Are We Speaking the Same Language?

Photo: Got these classic silhouettes done of the boys last week… they came out even better than I could have imagined. The 90 year-old woman who does them is a hoot, and a skilled crafts woman, and she does them with a single pair of scissors live on the spot. Seriously. Such a treasure. I’m giving these to family members for Christmas and I cannot wait! ) If you live in or near Massachusetts, you need this in your life.


Two weeks ago or so, I was tasked with getting the boys dressed so that they could go outside and bother their father for a while. The boys, of course, were being squirmy and not terribly cooperative, so each step of the process was a hassle and I was starting to lose my patience. The following happened next:

Me, to Ursa Major, who was fidgeting when I was fastening his overalls: Listen, I need ya’ll to focus! I’m trying to get you dressed so you can go outside!

Ursa Major, with a puzzled look on his little face: “Ya’ll?” What’s a “Y’all?” Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll?

Ursa Major falls into a fit of giggles.

Me: Are you making fun of me?

Ursa Major, still laughing: Yes! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll!

Ursa Minor, who had been playing and not paying attention, decides to participate, too: Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! hahahahahahahahaha Ya’ll!

It was a funny moment, yes, but it still left an impression. It’s not like I’ve never said “ya’ll” to or in front of my boys before… but it was the first time that Ursa Major noticed the word because it’s a word that no one else in his life seems to say. I felt like a yokel for a fraction of a second… then I remembered what my uncle said to me a few months ago:

“After all, you’re raising two New Englanders…”

And it’s like my ears seemed to open up and I started really listening to Ursa Major and how he speaks.

“Mama, I’d like some wah-tah, please.”

“Mama! I see a fi-yah truck!”

“Mama, I don’t wanna go up the stay-yahs!”

What….. what even…. how in the…?

There are many reasons why this is a little bit hilarious. People from the DC Metro area (real people who are actually from there) don’t really have an accent. People often tell me that I have a “TV” accent… as in, there is nothing remarkable about how I speak. Sure, DC has funky vocabulary and pronunciation of some things (Warshington instead of Washington, Cookouts instead of Barbecues, tennis shoes instead of sneakers… don’t get my started on half-smokes and mambo sauce), but for the most part we speak in a pretty generic way. So to experience the beginnings of a regional dialect in my son is just a fascinating thing that I get to watch.

But I’m also sorta fighting against it. Why? I don’t know… Maryland pride? Disdain for the New England accent? The fact that the New England accent is very closely tied to class? Don’t jump all over me about that statement: I don’t want him to sound like a Kennedy any more than I want him to sound like a 4th-gen Boston constable… both accents are iconic, and not necessarily in a good way. Of all of the currents that he’s going to have to swim against, I don’t need a class marker put on him as soon as he opens his mouth. I  want him to sound normal when he speaks.

So that, of course, takes me back to my childhood. Just like it was yesterday: “My daughters will speak the King’s English,” my Father would proclaim whenever my sister and I let loose an “ain’t got no” or some such within earshot. Lord, can I hear it! The whole lecture! My sister and I would go to school, listen to the other kids speak, come home and put our hands on our hips and just start speaking in that other tongue and my Father would lose his mind. “A lady speaks with power! A lady speaks properly always! No daughters of mine will speak like they just walked out of Anacostia!”


So I’m not trying to do that. I swear, I’m not. How would I even go about doing that? “A Marylander properly enunciates his ending -er sounds!”

That would be a little bit ridiculous.

I have, however, just done some simple correcting.

“Mama, I want some wah-tah, please.”

“I don’t have any wah-tah, but I have some water.”

“Uh, yes, water. Water, please.”

Of course, the mystery was where in the world he would pick up this accent. The Husband and I don’t have it, neither does my neighbor (long time resident, but transplant before that), and most of the moms at preschool are from other places (New Jersey, Connecticut… so forth). So where?

Clarity came last week when I was parent helping. I’m cutting up blueberry bread in the kitchen and I’m hearing Major and Minor’s favorite teacher do some pretend-play with the blocks. “Who wants to build a fi-yah station with me? Won’t that be so much fun?”

Well I’ll be darned…

It’s not a heavy accent. Not like the exaggerated kind that you see on TV. But it’s just enough… and my boys love this woman so much, that of course that little subtlety would come out at home! And of course, I barely hear the accent any more because I’ve been here so long… but for the boys… it makes perfect sense.

I’m not really worried about the boys picking up a little bit of New Englander sound. It would be an entirely futile effort to try to stop them from picking it up. Despite my Father’s tirades, my sister and I learned how to code-switch between casual language and “The King’s English” with ease. The boys will, some day, experiment in all of that as well. And that’ll be fine, too. Can you turn an accent on and off the same way you can code-switch depending on what neighborhood you’re in? I wonder…We’ll see.

I’m a Marylander raising New Englanders. I don’t even know what that means. I guess I’d better learn, though, because they are learning lessons every day that I’m not teaching them. <— that is the scariest thing I’ve ever typed.

I’m feeling a little frustrated, dear reader, and I’m sure you can relate. We were very productive as a family this weekend, getting a lot of necessary things done. Yet, when I think back, I didn’t get any thing done on my own list of things I wanted to get done! So I’m sitting here with a week’s task-list that is as long as my arm, none of it is easy, all of it will take large chunks of time and, as my Google calendar is so happy to remind me, I have very little of it! It’s going to be a tight week… I hope I can get it all done, and maybe come out on the other side with a little bit of grace and patience left over. (This is doubtful, to be clear). It doesn’t help that I lifted some boxes that were way too heavy for me, agitating my lower back and putting me in a lot of pain. I don’t have a lot of time to properly rest and, because of my high blood pressure, I can’t just pop advils until it all goes away so… it’s gonna be a long week. 🙁

But we press on despite the obstacles! We have no other choice! So get out there and get something done! I’ll tell you what I manage to accomplish on Wednesday! 🙂

Until then, take care.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. zeudytigre says:

    Loved this. I have a soft, Belfast accent that I have more or less suppressed since I moved to England. My elder two kids speak clear cut English, my youngest has a touch of west country where we live. Why is that?

    What really gets me though is a habit my daughter has picked up. She is about to criticise something and she starts ‘I’m sorry but…’. She is not sorry! I hit on her every time, but why? Because my mother in law does it and it drives me mad. I wish I could chill and let my child be. Mother in laws though. On this I know I am in the wrong 🙂

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I’m curious: Why do you feel like you need to suppress your home accent? I’m guessing that might also have to do with your mother-in-law?

      And that “I’m sorry, but…” nonsense is annoy and it isn’t just where you are! There are some women who do it here, too! Grrr. In the South, where I used to live, the women used to say something really super critical, and then end it with, “bless his little heart” or something. Example: “My goodness, that Mary Sue’s little daughter just never shed that baby fat, did she? Bless her heart!” Lordy.

      I don’t really do that. I do find myself saying “I’m sorry” for any little thing. Used to drive one of my co-workers crazy. Force of habit, I guess. It’s easy to just humble yourself, even if you are right or it is purely accidental. She was like, “STOP DOING THAT!” My response? “I’m sorry! I’ll try not to!” classic. 🙂

      How have you been? It’s been a while!! I’m sorry I haven’t popped by your place lately! I suck! You’re doing NaNo, though, right!?!?!!?

      1. zeudytigre says:

        I started to suppress my Belfast accent so as not to be teased when I started work. The habit stuck although I do revert somewhat when I go back on occasional visits. I don’t recall my MIL ever mentioning it. We got on better back in the day, before I made it clear that I had no intention of living my life as she saw best. Now when any of the kids pick up on her habits it grates on me and I try so hard not to be irritated purely because it is something she does.

        I am a bit up and down but generally okay. Hoping to do NaNo, I even have a story idea! My fiction writing hasn’t been going so well so it may be the kick start I need 🙂

  2. Hahaha I’ll think you’ll be okay, but if they bust out into the Carlton dance you’ll know you’re screwed 😉

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Um… I kinda love and may or may not be an expert of the Carlton Dance… and I may or may not be the coolest person that I know, so….

      1. you are now also the coolest person I know

        1. K.C. Wise says:

          Dang, girl! Aren’t you up a little early?? On Oct 21, 2014 6:23 AM, “Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.” wrote:


          1. Haven’t been to bed 😛
            Only a quarter to 4 down here. 15 more mins. and I’m headed poolside to watch the Orionids.

          2. K.C. Wise says:

            The what-the-who? Would google, but just got out of morning swim. Hope it’s enjoyable? On Oct 21, 2014 6:44 AM, “Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.” wrote:


          3. Meteor shower. We are moving through debris from Halley’s comet, and this shower produces some of the brightest, most colorful meteors. Plus the stars are super visible and bright, Jupiter’s like BANG. Good shit.

          4. K.C. Wise says:

            Well damn! Now I’m jealous! Gonna see if I can find some pictures! I love that stuff! Have fun! On Oct 21, 2014 7:04 AM, “Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.” wrote:


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