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By Staff | Dec 14, 2012

Our words can reveal almost as much about who we are nearly as much as our actions. A conversation with anyone from close friend to complete stranger will tell much about how this person views other people, themselves, and life in general.

I enjoy listening to people, particularly if I perceive a mannerism in their voice that indicates where they are from.

I am not the only one who does that.

Last August in a bakery in Palisade, Colo., the woman behind the counter, after listening to me for a few sentences, suspected I was from North Dakota. She was not that far off as I have been told I sound like I am from Minnesota.

Apparently, my voice tells anyone listening that I am from the upper Midwest.

What do you mean I have an accent? I thought everyone else is different. Does this mean that I am not the normal-sounding one?

Listening to that same woman’s voice told me she was not a Colorado native. She said that she grew up in Virginia, but had left many years ago. Native Virginians have their own voice mannerisms that I find almost musical.

During a recent trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., my wife and I were listening to a doctor as part of the scheduled visit. As I listened to him, I decided he was from the South, but not the Deep South as in Mississippi, Alabama or Texas.

When we were done and he was getting ready to leave, I asked him where he grew up and he said he was from Tennessee. He left before I could ask him which end of Tennessee, be it Memphis or Chattanooga, because I was suspecting northern Georgia, as in Chattanooga, as I listened to him.

The man from southern Minnesota who stops by here every two weeks on his frozen food route grew up in Georgia and by the end of his first sentence his Georgia heritage is very obvious. Even his greeting of just “Hello” is a tipoff his background is not local.

Even here in Iowa I can hear the difference between northern Iowa and southern Iowa. People from southern Iowa sound like they are from Missouri.

Many years ago I was sitting next to a woman from southeastern Iowa and asked her what county she was from. When she answered I heard her say, “Kowk.”

I asked a second time because I didn’t understand and she again said,”Kowk.” I didn’t dare ask a third time.

I thought about it and realized she was saying “Ke-o-kuk” (that is the way I say it).

Even within a few miles of my home I can hear remnants of Norwegian accents from 150 years ago.

The town of Emmons on the state line between Iowa and Minnesota has a strong Norwegian heritage and I hear the voices of Norwegians when they pronounce Emmons as “Emmonssssss.”

There is a hiss in a Norwegian accent. My Iowa born dad would talk about feeding his “couse” (cows) and “pigssss.”

Then there is always the definitive Norwegian phrase, “Ho, yeah,” which is a term meaning agreement and is heard daily around here.

I read many years ago that people who study dialects will use how the letter R is pronounced to determine someone’s origin. The obvious example is a New England accent where the word “car” is heard as “cah.”

People whose job involves appearing in public such as actors and television personalities will work on losing any distinctive voice mannerisms to give them a neutral sounding voice. I find that unfortunate as anyone who has an accent has that as part of their identity. Why would you want to give up part of who you are?

Besides, there are people like me who keep their ears open listening for that distinctive voice that informs us of someone who probably grew up in a different background or if they sound like me, we probably have much in common.

So, tell me about yourself.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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