My mother and her family are from Texas. My dad and his family are from the hills of Kentucky. I was born in Lexington, Kentucky and grew up going to see my Mamaw and aunts and uncles on my dad's side, often, as they were close by. My dad said words like "overhauls" for overalls, and I and my brother did the same for years until we moved away. But that accent never really leaves you. Of course, I would find that that was not the only accent I had in my arsenal.
I first found out that I would change the way I spoke to fit the person I was talking to. I was talking to a girl named Gina for the first time at my college that was half southern, half northern, and she, who was from New Jersey, asked me what part of Jersey I was from. I explained that I was born in Kentucky but that I had spent the past seven years or soi in this state. She could hardly believe me, as I sounded like I was from her state. I would do that time and again. And not just with accents. If I was talking with someone who spoke a certain way, or thought a certain way, or was at a certain vocabulary level, I changed the way I talked. I adjusted myself to them. I became a chameleon.
Once when I was working at this hotel job I had during college a local man came in to rent a room for a relative and for the first time in my life someone told me "You're not from around here, are you?" I explained where I had been born and that I had been living here a long while and he told me I didn't have the "local accent". That was when I realized what I sounded like. I was living with my dad who still had his mountain accent and my step-mother who has an Alabama accent, and I had mashed the two together and come up with some Frankenstein accent from hell. It stayed with me too, as long as I lived with them for a while, then it would go back to whatever the default was.
There is one person whom I did not change my talk or accent for and that is my best friend Randi. She is from Pennsylvania and had some interesting ideas about how Southern women go to college to get their MRS degree. Her roommate, sadly, was a complete oddball from another era, and was there to find a man, something I'd never heard of since the 60's. Once we got to talking and I disabused her of this notion, at some point the word that, to this day makes me laugh every time she says it, came out of her mouth: wudder. Or as you and I know it, water. I don't know why this cracks me up, but it does.
Once I graduated from college, I was not around so many Northerners, so my accent stopped changing, as far as I knew, until about a year ago. At the beginning of the school year I had moved and couldn't find the iron, so I thought it had been left behind. I needed one to iron on my daughter's patches to her new Daisy uniform. So I called the drug store up the street to see if they had one and they asked me to repeat myself three times before I just spelled out the word, wondering what their problem was. Then we had to go through the process of curling or clothing. Once off the phone, I finally realized why she, as Southern woman, had not understood me. I had pronounced iron in the Kentucky mountain way. There is really no way to describe it here, it must be heard, but I will try: Eye-ur-n. I was also calling tires, tarrs. My daughter tells me to just think about saying Iron Man and then just leave off the Man part, as I don't do this with Iron Man. And whenever my daughter got into trouble my acccent went deep Georgia Southern. When I was describing an argument I had with my ex to Randi about him wanting to change her hair and at one point I went Brooklyn, then at another point my accent with part South Carolina part Georgia. So, I still have the ability to do Northern accents when the situation calls for it.
And then there's all the foreign words and phrases that started popping up. In the morning it's "vite, vite", which is French for faster, faster. And "mon petit chou", which is an endearment meaning my little cabbage. "Or "nyet", which is Russian for no. "Ego amo te"and "Je t'aime" ( I love you in Latin and French) and others. The worst are the cliches and homilies. "Quickest begun, is quickest done." What is that? The pilgrims or something even older? Idle hands, etc... A journey of a thousand steps... "Close the front door, will ya! Do you think we live in a barn?" I have yet to use "If he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge/Empire State Building would you do it too?" (Why is it always a New York City landmark, anyways?) I did hear her teacher's assistant use her version of it one day when I stopped by to have "brunch" (her lunch is at 10:30am) with her.
Where do some of these things come from anyway? I did not grow up hearing these things from my parents. I read about them or heard them in movies or on TV and they sunk into my subconscious. I also picked up bits of languages here and there. I took four years of French and on year of Spanish, but I know bits of German, Japanese, and others here and there from reading, songs, movies, etc... Why I'm using them on my daughter and in my language now, I have no idea. Why my mountain accent is popping up now I can only explain as maybe I am being watched over/haunted by my Mamaw who passed back in September when most of this started. Perhaps she is guiding me in some way, or perhaps I'm just screwed up like everyone else on this planet. For now, my daughter knows she has a mother who "talks a bit screwy" and she loves her and understands everything she says, which is the most important thing in the world.