If you ever saw the ‘70s movie “Midway” you may remember Henry Fonda in his role as Texas-born Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Fonda played the admiral speaking with a Texas accent so thick you could cut it with a knife. The interesting thing about this is that Nimitz didn’t really have that much of a Texas accent—even though he was born in Fredericksburg and grew up in Kerrville. His many years in the Navy likely changed the way he spoke.
I’m not from Texas. I was born in Chicago and lived there until age six. I can identify a Chicago accent if I hear one, but I don’t have that accent. I was still learning how to speak when I left the Windy City, but two aunts, an uncle and several friends had or have that accent, as did my father.
My next ten years were spent in Western Colorado in a small town that was far enough West to be considered Western and I picked up the habit of speaking slowly. From Colorado my family moved to Northern New Mexico and I graduated from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. But while in New Mexico I got my first radio job and I had to learn to speed up my normal speech.
In military service I was told I had a “Southwestern drawl,” whatever that is. But ten years active service in the Air Force exposed me to a lot of different speaking patterns, and years later I have no idea what my speech pattern or accent really is. It has been so mixed up it’s a blend of everything.
Regional speech patterns and accents are a fact of life. We mostly speak English, a Germanic language most associated with Great Britain, where many different accents are heard. Our language is so blended many of us don’t have regional accents as such, but overseas we are recognized for our American accents. English-speaking Canadians have a different accent from ours, and their accents vary from one region to another—not to mention the Quebecois—who are primarily French speakers, and Native Americans with various different indigenous languages.
Do you have an accent? You probably don’t think you do, but—like me–if you lived in different places you likely picked up speech characteristics wherever you were. In fact, quite a few words in my vocabulary are distinctively Texan. I’m okay with being who I am and speaking the way I speak and—if we speak well–we should all be. None of us should be embarrassed if we speak clearly and are comfortable with the way we communicate and if other people understand what we say.
Because of my local radio work I can’t go many places and speak without someone recognizing my voice. But do I really have an accent? In my mind I don’t, but it’s quite okay if you think I do, and I promise not to say anything about yours!
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.