Growing up in Detroit I always believed I was accent-free. I mean, listen to newscasters in just about any American city…they sound pretty much like me. If they are from New York or Atlanta or Boston, they don’t sound like it, they could be from Anywhere.
I should be clear, there are some defining notes of a Michigan accent, but I don’t speak that way, and most of the people I know from the Metro-Detroit area don’t either. And due to a strong Nordic influence, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula also has it’s own accent…again, not me.
So I’ve walked around, proud of my accent-free self… until the day I moved to Boston.
I now have an accent.
However, it does confuse people, they aren’t necessarily sure what it is… just “other.” I’ve been asked:
Are you from Brazil? (Really? It must have been my tan.)
Are you Albanian? (How so?)
You must be from Ohio? (Well, a lot closer, but NO.)
I’ve even heard this, spoken with an Irish brogue: “Oh, I like your accent!” (Uh…ok.)
The funny thing is a lot of people in Boston don’t have the accent. There are a lot of people from other places here, and I’ve met not a few natives who made a point of not acquiring The Accent, aka The R Relocation Program: drop your “r’s” and add them to end of words that end in “a.” But not all the time, not every word.
For example, you might say “Pahk yah Toyotar in the lot.” But you might also say “The mayor of Boston is Mahty Walsh,” not dropping the “r” in the word “mayor.”
I’ve also noticed the use of “short a” here, “cahn’t” as opposed “can’t.”
It’s all very English…yet…not. (Of course Britain is the source of the accent.)
So what is this Midwest accent I have? It’s a nasal “a.” It’s kind of hard to type, but something like: cyalendar (calendar), or in my case, “cyan’t.” I notice it when I say certain words now, and hear it in others too, especially when watching TV…my HGTV girls Nicole Curtis and Joanna Gaines have it. Of course Joanna is from a totally different region; she has Texas in her voice too, but I hear that nasal “a!”
Strangely, I felt kind of bad about it at first. When I said as much, my friend Jenny pointed out that it’s part of who I am, where I’m from…a place I still love…and that I should feel good about it. She’s right of course!
Have you had a similar insight after relocating or while traveling? I’d love to hear all about it, so share in the comments below! And if you haven’t already clicked the Michigan accent link above, I highly recommend you do—it’s to a really interesting and informative interview with Grand Valley State University professor of linguistics, Kathryn Remlinger.
Just for fun…