Phony Accents: Paging Henry Higgins

For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the way I pronounce the word “room”. I can pronounce it in a standard manner, but every once in a while it comes out with a very odd vowel sound, an “uh” rather than an “oo”.

“What IS that?” I asked myself.

Something to know about me is that all my accents are fake. And that my life story sometimes sounds like a lie.

For instance:

When I was 18 I had just moved back to the US from Japan. That summer my family left me at a summer camp and moved to Oklahoma. (See what I mean?)

We’d been living in my grandmother’s basement (all 7 of us, most on air mattresses and concrete, the latter more frequently than the former) in Massachusetts for a while. We were all still learning to function as Americans in America again, instead of as token foreigners.

When I went to work at this summer camp, to try and earn money — mistake, camp counselors don’t really make money — I had to navigate a weird conundrum. Was I going to have a Boston accent?

I was born in the area. My mother’s Boston accent comes and goes. But I’d moved to the West Coast for several years before our move to Japan, and if I’d ever spoken with an accent other than a stubborn refusal to use the word pop instead of soda I couldn’t remember it.

But I’m bilingual. I’m a linguistic chameleon.

a chameleon wears her camouflage – in this case, yarnie accessories

(Most humans are, but they outgrow it to a certain extent as they get older. I hear being bilingual makes it easier to continue chameleon-ing and pick up new languages? Probably there’s a study to debunk this but they debunk everything these days.)

Anyway. In a few months I was moving to California for school, and I didn’t really want to have a phony accent when I left. After a fling with overusing the phrase “wicked” (which you cannot use as an adjective without some Boston creeping in) I moved to Pasadena and quickly started to adjust to a different set of lingual tics.

Whose to say what’s real and what’s not, anyway?

The last few weeks I’ve been staying in my grandmother’s home again. And I heard my aunt ask her something about her room.

I got the goosebumps. OK, that is a lie. I merely said to myself, “AH HAH”.

Because apparently, it’s a holdover bit of my childhood here. Or from when I was staying here as a camp counselor. Or when I came for a couple of weeks for my brother’s wedding. Who can say, really?

Because humans are lingual mimics and chameleons. I’m fine with it. Meanwhile, I dream of getting an accent expert really confused someday…

my primary interest in New England now is birch trees


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