Pop. Soda. Coke. These three simple words are easily the best way one can reveal their regional alliance. Northerners opt to call a carbonated beverage pop; while southerners demand a coke; and coast-dwellers plead for a soda. With a country as vast and multicultural as the United States, it is no surprise that linguistic diversity can be found in every corner. Yet, self-awareness of one’s own regional accent and worry over how it could be perceived is a trait that is distinctly American. According to a study driven by the popular language app, Babble, 54% of Americans suffer from accent anxiety when going outside of their regions.
In response to this global phenomenon, four Doane University students have been asked to describe their accent in comparison to others, and explain how they believe they were being perceived.
Interviewer- how long have you lived in the midwest?
Marcus- My entire life.
I- What is it about your voice that makes it unique?
M- Probably the fact that it’s monotoned. When I do choose to inflect my voice, that really lets people know I’m passionate about what I’m talking about.
I- what are some ways people have characterized your voice?
M- I’ve heard that I don’t have a lot of inflection in my voice. It’s gotten me into [some] situations where people will think that maybe I’m upset, or that I don’t care about a situation, but it’s just how I talk.
I- Do you think people’s voices are important? What about voices do you think interests people?
M- I think they make us unique. The first impression you make of someone is how they look, and then their voice is the very next thing that you judge them on. Like for me, like I said, with how monotoned I am people’s first impression is that I don’t like them, or that I’m an angry person, and then that affects their entire judgement of me.
I- Can people usually tell where you’re from just from how you talk?
M- I think so. Like west coast and east coast, they’re so distinctive, with unique slang to each area. The midwest is just kind of normal. But I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life, so of course it’s going to sound normal to me. Just like an east coaster’s voice is going to sound normal to an east coaster, and we’re the weird ones.
I- What are some phrases or slang from the midwest that other people might not know?
M- So my dad is from like west-west nebraska. Grew up on a farm, and they just say a lot of words differently, like instead of “dishwasher” they say “dishwarsher,” instead of “ketchup” my dad says “kapship.” “Pop” instead of “soda.” Just little things like that.
I- What are some differences you’ve noticed from people you’ve met from different regions?
M- I had a friend that moved down to California for two years, and he came back saying just the weirdest stuff, and I had to catch on to what he meant. Or my brother lived in Paris for a year, and came back saying stuff like “What the bloody,” and stuff like that.
Shingirayi Michael Jamucheka: Harare, Zimbabwe; San Antonio, Texas
Interviewer- How long have you lived in Zimbabwe and how long have you lived in Texas?
Shingirayi- Zimbabwe about 18 years, here in America for about 4 years now.
I- What about your accent, do you feel you have a thick accent?
S- Yeah, I have been told I have a thick accent.
I- What are some slangs, phrases, and verbiage that you have picked up both in Zimbabwe and in Texas?
S- I picked up phrases mostly from Zimbabwe since it's multicultural. Like we have a lot of British-English, so when I am addressing someone I will say, “hey bruv,” instead of, “hey bro,”. [We also] call a group of guys a mandem.
I- Can people ever tell where you’re from by your voice?
S- A lot of people straight up have identified where I am from or have guessed that I am from Africa. I don’t necessarily sound like the black person here, or the white person here. I am kind of somewhere in the middle.
I- Do people ever make fun of your voice?
S- Kind of yeah, I have phases [where] I have a super thick African accent, people imitate it, but I find it funny.
I- Why do you think voices are important? Or do you think it’s not?
S- I think based on science that is [the way one talks is] something that identifies you. You can’t sound like anybody else. You have people who imitate others, but that is never going to be the exact pitch. So having your own unique voice is kind of your marker in life. It’s your thing. It’s not something someone can take away from you.
Salvador Delgadillo: San Diego, Calif
Interviewer- What are some slang words, terminology, dialect, etc, that you use from the west coast?
Salvador- I guess you could say I speak a little spanglish; and what that means is basically I could be speaking a Spanish sentence and then pop in an English word or vice versa. Some terms we use out on the west coast are “ése”, or ”foo.” Stereotypical, but with family out there that’s how we communicate.
I- When you say stereotypical way, what do you mean by that?
S- So when you hear Mexicans, let’s say in California, in southern California, or LA, people think of gang members and, at least, we have this stereotype that goes around us that like everyone is a gang member if they use those terms and slangs.
I- How do you feel the way you talk differentiates you from everyone else? How does your voice make you different from everyone else?
S- I have this kind of deep, slightly raspy voice. My dad has a pretty raspy voice, and same with my grandfather. That’s just how it has been in the family. I feel like I also have a slight Hispanic accent, which is different from someone who would be from a town deeper in Mexico. Growing up in a Mexican-American household my family spoke both languages. Because of this, I have an accent with some words, but not others. For example, sometimes when I pronounce my S’, it won’t even sound like an S.
I- What are some terms, phrases, etc you have learned from living in Nebraska?
S- One of the biggest things I have picked up from being here is how some of the words are pronounced by native Nebraskans differently. Like for instance, I heard people call “washers”, “wershers.” Just small stuff like that.
Andres Mora: Caracas, Venezuela
Interviewer- How long did it take you to learn the English language?
Andres- In Venezuela, I started learning English when I was five or six years old. That came to be because my dad had to do an MBA back in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is influenced a lot by American culture. [Later on], once I found out I was going to have the opportunity to come to the States to get an education; I began trying to focus more on studying the language. I still have a heavy accent, which I'm very proud of. Proud of in a sense that I don’t want to feel the same as an American, but at the same time, I know how to defend myself in the language. Of course, that comes with issues, like when people mock you. Which I understand, but whenever it’s a complete insult, that’s when I get mad. When it’s in the context of humor, I am fine with it.
I- Has anybody described your voice in a specific way?
A- I think what most people notice is my pronunciation. It happened today. I said “cirquits”, instead of “circuits”. In Spanish, you pronounce almost every letter in the word. With English it's a little different; like for the word circuits, u and the I are one syllable. In Spanish, most of the time you pronounce both vowels.
I- What would you say differentiates your voice from your brother’s?
A- He kind of has a softness to when he speaks. He’s a little bit more delicate when he speaks, especially in English. I am a little bit more rough sounding.
Reporters Chandler Farnsworth and Logan Fetzer helped contribute to this story.