Accents are a funny thing. An accent separates or distinguishes you from another person or group when you speak. For as long as I can remember, I have always had an accent. In kindergarten, I spoke broken English since I only spoke Spanish at home. So I had a Mexican accent. But when I went to Mexico, I had a gringo accent when I spoke Spanish. Then, I met my friend Patrick McDonnell in the second grade and I spoke with a little bit of an Irish brogue. Since I attended a Lithuanian Catholic grade school, I picked up a few Lithuanian words. In high school, classmates made fun of the way I talked, so I only talked when absolutely necessary. I remember reading books aloud to practice on my pronunciation. I was trying to eliminate any trace of an accent. Unsuccessfully, I might add.
When I enlisted in the Marines, I met people from all over the United States for the first time in my life. It was the first time someone told me that I had a Chicago accent. I was surprised when I met someone new and he said he knew I was from Chicago because I had no accent. My accent adapted unconsciously so would fit in. And I did fit in. During my enlistment, I had spoken with the accents of Brooklyn, Texas, Queens, Boston, Virginia, Oklahoma, and California. But I didn’t do this on purpose. I just somehow blended in with everyone around me.
When I began teaching Spanish, I also unconsciously adapted the accent of the people around me. So depending with whom I spoke, I would speak like them. I’m not sure what my true original voice sounds like anymore. A colleague once said, “I was trying to figure out what dialect you were. Now I know you’re Mexican because you said, “Mande.”
I suppose if I listen to myself carefully, I hear all these different accents in my voice in different places.