Monday, August 11, 2008

Speaking Locally

When I first moved to New Hampshire from Washington state I really had trouble understanding what some New Englanders were saying. A man was telling me about "Kearsarge" (the place) on the phone--it sounded like "keeaahsahj" to me and since I had never heard of the place I couldn't figure out what he meant. Asking him to spell it didn't help... K-E-A-Ahhh-S-A-Ahhh-G-E just didn't make any sense either.

An odd question I got when first working at a New Hampshire library sounded to me like "Wayah's a bubblah?" which I asked the kid to repeat a great many times until he gave up in disgust and went away. I couldn't begin to translate what he was saying and besides, had no idea what a bubbler (drinking fountain) was or where he could find it anyway.

My then 9-year old son earnestly got us all to agree that we would never get accents like "these people" in New Hampshire. Of course he considered himself accentless, as we all do. However, within a week or two he came home one afternoon enthusiastically asking for something called ottahpups, which he had eaten as a treat over at a friend's house. We had no idea what he was talking about until we discovered "Otter Pops" in the frozen food case at the grocery store. Still a weird name, if you ask me. Poor child, he was getting an accent faster than any of us, as we could tell when he referred to the "arthur and title" (author and title) of a book he had been reading. He could leave out and insert the letter "R" with the best of our neighbors.

When we left New Hampshire after 23 years and moved to New Mexico I had a whole new set of accent and language problems. I worked in a southern New Mexican school and while I was on my first lunch duty, a little boy asked, in Spanish, if he could go to the bathroom--which I somehow mentally translated to "May I have some more pizza?" That led to all kinds of trouble when I told him to go over to the lunch lady and she would help him!


Sylvia K said...

It is amazing isn't it that the same language sounds so very different as you move from one state or part of the country to another? I was born in Texas, have lived in Montana, Oregon, Washington along with three years in Spain and Germany and I do agree, English can sound like three or four differents languages. All depends on where you are. Sylvia

Anonymous said...

I've had several people ask me where I am from. I tell them Maine and that leads to at least a 20 minute conversation. I had one person ask me if I was from (heaven forbid) Masschusetts!
Your last paragraph about the little boy asking to use the bathroom had me in stitches.