Friday, July 31, 2009

Secret #18 - Dialect Doppleganger

language dictionariesImage by euze via Flickr

Ok. I admit it. This is a an embarrassing secret that makes Hubby just roll with laughter. I think he should be more understanding. But then you'd have to be a budding linguist to truly get it, I think. At least, that is what I tell myself when I find him giggling for no apparent reason over my situation.

You see, I have this brain that tends to mimic things without my really being aware that there is anything out of the ordinary happening. Didn't quite get that? Well let me lay it all out for you...

When I hear an accent for any length of time, I begin to acquire that accent as if it were my own. It ranges from a southern drawl, to Mexican accents, East Coast nasal, rounded o's and all manner of sounds that are not in my usual speaking dialect. I need only to hear it for more than an hour and I can repeat it as if I were a native.

This secret helped tremendously when we honeymooned in Jamaica. Hubby was in Italy while I made all the arrangements for the wedding. I was down to the honeymoon, which we all know is the groom's job to pick and plan. Not Hubby. His only requirement was that we leave the state and that the place we go has to speak English fluently. (He had spent 7 months in Italy and was quite tired of not being able to fully understand conversations around him.) Thinking I was being very smart, I chose Jamaica. It said right there in the brochure that the predominant language was English... Ahem.

When we stepped off the plane in Kingston and the wall of humidity hit us like a brick, Hubby was not distressed. When we walked off the tarmac into a very small little airport that looked a little frightening to my never-been-this-far-from-home brain, Hubby was not distressed (he was now a seasoned traveler). It was when the shuttle bus driver said hello and asked us where we were from that Hubby turned and looked at me, a muddled and bit aggravated look on his youthful face, and whispered, "I thought you said they spoke English!" "Honey, that was English," I smiled at the driver and explained that no, Hubby wasn't from Texas or Mexico (these were the two choices they always guessed from - go figure), and yes, he was hot in all black and high top cowboy boots. (That's my man!) After a day or so, and some very sweet bell hops in the resort, we figured out that the language (called "Patua" if I remember right - forgive me Christina... I do not know how to spell that!) was something I could listen to and get much of the meaning from. There were times in our trip that that came in handy, and times that I wish I couldn't understand... Like the time there was a rather unkind Rastafarian man that had some extremely colorful things to say. He didn't quit until the lady that was braiding my hair told him that I could understand everything he was saying... And until my husband started getting very upset at my rapidly reddening face.

This silly secret pops it's little head up when it is something as simple as a linguistic accent from the Southern US. And yes, I can nuance them all. I just have to be around it and I can sound like a belle from South Carolina, or a Texan, or even the very different accents found around the Virginia/Maryland areas. They are all different, you know. And I can sound like a native in a matter of hours.

But don't ask me to do it on command. That isn't how my silly linguistic brain works. I have to hear it. Then we are all doomed to listening to me wander around as if I belong there... And I don't do it to make other's uncomfortable. I don't know I am doing it, most of the time. Until Hubby tries to mimic me and I catch on between his giggles that he is being "subtle".
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1 comment:

  1. You need to make a recording of your many voices. Pity you can't do this on command.


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