Thursday, October 07, 2010

The "Vowel Song" in the Alphabet Musical We Did in First Grade Would Have Sounded Different Here...

Early on during our freshman year of college, we went to brunch in a dining hall with some friends. JH was there, and many of us got from the service line a couple of those well known round flat things usually made from a box and served in the mornings with syrup and maybe some butter and fruit. Once we sat down, someone asked JH what he called said round flat doughy breakfast item. “Oh, flayaaapjacks,” said he.

First of all, we had never heard pancakes referred to as “flapjacks.” But more shockingly, we had never heard the aah sound pronounced “aaayaaa” before. This is because we didn’t really know any Midwesterners until then, and never imagined that anyone would distort the /æ/ phoneme in such a manner. (JH to this day denies this event ever happened, as if he could scrub out the history of his aaayyyaaccent the way he actually has actually (or nearly) eliminated the traces of said aaayyaaaccent.)

Now that we are spending more than just a layover in this town, we are hyper aware of the aaayyaaaccent around us. “Have you seen Baaayyaad Saayyaaanta?” one friend asked another. On the local news yesterday, a small plane crashed into a local gym, and one resident said, “I caayyaan’t believe no one was hurt.”

Our cousins in London and India will tell you that we tend to adopt the accent of those around us when speaking, so we are quite fearful for what we will sound like by the end of this week, and more fearful for what we might sound like after we come back from our travels and live here for a whole year. Also, our own last name contains an /æ/ in the first syllable, so when we start introducing ourselves with the aaayyyaaa distortion, please send help.

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