Accents and Recording Booths

Our friend Fr. James Martin has been recently imprisoned in a stuffy, soundproof booth, recording his modern classic My Life With the Saints. Over at America, he has a delightful post up about his adventures in enunciation and I am so happy to know that I am not the only person who really has no idea how to pronounce Mother Teresa’s birth name:

I didn’t know how to pronounce everything. The team had to clue me in on the most accurate pronunciation of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, aka Mother Teresa. And a few times my Philadelphia accent made it hard for the Midwesterners to understand a word or two. “What was that?”

As a girl from Lawn Guyland, I sympathize. There were a few times I had to stop myself in the middle of a podcast because I’d caught myself saying “cawht,” and stumbling over my own teeth. (Those podcasts may soon resume, btw. I may have solved my “noise” problem.)

Fr. Martin also has a piece up in the WaPo (prolific, he is) where he revisits the issue of Pope Benedict’s enthusiasm for the blogosphere, which some might recall he and I both talked about (rather lightheartedly) recently on NPR’s All Things Considered, which you can hear here.

What I like best about the WaPo piece, of course, is that it gives exposure to so many good religious blogs and sites, a few of which I did not even know about, and am glad to have visited.

Speaking of good blogs
, where else but at Webster Bull’s Why I am Catholic would you find co-blogger Frank musing on the passing of JD Salinger by comparing him to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and even partially crediting his conversion to Franny and Zooey.

Oh, blogs and bloggers. They kill me. I love it all.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Bender

    I had guessed that the “xh” was pronounced like “ch”, but one site says that the “xh” in pronounced like a “jay” and the “j” is like a “y”.

  • Dave Gibboni

    I agree with Bender. On one of the documentary films made about her some years ago, I’d heard her name pronounced something like Agnes Gon-ja Boy-ah-joo.

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  • Ellen

    J.D. Salinger as a Desert Father????? Well, I guess it takes all kinds. I hated Catcher in the Rye and couldn’t finish Franny and Zooey. I guess he wasn’t a writer for me. As for reading out loud, I shudder to think of me pronouncing Mother Teresa’s name with my Kentucky drawl.

  • Liz

    “There were a few times I had to stop myself in the middle of a podcast because I’d caught myself saying “cawht,” and stumbling over my own teeth.”

    There are other ways of saying that?

  • Jim Hicks

    I was a radio dj, news anchor and voice over “artist” for many years. In Delaware, we grew up with as many unique ways of pronounciation as they have in Philadelphia! But it was what made radio different in those days. Radio in New York sounded different than Philadelphia. Philly was way different than Memphis or Nashville. Now that we get our news from Fox or CNN, our weather from the Weather Channel and our sports from ESPN, everything sounds the same. There is no local color or variety. That’s sad.

    When I pray Night Prayer with you, I expect it to soound like I am praying with a New Yorker. I expect the Rosary to sound likewise.

    BTW. In Delaware, the word “water” is pronounce “war-ter”. I still haven’t corrected myself of that problem!

  • dry valleys

    You needn’t bother trying to soften your accent for anyone’s sake. I think it is a great tragedy when people engage with rubbish like “elocution lessons”. It just seems as though they are effacing their true selves in order to satisfy people whose views don’t count for anything. If it’s the only way to get a top job, how are they going to be happy spending their earnings if they have cut themselves away from their roots?

    It would be a sad world if we were all flattened out. I speak with a very heavily working-class, urban & local accent. People can pin me down within one sentence. Those who think less of me for that- well, it’s a good way for me to figure out whose judgments are best ignored.

    Let’s all speak the way we were born to speak, eh? I’ve got enough experience of deciphering old men I can only just understand, & those living outside the city would find totally incomprehensible, to get what you’re saying :)

    Funny, though, I could never tell the difference between one American/Canadian (yes, I said that) & the next, unless they’re black, or hardcore southerners.

  • Sally Thomas

    The first year we lived in England, the mothers of my first daughter’s school friends used to remark to me that she was “losing her accent;” we thought she was gaining one. Clearly each side though the other was the one with the accent. Our daughter was five, and her accent change went something like this:

    1. First two months, full American (we are Southerners, she was born in Utah; I have no idea what kind of regional accent she used to have).

    3. Third month, American accent at home, not sure what she sounded like at school, but first inkling that an accent change was happening was that she could talk about events in her school day only with an English accent (and I know there’s not one generic “English” accent! What she picked up was the accent of her school, in an old mill neighborhood in Cambridge — definitely “town” rather than “gown”) .

    4. By Christmas, we were an American family with one English child (our secondborn, then a toddler, developed and maintained a strange hybrid accent all his own, which lasted the whole four years we were there). Nobody, listening to our daughter with her friends, would have thought that she hadn’t grown up next door to them. And they’d have wondered what she was doing with us.

    On the return leg, four years later, I forget how long it took her to become American again — another six months, at least. And at first I rather felt that someone had died.

    For my own part, I consciously — if not very informedly — renounced my Southern accent when I was five. I can still remember sitting on the floor in my kindergarten classroom, turning over in my mind the thought that while my parents and grandparents and everyone I knew in real life said “Ah” and “mah” and “nahn,” for the first-person pronouns and the number before ten, people on television used lovely round sounds: “Aye,” and so on. And, I reasoned, the people on television — I’m talking about Mr. Rogers here, and a local children’s-television personality named Mr. Be, whom I idolized — were famous. My parents and grandparents were not. So much for the vaunted wisdom of children, but that’s why I sound, in person, like somebody from noplace in particular.

  • Jan

    Well, since y’all brought it up and since I’m not a Utahn by birth, I’ll just have at it.

    I do think regional accents are charming – I have a nephew in New Hampshire that has one of those really thick New England accents; my family in Minnesota has distinctly different inflection and diction than my family in North Dakota. I have a niece from Canada who sounds like a Minnesotan.

    Just for the record, when I left North Dakota almost 30 years ago, there was no speech peculiarity – there is now.

    But Utah, heaven help us. There is no accent, but the local pronunciation is horrid. Some examples – whales are wells, wheels are wills, engines are injuns, and the worst – sales are sells.

    We have some friends from Wales who are easier to understand than some Utahns.

  • Bender

    I am happy just so long as we have a president who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, without a Negro dialect (unless he wanted to have one), so that we might forget that he is black for an hour.

  • Sally Thomas

    Utah! Ohmyheck! Binta Herrikin lately?

    I know you’re technically not supposed to lament anything about the pre-1964 South, but I do miss the old ladies of my childhood and the things they used to say:

    “Will yew look at that chahld’s purty hay-ah!”

    “Well, of coe-uss Sistah came with us on the honeymoon. Whay-ah else would she have gawn?”

    “Mah deah, you ah not stewpid. You ah mehly ignorant.” (that was my 8th-grade English teacher, actually. If you took off your shoes in class, she would come and stand on your feet, and proceed to lecture in the above vein without missing a beat).

    A late and dearly missed friend of ours who grew up in Friar’s Point, MS, in the 1920s and 30s, used to recount for us the eccentric sayings of his mother. For example, to express that she was hungry she would say, “I could eat up Vic and all her puppies.”

    Who was Vic, he always wondered. Nobody ever told him.

  • SKAY

    I agree Sally.

  • dry valleys

    I am listening to some Hank Williams records now. Apparently when he started off they told him to tone down his accent because the strains of Mount Olive, AL, would be too much for some people to handle. But eventually they were persuaded that people would like it, & his true voice stayed.

  • Jan


    First and only time I’ve ever found this expression funny! :-) (Am I bad because I don’t let my kids say it?)

    Haven’t binta Hurrakin’ lately, but just last week was up to American Fark, ya know, it’s up against the moun-ins there on I-15. But first you hafta go past Spanish Fark to git there.

    Give me your darling southern ladies any day, Sally!

  • Sally Thomas

    I remember a choir friend of mine in Salt Lake singing a Christmas anthem called “Torches! Torches!” in the style of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: “Tarches! Tarches!”

    But we can have just as much fun with even the current watered-down Southern pronunciations, which still reflect regional differences. Here in the Carolina Piedmont, you go to Jiffy-Lube to get your all checked (actually, if you imagine a Lawn Gylander saying the word “all,” you have the Piedmont pronunciation of “oil.”).

    Some of my relatives in west Tennessee drink warder and talk about going to Warshington. (pronouncing “war” as “war,” as in “just-__ theory”). And if your chuldren are running through the house any time between Thanksgiving and Easter, they’re liable to tump over the Christmas tree. So your husband hauls them up by the collars, and they say, “Aw, Diddy . . . ”

    It occurs to me that if I still lived in Utah, I would not consider myself snowed in right now, and might be out doing something in the real world.

  • MissJean

    Mea culpa, Anchoress. I listened to the NPR piece and then read a few comments. I didn’t realize that what I thought was “reply” was really “recommend”, so I recommended a fellow who snarked about it.

    Really, I love your accent. It’s very light.

    I had a classmate from New York – one parent from Queens, one from the Bronx, and hers was a mash. She was teaching English in China when she suddenly realized that perhaps she should do something else. She said they were about 10 and reading a story about Americans when suddenly she heard it:

    “We are happy here in Noooo Yawwwk.”

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