language barrier

I spent my first 10 years around Sunderland in the north-east of England. This area is famous for having an accent that is incomprehensible to the rest of the country. The accent is called Geordie. Not only is Geordie different in pronunciation from most other accents, it also has enough dialect words to keep outsiders from knowing what we’re saying.

Note: Geordies often say that this is a dialect. Folks who study dialects will tell anyone who’ll listen that this is not a dialect because it doesn’t have its own syntax. Geordies don’t have a reputation for listening so why start now.

Another Note: Since I left England, Geordies have decided that there are 2 accents where we previously thought there was one. Now we have a Geordie accent and a Mackem accent. Mackem includes the dialect that I spoke. I mention this for completeness. Discussing the differences of these accents to Americans and Canadians is like explaining the differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism to non-christians.

Because of radio, TV and easier travel, we got used to hearing and understanding other English accents. In my case, I understood the other accents well enough that I wasn’t aware of them. I remember that my mother was aghast that I couldn’t hear that the actors on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in were American.

When we moved to Toronto, the natives weren’t sure what to make of us. They thought that they knew what English accents sounded like and then we came along with this incomprehensible nonsense. Dad didn’t have this problem because he has a southern accent (southern England, not southern states).

I slowly dropped the Geordie words as enough people asked me what I was talking about. It didn’t always stick though. After I returned from staying in England for 6 weeks in 1972, I reverted to saying “aye” instead of “yes”. I needed a few more puzzled looks from Canadians to drop the Geordieisms again.

The accent was another matter. I don’t hear it at all. When I listen to my relatives, I hear a trace of a vaguely English accent. Apparently, this is only for me. Everyone else is struggling to understand the nonsense that they hear.

For reasons that I don’t fully understand, I still sometimes use English vowels instead of the American ones. I’ll say “few tile” instead of “futile” or “stewpid” instead of “stoopid”. It’s been suggested that this is because of the not listening thing.

Morgan often reminds me that when I use a short “a”, it’s a lot shorter than anyone else’s. I usually get a blank look when I say this to anyone. Then I’ll say the word “taco” and the blank look is replaced with sudden comprehension and emphatic agreement. I dunno. I still can’t hear it.

I once met a man who was familiar with a lot of English accents who couldn’t get over how English I sounded. When I mention that I grew up Geordie, he said “Good God! You’ve lost it all” It was later that I discovered that I still had the Geordie “a”.

Of course, whenever my relatives who still live in England hear me, they’ll talk about how American I sound.

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