America is a big country, and our size, along with our diversity, means a wide variation in our regional accents. That’s a beautiful thing in theory, but the accents themselves aren’t always so lovely, either because they feature irritating, repetitive sounds or are difficult to understand. Most of us have at least one accent that sets our nerves on edge. Though taste is subjective, these four seem to be the biggest offenders.
1. Upper Midwestern, “Yah?”
The Coen brothers’ movie, Fargo, got a lot of mileage out of just how grating an Upper Midwestern accent could be. The film is an endless refrain of, “Yah?” and, “Oh, yah!” which makes you laugh because you know you only have to listen to it for two hours and not a second longer. The most distinct characteristics of Upper Midwestern speech are rounded vowel sounds—people speak as if they were holding a small ball in their mouths—and repetitive phrases like the aforementioned “yah” and “you betcha.” Also, everything is phrased as a question, which can undermine the speaker’s intelligence and authority, yah?
2. Northern New Jersey, a.k.a. “Joisey”
Northern New Jerseyans have a way of speaking that’s closer to the way people from New York City speak, since the northeast quarter of the state is within the New York metropolitan area. “Coffee,” “dog,” and “talk,” are pronounced, “cawfee,” “dawg,” and “tawk.” “Th” also becomes “d,” as in, “dey” (they) and “dese” (these). And nouns and pronouns become plural with a “z,” as in, “yooz guyz.” Think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and repeat after me: “Hey, yooz guyz! Dere’s de dawg!”
The subtle difference between the North Jersey and the New York City accent is the “r.” Jerseyans pronounce their “r”s, New Yorkers—especially Brooklynites—don’t. A New Yorker would say, “ovah deh,” whereas a North Jerseyan would say, “over dere.”
As with the Upper Midwestern accent, this one is frustrating because it makes the other person sound uneducated, though, obviously, that’s not always necessarily true.
3. Welcome tah Bahston
I love the Car Talk guys on National Public Radio, but I have one friend who just can’t listen to them because of their “obnoxious” accents. Tom and Ray Magliozzi are from Cambridge, “Mah,” and have the blue collar Boston accent that features a broad “a” and an inability to say the letter “r.” Though New England is a melting pot of Scot-Irish, German, Italian, and other immigrants, they all seem to have settled on the same accent¾those who didn’t go to prep school, that is. Instead of, “Did you park the car in the garage?” they say, “Did you pahk the cah in the gahrahge?”
Whereas Californians and Midwesterners skip lightly over their “a”s, for Bostonians, the “a” is a long, loud drawn out affair, and not a happy one.
4. The Deep South: Y’all C’mon Back Now, Y’Hear?
Lack of enunciation is also what makes a Southern drawl annoying to many people. I, for one, find Paula Deen’s accent almost as indigestible as her donut burger.
The South contains wide variations in its accents, but there are some generalizations. It’s a lethargic kind of speech, the kind that doesn’t require much energy on a sultry summer day. Southern folk don’t close their mouths on “r”s, so “stork” sounds like “stalk.” And while they’ll use a light “wh” instead of the heavier, New York “w,” their vowels seem to just roll off the tongue without any effort. That makes it difficult to understand someone speaking, since “pen” sounds just like “pin,” “feel” like “fill,” and “fail” like “fell”.
Just Stop Tawking!
Accents can irritate us for different reasons. They may be difficult to understand, they may feature harsh or repetitive sounds, or they may make us feel something about the person speaking. These are just a few of the possibly annoying accents; any mode of speech different from our own may make us want to scream, “Just talk normally, people!” after hearing it for too long. But learning a bit about the different accents and their origins can help us grow an appreciation for diversity.
Updated December 31, 2010