Ostomy Memories of American Language


“BRITAIN AND AMERICA are two nations divided by a common language,” said George Bernard Shaw.  Our American language, sometimes blithely referred to as ‘English,’ sounds different depending upon what part of the country from which the speaker hails.   The photo shows the USA dialect map, breaking down the various offshoots of our glorious language. Not all people who speak a language speak it the same way. A language can be subdivided into any number of DIALECTS, each varying in some way from the parent language. The term ACCENT is often incorrectly used in its place, but an accent refers only to the way words are pronounced, while a dialect has its own grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and common expressions as well as pronunciation rules that make it unique from other dialects of the same language. Another term, IDIOLECT, refers to the manner of speaking of an individual person. No two people's idiolects are exactly the same, but people who are part of the same group will have enough verbal elements in common to be said to be using the same dialect.  One must have an ear for this sort of thing, which I definitely do not.  Anyone who speaks to me with a heavy regional inflection may cause me to look to a companion for a translation.  Since I reside in the American South, I have grown accustomed to the Southern drawl, which can be quite charming, as was the case with a lady I once knew whose speech was so unhurried it took her three syllables to say ‘Yes.’  


Up here in Massachusetts, people just drop letters from words and also randomly add letters to other words. For instance, my sisters instead of saying "so am I," say "so aren't I." R's, as a rule, are just left out of most words unless it's Red Sox, then it's pronounced with gusto. Sometimes it's very difficult to understand folks up here. I've traveled to just about every state besides Hawaii, and the regional differences in speech are quite large. Then again, with all that travel, my dialect is all over the place. I'm one of the few this far north that uses the word "y'all."
Love this topic, thanks Henry.
Oh, one last thing, the commercials for Popeye's chicken make me howl with laughter. Their slogan "Louisiana Fast" is an oxymoron. Have you been to Louisiana? Absolutely NOTHING happens fast!

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A very interesting Henry piece. I notice that I can pick out an Irish American by sight, not always but generally. There is a "Look" they have that is hard to describe. I would say to Kitty, "There's a Paddy" and as they walked by I could get the Irish in just a few words. I guess the inflections were passed on at home. They sound American but some words will have letters left out or a particular word will indicate the Mother Tongue. Some English words will have pronounced letters that will have some Gaeilge pronunciation (Irish) in there.

New York is amazing for accents of all types. Even with a strong Bronx or Brooklyn accent, I can still hear the Irish. Kitty was amazed by the variety of accents as well as "Idiolects.

California has a very distinct accent, a softer than many others, especially NYC. I think most of the accents, on the East Coast especially, come from mixing their home country (the Old Country) language/accent with the new language, English. I guess that's where all the accents originate. In New York, those of Puerto Rican people have a version called "Spanglish" where a sentence will have Spanish and English mixed together. The Mexicans in Cal do the same thing, they switch mid-sentence and add an English phrase.

Kitty was an SLP, a Speech and Language Pathologist and loved a conversation like this. She had her private business helping people in Silicon Valley speak so they could be understood. Making presentations to billionaires, you need to be understood. India and most of Southeast Asia were the hardest to correct. The before and after were just amazing. Kitty was so good at her job!! Some kept coming back even after their accent was pretty good, paying just to chat in English. The accent is learned and can be unlearned given enough time.

I actually use "Y'all", I got it from being in Virginia for long periods. It's actually a great word and very descriptive.

Nice one Henry

Past Member

Forgot to mention.

When I come back to Ireland, I'm thought of and often referred to as The Yank. When I'm in the US, I'm Irish because people are hearing key words and pronunciation in my speech. Words that no American would ever say and words and pronunciations that make me an American (once removed?) while in Ireland.

They all understand me, that's the main thing. I had to consciously alter some words and pronunciations when in the US to be understood.

It was really funny at 5 AM in the local diner in The Bronx before hitting the power saws. One Brother has a slightly thicker accent and he always had trouble ordering Milk. We would be there bleary-eyed having our wakeup coffee and my Bro would ask for Milk. The waitress always heard "Mick". There is/was a beer called Michelob and I saw different waitresses come back with a bottle of Michelob with the coffee refill. He was convinced it was a conspiracy....the Irish and booze, that it was a dig at Irish people. It was just the pronunciation barrier!! Pretty quickly he changed his request to Cream and it worked. They couldn't hear the "L" in Milk....or he couldn't pronounce it!!

He would get so bent out of shape every time!! It was pretty funny and not funny because other people from the job were there in the diner and Beer for breakfast would not be a good look!!



Hi Henry, another great topic. We Canadians have a few regional accents too, and those in the Maritime provinces could be said to have a different dialect, I guess, as they have words and expressions that other Canadians don't. I always wonder what Americans are referring to when they talk about the 'Canadian' accent. Which one is that? What I have found is that the west coast, all the way from Canada to California, has a similar accent, with the exception of Washington State, where there are regions that sound almost like the southern states. I have a pretty good ear for accents and can usually guess what part of the country someone is from, whether they are Canadian or American. I remember when I was travelling in Europe as a twenty-year-old, backpacking, with our Canadian flags on display. It was always recommended that we advertise the fact that we were Canadian, as opposed to American, as we would be treated better! Sad, but true. Anyway, we ran into another group of backpackers with Canadian flags on their bags. We, of course, went up to introduce ourselves and asked them where they were from. They seemed a little hesitant, but then one young woman spoke up and said, "We're from Toronto" with a strong southern U.S. accent! Busted! I guess they got the memo about the Canadian flags too.


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Past Member

I love how in the UK the accents can differ so much from region to region.

Nothing to do with accents but one thing I find irritating with American speech patterns is losing a syllable or a letter, like the word caramel is not pronounced carmel or the name Graham/Graeme is not pronounced gram (it's enough to drive one crackers - see what I did there!)

Past Member

Nice one Jo but he didn't let us hear Cork and Kerry... two of the least understandable accents you will find. They have a "sing-songy" way of speaking... up and down.

Cork has the tongue roll for "Corrrk" and almost the same in Kerry, so funny to try and figure out what people are saying.


Past Member

Love Michael McIntyre


I think just about everyone except Midwesterners sounds weird.

Reply to Anonymous

Ah yes, Spanglish. Until you mentioned it, Magoo, I had totally forgotten about it. In my previous life (younger years), I lived in Arizona, and my job required many trips to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale. That was the first time I encountered Spanglish. Two ladies in the restroom were talking so fast I could only understand part of what they were saying, and I thought I was having some type of hearing issues - turns out it was Spanglish. I said to myself, "Self, what kind of fuckery was that!?" LOL.
Oh, by the way, the word "fuckery" is part Irish and part English, but you probably already knew that, right?

Reply to Justbreathe

I do enjoy all your variations of the F word.

Reply to Anonymous

Well, Americans may lose the occasional letter, but Brits add a letter that isn't even there. The word is 'aluminum', not 'aloomineeum' as the Brits say!

Past Member
Reply to TerryLT

That's also because it's spelled differently, the correct UK (and Australian) spelling is aluminium (an extra "i"), and as the Americans spell many English words phonetically they dropped the "i".

To Americans, the handy kitchen product is pronounced "a-LOO-min-num" and to us Aussies it's "al-U-min-ium." We could just settle it once and for all and say "al foil."

The different pronunciation of words is due to the different accents too, i.e. we say stew-pid not stoo-pid for stupid, dew-ty not dooty (!) for duty and one that cracks me up every time it's BOY NOT boo-ey (for buoy)!

P.S. It's also EMU not EMOO (which I assume is some kind of digital cow?!)

Reply to Anonymous

No wonder I can't understand any of you.

Past Member

This place is becoming a regular Tower of Babel.

Slean Leath agus aoiche maith agaibh, a chara.


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