Thursday, September 3, 2009

THE BOSTON ACCENT: PAHK THE CAH IN THE HAHVAD YAHD

In a recent story about the life and times of Teddy Kennedy, a reporter wrote that in various parts of the country during his campaigns some people would come up to him, pleased to report that they had actually understood some of what he had said, in spite of his Boston accent.

Ah, that New England twang.

Takes me back a few, quite a few, years. In those days I did a daily radio show. (Strictly small time local broadcasting, I hasten to admit; not coast-to-coast.) I was from California, but I emcee’d a radio quiz show in a Massachusetts city.

I would ask a question and folks would phone in their answers. If they answered correctly, they would win a fantastic prize – like twenty bucks or so.

One day one of my questions was, “If you studied semiaquatic amphibians of the order Anura, what would you be studying?”

The answer was frogs.

Nobody phoned in with the correct answer. After a suitable period, I gave the answer on the air: “You’d be studying frogs,” I said. We then went into music to get ready for the next question.

The switchboard operator rushed in: “You can’t go on to the next question till you give the answer to the current question!” she shouted. Seems the switchboard had lit up with a huge number of calls, all from people who had not understood the answer.

I picked up a phone and spoke with one of the callers. “What would you be studying?” she asked. “You’d be studying frogs,” I replied. "F-R-O-G-S.”

“Oh,” she cried. “Frags. I see. It would be frags.”

So help me, that’s the way they pronounced “frogs” in that part of Massachusetts. I realized then that, as far as New Englanders were concerned, I was an announcer with a speech impediment.

Ever have a problem with regional accents?

4 comments:

Jess said...

Funny. I am from the Chicago area and have the accompanying regional accent. My husband, who is from the west coast, finds it maddening albeit endearing that our daughter has picked it up as well.

Berowne said...

"Funny. I am from the Chicago area and have the accompanying regional accent."

Interesting. I don't know much about that accent; I'm familiar with the others: South, New England, West, etc. If you don't mind my asking, what are the main distinguishing features of your regional accent?

Jess said...

Hmm, I have to give the explaination some thought. It's mainly the vowels that give us distinction.

For example, I guess you could take the word "thought". In my accent, it would be more like "thahhht". Long A sound where you find an O. Same with the word pot. It sounds like Pahht. Or hot dogs sound like Haaht Daaahgsss. It's ridiculous, I know.

"A" sounds sound are distinctive by the nasal sound they make.

Berowne said...

I think it must be like the pronunciation of the word chocolate. During my meteoric career as an announcer :-), I noted that where you came from in the USA determined how you would pronounce that word. Some said chahcolate; others said chawcolate. Since I was working in radio in New York, I had to train myself to say chawcolate; otherwise my cover would be blown and I would be revealed as -- the worst thing to be in NYC -- an out-of-towner.

 
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