I couldn’t help but hear her voice from across the room, filled with character and melody. While the laptop in front of me wanted my full attention, those sounds kept pulling me toward the warm memories they evoked.

I looked up to see a woman speaking with firm clarity to the younger man beside her. This was someone who wasn’t shy about expressing herself. Her voice was strong, but with the slight rasp that comes from many years of good use. She was speaking in the rich tones and the unexpected peaks and valleys of a magnificent Maine accent.

Her husband joined the two, carrying a mug of warm coffee and looking for all the world as though he’d just stepped off his tractor or his lobster boat. They were dressed with the kind of no-frills practicality you see in people who aren’t trying to attract attention and wouldn’t think of judging people by the clothes they wear.

Their sounds were like the voice of an old friend on the other end of the phone. And they brought back memories of all the people I’ve known through the years with different versions of that accent. Friends who grew up in rural Maine, on peninsulas along the coast or to the far north. Even today, when we see each other, hardly a moment goes by before we’ve lapsed into a playful and easy banter with deep accents.

“How ya’ doin, dee-ah? Oh, gosh, not so baad. Whatcha been upta? And how’s the betta hahf? No worse, I s’pose.”

The Maine accent is our living connection to this state’s earliest beginnings, when English and a sprinkling of Scottish and Irish settlers came to the coast to fish, then slowly moved up the rivers to farm and fell trees. Over 300 or 400 years, their accents have settled in small pockets of the state, on peninsulas and in remote areas, hardly weakening over time – until now.

I suppose there are people who can hear the minutest variations of accents in Maine, distinguished by their particular location, in the same way that a great wine taster can detect a tablespoon of one grape poured into a barrel of another. But to me there are only three major Maine accents, with a few lesser offshoots.

There’s the classic Down East and coastal accent that we are famous for, of course. There’s a somewhat softer version that could be called a rural Maine accent. And then, in pockets of the state including Waterville, Biddeford, Lewiston, the far north and other mill towns, there’s the French accent that I grew up with. In between are various blends of the three, mixed in different proportions.

Portland has a distinct version, made popular by Bob Marley, that combines a stew of all of those, with dashes of Italian and Irish flavorings. These days, new flavors are being added to our accent chorus, as people join us from around the country and the world.

Our traditional Maine accent was made famous, awhile ago, by a generation of brilliant Down East humorists, like Marshall Dodge and Tim Sample. The funniest part of their humor may be that folks from away thought they were making fun of us, never realizing that the joke was on them.

I occasionally speak at gatherings outside of Maine, and people are always amused by what they think is my Maine accent, which I insist doesn’t exist. To me, they’re the ones with accents, and some of them are odd enough to border on the incomprehensible.

America’s got a lot of accents, but none of them holds a candle to Maine, with the possible exception of the Cajun accent in the remotest reaches of Louisiana’s coastal peninsulas. There, a confluence of French, Spanish and Caribbean sounds have created an uplifting, harmonic wonder.

I sat one time in a small diner at the very end of one of those peninsulas, surrounded by shrimp boats and wharves and gnarly, practical characters. It took a full five minutes of listening to the waitress behind the counter before I could snatch even one word of what she was saying, and another 10 before I could piece together full sentences. If such a thing exists, I had clearly stumbled into linguistics heaven.

All of the accents in America are under assault, from the twang in country to the missing “r” sounds in Boston. They’re being pushed toward extinction by national homogenizing, television, schools and public pressure. Maine is no exception, and the traditional Maine accent is now an endangered species.

If we could launch a referendum to stop it, I have no doubt that thousands of us would. But all we can do is this: Save the Maine accent with love and affection. The next time you hear someone speaking in a traditional Maine accent, celebrate those sounds and your good fortune to live in a place like this. Don’t ask for them to change the way they speak. Just hope they never do.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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