Friday, September 19, 2008

Proppah Parenting

While the rest of the country might claim that we Bay Staters are culturally out of step with Good Ol' American ValuesTM, the following recitation, taken from an item in the September 17 edition of the Daily Times Chronicle, reveals that we are less removed from the mainstream than certain parties would have you believe.

The Importance of Family Values

Notes: Nahant is a beachfront community in Essex County, approximately ten miles east of Woburn.

Hart ( or "Haht") Street runs parallel to the Middlesex Canal between Hammond Square (my old stomping grounds) and Central Square.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Non-rhotic Geography

The lion's share of local news personalities, with the exception of sportscasters or muckraking political commentators looking to maintain a populist veneer, adopt at least some form of the (depressingly bland) General American accent. R's roll off their tongues with practiced ease and their use of glottal stops and low vowels has been willfully suppressed.

Blood will tell, however, and what has been bred in the Bay State will come out whenever city and town names need be enunciated. It's the easiest way to tell the natives from the out-of-towners, as the former can't help pronouncing "Worcester" as "WOOS-TAH" and the latter strain mightily to keep from saying "WUR-CEST-ER." It's a trivial thing even among my list of petty irritations, but whenever I hear local place names rendered in accent-neutral Nebraskanese, I get a sensation similar to the feeling you get when you bite down on a piece of tinfoil.

"Woe-burn," my ass.

As a modest way of remedying the problem, I present this brief lesson in geographical pronunciation. Newscasters take note.

"Heading out from Boston, you will find Somerville, Revere, Everett, and Medford."

"Gloucester, Danvers, and Peabody are on the North Shore."

"Down on the South Coast, you can visit Dartmouth, New Bedford, and Fall River." (It's also where Comrade Thirdmate is currently berthed.)

"In the northwestern suburbs, one can find Billerica, Haverhill, Winchester, and most importantly, Woburn."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Wikkid Truth

If you have been following my other ongoing project for any length of time, you've probably noticed that I have a strong sense of regional pride -- for Massachusetts, for Boston, and especially for Woburn, the middle-ring suburb that sits ten miles northwest of the Hub, astride the interchange between I-93 and I-95.

My pride isn't a matter of blind parochial chauvinism born of sports rivalries and narrow-focus bias. I'm well aware of the faults and follies of the region and its residents, but despite the occasional (okay, frequent) bouts of teeth-gnashing and directed torrents of profanity, I find those idiosyncracies to be part of the total endearing package. We're an impatient breed of inveterate complainers who stick it out today for the sake of finding something else to complain about tomorrow. Taxes, bad roads, local politics, the fortunes of the various home teams -- we are spoiled with objects of potential ire.

Yet despite the inferiority complexes and grousing, I wouldn't leave this place if you paid me. I'll take a nonsensical tangle of streets based on 17th century cowpaths or a treacherous rotary over a neatly laid out road grid any day. We don't need logic or transparency. We've got character born of nearly four centuries of history.

...and that brings us to the subject of the Boston accent, oft imitated (and mocked) by outsiders, but rarely duplicated successfully by the same. Rooted in Colonial Era English and filtered through the various immigrant groups (especially the Irish) that settled in the area, it is more than just a broad impersonation of Kennedy-speak (and honestly, only the Kennedys talk that way) or a vaguely Brooklynese patois featuring dropped r's and liberal use of "wikkid." It is a creature unto itself, my native tongue, and the most obvious manifestation (next to aggressive driving habits) of our shared sense of regional identity.

Which is why it pains me when I hear my nieces and nephews speak in the generic accent of Nickelodeon sitcom characters. Within the space of a generation, the global media village has made massive in-roads in panel-beating regional speech patterns into flat neutrality. While previous incursions by exotic dialects into the region, like the 80's "val-speak" fad, have been handily assimilated into the local accent ("Oh my Gawd, he bahfed in the back of my cah!"), this new strain, aided by the decline of regionally-based media, has been steadily supplanting the native one.

"Are you cutting keer-its?" Maura's nice asked her recently. "No, I'm cutting kah-its," was Maura's reply.

I accept that one man swinging a rusty sword will not hold back the incursion. What I can do is present to you, my dear readers, a sampling of audio clips spotlighting the glories of the Boston accent as applied to a variety of material, and offer it to you every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So feel free to email me any requests for things that you wish to hear rendered in the language of bean and cod.

Our inaugural clip comes courtesy of a suggestion by a Mr. Christopher Sims of South Carolina, whose unhealthy fascination with (and hysterical laughter over) my pronuciation of "Star Wars" livened up many an XBL multiplayer session and was the true inspiration for this project. The context behind the choice of material can be found here.

Gee, Scarlet!

Short, sweet, and right to the point. See you on Wednesday!