It was the summer before my senior year when I first remember becoming fully aware of my dialect. I was working at Walmart. It was an old-school Walmart. Closed at 9pm, still had a hyphen in the name, and the cashiers did everything from stock soda to straighten shelves.
At the end of each closing shift we were all told to go "face" the shelves and were not allowed to clock out until the manager had done his walk-through to be sure everything was in order. This was the time when my friend Levi, a stock-boy, and I would meet up in the toy department or cosmetics and chat about our days.
Levi and I had been going to school together for just a couple of years, but we had a lot of classes together and he became one of my great "school friends." You know. We didn't talk on the phone or really hang out in "real life," (this was the pre-texting, pre-Facebook era), but we were buddies at school, and at work.
Levi wore wranglers every day. He lived on a farm. He liked horses. He said things like "ain't" and listened to country music. He was about as country as they come at WHS. At that time I considered myself to be more of a "townie." Sure I indulged in country once in a while, when my windows were up or when I was home alone. I wore clothes from Maurices. I wore Dr. Martens.
Anyway. Back to the straightening. As we were doing so, we were discussing the fair and the country music singers. I told him that if I was going to go see anyone, I'd want to go see Faith Hill.
Levi BUSTED up laughing. He was doubling over.
"What's so funny?" I asked him.
"Say it again!" he said between laughs.
"Faith Hill," I said, unamused. Laughter again. When he finally composed himself, he explained what he heard.
"Andrea, it's Hill. Hih-lllllll. Not Heuhl. Hiiiiillllll."
"Heeeeh iiiihl" I said slowly. He laughed. And for the entire following school year he would randomly walk up to me and say "Faith Hill," then start laughing. The cowboy. was mocking. MY. accent.
It began to disturb me. As I paid more attention to myself and watched some old home videos, I realized just how strong my accent was. And it wasn't strong like a cute Southern Belle. It was strong like Debutante meets Beverly Hillbilly with a touch of Darlene Connor. I remember sitting in English class thinking, "I'll never have a second date in college if I keep this up."
And so I made a concentrated effort to begin correcting myself. I looked closely at how words are spelled. I had only learned by LISTENING, not by deciphering. I never knew that "pin" and "pen" had different pronunciations. I just thought they were spelled differently. I guess that's probably when my true grammar flair started.
I did a good job. I worked hard and although I didn't remove my accent, I changed the way I spoke. As the years went by, and I became an English major, I started trying even harder. I was surrounded by proper grammar and speech.
I began teaching, and that meant making even more of an effort to understand words and language and to use them correctly. I had been failed by poor models in my life, so if I could at least speak as well as I wrote, I could model good grammar for my students.
Day in and day out I studied my lessons. Taught the same concept three to five times a day. Graded papers. Corrected misuse. I started to not only speak well, but to speak correctly. I started using phrases like, "for which," and "to whom," and I learned the difference between subjective and objective forms (I vs. me) and when it's right to use them. My speech became as perfect as my writing.
And then I quit.
I quit teaching, that is. I traded in my grade-books and red (actually purple) pens, my early alarm and my khaki pants for boots and jeans and a farm-wife life. I started sleeping in. I started working at home. I rode around with my farmer hubby all day checking cows and hauling hay. I moved to a farming community, full of boot-wearing, country music-listening, tractor-driving farmers. I love to listen to my hubby talk. I think he has the cutest accent, and it kind of comes with the territory down here. But it's not something I would pick up.
Before I knew it, I started to notice a change.
It was first when Chloe said "ain't," and I corrected her, and began to worry that she'd picked up the bad habit at school. (Yes, I got more irritated with her learning "ain't" at school than the day she called the dog a bitch haha).
Then the other night, hubby asked me what I had.
And I said.
"It ain't nothin', babe. Don't worry 'bout it."
And he laughed. The farm guy in his Levi's and boots laughed at how I was talking.
Just like Levi.
And I realized I have come full-circle. This little dialect demon that I thought I had overcome had reared his ugly head once again. I've realized that what I hear on a day-to-day basis affects me so much more than what I KNOW. And without daily practice and dedication, I quickly fall back to my old habits. Anyone know of an exorcist for speech and grammar demons? :)
At least I can still write well :)