Y’all Come!

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2004

Have you ever given much thought to your accent?

I never had until after I went into my freshman speech class in college and heard the teacher discuss the recordings that she had made of each of us individually.

While in a room alone, each student had read easy sentences aloud into a huge tape recorder. I had wondered why. For example, I saw, &uot;Roll the ball down the hall.&uot; But I read, &uot;Roll the baul down the haul&uot; in my southern drawl. When in class later, I heard our very proper teacher read the sentences perfectly in what she called a standard American English accent, the one practiced today by most major newscasters, like Dan Rather and Barbara Walters.

Although I did learn the standard, I consciously chose not to practice it, so when I returned to Ahoskie from Greensboro, I continued to be a true southerner in speech and in manner. However, today when I read aloud, I try to read in the standard pronunciation, but when I speak I enjoy being from the South.

Having lived in Ahoskie all my life except for my three years in college, I must have an almost perfect Ahoskie accent, whatever that is. Truly, I did not realize how distinct my accent is until I accompanied a group of Ahoskie High School students to New York City in the early sixties. We had just walked from our hotel to Radio City Music Hall and had gathered long enough for me to count my chickens to be sure that I hadn’t lost one along the way.

I then waited in the ticket line and when my turn came, I said, &uot;Twenty-six, please.&uot; Quickly the lady looked up and said, &uot;You’re from North Carolina, aren’t you?&uot; Amazed, I smiled and nodded my head. Later I recalled that in 1958 I had seen &uot;No Time for Sergeants&uot; starring Andy Griffith in that very theatre and had laughed hysterically throughout the movie at the New Yorkers who kept saying, &uot;What did he say? Did you understand him? What did he say?&uot; Andy’s North Carolina drawl was too much for them. They needed Yankee subtitles for that film!

Then in 1965 my husband and I took a geography study tour, an ECU course for college credit, a 30-day bus tour of the Southwest. However, it wasn’t all fun and games because to receive a grade, we had to write a research paper, when we returned home, on one aspect of the trip. I wrote mine on the Mormon Trail to Utah, and my husband researched the Grand Canyon. We both learned so much about our country and had fun at the same time.

A highlight of our trip came when we reached our hotel in San Francisco at 8:30 in the evening. Since we had already eaten our supper, we selected our suitcases from the bin under the bus and quickly made our way up to our room. After seeing that all was in place, we rushed to the elevator to go out and tour this beautiful European-like city, the backdrop of so many great movies.

Being from N.C. flat country, we had longed to see the city lights and to experience those famous hills. With those plans in mind, we charged out into the street and stood in front of the Hotel Californian waving frantically to catch the eye of a cab driver. In about a minute, a taxi pulled up, and we jumped into the back seat. The young man said, &uot;where would you like to go?&uot; Always the one to talk to strangers, I said, &uot;We just got here. This is our first trip to San Francisco, and we want to go up and down your very best hills, the ones we see in movies.&uot; He said, &uot;I’m from Edenton. Where are you from?&uot; All three of us laughed.

After a short discussion about Ahoskie-Edenton football, we started on our way. Then boy did he take us up and down the most exciting hills any Ahoskie couple could ever have hoped to experience anywhere! After that old Southern welcome to San Francisco, I decided that having a distinct drawl isn’t bad after all.

In the 1980’s when we crossed the great water, we found ourselves in England at Dover Castle, the first castle that either of us had ever seen. We were in seventh heaven walking around in that antique fortress, about 1,000 years old, where the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket had visited with the King of England.

Once out on the grounds, we saw some lovely little school girls dressed in their uniforms: navy skirts, white blouses, and navy sweaters. They looked so cute that I had to go over and speak to them. The children just looked wide-eyed at me when I talked. I asked, &uot;Where do you go to school?&uot;

The girls put their heads down and giggled. Again I said, &uot;Is your school far from here?&uot; Again the girls giggled in unison. I then smiled and said, &uot;Please tell me what’s funny?&uot; One then lowered her head and told me that I sounded like the people on the tele on &uot;Dallas.&uot; It then was my turn to laugh.

Although the little ones didn’t pinpoint my accent, a lady in an old antique shop in Stow-on-the-Wold did. Having just a few minutes in the shop, I approached the clerk and asked, &uot;Do you sell costume jewelry?&uot; She looked up, and in her very proper British English, she said, &uot;You are from Tidewater, aren’t you?&uot; I’m sure my jaw dropped. That Tidewater television that I had watched most of my life came through in my Ahoskie accent. On the whole planet, she had pinpointed my accent within 45 miles. Her ear was remarkable!

So when I travel a few states away or across the ocean, I’m happy to say, &uot;Yes, we’re from North Carolina. Where are y’all from?&uot;