My Husband and I recently attended parent’s weekend at my daughters college. We took my daughter out for non-dorm meals, went to a concert at the Kennedy Center, and attended a collegiate football game. As we sat in the stands, the man behind my husband said to him

“You from Brooklyn?

After my husband replied yes, they played the six degrees of Brooklyn thing- which high school, which deli, which bowling alley, etc. At one point the guy said to him

“Look at us. Did you ever think guys like us would have kids at a school like this?”

When we ran into him at the elevator of our hotel the next morning (right? what are the chances?) he said to me “How did you guys meet? You’re certainly not from the neighborhood?”

To answer that question, my husband and I actually met on a tennis court. I am not as well educated as my husband, but I have a pretty flat accent that screams Northeast quadrant, but can’t actually be placed.  My husband has two graduate degrees, and is an executive in a large company. But he still looks and sounds like the blue collar neighborhood that he grew up in.

So….

Do we make judgements about people based on their regional accent and dialect?

When I discussed grammar the other day, a few people responded that there is a certain bias towards certain areas of the country due to how they speak. People might hear a thick Southern accent and think something along the lines of, OMG, is that banjo’s I hear? If you ever watched “Gilligan’s Island”  you probably remember the ‘Locust Valley Lockjaw’ way that the Howell’s spoke, and assumed that was the tone of the rich. My friend hated “Green Book” because she couldn’t stand the accent that Viggo Mortenson used because it made him sound classless.

What about the American love of British accents? There was an episode of “Frasier” where Roz meets Daphne’s brother. (Daphne is British). Roz exclaims “Doesn’t he sound so classy?” because of the accent, even though the content of his exchange is anything but.  I know I hear a British accent and I swoon and assume whatever they’re selling is better than what I have…

I grew up on Lon Gisland, a suburb of New York City. Many of you know it as Long Island, but you wouldn’t know that from the way many of us speak. I admit, I have spent years taming my accent so that I would not immediately sound as if I grew up going to the Roosevelt Field Mall…

Are we elitist towards certain groups of people based solely on the way that they speak? Do we think the regional accent of some is superior or inferior to our own?

80 thoughts on “Where you from?

  1. A funny encounter! I’ve been there before, so I totally get it. I do think accents trick us. We associate the way one person sounds with an intelligence level and attribute it to others of a similar background or location too easily. It’s instinct or inherent for some people (not that it’s right) yet some people are able to prevent themselves from doing it / thinking it. Fascinating stuff.

    Personally, I love the British accent, and there’s something about people who have an identifiable difference from your norm that can be temporarily more appealing. If I saw two people in a bar (change the location too) and had to pick between which one I’d spend more time with, and they were equal in other ways, but 1 had an accent, I’d lean in that direction. I admit my guilt!!!

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  2. I often say that JK Rowling’s monumental success is due, in large part, to anglophilia. We all love British things. 🙂

    And, of course people are judged by accents! But!- how do you thin-slice that judgement? We’re a package deal: age, height, accent, dress, health, confidence, and racial features (as much as we claim otherwise).

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  3. I had a friend from high school who took classes to lose her Kentucky accent so people in her field wouldn’t judge her. My friends like to kid me about my accent that comes out on certain words but I don’t think anyone judges me for it.

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  4. We judge, and we’re kidding ourselves and trying to kid everyone around us if we think differently. Admitting to a bias at least opens the door to contemplate and discuss why humans have so many issues with class based systems. And we do, have issues that is, with any structure that points to difference from what we believe to be the norm.

    On a personal note, I clearly stated in a post comment during your marriage series that I have zero interest in dating or any new male/female relationship. I will correct that and confess that I just might consider and evening out if I happened to meet the right man- – right in this case being someone with an Australian accent… 😉

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    1. Omg….I’m going to name drop here. One time my daughter and I were in petco looking fir new bowls for the pets, and we heard the most tantalizing Australian accent. After we finished swooning we realized it was a Hugh Jackman….so yup…right there with you….

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  5. I don’t know how people judged me, but I dragged my Southern accent with me wherever I went. In England, they called me a Yankee because they knew I came from the US. Me? A Yankee??? We lived in Stony Brook for 45 years, and I worked in East Northport. Clients knew they were speaking with me as soon as I said hello. I rather liked being identifiable.

    I love listening to people and trying to identify where they grew up. I wouldn’t judge their character or abilities by their sound.

    John was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. He understands Brooklynese and can imitate it if he wants to. I think he sounds more like Long Island now.

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  6. I have no time and zero patience for anyone who wants to judge me based upon my Mizzoura drawl. I just roll my eyes at them and walk away from them. I’m not going to get all wrapped around the axle over the waste of time and meaningless crap that they want to waste their one on. I have better things to do like wink at good looking ladies. 😉

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  7. As I mentioned in the post the other day, sometimes it is more than just the accent, but the way things are phrased or the word choices used that may be regional. I’m from the mid-west and you hear a blend of southern accents and phrasings around here along with non-southern (? – I don’t even know what else gets mixed in). When someone says something like “all y’all” the tag “hick” tends to get thrown around with the assumption that anyone that uses the phrase is less educated. I have family that use “warsh” instead of wash and there are a variety of additional words we add to sentences that are completely unnecessary that also tend to make it sound as though we are uneducated. There are absolutely assumptions made and stigmas attached to certain accents and regional speech.

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    1. I totally agree. I tried (obviously not well enough) to convey that dialect is as important as accent) you hear certain turn of phrase and you immediately make a judgement. It’s not fair, but it is how it is

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  8. In answer to that question, subconsciously yeah . . for some. With others, it is more of a conscious effort, it would seem.

    I’ve got no real accent, seeing as how I’ve lived in a few different places- from PA and NY to Florida, Puerto Rico and Delaware.

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  9. I’m not sure about judgment, but I grew up in the Midwest, and whenever I travel north people have asked me about my “accent” that I can’t tell that I have. Whatever that accent may be, it is definitely not a “southern drawl.” I don’t think I was ever judged in a bad way because of it. One person told me that every time she was with someone from the south, she noticed how they would like to take their time, slow down and enjoy the moment. So I guess that was a complement 🙂 When I meet other people involved in the law, they often do ask what law school you went to, and some folks can be pretty snobbish about that. There also seems to be an expectation that if you’re a lawyer you must be rich – LMAO! You should see how regional pay scales differ.

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      1. Interesting. People are weird. I wonder what generalizations they are operating under. I see a lot of postings on the Net where people are expressing their hatred for California. It seems the two states with the biggest economic productivity are targets

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      2. We were at Bryce Canyon, and went to the rodeo. The mc asked the crowd where they where from. All kinds of cheers and applause until he said New York, we clapped and he made a really derogatory comment. We were at some road side chicken stand somewhere and the guy heard my husband ask for chicken. He said to him New York? My husband said yes, guy said Communist? My husband was like what? I could go on……

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      3. Oh btw, I generally don’t tell people where I’m from anymore when asked. It’s rural, average IQ is probably 70 or below. An article yesterday surfaced about the state monitoring women’s menstrual cycles at planned parenthood clinics – for real – these guys are afraid to keep a database on who has guns because of privacy concerns, but tax dollars are funding the tracking of women’s periods – it’s embarrassing

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  10. I sense from both your commenter answers , also American made TV drama staring an English born character, American’s have a VERY particular English accent in mind! He she is middle class, rather posh speaking with cut glass vowels and impeccable diction, however LA I’m here to lol disappoint you because I very seldom happen across a ‘Daphne’………….. like yourselves we all have regional accents of which some are easier on the ear than most.

    Personally I adore the South London accent aka the school choir featured in Pink Floyd’s ‘another brick in the war’, but am neither a fan of Liverpudlian or Brummie which grate on my ear bigtime………… as for me I have a Shires accent which a Polish lady I work with has trouble understanding 😀 , but you are all correct when you say we judge a person’s intellect by their accent which is wrong.

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      1. Hopefully I’m not that “bad..” but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that table manners matter to me..not that I would EVER say anything to anyone who wasn’t my own kid.

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  11. My mother was an English major and she drilled into us that we were not to speak with a Boston/Massachusetts accent, she said it sounded uneducated, so as a result we have no accent. My son has an odd one that only pops up in certain words and my daughter does also but not as obvious as her younger brother. I can’t stand it when actors try to affect and accent for a part, not matter which one it may be. I happen to watch a lot of British tv and I find I have to turn up the volume as my mother used to say ” they eat the ends of their words”. I will say that I can listen to an Irish brogue for days!

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  12. I grew up in the Texas panhandle. My drawl is as quintessential Texan. I learned when we moved from there that many people assumed that those who speak as I do aren’t very bright. I graduated summa cum laude (4th in my class) from a catholic university in Bismarck, ND. Classmates came up to me after graduation to say things like, “Wow, who’d have thought you were so smart?” It really was a lesson for me in stereotyping.

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  13. Some accents I do find a bit grating, but it can be more a function of volume. A man in my Toastmasters club had a thick Boston accent, which was charming, but the way he belted it out did not come across well.
    Sometimes pacing can draw judgment – if a person speaks slowly, are they mentally slow? (No) Our ancestors spoke slowly, and it gave them time to think and respond appropriately. Modern media like radio and television sped up the chatter quite a bit. I’m not so sure it has done a good thing for communication in general.

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  14. I was born in Michigan. My first wife was from Queens, and for years her large, extended family laughed at my accent. They called me “Farm Boy.” But that was all I could hear anyway because they spoke so fast I never understood much of what they said anyway. When I met some of their cousins from Long Island, I understood them easily. Ditto for other relatives who lived on Staten Island. By the end of the marriage, I was at least able to somewhat discern the different accents from each borough. Somewhat.

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  15. I don’t make assumptions about intelligence based on people’s accents, but there are some accents that I certainly prefer. I LOVE British accents and certain accents from the East coast as well. (I may not be able to name them, but I still know ’em when I hear ’em.) The only thing I judge about accents is where someone may be from. For instance, I spent part of my childhood in South St. Louis, where all short “o’s” are pronounced as short “a’s.” And “youse” is a plural of “you.” So when I hear that accent, I feel immediately at home!

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  16. I love accents. It’s part of who people are. I recently met a couple from Wisconsin (at parents’ weekend) and was charmed by the father’s accent and commented on it. It’s a conversation starter, a window into someone’s background.

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  17. I love accents and I find myself copying an accent if I spend time in that region (ie The South) or hang with friends who have thick NY accents (read Brooklyn). Intelligence isn’t a factor in how I feel about accents…well, with the exception of bad grammar. That is the crux for me with intelligence/education. Otherwise, bring on the accents! I love them!

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  18. No-one would have any idea where I’m “from” by listening to my voice. My father is English & my mother is Anglo-Indian. At age 11, I had a decided Bengali accent from living in Calcutta. Then we moved to Nigeria & I was sent to boarding school in Southeast England. It was fee-paying and relatively posh, although not top level posh, and flattened out any form of accent. I think I sound normal. Other people think I sound like the Queen. I don’t. I know what “proper”posh sounds like from my schooldays, and understand I speak in what is known over here as “received pronunciation” or what used to be called “BBC English”. In terms of people considering me intelligent or well educated because of my voice – some do, some don’t. Over here, we’re all well used to posh idiots. We know the upper classes aren’t clever just because they speak in rounded vowels – quite the contrary. That said, the fact that our government is full of Eton-educated types could mean I’m talking utter rubbish.

    Whenever I hear Americans saying how much they love British accents, I wonder which British accents they mean – for there are lots of different ones. To get an idea of unposh regional accents, check out an episode of an old TV series called Auf Wiedersehen Pet.

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  19. Pretty much everyone has bias related to accents. For a grad class I taped three people basically saying the same thing from the Midwest, Texas, and NY. Then took the tape to a fast food restaurant and a location that let me play it during a gathering. I had people listen to the tape of the three people and rate each speaker on different things such as trustworthiness. They rated the midwestern person highest and the New York City accent lowest. They consider tv accent to be Midwest. These people were not from the Midwest. I think if I had conducted this in NY they would have rated Texas the lowest. We all have biases one way or another and are not even aware.

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