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Accent? What accent?

GAYS MILLS - There are dozens and dozens of American accents. Do you have one? Supposedly, we all have some kind of an accent in this widely diverse country of ours. We may not realize it in our day-to-day existence because we are immersed in it; everyone around us tends to talk the same way. Unless you are living in a big city, that is, where the melting pot nature of our society is more visible, and more audible.

My mother went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the 1930s. One of her professors was the Canadian born son of Japanese immigrants who later went on the be a U.S. Senator from California: S.I Hayakawa. On the first day of class, Hayakawa asked each student in his English class to rise, give their name, and tell a little about themselves. He would then proceed to tell the class where in Wisconsin that person was from, apparently with surprising accuracy. Mom was shocked when her teacher identified her as a native of north central Wisconsin (Rib Lake).

When I used to take groups of FFA members to the National FFA Convention in Kansas City and later, Louisville, the students all marveled at the various regional accents they heard FFA members from all 50 states. Everyone, it seemed, spoke with some kind of a drawl. We got several comments about the way we talked. Say something in ‘Wisconsin,’ they would ask and point out why it sounded different to them. Not surprisingly, students would sometimes come back from the convention and drop an occasional y’all into their conversations.

A site called Big 7 Travel has just done a survey of its 1.5 million followers on social media (so, right away, consider the source) to find the sexiest accent in America. The results are ranked from 1 to 50. In  first place for sexiest accent is Texas. Long Island came in 50th place, Minnesota was 48th, Milwaukee was 29th, and Midwestern came in at 16th place.

The results of this casual survey are up for debate and, like all poll and survey results, should be taken with quite a bit of salt. For example, Texas is much larger than Wisconsin and has several regional variations of speaking. Eastern Texas palaver runs toward a nasally Piney Woods twang, North Texas lingo flirts with an Oklahoma influence, and southern border Texas verbiage can have a strong Spanish flavor.

The people you hear on radio and TV have been trained to speak what is called General American English. That style, by the way, is 32nd place as far a sexy accent rating. It is taught to be pleasant to the ear and with no hints of regional accents. Stephen Colbert is listed as a perfect example of a General American English speaker.

If you have access to the internet, here are a couple of accent-related YouTube personalities that you might find interesting. Charlie Berens produces short videos called Manitowoc Minute. He skewers a certain Wisconsin accent and is now touring the country entertaining people with his humor. And, Amy Walker is an expert on accents. Check out her video on American accents.