Thursday, May 05, 2005

Translation Problems

I grew up in western Oklahoma in the midst of a bunch of “Okies.” Neither of my parents are from Oklahoma, so I didn’t pick up too much of an Oklahoma accent, except for a few things like short “e’s” being pronounced with a long “a” sound. I worked really hard on that one after I grew up and moved to Utah with my husband, actually. I had spent my life eating “aiggs” for breakfast, shaving my “laigs,” and thinking that Greg and Craig would be good names for twins because they rhymed.

I tried to overcome this tendency in Utah, so as to sound more like the natives. When I thought of eggs, I would mentally remind myself to pronounce them like “ehggs,” and not “aiggs.” It usually worked pretty well. When I went back to Oklahoma for my high school reunion a few years later, in fact, I suddenly discovered that all of my old friends had very pronounced Okie accents that I’d never noticed before.

I can’t comment much on strange accents in Utah. My dad is from Utah, and I grew up thinking that he sounded pretty normal. Some people probably think that Utahns sound pretty weird, but I am not one of them. But my sister in Oklahoma started making fun of me for pronouncing the word “mountain” with a Utah accent after I’d been there for a few years. Well, if you think about it, that really would make sense. People in Utah talk about mountains a lot more than people in Oklahoma do. The landscape in Oklahoma’s about as un-mountainy as you can get.

After spending nearly nine years in Utah, now we’re living in Wisconsin and facing new language challenges. One thing we’ve noticed is that sounds that we’d pronounce like “ow” are often pronounced here with more of a long “o” sound. So, in Wisconsin we don’t live in houses. We live in hoses. We don’t go “out and about.” Where we go sounds to us more like “oat in a boat.”

And then there’s the long “a” sound. Here in Wisconsin, words like “bag” and “flag” are pronounced with something of a long a sound, like “baig” and “flaig.” Which presents something of a problem for me. My mental translation processes that I worked so hard on in Utah really break down here, because the long “a” sound no longer necessarily represents an “e.”

For example, the first time I bought something at a grocery store in Wisconsin, the checker clearly asked me, “Wanna beg for that?” I stood there panicked for a few seconds as I wondered what she wanted me to do before she gave me what I thought I’d just paid for. Who knew what kind of strange customs they had here in this foreign land (Wisconsin)?

But I finally answered yes, hoping that was indeed the correct response to her question. And a few moments later, my purchases were happily riding home in the beg…or bag, or baig, or whatever it is.


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