another dollar. It was always "fidollah". None of his children, however, have the remotest hint of the accent. My kids, born and raised here except for a stint in NoCal, don't have the accent either. Not a whiff of one. It makes me sort of sad, because I love this accent, it's very very hard to fake (to this day, I've never heard a decent Boston accent in a film other than in Good Will Hunting, and that's because Matt Damon and Ben Afflick are from Boston), and I have a feeling that it's disappearing.

Regional accents often are what makes a place so original to it's visitors. Visiting in the south, you get that drawl everywhere you go, plus all those funny sayings. Maine used to be filled with the eyup comments, but no more. It's harder and harder to find real regional New England accents, and I think the country is much poorer for it. My solution is to stop moving around so much, settle in a spot, and raise your kids there so they will pick up the regional accent, as well as the eccentricities. I'm planning to do just that from now on!
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4 Comments:

Blogger Chatty said...

New Hampsha has a distinct accent. It's a cross between Mass and down east Maine.

10/3/06 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Adam Gaffin said...

We live in the haht of the Boston English belt heah in Roslindale. Both my wife and I are from way outside of 128, but our daughter's a Rozzie rat. In general, she doesn't have the accent, but God love her, she knows my sisters are her "ahhhnts," not her "ants."

10/3/06 9:25 PM  
Blogger kontan said...

Wanna funky acks-ent? Try the South.

Did a study that include folkways once, really cool that many were there even at the beginning of our nations founding...but I won't bore you with the details. However, your post did remind me of two NASCAR drivers. (Husband's a fan, I just can't get into it.) Brothers...both raised in Virginia. One is distinctly Virginian and the other hardly has an accent at all. The joke is that the one with the accent was raised on the South side of the house. go figure. Here from Micheles.

10/3/06 11:21 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

Mmmmm. As already noted, I'm from Northern New Jersey. Nobody I have ever heard speak actually says "Joisey." But there is a Jersey accent that people from elsewhere pick up on. Once I was waiting for luggage at the Houston airport and a man and his adult daughter who had gotten off my plane from Newark were speaking in hushed, heavily Texas-accented tones about the heavy accents in New Jersey. Texas is one place that will never loose it's accent.

11/3/06 5:02 PM  

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