Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lost in Translation

This may be one of those "you had to have been there" stories or it may lose something in the translation, but I am going to try and tell it anyway.

For those of you who have heard my voice, you know that I have a Texas accent. Not just any Texas accent, but a North Texas Nasal Twang from Wichita Falls. My earliest memory of someone pointing out my twang was in Red River. Mike Taylor was a teenage boy who often babysat my brother and I. I can remember him trying to teach me to say his name correctly. He would say "Mai-ik" like it was almost two syllables. I would say, "Mike" (as in mic – microphone) short and sweet. He would say, "Mai-ik" and I would think, "where did this guy come from?" A few years later I had this conversation with my friend Kim, who was a bit older than I. "Kim, you want to play Barbie dials?" She looked at me funny and said, "You mean dolls?" Me, "That’s what I said." Her, "No, you said dials." Although I did not appreciate her pointing out my speech problem, it was probably the first realization that maybe I really did talk funny.

Skip to my years of teaching English Lit and Grammar to kids who spoke English as a second language or were Limited English Proficient. The grammar book had a red section and a white section. The first time I told my students to turn to the "white" pages of their book, I had thirty teen-agers laughing and mocking my accent, which was pretty funny acutally. They made fun of my Texas accent fairly often, so I would make them repeat "white" or whatever word they mocked until they said it with a Texas accent. Then I would say, "That is your bilingual lesson for the day." They loved it. And I loved them. If you think their mocking my Texas accent was bad, you should have heard them when I tried to say something in Spanish. Then there would be thirty teen-agers in the floor laughing. Then they would make me repeat the word until they were satisfied that I could say it with a Spanish accent. Although I actually do a very correct Spanish pronunciation and could imitate (mock their Questa accent), my slow twang was just pretty funny to them.

Then there was the time I was at a highbrow society gathering at the Aldophus Hotel in Dallas mingling with a bunch of Yankees from Chicago who were all part of the company Toby worked for. Now those people had a nasal accent, but I did not make fun of them. I like hearing different people from different areas speak. Then one lady in her very Chicago/city/nasal/Yankee accent said, "I’d like to visit that building with the ball on top of it." And I said, "You mean the Hyatt" (pronounced "hite" like any good Texan). The lady (and I use that term loosely) paused for effect and said, "Well, where I come from that has two syllables." Then her little group of followers all snickered and had a good laugh at my expense. A year later when at a similar gathering in Chicago, I paid her back. She mentioned visiting "The Plaza" pronounced like it was related to "plasma". In my very best Spanish pronunciation I said, "Where I come from, that is pronounced plah-zuh." By the next year when the gathering was held in Vegas, we were good friends.

Last night after sign language class (thank God I do not have to speak to learn this language), I was playing with TFNP’s kids. PN2 and I were practicing our alphabet and signing names. In her very sweet, soft voice she asked, "Can you spell my daddy’s name?" I said sure and said the letters as I spelled them, "J, A, Y." She looked confused and asked, "Why did you say ‘why’?" I answered, "Because that is how you spell his name with a Y at the end." In her very quiet voice she said, "In my house we say ‘why-i.’" Mike Taylor would have been proud of her – she made the long "I" sound just like he did. I have had my accent mocked and corrected by lots of people, but never a four-year-old.

8 comments:

GUYK said...

I reckon I still have that Southern Okie/N.Texas drawl...but I always tell people that I don't talk funny..they do.

Buck said...

I LOVE accents, any accent. It's hard for me to name my favorite... but in no particular order: Old-Line English (i.e., Oxbridge), French, Deep South USA. Especially when used by sultry women... ;-)

Old family story: My Dad was from Illinois, Mom was from Atlanta. And Mom never did lose her accent... it was about as Deep South as you can get. Anyway. The story went that Mom and Dad were laying in bed talking one night... with the light off... about a week after they were married. Dad reaches over to the nightstand and turns on the light. Mom sez "Why did you do that?" Dad replies "I couldn't understand what you were saying... I have to read your lips." I heard that story a LOT in my youth.

Mrs. Bear said...

This reminds me of a great story....Half a Chicken....verbal communication is such fun!!!!

The Friendly Neighborhood Piper said...

i keep tellin' people that she's gonna be a prosecuting attorney...someday it's gonna sink in.

Of course HRHTDP already has highly developed okie drawl, although contained, and only let loose when she wants to. It drives The Queen crazy, with her no frills straight forward Coloradan.

Something i heard in a movie some time ago..."I may TALK with an accent...but i don't THINK with one."

Mezzo SF said...

What a funny story!! Love it!
I am a big fan of accents, too.
I have a bad habit, though, of picking up whatever accent I happen to be around. I don't even realize I'm doing it sometimes - maybe it's my "musical" side zoning in on it - not sure. It's fine when I'm around my family (I pick up their Louisiana accent) but when I'm travelling elsewhere -I have to be cautions about it, lest folks think I'm making fun of them! ack!

Bag Blog said...

Buck, the story about your parents is great. I love that deep Southern sultry accent - it just melts butter.

An Okie friend of mine married an Englishman - they mock each other's accents very well. I could listen all day to people and watch them too.

Anny, The "half a chicken" story is my absolute favorite, but it is one that has to be told in person to get the full effect. The look on your face was priceless and Bo was so serious.

Mezzo, I do a very good Questa, NM, accent which is Spanish, but I do not do so well with other accents unless I immediately repeat something soneone said. We tease my husband when he tries to tell a joke with an accent - he only has two accents besides his normal Texas twang. He has his Spanish accent and his Pirate accent!

Piper, PN2's story is much like the chicken story that Anny mentioned. Remind me to tell you sometime.

Bag Blog said...

Guyk, I talk much like everyone else around here - maybe even better than some. You are right -it is others who talk funny.

Jo Castillo said...

I always heard that if you speak with an accent, you obviously know more than one language. Hmmmm. :)

Cute story with the little one and signing.

I have lost my Magdalena twang until we go there, it just creeps in, and I have picked up Texas speak. I say "fixin' to" all the time.