Before I start, please let me state this: I am in no way so closed-minded that I judge a person by their accent.
I live in the Midwest, where, legend has it, people lack a distinctive accent. From what I’ve read and heard, radio and television newscasters are trained to speak like a Midwesterner, so as not to catagorize them as “Southerners”, “Minnesotans”, “Canadians”, “New Jersians”, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong from being from those parts of the world, but people tend to have a stereotypical idea of a person with accents from various parts of the country. Southerners=right-winged bible thumpers. Minnesotans=Scandanavian hotdish making Lutherans. Canadians= eh? New Jersians=Loud rude gangsters.
But I LOVE accents. I love them so much I married one. More on that, later.
If you’ve ever read ” The Story of English” or watched the PBS miniseries based on the book, you’d have learned where these accents originated. Many of them are directly related to old-world country dialects, and many more from a melding of languages when our ancestors emigrated from Europe, co-mingled, procreated, and learned to speak the English Language in the accent of their heritages. Over the course of the past several centuries, these dialects and their hybrids became regional accents. Why midwesterners lack an “accent” is a mystery to me. Many of us are from German and Eastern European backgrounds, and I know that with the onset of WWI (and again with WWII), people were encouraged, if not coerced, to learn to speak English without an accent that would give away their heritage (German? Nazi!).
One of my sisters married a Minnesotan. They have lived in Oklahoma for 30 years. My sister has gained a bit of an Okie accent, just enough to show through when she gets really p.o.’d about something. Her husband, however, still sounds like a pure Minnesotan. Their children, born and raised in Oklahoma, had the Okie accent but lost it, even though they still live in Oklahoma. They say they taught themselves not to speak with an accent when they got older, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. I think the world is getting smaller, where people used to live in the same area, if not city, and spoke in the manner and custom of their neighborhoods and heritage, everyone is moving from one place in the country to another, more often, and becoming exposed to different dialects and accents. And there is the influence of other countries as well; it’s nothing out of the ordinary for people to travel to, and spend any length of time in, foreign countries, where they can, and do, pick up a slight accent and lend a slight accent to anyone they spend a given amount of time with.
My husband was born in Berlin Germany to Polish parents who were relocated to Germany after WWII. His childhood was spent behind the Berlin Wall, where, other than in the mandatory English classes he took in primary school, he learned English from the American soldiers stationed at a base near his home. (Guess what the first few words were they taught him? Yep. Nothing he’d learned in school). His English was rudimentary at best when he met his first wife, an Irishwoman from Dublin. After marrying and moving to Dublin to spend the next 20 years, he learned Irish English, which, according to him, is the “purest” English spoken. So sayeth HIM. I fell in love with the Irish accent long before I met him…before I’d even heard him speak. But the first time we spoke, I was hooked. Even the words “Ah, that fookin’ eejit!” coming from his mouth made my heart melt. I’ve told him more than once that if he didn’t have that accent, he’d be dead by now. When he first moved to the States, I had to translate what he’d said to someone he would be speaking to, simply because of his thick accent. Problem was, his “Oirish” accent also bore a bit of German accent, so a lot of people would mistakenly think he was from the Middle East.(again, nothing wrong with that.)
Perhaps it has been from living with him for almost 8 years, but I barely hear the accent. I pray that it isn’t because he’s losing his accent. I make a point of listening to his voice, every day, listening for that “hoog” instead of “hug”, ” heered” instead of “heard” or even “fookin’ eejit” instead of “f*cking idiot”. Once in a while I can hear his German accent, especially after he gets off the phone with his sisters, one in the US and one in Germany, but both speaking German when they visit with him.
Like I said, I love accents. I just wish I had one.