Today we speak of American accents as if they are really distinct. Well, they may sometimes be distinguished. Certainly New Englander and Louisianan do not sound identical, but television has erased a lot of what made both unique. I can remember travelling as a teenager and being unable to understand a Cajun auto mechanic in Opelousas and having difficulty with understanding directions to the Longfellow Bridge in Boston. There was a time when regional dialects could be almost different languages.
My cousin Sally and her family lived in Atlanta. During her only visit to our home when I was in second grade, I struggled to understand her. When she told me I was “so skinny I was going to dry up and blow away” she had to repeat that slowly three times before I figured she was offering a not-too- flattering critique of my slight frame. I listened and learned and after a day of complete immersion I had a working knowledge of the foreign tongue. Later, when Sally said to my mother, “Ann Karlyn can I ave a natha co cola” Poor Mom was confused. I was able to translate. “Mom, Sally would like another bottle of Coke.”
This linguistic skill paid dividends for me. In second grade we had a pretty young art teacher who was most obviously from “out of town”. When she would provide her instructions during her weekly visits, she might hold up a piece of construction paper in an effort to ensure we were properly orienting our materials and say, “There is a lawng side and showt side. Hold it so the tawp is a lawng side.” I knew what she meant while others stared in confusion. Not only did I love the music of the drawl but in a second grade fashion I felt so cosmopolitan.