Interesting article recently in the New York Times about New Yorkers who have a strong “New Yawk” accent and find that it’s a professional hindrance. One afflicted person gives speeches and found that some audience members had a hard time understanding him. Another was an actress whose accent clashed with her patrician appearance and made it difficult to get parts.
The article cites lyrics from a popular song from the ’40s as an extreme example of New Yawk speech: “Who is de toughest goil in dis whole woild?/Moitle from Thoidy-Thoid and Thoid.”
Even if their speech isn’t that bad, some New Yorkers have gone to speech therapists who are considered “New York accent reduction specialists.” Great title, huh? Anyway, these speech therapists come right out and say talking that way makes people sound ignorant. Changing one’s accent isn’t easy and it can take months, even years, of concerted effort.
It’s easy to make fun of a New Yawk accent, but we in Shi-CAW-go had better watch it. Here’s a sentence I found on a website that purports to illustrate the nasal and flat way some of us in Chicago talk: “I was supposed ta see da Bearsss play but I got stuck in traaaffic ahhn da Daaan Ryan.” Ouch.
The funny thing about accents is that people who have them don’t always hear them — even for those of us who think we are speaking so-called “standard English.” To paraphrase Robert Burns, one of the hardest things to do is to see ourselves as others see (or hear) us. But wait– didn’t Burns have a pretty thick accent, too? I wonder if he heard it.