Where Is That Accent From?
Why do I find mine so embarrassing?
For 17 years, I was one of the smart kids in school–I got good grades, had friends and meshed well with the eastern shore culture in Berlin, MD.
It was the news of the decade when Julia Roberts and Richard Gere came to town for the filming of Runaway Bride in 1999, if that puts my speed of life into perspective.
I think the pfiesteria outbreak was runner up in the headlines.
I mention these bits of information about my adolescence because they help explain my small town background, and the reason I was so shocked my freshman year at the University of Maryland to have been asked multiple times, "So, where is your accent from?"
Blushing, I would say, "I'm from Ocean City."
Technically, I have never lived in Ocean City. But people from Pittsburgh down to the Carolinas know Ocean City, for better or for worse, as the place where families go to beach and party.
Living in Berlin was conflicting–we were so close to a well-known destination, but we were almost embarrassingly small to admit to.
That said, living near Ocean City made my brothers and me feel like the metropolitan urbanites of the family, considering we have genteel Southern Baptist relatives from Chincoteague, VA, all the way down to Tallahassee, FL. For nearly two decades, I thought my dialect sounded sophisticated and untainted by Civil War boundaries.
So again, I was surprised when I found my accent could be related to some of the first settlers in America.
According to a study by Old Dominion University, the dialect of the tobacco farmers and fishermen who first settled in southeast Virginia have passed along many speech patterns for generations.
Researchers at Salisbury University found sets of words that are unique to the Delmarva area, and then subsets of dialects within Delmarva.
Data suggests the isolation of the Delmarva peninsula, as well as smaller areas like Smith Island, Tangier Island and Chincoteague Island, help to preserve dialects that otherwise end up melding together in more developed and diverse cities.
Many of my friends who are transplants to the area go into hysterics when my brothers or I bring this dialect to life by going into a character named Shanky Taggerton--spurred by the way locals pronounce Chincoteague as "Shanktag."
You might have friends or family related to Shanky if you can understand, "I'ma go on dane to de star en git the fexins fer some awster fretters."
Some people say speaking like this is offensive and insensitive, but I like to think I am, as my close friend says, acknowledging a cultural difference of which to be proud.
From now on, I will not be ashamed of my accent, but rather be happy that I can display–at least somewhat–a way of speaking older than the United States.
If you're not sure if you have an accent, take this test from blogthings--it will show you the origins of your dialect. And for anyone who wants a peek into the Delmarva accent, check out the news clip above, produced by the legendary Delmarva journalist Scorchy Tawes.