Thursday, June 12, 2008
There’s No Place Like Home Part II
A few weeks ago, Pipi and I were driving through Oakland on Interstate 580, when I spotted a bumper sticker that I was pretty sure referred to my hometown. “Look,” I squealed, “Hamp!”
“What did you say?” Pipi asked me in a tone that said, “I’m trying to work with you, but this conversation has not gotten off to a promising start.”
“Hamp, HAMP,” I repeated, as if volume were the only problem; as if everyone in California knew that old-time Northampton guys refer to the town as “Hamp.”
“How are you spelling this?” Pipi finally asked, and I realized that along with my Northampton pride, I’d also experienced an upwelling of my Northampton accent. This twang, which has more in common with upstate New York and even the upper Midwest than it does with Boston, has a Cockney-like disdain for internal consonants. (Remember the nursery rhyme about the three little kittens? In my childhood, they were called “kih-ins,” and they’d lost their mih-ins.) The accent also strangles “A”s to within an inch of their lives. My “Hamp” apparently came out more like “Heeamp,” confusing Pipi, who’s never known me to be much of a rope-maker.
This kind of misunderstanding doesn’t usually happen when I’m visiting Massachusetts, and that’s one thing I love about it. I don’t have to watch my vowels. No one asks me to repeat myself if I mention a tag (yard) sale, or gets shrill if I utter the phrase “packie store.” (It’s short for “package,” and means a place to buy a six-pack of beer.)
In Massachusetts, I order a grinder and I get a hot sandwich, not a blank look. People here speak my language. And like me, they’re prone to pronouncing it “leeanguage” if they’re not policing themselves.
It may not always sound nice, but it feels like home.