Monthly Archives: December 2013

Speaking My Language

language quiz 640

In my family, dialect and language have always been a big topic of conversation. My sister and I were raised on the west coast (Los Angeles and Portland) by parents that had grown up primarily on the east coast (my dad lived in Hawaii for five years, but otherwise spent his youth in Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, and Boston).

When Raina and I were young, one of our favorite leisure time activities was asking our mom to pronounce certain words and then laughing uproariously when her “orange” sounded so much different from our “orange.” Though she never had a painfully strong Philadelphia accent, traces of that city remain in her voice to this day.

I moved to Philly nearly 12 years ago and have slowly lost some of my perfect west coast pronunciation and vernacular (we always get our comeuppance). My vowels have lengthened and I have to consciously work to keep the worst of the nasal tones out of my voice. The way I say the word “horrible” has forever changed and I’m afraid I will always call a sandwich made on a long roll a hoagie.

And so, when the New York Times published a regional dialect quiz, I was curious where it put me. Would my west coast roots reign, or would my current location call the shots? I answered as honestly as I could and was surprised when my map came out as distinctly Pacific Northwest (I’m ignoring the fact that it seems to think that I also talk like someone from Reno. I’ve never even been there beyond an airport stop).

My mom took the quiz and we all were amused to find that despite her 43 years in California and Oregon, she still talks like someone from the Philadelphia region. The dialect of your birth is darn hard to shake.