So after I wrote that post about the Jack White interview about accents, I started thinking. We Americans sort of go crazy for accents, foreign accents especially. Although, like Jack, I have known a few Northerners and West Coasters who romanticize the Southern accent. On the flipside, though, you don’t see many Southerners doing the same for West Coast and especially not for Northern accents. It just seems to me like Americans make a big deal out of accents. We use them to define ourselves to a certain extent. It can also set barriers. I have met many Southerners who immediately distrust anyone who, by dialect alone, sounds like they were born above the Mason-Dixon line.
I think we get even funnier when it comes to accents from other countries. When the Beatles hit our shores in the early 1960s people (especially young girls) went nuts for them, yes, because they were cute, but also because they spoke completely differently. The Fab Four garnered this respected aura of sophistication because they were English. It didn’t matter that they came from working class backgrounds in Liverpool and had the accents to match. Maybe it shows a lack of knowledge on our parts, but the Beatles might as well have been raised in London’s West End for all the American public cared or knew. They sounded English, and that went with the Americans’ long-held stereotype that the entire population of England was made up of cultured, tweed-clad, fox-hunting mondaines who spent their days sipping tea and daintily noshing on crumpets.
Fast forward almost fifty years and we’re still just as bad. I know countless American girls who say they’re so turned on by [insert whatever accent here], and I always think, “Well, which one?” If you say you’re into Irish accents, do you prefer that of a Northsider from Dublin or that of someone from Cork? There is a difference, and it’s noticeable. For a nation so caught up in our own regional dialectic differences, we seem to neglect to realize that that sort of thing exists everywhere. Instead we assume they all speak in a generic French, Scottish, Russian, what have you, accent. In reality, though, the difference in accents between someone who was raised in a small town in Provence and a born-and-bred Parisian could be akin to that of myself and someone who grew up in Brooklyn. (The difference is pretty huge on that last one, I assure you).
To live in such a culturally diverse country, we can be a little ignorant (okay maybe a lot sometimes). Oh well, that turned into a bit of a rant, and I didn’t mean for it to. Maybe I’m a little too sensitive or a little too uptight, but I do think it’s bad form to assume and lump people into great generic piles of anything. I guess I just think that the way humans speak defines them immensely and makes them unique. It deserves to be fully appreciated in all its multifacetedness (not a word, I realize). Hm…now I’m sort of tempted to go out and buy Amy Walker’s new 45…