When people meet me and learn that I’m from North Carolina, the first thing that they say are, “But you don’t have a southern accent.” It happens so often, that you get major bonus points for not saying it. There are variations, of course, such as, “You must have worked hard to lose your accent.” This one always annoys me because a) I’ve never had one and b) southern accents are just as valid as any other accent. In fact, there are pretty strong signs that the accents in the Appalachias are closer to the way Shakespeare spoke (based on rhyming patterns) than your standard midwestern accent.
But despite the fact that I think the southern accent is not something which one should fight to lose, I’ve simply never had one. I grew up in Raleigh, NC in the heart of the Research Triangle Park. Dad worked for IBM, so we were surrounded by a bunch of transplants. Mom and Dad are from Chattanooga, TN, but even so, I wasn’t exposed to that much pure accent. I also had a speech impediment when I was little so I suspect that what traces I had were trained out of me.
There are times when my roots show. For instance, I have to think before saying “windowsill” or I will pronounce it “windowseal” because the two sounds are the same where I come from. In my childhood, “pin” and “pen” were the same sound. So, I know that my region has left its mark on my speech.
None of which prepared me for my latent Southern accent to turn up in Icelandic class today. We had a spelling test to make sure we were hearing the difference between sounds. Sitja and setja, for instance. I hear the difference with no problem, but today I learned that they sound the same when I say them. Holy smokes. It’s that darn “pin” vs. “pen” come back to haunt me.
I had already recognized the places where ye olde speech impediment was giving me trouble. I couldn’t pronounce the letter R when I was little, and rolling it for Icelandic? Ah ha ha, it is to laugh. I just really wasn’t expecting the vowel problems or at least, not that one.
Ironically, though I can hear the difference between those two sounds and corrected my pronunciation in class, I cannot hear the difference between U and Ãš although I apparently say them correctly. It’s completely a mechanical thing. They require different mouth shapes, but lordy, they both sound like “oo” to me. I am completely unable to hear a difference.
At least having an American accent is acceptable outside of class. Everyone is just so excited that I speak any Icelandic at all.