I say words differently than you. You say words differently than me, and her and maybe him. My mom moved to a small suburb of London when she was not even one year old and stayed there until she left for college. So naturally she developed an English accent and nobody questioned it. She went to a primary school called Little Green. In England, primary school is Kindergarten through second grade. When she was going into fourth grade her dad, my grandfather, got a job as a dean of the High School at The American School In London (ASL). This is a very prestigious private school where families that worked in the oil industries and places such as that would send their children so that their kids would get an American education. My mom and her sister transferred there within two years. The kids there had mixed accents between American and British so she didn’t feel any need to change the way she talked because there were other people that spoke like her.
When she was in her sophomore year of high school she went to live with her aunt and uncle in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Nobody had a British accent there. My mom decided to change the way she spoke to fit in with the other kids. For a year and a half, she had an almost perfect accent that nobody questioned. One day she got tired of always switching the way she spoke, so she decided to stop faking an American accent and speak with her normal accent. To her surprise, people thought she was faking that. She remembers very clearly having a friend that told her to stop pretending to have an English accent and just speak normal. She had faked her accent for so long that people thought that an American accent was just her normal tongue. My mother says she was stunned, what she was doing it to fit in actually turned out to be what people thought was her norm.
At this point, my mom has been in the US for about 17 years, almost longer than she had been in England. She hasn’t lost all of her accent but it isn’t as strong as it used be. It isn’t very noticable to me but there are still some words that I can hear that we say differently, for example “tomato” she says it the stereotypical British way. There are other words that I, myself, have poked fun at the way she says them but she does the same to me. When people find out that my mom is from England, they automatically ask me if I can do a British accent. I can but only because I have trained myself, not because I’m actually English.
We usually take a trip to England once a year at least because my grandfather still lives there. He was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. He has lived in England since he moved there with my mom, aunt and grandmother before my aunt was born. His accent hasn’t changed even the slightest bit and people are always very surprised when they find out that he has lived there for as long as he has.
Whenever I go to England, my mom and aunt’s accents always come back full force. The funny thing is I adopt a pretty good accent when I go back as well. People that live there think it is just how I talk. I think the reason I change my accent is because I say so many things differently than them. Whenever someone hears that I am from America, they start asking me all kinds of questions. I think the funniest thing anyone has ever asked me when they found out that I was from America was from a little kid. I was at the park with a friend and her son and some of his friends. I was pushing her son and his friends on the carousel and one of his friends asked me if I was from America, I responded “Yes”. Then, he asked me if I ate a lot of bubble gum. I was confused why he asked this but then he told me it was because when his grandmother goes to America she always brings him back bubble gum. I thought it was interesting to think of the different things people think of when they hear an American accent.
In the movie “American Tongues”, there is a segment where they talk about how in Boston there is a very stereotypical accent but not everybody uses that accent. I think this applies in many more places than just in Boston. For example, in Philly, you have the North Philly accent then in South Philly, they have a very different accent. The same thing happens in many big cities such as New York and London. In Philly, I have noticed if you live in one of the areas, especially South Philly, and don’t have the very specific accent you are looked at as an outsider. I remember very specifically trying to change the way I said certain words to fit in with the kids that lived around me.
I moved to South Philly when I was about 10 years old. I had lived in the Fairmount area before that, the two areas are very different. When I moved there, my mom put me on a soccer team hoping I would make friends. When I got to my first practice, I realized all the other kids either went to school together or have lived and grew up next to each other, I was the outsider. The thing that set me apart the most was the way I talked. Everybody had a very specific way of pronouncing certain words that is really hard to explain unless you hear it. I didn’t say the words like they did because my mom talked proper English and that had rubbed off on me. When I finally picked it up, it didn’t sound right. It was too forced and it would sound weird with the other words that didn’t have the same accent. In the beginning of eighth grade, I tried really hard to adapt the full accent. It sounded absolutely ridiculous. It took me awhile to realize how ridiculous it actually sounded and when I finally I did realize, stopped trying and left my accent alone. The thing I didn’t expect was for some of the words to stick. After trying to adopt the accent for so long, I actually had kept some. Now that I’m not with the same kids any more, I get made fun of when I say a word like “yous” or “couffeee”. I have learned to stop saying these words, but when I don’t think about if and just say them they come out with a twisted accent.
American Tongues. Dir. Louis Alvarez and Andy Kolker. Perf. Polly Holliday and Trey Wilson. Center for New American Media, 1988. DVD.