“Kara, say water.”
“Wooder,” I said.
“No, say it right. Like this. Wah-ter.”
“You say it weird.”
I hear that a lot. I am a Philadelphian. I don’t say water, I say wooder. I don’t say towel, I say tal. I don’t say aunt, I say ant. This has been something that stood out about my language. Ofcourse, not at home, not in this city, but everywhere else, I stand out because of the words I say and how I say them.
My family and I do a great deal of traveling, mostly in this country. We’ve been to Maine, Virginia, Nevada, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and most of the local states, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Nothing really stood out about us but the way we spoke.
Most people in all of those states didn’t notice. The state that really noticed our way of speaking the most was probably Tennessee. In a particular place in Tennessee, Dollywood, a waitress there liked to separate the Northern people from the Southern.
“I like the way ya’ll speak,” she said, “and ya tip good.”
I was young at the time, about six. I didn’t know I was different. To me, she was the one that spoke different. I thought I spoke “normal.” But what really is the “normal” way of speaking?
Everyone in Philadelphia is different, we speak mostly the same way, but some have different words or ways of saying things. Instead of you guys, some say yous. I don’t use this, nor do I ever say jawn, a made up word only known here. But I admit I do say “yo” a lot.
I know that some words I pronounce different, even from people in Philly. For example, the name of my eighth grade teacher, Mr. Rossi.
“Mr. Raw-si. That’s how Kara says it,” I overheard my friend Diana say.
“So? Isn’t that the way everyone says it?” I asked, confused.
“No. You sound British! It’s supposed to be Mr. Rahsi!” she said, laughing.
That annoyed me. If it’s “Rahsi” then why is it spelled with an O?!
After that, I classified my way of speaking as different. People constantly pointed out how weird I said things. I didn’t really care much, it wasn’t a big deal, it was a little annoying, but in reality everyone has a different vocabulary and language and you can’t classify anyone’s as weird, because there is no standard language or way of speaking in my opinion. Now, I would like to go back and tell every person that judged the way I spoke just that.
“It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: it reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” - James Baldwin
Language is what makes you. James Baldwin says it reveals your identity and is the most important part of it. You can tell who a person is by their language. It is what individualizes us in a society. It can connect you to a group or exclude you.
Here’s a scenario. You have a group of friends. You and the rest of a group of people speak Spanish, you fit right in. But there are many different Spanish dialects, and you happen to be the only different one. You feel weird or left out, but really you should feel unique and amazed at how amazing language is and how you stand out.
I, with my Philadelphian accent, don’t feel like I stand out. I feel slightly different, yes, but not excluded from society. I’ve never really gotten bullied, people just said things. My language does reveal who I am. When I can’t think of a word for a certain thing, I say thingy. This reveals my bad memory. I’ve gotten into the habit of saying “kk” instead of ok, this reveals my vulnerability to internet slang. I added the word “ain’t” into my vocabulary in the second grade, which really ticked my family off, “it’s not in the dictionary!” I inherited the word from friends, which shows how easily my vocabulary can be expanded from others’ vocabulary.
“I’m done.” My friend Darius says a lot after seeing something funny.
“That’s crazy!” My friend Kat says in a high pitched voice after seeing something slightly shocking to her.
And now, when I see something funny I say “I’m done.” When I see something shocking, I say “that’s crazy!” It’s funny how my language and vocabulary can be easily influenced by friends, that I’m around them so much that I talk like them. This happens to mostly everyone. This is how people develop their language. By using others’, but making that into their own.
I don’t remember learning how to speak, gaining all the words I know now, and learning what most of them mean. It’s weird thinking about how big my vocabulary is, and how I got all these words and lessons along the way in my life. In third grade, I won a lot of spelling bees and my highest grade was always English. Grammar and spelling were always my strong areas. I felt happy and proud of myself for being good at it. I’m glad I still have this skill now, for writing.
As you can see, language is something that I've used throughout my whole entire life, but never really thought upon till now, with this project. I realize the importance of it, how it connects us all as a society, how we get to know each other, and how we identify ourselves. Language is really the most important thing in the world.