Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer Goal #3: Work on My Maine Accent

My first goal for the summer, of course, is to write. My second goal is to make it through my ten year high school reunion unscathed. My third goal is to practice and master the Maine accent.

I mean, seriously. Enough is enough already. I've been here almost two full years now, and I still cannot replicate the accent on command. And if you're wondering how many times I'm suddenly asked to do the Maine accent, you'd probably be surprised: it's a lot. A lot. And I can't.

I'd say it took me two years to get the Minnesotan accent to sit in the back of my throat, and now when I'm back in New York, I pop into that accent every now and again to get a laugh because--can we face it? Let's just face it--there is nothing sillier sounding than the Minnesota accent. Even a Cockney accent has more clout. Someone speaking in a Cockney accent sounds like he's got his mouth full of cotton balls--maybe because he was just in a bar fight and got slugged on the jaw and then slugged someone else on his jaw and then all out pandemonium ensued. That's at least a little badass. There is nothing badass about the Minnesota accent.

Of course, it's difficult to slide into that accent if you haven't been speaking it your whole life, and I've always found it helpful to start off with one word I know will strike some kind of chord in my memory, and then I can prattle off sounding like someone's sweet grandma from "up nordt." Usually those words are as follows: oh (ohhhhhhhhhh), yeah (yahhhhhhhhhh), for (fer), or Megan (Maygin). That last one is in honor of my old roommate, who can do the Minnesota accent like no one's business. If I channel her, I'm all set.

Sometimes I start off with a whole phrase--usually the one that horrified me the most after I first heard one of my office mates utter it in complete sincerity. That phrase is oh fer cute, and it means, I guess, Wow! That's super cute! (I'm not kidding you. People actually use that phrase.) It's usually a crowd pleaser. Once, one of my friends took me aside and said, "Come on. You're exaggerating. They don't really say that." And I had to tell that girl to stop living in a dream world.

Anyway, it's those things that can easily slip me back into my finely-honed accent. And that's what I need to kick start my Maine accent. I need to find a word or phrase that's going to clang in my ear and command: Start talking like this, and do it now!

For a while I thought it was going to be forty (fawty) or the classic Maine affirmation (ah-yup), but neither of those do it for me. Neither of those push me into an a-ha! moment, where suddenly I am dropping phrases and vowel sounds from my mouth in a way they'd never normally come out.

For those of you who don't know, the Maine accent is essentially Boston-ese but perhaps a bit crustier, a bit rougher, a bit more hick-ish, and then made even odder by Maine's insistence on bastardizing French words and sounds. Sometimes the things that fall out of people's mouths up here take my breath away.

But I think what I'm going to start practicing with this summer is the word "brother." The way guys from Boston say "brother" is "brutha," and that's the way some of my students--the students with thick Maine accents--say it, too. And I can do brother/brutha pretty good. I can say Whutcha doin' brutha and pull of a decent accent. So now I think I have to make careful note of more odd phrases and phrasing, more odd pronunciations to get it just right. But I'm betting that this time next year, if you asked me to spontaneously produce the Maine accent, I'll look at you, smile, and say, "Absolutely, brutha!" And then I'll be off with wicked-this and wicked-that and fawty mah days and ayup, that lobstah's got a pretty wicked pincha on him! And it will be spectacular.


Joe said...

Try "Bobby" and "Sox."

I went to college in Boston and had a roommate from Cape Elizabeth for 3 years...

Chatty Cathy said...

If it makes you feel any better, I've lived in Maine my entire life and cannot produce a Maine accent on command.

I remember, as a child, seeing a commercial for the Taste of Maine restaurant. The guy in the commercial said somthing like, "Come to the Taste of Maine Restaurant on Route 1 in Wiscasset, just north of Bahhhth" (Bath). I was really young when I saw this commercial, and I decided then and there that a Maine accent was the most horrid thing ever. I made a concerted effort from then on to NEVER drop my R's, add R's where the don't belong, etc. I do throw the wickeds around, though.

Most people from out-of-state assume I'm not from here. I can't even fake a Maine accent now.

Just say wicked and throw in a few ah-yuh's, and you'll be fine. ;) Oh, and DON'T go by Tim Sample (Maine comedian). He's not even from here and his fake accent is atrocious.

Jess said...

All very helpful comments! :-)

Mike said...

Like it! I just happened to have posted some Dover-Foxcroft auction action that features a true Maine accent. May be useful for practice around the house: "Who'll give me $10 for this cat?..." :)