I spent some time in Scotland a few years ago. The local controversy at the time was why listeners never hear a range of UK accents on the British Broadcasting Network (BBC). The entire UK is composed of people from England, Scotland, and Wales, with all their regional and local accents, yet, the debate went, listeners of BBC Radio and watchers of BBC news only heard the upper crust royal accent, which is certainly not reflective of the patchwork of people that make up a proud and diverse country.
My maternal grandparents were from Yorkshire, England, and I loved their accent, so gentle and broad, especially when singing me a lullaby or telling me a story. My fraternal grandparents were Italian, which is a musical language to begin with. Even when they argued it sounded nice. Growing up in Rhode Island meant that you sounded like a New York Brooklynite, except more harshly nasal. You really can tell a Rhode Islander when you hear one. When I got to college in central Maine, I felt too regionally identifiable so I worked at rubbing the edges off the worst of my RI accent.
Moving to Georgia from New England the first thing I noticed was the accent. I’ve been here a few months now and I’ve begun to pick up local differences. I think the Georgia accent is melodious. A local mechanic shop has on their parking lot bulletin board, “Stop in for tars,” a humorous acknowledgement of how people from North Georgia sound.
My thought process about accents came to coalescence when I was watching the movie “Facing the Giants” this weekend. Halfway through I noticed the main characters all had genuine Georgia accents. Then I thought about how we don’t hear accents in the media or movies here in the US either. If you do hear one, it’s faked, helped along with a hired voice coach, the accent dispensed with as soon as the movie’s done. Even the Atlanta newscasters sound like they could be from anywhere but here.
I think we are a diverse and proud country, as well, and we need to hear ourselves as ourselves. Hearing and seeing ourselves reflected as we are confirms differences but affirms worth. Who made the rule that we must only hear the Midwest accent and that no others are worthy of reaching the light of day? How harmful is vocal homogenization? Now I’m sorry I tried to homogenize myself by diminishing my RI accent. Though I’m sure my southern friends will tell me there’s plenty Yankee left in my voice! I think I’ll git me some tars and drink cawfee while I wait. Ayuh.