Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Charlie Bit Me: Why Can't My kids Speak the Queen's English?

Why don't my kids sound awesome, like these kids? Huh? Cause like, their 5th great grandfathers and 17th cousins thrice removed in England sounded (and currently sound) like this:

It really ticks me off that we sound like a bunch of hicks from the Colonies.

Oh, wait. We are a bunch of hicks from the Colonies.

How did this happen? I mean, there are lots of Britishisms we shrugged off for good reason: the monarchy, powdered wigs, black pudding, aristocracy, and unreasonable taxes on our tea and pesky stamps on all official documents. (Um, that's all I got; unabashed anglophile that I yam.)

I really think we should have thought twice before throwing out all those delightful-sounding vowels, though. I know our forefathers (many not English) got over here with a mish-mash of accents already, then had to borrow names for all the new stuff they saw: raccoon, squash, moose from the Native Americans; cookie, cruller, and stoop from the Dutch; levee, portage, and gopher from the French; barbecue, stevedore, and rodeo from the Spanish. (I stole all that from Wikipedia.)

The changes started so early, it really does seem as if they shrugged off the 'English English' like many other niceties that must have seemed impractical in frontier life. Many smarty linguists think that General American (like newscasters speak) was already in use by the time of the Revolution, because the Canadians sound more like Yanks than even the Southerners do (all that's different is a couple of vowels and some slow-talkin'), and almost all immigration into Canada from the colonies was before 1820. Thus, if they sound like us now, they sounded like us before 1820, too.

I sort of think it was a Puritan conspiracy. They didn't want to sound like English Country Gentlemen. An English Country Gentleman was THE MAN to them. When Noah Webster published his first dictionary in 1828, it was partly to prove to the world that Americans had their own dialect. In it were 12,000 words that had never before been published in a dictionary. When he published his school spelling textbooks he hoped to rescue "our native tongue" from "the clamor of pedantry." (Here: 'pedantry'= British Aristocracy). Webster, at least, was proud of his hick talk.

Maybe I should be proud, too? I took this quiz to see exactly what I'm dealing with: a starting point, if you will.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

This quiz could not tell you that I am from the San Fernando Valley, which makes my native dialect even more tremendously embarrassing than just Western American English. It is a close relative to the infamous SoCal surfer. I was known, on many occasions in the 1980s, to use the terms "grody to the max" and "gag me with a spoon" with a completely straight face. I still say 'like', like, totally too much; as if it were, like totally awesome fer shur, instead of painful to the ears. I have noticed that when I get on the phone with my friend Shawna, I regress into my junior high vernacular, and I enjoy/am horrified by listening to myself speak. Jake said that I sent him an audiotape on his mission in which I spoke in such a way that the Filipino missionaries did not believe I was speaking any sort of English at all.

Some of you might have a 'special' version of the Western accent, known as Utahnics. This is really outside the scope of today's post, but you can read someone picking on you with great aplomb here. I can proudly say, that my 'teat-chers' (professors) there in Provo at the BYU (a true and living school if ever there was one), even those from American or Spanish 'Fark', had no lasting impact on my accent.

So you see, Noah Webster or not, there really isn't much coming out of my mouth of which I can be proud. I decided that, with my language handicap, I was in no position to teach my kids to speak like Charlie and his brother, or even Harry and Hermione. So my sister Jen (we are of one mind on this issue) and I decided what we needed was a proper English governess. A nice orphan like Jane Eyre would suit nicely. Turns out, though, those aren't as cheap as you'd think. So plan B is: have our Mom tutor our kids in the Queen's English. Mom is a speech therapist with a knack for imitation. She can parrot almost anybody, anywhere; and does, wherever we travel. We normally find this hilarious, but now, it is serious business. Ross also has a special talent for it. His Bahamian as well as Indian Colonial is really prodigious for a nine year old. With just a little help, in no time he'll sound just like Madonna and Brittney Spears.

I had been mulling this over for some time, but I think my thoughts were perfectly expressed on Saturday night at Gammage, by Professor Henry Higgins, in My Fair Lady (this is the movie version, with Audrey Hepburn, and Rex Harrison, plus some helpful Portuguese sub-titles):

"An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him, The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him. One common language I'm afraid we'll never get. Oh, why can't the English learn to set a good example to people whose English is painful to your ears? The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears. There even are places where English completely disappears. In America, they haven't used it for years! "

So I guess I'm uptight, pompous and priggish like Professor Higgins. Unfortunately, I sound more like Eliza Doolittle (before her speech lessons).

Like, I am so fully lame. I wish I could talk like, TOTALLY RAD, like Charlie's brother. And Henry Higgins. Oh, and Colin Firth, and Emma Thompson.

And the Queen, God save her.


Eric and Breanna Graham said...

Even though I've seen that video a few times, I still can't help but watch it over again and crack up every time I see it!

The Broad Squad said...

We are rolling here!!! Such cute kids!!

Shannon said...

I can remember when I tried to make myself sound like a "Valley Girl" It never really stuck. I am so jealous you really are. I took the test and I have the midland accent. Never lived in the midland but I guess I have a good voice for TV or Radio.

Anonymous said...

That is REALLY FUNNY!!!!

I'm just too Southern to take on any other accents :) I'm Stuck Suuuuthern...but I like it!! :)

Kari said...

Without fail, when I hear a small child speaking with an accent, or even better in a different language, I am completely overwhelmed by the thought of "how did they teach that little kid Italian before he was even three?"

One Sassy Mama said...

Ummm...being born and raised in Spanish Fark till the ripe old age of 14...I am proud to say I have overcome most of my hillbilly accent and am a current member of an ESL Anonymous.
P.S. Our YW pres is from Austrailia and she is my VT partner. I thought I imitated her accent perfectly till she informed me I sounded like a cheap barmaid at an English pub--now how's that for the queen's English?

Nichole said...

My daughter showed me that video clip before and I love it. Those kids are adorable. They just sound smarter than me with the accent.

kitchenditcher said...

lol..loved this post. I grew up in SoCal and remember when guys were "total foxes" and my yearbooks are full of well wishes from my friends telling me to have a "bitchen summer"! Thanks for the memories! PS..the "b" word meant something different back then! Like, fer sure

deana said...

My girls showed me that video a few months ago... I think we all have it memorized now! Love your posts Kelly B!

Brett & Shireen said...

You also revert to valley talk when you talk to me. My husband teases me whenever I talk on the phone with Traci or Jen because he said it comes out, even worse when we are all together. Be proud of your valley girl heritage, it's something that will never go away. We'll be in our 80's, saying things like "like" and "awesome" without batting an old, wrinkled eye lid.

I'm so West...

And I work with a lot of people from the UK, one man in particular, I thought was for sure totally good looking because of his extremely attractive accent. When I finally met him, however, he was middle aged, overweight, and bald. Disappointing, I know.

Alyson said...

I have a totally Californian accent, but I like it because out here people stop and listen and ask where I'm from. I feel ever so exotic out here!

By the way, we live about 15 miles from Webster's house. I keep meaning to take a tour. Someday soon, I hope...

Jolene said...

When my kids get an owie - they all say "that hurt Charlie.."

Alan has a really good Scottish brogue (mission) - I sound just like Shrek when I try.