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Regional and Foreign Accents – Which Do You Find to be the Most Grating and the Most Charming?

Flikr user Scott McLeod
Flikr user Scott McLeod

I love to hear people that speak with an accent.

Either regional or foreign, accents intrigue me.

It’s like trying to crack a code.

And even though I’ve been in the broadcasting industry for 35 years and have worked real hard to lose my Brooklyn accent, there’s just no getting rid of it.

Especially when I get agitated, which is fairly frequently.

Moreover, most of the people I work with seem to like a lot of the phrases I come out with, so for me to lose it really would be a lost cause.

Recently there were a couple of reports on how the Philly/South Jersey accent is undergoing some changes.

“>According to this blog:

On the day we moved to Philly in 1976, my two fellow Syracuse émigrés and I went to a restaurant and ordered Cokes.

“Three coe-ewks,” the waitress nodded.

I thought she was calling us “kooks” — which we certainly were — but when we asked for directions and she advised us that our destination was “down-y schtreet,” we realized our new city was a different universe, linguistically .

Alas, in the same week a venerable Northeast Philly cheese-steakery replaces its slur-ish name “Chink’s,” and Daily News columnist Helen Ubinas bravely wonders aloud whether it’s time to rename the Italian Market, we also hear that the city’s distinctive dipthongs are disappearing.

University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor William Labov and two co-authors have found that the Southern-inflected sound of Philadelphia is giving way to a more generically “Northern” accent. The shift is evident when field recordings of rowhousers in the early 1970s are compared with their current counterparts.

Having long thought of the Philadelphia dialect as a mashup of Southern, Cockney and Tastykake Krimpets, I find this research fascinating.

But I can imagine how the waitress who introduced me to Philly-speak might react to a phrase like “forced alignment and automatic vocal measurement.”

Here’s a demonstration of the Philly/South Jersey accent in its proper form.

Do you find it to be quaint or annoying?

To me, an accent defines its region to a tee.

Take this report on the most distinctive accents around the country:

The friendly lilts in Savannah, GA, won for most charming accent, while two high-ranking island cities—Honolulu and San Juan, P.R.—confirm that some geographic isolation can make a city feel, and sound, unique.

Accents are “an important piece of our history that has been transmitted down,” says Bridget Drinka, a linguist and chairman of the English department at the University of Texas at San Antonio—another city that ranked in the top 10, one where the idea of “Tex-Mex” can extend beyond tamales and into speech.

While plenty of folks insist that regional accents have faded, linguists only partially agree.

Relocation dulls some twangs, but the gradual blurring of class distinctions has also made it so that more people don’t feel the pressure to “lose” their down-home-sounding accents anymore, according to Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. “Local accents that used to be stigmatized,” he says, “now seem charming.”

Granted, some accents sound more charming than others.

“The southern accent tends to be perceived as intimate, friendly,” Metcalf observes, “and the northern accent is perceived as intelligent—but not terribly friendly.” Indeed, Deep South and Texas accents dominate the top 20 survey results, while Boston (or Bahston) is the only northeastern city to crack the top 10.

One traveler admits that she does judge folks by their accent when she travels, but in a good way. “I trust someone with an authentic accent,” she says, “because they’re probably natives—and so they know the best hidden places to go.”

As far as foreign accents are concerned, give me a Russian accent any day. I know many find it to be coarse, but a Russian woman speaking in her accent makes me “bug” in a good way.

Which accents do you find to be the quaintest, and which ones the most irritating?

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