December 26, 2013
The New York Times dialect quiz that has roared through social media streams during the past week has a lot of people talking (in their particular accents) about the pronunciations and phrases unique to where they grew up.
In my case, the quiz pretty much nailed my linguistic roots, pegging me as someone from either the Twin Cities, Milwaukee or Madison.
I’m one of those native Minnesotans who grew up not knowing I had an accent. It seemed to my ear that Minnesotans sounded like news anchors on the national news. So we spoke normally, and everyone else had the accent.
I moved to Dallas after college and for the first time really got hit with the whole accent thing. I was a newspaper reporter at the time, so I frequently spoke to strangers. Two recollections stand out from this period. A lot of native Texans would ask, “Yer not from around here, are ya?” And, oddly, a lot of people assumed I was from New York City.
Over time, I picked up a few good southern phrases.
Fixin’ To — As in, “I’m fixin’ to mow the lawn.” This one initially drove me nuts. Half the time the phrase wasn’t needed and the other half you could just say “getting ready to.” Eventually, though I saw the light, and began to understand that “fixin’ to” suggested a more leisurely approach to a task. Not as businesslike or purposeful as “getting ready” to do something.
All of y’all — Try to wrap your head around this one. I suppose a Minnesotan can understand this phrase by thinking of it as “all of you guys.” I started saying “all of y’all” as a gag. Now I still break it out to get a laugh.
After eight years in Texas, I actually did move to New York, where not many real New Yorkers thought I was one of them. In some ways, New York is like London, with dialects from different parts of the city saying much about your geographic roots and social status. Even though I lived in Brooklyn for a year, there was no chance I was going to start sounding like a native.
You can roll through the dialect quiz here.