Friday, June 10, 2011

So You're "From Away"

So you're From Away.” I hear that statement more often than I would like. Whenever I open my mouth, Mainers know from the first syllable that I utter that I'm “From Away.” My strong accent is a dead giveaway. “From Away” is a term used by Mainers to describe anyone who is not from Maine. Even if you live in Maine and have done so for years, you're still “From Away.”

Last week, I overheard a conversation at a local restaurant between two Mainers. One guy was talking about a client who had accused him of being “From Away.” Even though the guy was born and raised in Portland, the client had expressed concerns about his non-standard Maine accent.

In Maine, being From Away” lowers your social standing in the community. There's an unsaid law that requires Mainers to avoid socializing with the From Away” folks unless absolutely necessary. If there's one word to describe Maine it would be "insular." Having lived most of my life in California, a state that is home to immigrants from around the world, insularity is a concept difficult for me to understand. Since most people in California are From Away,” you would have a difficult time engaging in business or social activities if your discourse was limited to the locals. Perhaps, this insularity explains why Maine is Maine, and California is the world's seventh largest economy.  

In any case, most Mainers tell me they detect a southern accent in my speech. Yes, an accent from the land of Dixie. When I say I'm from California, they seem astonished. When people think California English, they often recall the stereotypes made famous by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa in their song “Valley Girl,” circa 1982. “Like totally! Gag me with a spoon!” famously intoned by Moon Unit, and instantly cementing a stereotype of California English as primarily the province of Valley Girls and Surfer Dudes. But California is not just the land of beaches and blonds. While Hollywood images crowd our consciousness, the real California, with a population of around 35 million people, has a variety of accents.

When I reflect on the California accent, I immediately think about its “strong” quality as distinguished from the soft southern or flat mid-west accent. I know it when I hear it. Nevertheless, Californians do have a tendency to use “I'm like,” or “she's/he's like” to introduce quoted speech, as in “I'm like, 'where have you been?'” A shrug, a sigh, or any of a number of other expressive sounds usually follow the statement. I've never heard that expression and its subsequent stylization used anywhere but in California.

Before I left the “Golden State,” I also noticed that a number of younger people were saying, “I'm all” or “she's all” as a replacement for “I'm like.” So while accents and certain types of phrases may tell a person where you're from, they also reflect your age and generation. Accents and types of expressions aren't static. That's why a phrase such as totally awesome” could some day be a term used only by the senior set.  


m.m. said...

fellow [native] californian here by way of LA.

actually, the "all" usage is actually an old usage re:

"like" is still the majority usage, and not just limited to california. were noted for its use though.

and indeed not all californian accents are the same. central valley/bakersfield/sacramento do indeed have southern traits in the accent region re: and

i learned about "from away" though xD

Fernando De Leon said...

Thank you fellow Californian. When I lived in Sacramento (20 years), I did detect a hint of a southern accent. Perhaps, that's where I go my slight southern drawl.

Fernando De Leon said...

BTW M.M. what does xD mean?

m.m. said...

xD is an internet smilie in my case for 'laughter'