I met my first fellow American-Glossopian today!
Granted, we’re both far too new to Glossop to call ourselves Glossopians: one man I know is quick to point out that he’s still a newcomer, having been here a mere 40 years.
Anyway, I had this conversation today:
Her: Where are you from?
Me: The US.
Her: Same as me, then – I’m from Philadelphia.
Me: Wait, you’re American?
D’oh. Not only is she American, but she’s still pretty new, only having lived in the UK for 6 months, so I’m sure her accent hasn’t changed much yet. And I didn’t pick it up at all. I didn’t actually even notice it after she’d identified herself. I knew I’d gotten horrible with accents, but yeesh, I didn’t think I was this bad.
Upon further reflection, I figure: I gave up. I simply gave up trying to identify accents.
Once upon a time, I was an American who’d only ever lived in America, and I could easily pick out accents from different parts of the country. It didn’t require effort, usually: it just happened. I derived great enjoyment when people tried to figure out where I was from based on my accent: thanks to my upbringing, mine is the most pan-American accent I’ve ever found. It encompasses west, north, east, south, and even the Great Plains likely filtered through at least some – Dad grew up in Kansas. So yes, it was always vastly amusing to watch people try to peg my accent to one place.
Then I moved here to England. Before I did, I’d always thought there was just one English accent. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’ve moved to a town with such a conglomeration of accents I can’t even count them all. Why so many here? From what I’ve read, moving about the country has only become fairly widespread in the past generation or two. So, people pretty much stayed in the towns they were born in for their whole lives since … Roman or possibly Celtic times (depending on the town, I suppose; Glossop only dates back to the Romans). They didn’t move about as much; very small geographic areas developed their own accents, far different from their neighbors’. (Also word choices, but that’s a whole nother post). Remember rule #1: Everything is smaller here. So yes, there are quite a lot of accents; they just each cover a smaller area. I think, actually, that there are more accents in England (which is geographically only the size of Louisiana) as there are in the whole of the US. Thing is, now people move about, and lots of different people are drawn to my town, for various reasons, so we now have quite a variety of accents. I’m sure many of theirs are blended accents, too.
I never dreamt I’d live in England. I didn’t study it before I came. I knew next to nothing about it when I got off that plane behind that line of Piggly Wiggly t-shirts. I’ve been a miserable student of it since I’ve come; I still haven’t learned where all the counties are. I have, however, learned that when I don’t know the places people talk about, they become meaningless words that simply wash through my consciousness. I probably asked where various accents were from, at first, but the places didn’t register, so I couldn’t place these accents that swirled around me. After awhile, I simply quit hearing them altogether. I focused on word choices, on understanding and being understood. These days, only extremely pronounced accents and accents so strong that I can’t actually understand the speaker register at all.
I never thought I’d overlook an American accent, though. And a Yankee one at that!