Tuesday, March 01, 2005

You'z Tawkin' T'Me, Huh ...

Recently, a post on Midland blog Streams had some fun with the character of "Edith Bunker," blaming a longtime misunderstanding on her diction. I guess what caught my attention was that the 'revelation' that inspired the original post, was something that had been obvious to me from the very start.

'Obvious' not because of any exceptional level of intelligence or perception on my part, but, rather, just a simple matter of geography, and having spent part of my life as a 'dang Yankee from back-east.'

Some of you watching old reruns of "All In the Family," may not realize just how far the characters of Archie and Edith Bunker were - in terms of speech - from performers Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton ... both of whom brought years of stage and film experience to Norman Lear's groundbreaking television show.

And unless you've spent a little time in close proximity to one of New York City's boroughs, you may not appreciate fully how perfectly both of them nailed the diction, the accent, the phrasing for their respective characters. There are some who have said there's no way somebody would actually talk that way ... but, they're wrong.

I've had a lot of opportunities for adopting, then discarding accents from different parts of the country ... one of the requirements of growing up in a military family, and moving to a different post in a different state every year or two.

Those moves that took me from the deep south right up to the deep north were the funniest, really. All of a sudden, "crick" became "creek," "resevwah" became "reservoir" and "polecat" became "skunk" ... just to offer a few examples. It did offer some advantages, though. When our high school theater department staged "Thurber Carnival," I was the only one who could produce a proper southern accent to play the role of General Robert E. Lee in the 'If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox' skit.

And now, here I am in Texas. The state tourism brochures say, "It's Like a Whole 'nother Country" and, judging by the accents, that's probably true.

But one thing we need to be careful of - no matter where we come from or what we talk like - is equating accent with intelligence. A recent report on National Public Radio (talking about the various accents employed by Oscar-nominated performances) pointed out that some make the mistake of equating 'southern accent' with 'dumb ' ... can you say 'hillbilly' ?

And, really, I don't mind when my 'dang Yankee from back east' accent generates a little amusement among the native-born in this, my adopted state. Besides, you should hear they fun THEY have with YOUR accent !

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