9

My father is of Scots-Irish Appalachian-American heritage but I grew up on the East Coast of the USA and normally speak English with a Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey accent.

I have been interested in reconnecting with some of my roots by intentionally adopting some accent or dialectal features of Appalachian-American English.

Is this socially acceptable or is it offensive to people who actually grew up in Appalachia?

I have considered that it might constitute Cultural Appropriation, but as far as I can tell I have a legitimate claim to cultural membership (in other words, I am reclaiming lost heritage, not stealing someone else's). I travel frequently to Appalachia and get along very well with people there.

  • 11
    Unless you develop an accent automatically, I don't think it's appropriate. People will assume you are just "having fun with accents or something." – NVZ Jul 24 '17 at 16:13
  • 4
    Is your attempt at the accent any good? Accents are extraordinarily difficult to pull off. If you do a poor job, it's going to reflect even worse on you. – HDE 226868 Jul 24 '17 at 20:37
  • 1
    The answer to this would be strongly subjective based on answerer's political/ideological biases. – DVK Jul 25 '17 at 13:48
  • Please refer to the reaction clips to every Irish/Scots/Indian/African/etc accent in a Hollywood movie ever :-) – Toby Jul 27 '17 at 14:06
8

There is nothing wrong with being interested in various local dialects & accents. It can be fun to learn them & use it for impersonation, etc, but I do not think most people take to it kindly outside of acting or just learning it in good fun. My grandfather & grandmother had strong accents, to the point of speaking broken English. When people tell stories of them, they often tell it by using their accents & I have always found that funnier and charming. I never met them, so I don't know firsthand what they sounded like. My mother's 2nd language is English, but she doesn't speak with her parent's accent & I can't imagine why she would. I would find it odd I think if she attempted to have the accent that she doesn't have, even though she must have had it when young. She didn't learn English until she went to school.

There are words & phrases we use that aren't English or are specific to the small community my mom grew up in. From being around it so much, even my spouse has gone to using some. I don't mind. And from people teasing & telling funny stories of my grandparents, he has picked up "Vy you do dis nonsense?" as it was something apparently my grandmother said a often & it's something he's heard a lot out of various relatives in happy memory of my baba (grandma). That phrases is generally used when children are being children. You could for sure pick up words & phrases used commonly in that area & no one would find it weird.

There are many words that are regional. An easy example I think of is soda pop, as it's referred to in various ways all over the USA, soda, pop, coke, etc. It depends on where you are as to what it's called. There are lots of little things like this that likely go over fine. I am sure there are a multitude of things like this specific to the region.

2

Unless you develop an accent automatically, I don't think it's appropriate.

People will assume you are just "having fun with accents" or something.

I grew up in the Middle East mostly, moving from city to city, and visited my home country India often for vacation. And therefore, I've been to several different schools and colleges, and exposed to all kinds of people and accents. I've also managed to pick up 4 or 5 Indian languages plus Arabic.

The more interactions and conversations I have with a particular group of people, the more their accents mix into mine subconsciously. Can't help it.

So even when I speak my own mother tongue, some of my relatives find my accent a bit strange and have on occasions asked me what's the deal.

2

Your case might be somewhat uncommon, but I think a more common case to be considered is when people specifically try to hide their original accent/dialect in order to 'fit in' more with the people they're speaking to. In a lot of cases, this is seen as duplicitous; if you're trying to hide how you really talk, then what else are you hiding about yourself? Can anyone really trust anything you say when you're deliberately saying it in an unnatural way?

In terms of cultural appropriation, normally you aren't the one who gets to decide if you're part of the culture; culture is a communal experience, it's created by groups rather than individuals. Birthright often isn't enough, and claiming you're part of a culture because of your ancestry can even be taken as an offense. Basically, in many cases, membership in a culture isn't born or bought, it's earned. This is why 'poser' is an insult.

So I'd say the only way it would be appropriate for you to adopt another accent/dialect is to earn it. If you steep yourself in the culture for long enough, some of it is bound to rub off on you, especially if you let it. If you let Appalachia become a part of you, then your claim to its culture will be stronger, and you won't be lying to people by using its accent.

Of course, you could also just do what you want and not worry about what people think of you. That's a valid option, if you're not concerned about losing friends or making enemies. Other people's opinions shouldn't dictate how you live your life, unless you want them to. I wear skateboarding shoes because I like how they look and feel, actual skateboarders might think less of me for it but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

1

Why do you need to do this? People who do have this accent will just think you are making fun of them. What's wrong with the accent you grew up with? It's perfectly fine and nothing to be ashamed of.

If you really want to adopt the accent then move there and it will come on its own.

If you are interested in your ancestors you can do the family tree stuff, travel to Scotland or Ireland (they are two different countries) and visit old churches and registry offices - the things US Americans seem to love to do.

Maybe there is a club near you for people who celebrate their ancestry this way? They meet up and wear the costumes and talk the talk. It still isn't real, but it sounds like fun.

1

I'm a little torn here... On the one hand you are free to speak however you damn well please. On the other hand, you will annoy a number of people by affecting an accent that you didn't come by the "usual way". Hardly fair, but true.

Tangentially relevant story... I've lived in different parts of the US and Spain, so my English and Spanish, while usually "default", often have particular expressions or sounds sneak in when I'm not looking. For instance, if I'm asked a question and am musing on the answer, my "well..." often comes out quite Southern, and some 2.5 syllables. ;D And don't get me started on my hybrid Castilian/Andalusian lingo.

So where does that leave us? I'm going to have to -- reluctantly -- advise a bit of caution. Is there anything more annoying than those guys who pretend to be Aussies in bars to pick up gals? Recommendation: give yourself a tinge of Appalachia only, and save its full fury for special occasions.

0

It's ok to do this occasionally if "Appalachia" is the context of discussion. But do so "sparingly" to make a point. Then revert to your natural speech when you've made your point.

I might begin by saying, "Naw Ah'm nawt a South'rner..." in a "southern accent," to illustrate that I'm trying to speak their language and then revert to my normal accent, after "proving" that I can speak "southern."

But don't do this in ordinary conversation, out of context, because that will come across as artificial and annoying. One exception to this rule might be if you were with Appalachians who speak this way, and were trying to "mirror" them.

0

If you mean good, then yes, you are allowed to try to speak and practice it, especially with the locals. Go to the Appalachia and speak to old men there. Whom is going to dare to argue the honesty of this?

However, if your wish is to simply speak a language for which you feel no authentic connection, then why bother? The criticism you are hearing is your own: what comes from curiosity is not subject to this kind of self-criticism.

Learn the art of self-knowing!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.