I've recently taken on a new position - columnist for the Vermilion Voice, my parent's hometown newspaper. Mostly I will be speaking as a Canadian in America and drawing out the lessons, the similarities and the differences. Thought you might enjoy one of my first submissions.
Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but Canadians do have distinct accents. The reason I'm so certain? Many, many, many times over the past ten years in the U.S., I have been asked, “where are you from?” as soon as I utter a word.
Most often, people have no clue what accent I sport, just that I have one. Heck, most people don't even know where Alberta is so I guess I shouldn't expect them to recognize my central-Alberta sound. Occasionally, someone immediately nails me as Canadian. In these cases, I find that the observer has either lived in or near Canada themselves or they know a Canadian.
I have mixed feelings about people noticing my accent. Some people comment on my accent to ensure we stay far apart, while others comment as a way of bringing us closer together. It's hard to define, but I can always tell the difference.
Sometimes, I find it slightly offensive how quickly people point out that I am an outsider. It's usually subtle, but I think people comment on the differences as a way of building themselves up. I catch a whiff of “we're better than you,”. I wonder if immigrants with stronger accents than mine don't also get a “go home,” tacked on.
At other times, I can sense that the questioner is genuinely curious about my background and then I can laugh it off and repeat “out and about outside the house” for them a few times. Trust me, even I can hear the clipped “oo” sound in my own words now.
The kids and I talk a lot about how Canadians sound versus Alabamians in my efforts to get them speaking correctly (what I believe to be correct that is). Mya, my precocious four-year-old, indignantly clarifies “but I was born in Alabama” when I hassle her about the “ahhhh” sound coming out of her mouth.
“It's the 'i' sound in 'right' not the 'aaaahhhh' sound,” I point out. “That's raaaaght,” she repeats.
I do think she tends more toward the Albertan sound. At the playground the other day, I overheard her say to her swinging-mate, “I can't understand you, you're speaking Alabamian.”
To their credit, my kids have learned how to turn their accents on and off. Lucas, my seven-year-old, is particularly adept at this. I hear him talking about “next taaaaaahme” but I know he can also easily get it right next time”. I think he now knows that a hill is part of geography not a part of the body (heel).
If I hang up the phone after a conversation with a Canadian, my husband can tell immediately. Not only have I reverted to my old accent more fully, but I have sped up my sentences considerably. My theory about that – Canadians are cold a lot of the year so you have to say it, and say it fast. Down here, you don't really want to work up a sweat, so it comes out nice and easy. I have to admit, I find myself having a hard time keeping up with my bank representative when I call on my Canadian account.
Although I would much rather have my children speaking like little Albertans, I have to say some of the Southern drawl is growing on me. I do miss the sound of “Mum” but when I hear “Mawm” my heart still melts.