Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'll never shake that Midwest accent

I just did this test to find out where your accent is from and it seems to have pegged me perfectly.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast
The Midland
The South
North Central
The West
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Its funny that I came across this quiz the same day as reading this. It already had me thinking about my experiences regarding my accent and so I couldn't resist the quiz when I spotted it.

While in French, I've always felt very at ease with my accent, its been a bit of a struggle in English. I actually am completely comfortable with my English language accent. I've never tried to change it or soften it, even when studying in Edinburgh and it was all the rage among the American exchange students to claim to have unwittingly developed an "English" accent over the course of their 3 month program. Not only were they bad accents but it just seemed silly and false to me, like going home with a kilt and telling everyone that you had apparently become a clan chief while on your year abroad. But whenever I am with a group of Americans, the general gist of things is that a Midwest accent is horrific, and nobody is more vehement about this than the Midwesterners.* I suppose the subtext is that it is a country bumpkin accent and therefore slightly shameful to be walking around in the Big Wide World flaunting it like a flannel shirt, mullet, and NRA bumper sticker.

My experience with my French accent is a bit different. I didn't start learning French really until I had actually arrived in Paris to live for good. I had a private tutor- from Nantes- and she basically taught me everything I know. I suppose that was rounded out by what I heard on television and in the streets but the most important part is that I leared all my French from actual French people. (As opposed to my Spanish which was taught almost exclusively by Gringos, capital G intended) Since I've been speaking French, I don't think anyone has ever guessed that I am American by my accent, which I think is odd (not that I've been mistaken for a Frenchperson). I've always been told that I have an accent 'charmante/adorable/mignone' and I've been a bit baffled but what that means. But I guess all the remarks have been positive and so I've just never made any efforts to work on making my accent more French.

But it all comes to the same thing. I think that having an accent is a wonderful mark that you always carry with you showing where you are from, what made you what you are. Being embarrassed about my accent, whether it be in English or French, would be like rejecting my family and telling new friends that I was an orphan, everyone else having been killed in a tragic mini-bus accident (I've got a big family). I think it would be a real character flaw to want to change the way I speak. And I think that it would be almost more embarassing to have people notice that I had changed my accent, like having people notice that I tacked a pair of enormous fake breasts to my chest. What kind of person does that? is clearly the question that they would be asking themselves.

I think that I was incredibly lucky growing up where I did, how I did. I really wish I could that same sort of childhood to Ella, Midwest accent and all. I don't know why I am so vehement on this subject. I suppose its another of those cases where, the longer I am away from the States the more I cling to those things that make me American. I really like the quote from the comments on that blog entry I linked to "To have another language is to have a second soul." Its a beautiful way to remind myself that the duality inherent in the situation of an expat is full of opportunity.

*I am definitely generalizing here, since there are lots of people who have never said anything about my accent. And I'm not excluding the possibility that I have gotten a bit over-sensitive about this...


Sally Lomax said...

That's hilarious Nicole. Not being set up for English accents, it reckohned that I camed from Boston or somewhere, and I am very English English!

valeriachachacha said...

I took the quiz and it nailed me. Inland North. I don't think that everyone makes an intentional effort to "lose" their accent and oftentimes it happens organically (clearly in defense of my "canadian" accent that still comes and goes). Perhaps some of us have a more sensitive ear or are more prone to assimilation.

Nicole said...

Sally, thats so funny that it thinks you would have a Boston accent- the cadence is so different I would never have guessed there to be any similarity. Well, if you ever decide to chuck it all in and start over somewhere new, now you know where you could fit in like a local!

Nicole said...

Valichacha, I agree that people do pick up accents organically, that doesn't bother me. But disliking your own accent and consciously wanting to change it is something that I really do equate with having a nose job; sometimes it makes sense but for most people its just a sign of low self-confidence. Don't you think?

misschrisc said...

I've taken that quiz and it's spot on. I have a midwestern accent too (first nine years in Ohio and then next 20 in Florida, go figure). A lot of French tell me that I haven't got a big American accent and I get pegged as British a lot. I remember an expat friend from South Carolina being told that she had a BIG American accent if that gives you any idea of how the French view what a "typical" American accent is.