Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Accents I Have Known and Loved

I grew up in a house full of accents of varying degree. I was the only one roaming the halls of that three family brownstone whose first language was English.

Most of the accents were Hungarian.

If you can conjure (or click here) the way Dracula spoke in the 1931 classic film of the same name, you get the idea of a classic Hungarian accent. As a result of the film, many people associate that accent with men in capes who sleep in coffins during the day.While I'm pretty sure I actually had a great uncle who did just that, I associate the accent with home, family and love.
Not everyone in the house was Hungarian, however.

My Uncle Tommy's wife, Mary, born in Puerto Rico, speaks with a Spanish/New Yor-ican accent. While she became an adept cook of my uncle's favorite Hungarian dishes, she can't pronounce their names without giving them a distinct Latin flair.

Though born in the very house in which she (and I) grew up in Brooklyn, my mother's first language was Hungarian, not English. But by the time I showed up, she had no discernable accent other than that of her native borough.

My grandpa, who lived to be 92, was one of those people whose accent grew heavier the longer he lived. To hear him bellow at the Mets -- as they blew game after game on the old cabinet TV -- in his thick accent, was a summertime routine.  

Needless to say, I am very fond of the Hungarian accent. If I hear it in public, spoken by strangers, I sidle over and, inconspicuously,  try to listen to the familiar inflections as memories rise around me like high tide at Coney Island.
"Wanna get some cawfee?"

I, myself, did not escape an accent and freely and loudly speak Brooklyn to this day. I can turn it on or off as the occasion dictates. For example, I toned it down ever so slightly when being introduced to Charlie's professors last year at graduation but  let it rip when I'm with old friends from the neighborhood.

Speaking of which, many years ago when I was 21 and dinosaurs freely roamed the earth, I visited California to spend some time with family.

My relatives were true Californians....complete with a Cali way of speaking and a laid-back attitude.The trip included Los Angeles and San Diego but I ended up in Palm Springs--the arid, chic playground of the then-stars, such as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.

One evening, we all went to a restaurant called "Pal Joey's" which, I was told, was an occasional hang-out of none other than Mr. Sinatra, himself.

Roughly eight of us were seated at a large, centrally located table when I noticed, lingering at the bar, a leathery middle-aged gentleman looking  at me very intently. I soon realized that, not only was he staring but he'd begun a slow stroll towards our table.

Wearing a tight-fitting black shirt, with a semi-longish comb-over, he had the look of a 70's hit man. As he approached, I become nervous, bracing myself as he came right up to the table.

Did I remind him of an old girlfriend who had done him employee who'd embezzled his money...his long-lost mother who'd run away with the circus when he was just a boy? Was I about to be accused of something, thrown out, shot by the concealed pistol he kept tucked discreetly into his polyester waistband?

Arriving at our table, he suddenly grinned. And, out of his smiling lips, came the purest form of a Brooklyn accent I'd heard since I boarded my flight west. Looking directly at me, his teeth very white against a deep, desert tan, he said,"YagottabefromBrooklyn! WhatpartaBrooklynyafrom?"

Laughing in relief and delighted to meet a New Yorker in the alien environs of California, I listened as he explained that he hadn't heard the accent of his homeland up close in a long time and that he missed it very much. We chatted as the table of west coast natives looked on in confusion. I honestly don't think they understood a word we said.

It turns out that he was the owner of the restaurant--a Brooklyn native adrift in a sea of valley-speak, drinks were now on the house.

As memories go, I will nevah,evah fuhggedaboudit.

Take a listen to Fran Fein and how English should be spoken.


  1. I enjoyed your post. I grew up in a mixed home. We spoke Brooklyn and the Bronx.

  2. I'm from New York and people tell me I have no accent at all. This doesn't make me happy. I want to ttalk like a New Yorker.

  3. LOL... too funny. I grew up on LONGH ISLAND... lol... but I think because I hated the way everyone spoke and was involved with my Ukrainian heritage, loved Italian from the Godfather etc... I would often get asked what nationality I was and where I was from when I originally moved here. Most were shocked I came from Long ISland because I didn't have the accent, but they couldn't pin point a bit of an accent. By that time I had studied Lakota Sioux, Tried Japanese, some Russian, a prayer in Hebrew, tried mimicing Achmed the Terrorist and Ghandi's accent. Later reading and researching some of my Irish background and French. So there ya have it..... I am so mixed and so what I think is normal, some think as puzzling. I just had a conversation with my husband about how it seems people who have a french, english, (european) accent get paid more attention to and people think they are more intellectual and sophisticated. I remember when I was dating my now husband, there were these snobby girls who were eyeing me out... I had gone to the ladies room and they followed me, I said hello with a french accent and instantly their attitudes changed and they started talking and being nice to me. (I love doing that)... now days its harder to get away with it as we are such a melting pot now that you actually have to know what you are talking about before you say something to someone in fear they may call you out on it. Anyway, back to the Brooklyn accent.. my mom and dad, aunt and uncle and cousins still sound Long Islandish and I have been caught by my daughter who was raised here in CT to slip up and do the accent I didn't even know Connecticut had an accent until my daughter started saying Floorida, instead of Fla-rida, Thee-ater instead of theater. I was like... wow where'd that come from? LOL... I still say Fla-rida!

  4. I love accents and wish I was clever enough to mimic. When I worked in radio, I used to get complaints that my accent was 'put on posh'... My mum heard a man complaining and phoned the station - they put her on air - and people heard that I sound just like my mum... no more complaints!!!
    My dad is from Yorkshire in England. His accent was really strong and he was teased when he first emigrated. So he worked to change it, and now speaks broad Kiwi!
    I'd love to hear the New York accent in person :-) XO

  5. Well, Susan, you know that I do not have an accent, right? ;-)

  6. How funny, Joe...a mixed home with tweo separate languages, eh?

    Thanks for reading.

  7. I could give you lessons, Caroline!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  8. That's so interesting, Denise...and funny about the French accent.

    I say Fla-rida, too! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. Well, I'd like to hear "Broad Kiwi!" I had no idea you'd worked in radio!

    So, come on over and I'll talk to you...dare ya'!

  10. as a current Californian transplanted from Queens, can't tell ya how I enjoyed this!! My husband and kids tell me my accent is worse when I'm mad and I tell them to "buzz awf" . My parents lived out here for 10 yrs and sounded like they just got off the plane til the day they died!! How I miss a good New Yawk accent....

  11. So glad you enjoyed this, Dawn. Just keep tawkin'.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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