Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rural Is the Worst Word I Know

As faithful readers will recall, I've just come home to Michigan after ten years spent in a small town in North Carolina, and I have very little to show for my time there save for a few linguistic tics. 

When I was teaching English as a Second Language to 14 Spanish-speaking students, I found myself sounding more and more Midwestern as the semester progressed. After the fact, I realized that I was pushing back against their Barthelonas, Balenthias, and joos with my dropped Ts, hard As, and nasal vocalizations. But after the Spaniards and South Americans vacated my classroom, I slid back into the speech patterns that had been building in my mouth since the moment I arrived in North Carolina in 2004 as a college freshman.

I picked up the strangest things there: "y'all" ("all y'all" in moments of frustration), "bless your heart" (which means the opposite), and "I ain't got but ten cent" (a vicious combinations of pieces of the local vernacular). When I thought about it, I realized the word accent sounded Southern in my head: ayk-sent instead of ack-sent. 

At that point, I began to worry. What if I was losing my Detroit self, giving over my well-worn Michigan tongue to small-town colloquialisms and pronunciations?

The ultimate test for me turned out to be one I hadn't considered until I was firmly ensconced back in my parents' house. If I could pronounce the word rural, which has always--and I mean always--given me trouble without thinking too much into it, I was doomed. If I couldn't, I was safe and would recover from my own personal Great English Vowel Shift.

I tried it out in my bedroom late on a Saturday night, when I should have been asleep but was up writing instead. Much to my relief, rural came out clearly only once, and only because I concentrated very hard on the word.

This no doubt sounds silly to you, my dear readers, and I'm willing to admit that my inability to pronounce a relatively common word is strange at best, lazy at worst. But I've noticed that my mouth can't move around it the way a Southerner's tongue can--spilling the word out smoothly, like barbecue sauce over pork. So my Midwestern (verbal) self is still safe, which is important to me in a weird way. I don't ever want to lose this part of myself, because it feels like home, and home is the one thing that keeps me grounded.


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