Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Linguist

My mother is a really fun person. She's the one who'd let us eat pizza for breakfast, or go without making our beds, or eat a bunch of candy then go to bed without brushing our teeth. She was the counter, in many ways, to my ball buster father.

But chances are, if you have a mom like that, she's also a little cracked.

One of my mom's most endearing quirks is her cadre of accents. Speaking normally, she has that flat, midwestern accent reflective of her Oklahoma upbringing. Every now and again, a bit of my dad's West Texas sneaks in. But having a normal conversation with her, you would not pick up a discernable accent.

Unless you are, say, a Mexican. Because then she starts talking like a Mexican, or at least how some middle aged white woman from Oklahoma who has difficulty pronouncing 'agua' would talk like a Mexican. More accurately, like an Oklahoman Mexican who was raised in Germany. "Ya?" she'll say "Can I get the car-nay asad-ya, with a side of hallepeynos, homes?"

(My mom can also never order straight off the menu. She always has to get something substituted, or on the side. She's never ready to order when everyone else is, and she always has a question about the menu. She is like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, but with a Mexican-German accent.)

She is a verbal chameleon, unconsciously picking up the accent of the person she's talking to.

Living here in the south, particularly the rural south, the accents tend to get a little thick. Even more awesome than listening to my mom at a Mexican restaurant is hearing her go all Reba McEntire on someone. "Laws, y'all! I done told them young 'ens to keep outta that fishin' hole!" (That might be a slight exaggeration. I don't know that I've ever heard my mom reference a fishin' hole.) She's a hairdresser, so chances are she'll have to switch accents four, maybe five times a day, depending on the nationality and/or regional dialect of her clientele.

Do you know what kind of skills are required to go from Southern to Mexican to Yankee to German, all in the course of a single day?

She is no ordinary woman. She is wunderbar. And loco, yo.


  1. My dad used to do the same thing. The bane of my young existence. England was so embarrassing. He also purchased and wore "native" hats from every place we visited. My mom had to put her foot down with the lederhosen in Austria.

    I guess now would be as good a time as any to admit to reading all of your posts with my best imitation of a genteel southern accent. Think Sally Field in "Steel Magnolias". At least that's what I sound like in my head.

  2. My bbf does that, particularly in Asian restaurants... "ah, so... yes, I would rike ah da noodle bowrl, sank you!" He is utterly unaware that he does it. I often fear the waitresses will think he is making fun of them.

  3. Both those comments made me laugh out loud!

  4. Can I have your parents when you're done with them?

  5. She's my hairdresser, and I haven't really noticed, but I'll be listening for sure, now!

  6. My mom was the fun nut in our family. I still miss her willing-to-look-and-sound-like-a-lunatic self.

  7. Um...I do this. A lot. Vernacular, cadence, accent - I pick up all 3 within a few minutes. It's completely unintentional and occasionally embarrassing and offensive to people who think I'm mocking them.

    What's odd is that some of these ways of talking I've picked up and kept long-term so that I've been asked about my own peculiar accent by more than a handful of people *laugh*.