Accents Are A Funny Thing!

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After 30 years in the States, I still have an Italian accent. When I go back to Italy the family tells me I have an American accent. Go figure. Even before the coming of caller ID, I couldn’t make anonymous phone calls. I would barely say “Hello,” and the person on the other end would say; “Oh, hi Maria, how are you?” And being a bit slow on the uptake, I would ask; “How did you know it was me?” Accents can be tricky because it’s easy to forget you have one.

When you meet new people, they will either love or hate your accent. It has nothing to do with you personally; it is strictly related to the understanding factor. If they understand you, they like the accent, if they don’t, well, they don’t. Unless you are Sofia Vergara then all bets are off.

When my kids where in high school, on rainy days, if they had nothing to do, they’d haul home some of their friends and ask me to pronounce difficult words for their entertainment. Their favorites were “hurt” and “hearth,” and “beach” and…that word that rhymes with “witch.”

Just when I begin to think that I’m getting control of the accent thing, my computer provider outsources the technical help to India. The person I reach, who says his name is Brandon-yeah, like that’s his real name-can’t understand me and vice versa. So, in desperation, we are spelling. Here is how it goes:

            “Swan, my last name is Swan, S as in Sam, w as in wedding, a as in apple, and n as in Nancy.”

Brandon says: “Okay I got that. S as in serpent, w as in wasabi, a as in alligator, n as in Nairobi.”

Somehow I don’t think Brandon is from sunny California.

Like I said, I’m so used to my own accent it hardly bothers me at all, unless I’m  with some of my friends or family who came to America after me and yet have no accent at all. They make fun of me! The other day I was grocery shopping with my grandson and I ran into my friend Joe, who has the distinctive Italian habit of expressing himself with his hands, but no verbal accent.

I said to my grandson, “Why don’t you run and get me a cart instead of playing around.” He takes off, and I wait by the frozen food aisle and talk to Joe about his wife’s health. Time goes by. I’m getting very chilly. My lips are turning blue, and, my feet are falling asleep, and still the kid isn’t back. I’m about to go looking for him when he shows up, but he has no cart. He hands me a pack of playing cards with a big smile on his face. “Here Nonna, Boy, it was hard to find them!”

Joe’s roaring laughter cooled the atmosphere in the frozen food aisle by another few degrees.

            I admit I haven’t tried very hard to lose my accent: I haven’t tried to Americanize my speech. In fact, I wouldn’t even try to say the word “Americanize.”  An accent is a great conversation starter, even if during the conversation I have to spell out the occasional word and a few ideas are lost in translation.

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10 Responses so far.

  1. Margaret says:

    I love this one. I have that problem but mine is regional…being from the North I sometimes have to ask Southern friends to spell the word they are trying to say. Like “pin” for “pen” and “dawg” for dog.

    • I think our accents make us special! Most of the time….yeah I have some not so funny stuff, the more excited i get the stronger my accent. Thank you for reading my blog.

  2. Margherita (Rita) Gorham says:

    My parents were immigrants from northern Italy. My dad got here about 5 years before my mother. To know them you’d think he was a native Californian; my Mom always sounded like she just got off the boat. She was very self-conscious of her accent and would challenge anyone who suggested she had one. We, of course behind her back, thought it endearing. Her worst word were “catalog” which became catalogo. Girdle gave her a serious tongue twisting. May accout for her many “corset” purchases. Forget “aluminum”. She had trouble saying “aluminio” in Italian. My friend say I have an accent. I was born in Los Angeles, raised in Harbor City and Wilmington. When I would visit family in Jersey they said I sounded like a Philadelphia Jew. In Philly I had a southern accent and in the South ” Ah sure did tawlk funny!”

  3. kaye george says:

    I’ve moved around so much, that I have no idea what kind of accent I have. Part southern and part northern, I think. I remember that our Italian exchange student, Elisa, acquired a very good command of English the year she spent with us. But when she returned to Italy, her mother said she’d forgotten her Italian grammar. She was speaking Italian with American-English sentence structure. Funny stuff indeed!

  4. Lia Tomasich says:

    Hi Maria!
    I enjoyed reading your article about accents, so funny!
    I’m from Veneto too, this is something I forgot to tell you. So we are “compaesane”!
    I was born in Legnago, a small town near Verona. However, Verona is what I consider to be my city, although I’ve been living in Rome since I was four years old.
    Ciao for now!

  5. Sharon Welch says:

    As kids, my cousins and I would love to get my grandmother to pronounce our favorite TV show “Rin-Tin-Tin”. We would roll with laughter because it came out like a drum roll.