December 12, 2010

Maine Observer: Maine twang sounds sweeter with time

Years of coaching and practice can’t completely erase the native accent, and maybe that’s a good thing.

By BEATRICE COMAS

I am a Yankee, with family here since the 1600s (not the Mayflower) and where we grew up, I guess we all talked like “Mainers.”

But in boarding school with girls from all over the country, no one ever remarked about my accent.
It was not until I became a young lady that the way I spoke bothered me.

I recorded my voice and listened. I had never noticed that I sounded high and piping like Queen Elizabeth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beatrice Comas
is a poet, essayist and food writer who lives in South Portland.

• Readers may submit original 500-word essays about Maine life via e-mail for this column tomainevoices@pressherald.com. Submissions must include the full name, address and daytime phone number of the author.

I worked on lowering my voice. Next I tried to say born, not “bawn” and bath, not “barth.”
Then “g’s” returned to words like pudding.

MONTHS OF WORK

It took months to feel that I was at last sophisticated enough to declare myself a resident of “everywhere,” or at least what seemed to me a large city: Portland.

Throughout the years, I felt that I was unidentifiable wherever I went.

Only once did I meet some people from Pennsylvania who laughed when I said “coffee” or “vodka.”
That was because they pronounced the words “corfee” and “vordka.”

By the time I was elderly I had learned that every region of our country should maintain its identity.
I had enjoyed the “Southern drawl,” so why did I hate the “Maine twang?”

In my late 80s I was on TV to speak on behalf of the South Portland Public Library.

What I saw was a little pinched gray lady (the type who would scare children away).

My enunciation was perfect with no “Yankeeisms” but the tone of my voice said “Yankee” through and through. All that grinding work and I probably didn’t sound much different from those old geezers from my native village.

YANKEE PROUD

When asked about their health, they would reply: “Fair to middlin’” or “So’s to be out.”

Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. Only now I’m proud of it.

— Special to the Telegram

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