When I moved here, people did not understand me. I guess whoever lives in an area can say that others have an accent, whereas wherever else I have lived my mid-Atlantic way of speech, (so I am told that is how I sound by experts), has been non-descript until then, no problem for anyone.
Boy, was my pride hurt!
People at the store had no idea what I wanted when I asked about pecans.
They pronounce it “puh-CAHNS”. I had heard it pronounced that way many times, but here it is said so breathily on the first syllable that it is barely heard; (they thought that I wanted something that was canned.)
I once referred to a person’s ‘peonies’, and they could not understand that I was referring to the flowers in front of us in their own yard, not until I literally pointed them out.
“Oh, Pe-OH-nies! I had no idea what you were talking about!”
I had used the same vowel sounds, pronounced all of the letters. I had put the accent on the first syllable, but they couldn’t imagine which flower in their yard I had paid a compliment.
(I only accented the wrong syllable and they couldn’t decipher which pink flower I was talking about that was in front of us. Let that sink in.)
I grew up in the Washington, DC area, as I am sure you know by now, and we had people who came from all over America and indeed, all over the world. I had no problem making myself understood to people from ‘the country’ (ten miles away, which is now all suburb), to anyone who knew any English from as far away as you can get, (without becoming closer again from the other direction), yet I never had a problem making myself understood.
Not that it is only the folks from here that had trouble with my speech, but the daughter-in-law of a friend came down from Long Island with her son and new husband to visit for the holidays. The woman was from Columbia. My friends were New Englanders and the woman thought that was how Americans were supposed to speak, with “Yankee” accents, Bostonese or various New York accents, as that is where she lived and worked. She simply could not understand what I was saying to her at any given time. I gave up trying to make conversation at the two dinner parties I attended with her at her in-laws’, two Christmases in a row. I would have her mother-in-law or husband translate if I really wanted to say anything to her. (I understood her heavy accent just fine).
Despite the accents and the amusing way in which some of the accents came across that I had encountered from round the world, I understood and was able to get my words across without fail.
I met my first Bulgarian when I lived in Idaho; he was married to a Czech woman and we were friends.
While there I lived and worked with people from all over the country that came in because of the Naval base, their wives, siblings, or service personnel. We had a Puerto Rican neighbor, I knew Italian shopkeepers, Including relatives of Cubby Broccoli), and I worked with a woman from Lancaster, England.
I met many people from all over in The Denver area, people from all over.
I am at home in transient areas and had no problem being understood.
Fortunately for all concerned, cable and satellite TV has made it easier on the newer
‘Brought-Ins”’ who find the younger generations of ‘Locals’ can understand them better than when I got here 28 years ago.
However, I have run across many people who can’t get other people’s accents.
You never would have known it to talk to my mother and most of her siblings, but English was not her first language. She grew up in an old-fashioned immigrant neighborhood in Pennsylvania and the teachers in her schools (mostly Irish–American), saw to it that the Italians, Polish, Russian, German, Jewish and other immigrant students could speak, read and write proper English in order to succeed, ever though most went home where they spoke the families’ native languages.
(My mother’s generation was the one that fought and won WWII. Had they not been able communicate well, this country would be a LOT different, but I digress).
My mother and her five sisters all took the ‘business course’ and became executive secretaries, right under the bosses. Every one of them. Three of the brothers owned their own businesses and did well, (the black sheep of the family kept his born-in-the-old-country accent, I believe because it was a hit with the ladies.)
Even so, unless it was an Italian accent or a Spanish one, my mother had trouble understanding people and it was funny at times.
Let an Englishman or a Frenchwoman near my mother and they may as well have been speaking a language that died out centuries ago. Many odd things happened, with many conversations, not to mention misunderstood lyrics and dialogue that well, we had to straighten out.
Be that as it may, a family story was often told about my mother accompanying an off-the-boat relative to the grocers where they had to ask for products on the shelves, (no self-serve then, or for a long time there). When it came time to tell the grocer where to have the groceries delivered, (up until a year or so ago, years ago, few would have understood that), my mother was prepared to translate the address but when she asked the relative for it, it sounded to her like “OOn-dizzy, daisy, dorto”. She asked the relative to repeat it. She heard the same again. The relative got huffy, but my mother had no idea what she was saying, so she described to the grocer where the relative’s house was.
When my mother got home, she asked her father what in Heaven’s name the woman was saying. He laughed. The relative was as giving her house number, running the numbers together:
oohno, due sei, sette, otto, (1-2-6-7-8), correctly pronounced “oohno, doo-ay, sey, settey, ohtoh”,
but it came out, at least to my mother’s young ear:
“oon-dizzy, daisy, dorto”, and that was repeated for many decades whenever anyone messed up a house number.
When I was a kid, my cousins from Pennsylvania and I used to visit each other. An older cousin has a daughter who is in between in age of me and one of my mother’s sister’s children. The older cousin and her kids didn’t live very far from the other aunt and cousin, but they sounded more like they came from New Jersey. One on trip, we girls were in the back seat of the big car they had back then, traveling to PA. The cousin’s daughter brought a road game along. There was only room to put down one initial on the game card, so the second cousin said, “OK, since you two have the same first initial, I’ll put a B, Tonette, you put a J and T—, you put down a HAICH.” My cousin asked, “What’s a HAICH?”
Well over fifty years later, it still amuses me. My cousin could not figure out that if we couldn’t use our first initials, and the second cousin and I were using our last name initials, she couldn’t figure out that “HAICH”, meant “H”, her last name initial.
(Believe it or not, she grew up to be a brilliant doctor.)
I could go on, but I rather have already.
Have you ever been amused by a mispronunciation or had one that was so ‘off’ that it stayed with you or in your family?
Have any showed up in your writings?