Language Autobiography 2013: The Wonderful Sounds of Humans

During this unit in our English class, we learned about the different aspects of language and how it is perceived through the ears of different people. To prepare us for writing our own language autobiographies, we read short stories written by authors who shared their personal experiences and views on language. Our class brainstormed ideas about the different ideas, issues, and themes related to language and were asked to pick a topic to analyze and write about our own experiences related to it. I decided to write about accents and how they make us unique.

Growing up as people in today’s world, we all go through phases. These phases can be anything from bad habits to following trends. They don’t always have a big impact on our lives as some others might, but all phases still leave a mark; memories, feelings, a new way of thinking. No matter how old or forgotten the phase is, it still makes itself present in times of anger, passion, and stress. Sometimes the recurrence is involuntary, but it’s something that stays with people no matter how old they become in their life. One of these marks are accents. No two people speak the same and everyone possesses an accent. Accents are what make us unique and separate us from each other. They give people a sense of where you’re from, where you grew up, your ethnic background, and so on. They way you speak tells a person something about you.

As a child I developed a very strong and drawn out South Philadelphia accent. It was so strong that some thought I was from New York or Columbia. I always thought it was strange. How could one possibly think I was from Columbia?, I thought.  I don’t sound any different from the rest of you. I was apparently wrong. I would draw out my vowel sounds and pronounce words in a way that was foreign to those I was going to school with at the time. However, it appeared to be simple and natural to me. I had changed schools quite a bit during my time spent in elementary school. The first two schools I attended were in my neighborhood in walking distance, so everyone spoke the same. We all grew up in South Philadelphia. We all drew out our vowel sounds and spoke in a way that was easy to understand if you were one of us. It wasn’t until I started going to school farther away from home that I realized I spoke funny.

“Okay now what’s the thing that you color with that’s made out of wax,” my friend Elyse asked me while we were sitting at recess one day. “A crown,” I replied, a little confused as to why she would ask me this. She laughed and corrected me, “It’s crayon. Okay now what do you dry yourself with after you take a shower?” “A tail.” “It’s a towel,” she exclaimed rather loudly, catching the attention of some of our other friends that were sitting with us. It went on like that for the rest of recess, question upon question of how to pronounce words and the turning heads of my peers so they can all listen in on the girl who talked funny. I saw the slight grins and heard the snickers come and go every now and then. Others joined in the questioning while others laughed every time I opened my mouth.  In my mind, talk was tawk, walk was wawk, bathroom was beathroom, water was wudder, and so on and so forth.

I was moved to a different part of the city for my schooling and wound up having to learn a whole new dialect of the language that I thought I spoke correctly. It’s just about the same thing for people who move to different countries. When learning a second language, or even moving to a new country, people will always take their accents with them. Their accents can lead to impediments that may take a short time or a long time depending on how well you learn the language. Even though a person may be a fast learner and pick up things fairly quickly, the dialect and slang can be completely different, depending on what part of the country you are living in. Therefore, making it more challenging and extremely difficult to become fluent in the new language.

While learning a new language, a person may experience moments of frustration, particularly when unable to pronounce a certain word or phrase. This can lead to confusion and insult, though most times without intention. The process of learning a new language often takes longer to learn and acquire because of the difficulty of foreign pronunciations. Those learning how to perfect their way of speaking may receive negativity or ridicule during that process because of their ever developing and improving pronunciation skills.

In Gloria Anzaldúa’s story, How to Tame a Wild Tongue, she says, “I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for “talking back” to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name. ‘If you want to be American, speak ‘American’. If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong.’” In order to be able to survive in a new country or environment, you must learn to adapt to the language. Almost all Americans, who were born here, don’t speak with a foreign accent from a different country. It can sometimes be very obvious and easy to identify when someone is from a different country. If you can not adapt to the language and way of speaking, it is assumed that you are ignorant and unintelligent. It looks as if you are ungrateful to be in a place if you can not learn to talk in a way that is ‘normal’ for your peers. Some, like Anzaldúa’s teacher, take it as an insult.

I still find myself slipping up and relapsing back into my outgrown South Philadelphia accent. This goes for everyone. They way you speak is part of your way of life. It doesn’t just magically disappear no matter how many times it changes, twists or turns. No matter how many languages or dialects you speak, your native tongue always has a way of finding you and making itself known. I guess what they say is true, old habits really do die hard.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. Print.