The idea my paper would have to focus on was fairly obvious to me once I thought it over for a bit; the narrative about how I spoke differently than your average high school graduate due to my upbringing was really the only genuine personal reflection I could make upon the topic we were assigned. I hope my paper managed to get across the idea that even within a seemingly homogeneous group born and raised in approximately the same location there can be a remarkable difference between their individual ways of speaking.
I didn’t make too many revisions to the draft I posted previously. Unfortunately, despite the amusing and very true advice given by Anne Lamott, I apparently struggle with writing ‘rough’ drafts. In the end, I rewrote a couple of the weaker sentences and added a bit to paragraph four, but that’s about the extent of my revisions.
I actually feel like I managed to produce something at least halfway decent for this assignment, which is unusual as I’m usually much harder on myself when it comes to my writing.
Time really wasn’t too much of an issue for this assignment, so I don’t think I would have made any significant changes to the paper if I were given an additional week or so to complete it. However, if I truly had unlimited time, I would probably rewrite it in a slightly different tone; something more interesting and less commonplace; something with a bit more ‘spark’ and just a tad less formality. I want to include more of these aspects in my future work and I hope that during the time from now until the end of this semester I can improve upon my skills until I achieve the style I’m aiming for.
As I road in the front seat of my mother’s car (a rare treat, as I was the youngest of three) while we drove along the scenic highway to Oxford, Ohio one Thursday morning, I sat quietly and was preoccupied with worrying: about whether my roommate would be out partying every night until the break of dawn, about whether the communal restrooms would be unbearably filthy, about whether there would be enough space in my drawers for all of the art supplies I was bringing (I afterwards learned that I brought approximately eighty percent less than almost everyone else in my dorm, so I was fine on that front), and about forty other disparate things.
One worry, however, that was conspicuously absent from my fretting was concern about the potential differences that could arise between my fellow students and myself in our respective ways of speaking. I figured that as a teenager who was raised in the Midwest enrolling in a college with a substantial majority of its students from Ohio, there could only be the smallest of differences in our individual dialects. It wasn’t long after my first day at college that I realized how wrong I was. As someone who had been homeschooled for the past thirteen years, there were many phrases and idiosyncrasies of speech that my peers had picked up on the course of highschool that they readily used in their conversation, occasionally much to my confusion.
I found myself compulsively analyzing the speech habits of my peers in an effort to imitate them correctly. The subject of greetings and the various ways of saying goodbye was a comprehensive study in and of itself: were ‘hi’ and ‘hey’ interchangeable, or did one suggest greater familiarity than the other? Was ‘see you’ more appropriate for a conversation in which the participants would be meeting again shortly, or was it more of a universal ending, suitable for any situation? Was the ultra-casual ‘later’ ever used by anyone except guys or while people were texting? (I actually still don’t know the answer to this one.) Was ‘have a nice day’ entirely too reminiscent of a bank teller, and if so, why did people keep using it? Was ‘have fun’ just a little weird coming from anyone besides a parent, or could it be used among people of the same age? And perhaps most baffling, what was the ideal ratio of ‘like’s to the remainder of the words in the sentence?
Even after my considerable attempt at figuring out the inner workings of these nuances of speech, there was still a substantial difference between the way I spoke and the way many of my peers spoke. I was still too formal in my language and was too prone to throwing in random large words, chiefly because I tend to have brief bouts of aphasia in numerous conversations and couldn’t think of any other word with approximately the same meaning. It probably didn’t help that I am by nature a quiet sort of person with a tendency towards introspection. Although I am more than capable of holding my end of a decent conversation, it isn’t the most natural thing in the world for me. Without delving too deep into the psychological jargon and the popular theories of personality, I am definitely what experts would usually term an introvert. Introverts may not be entirely doomed to a lifetime of social awkwardness but being one can certainly make a lively social life that much harder to obtain.
Interestingly enough, around my family there were never any of these difficulties of communication. Although each member had their own way of getting things across and their own little linguistic eccentricities, we had formed a community with mutual understanding between the members and we possessed a common language that was the result of our collective English in addition to our many little inside jokes and phrases. Outside of that world, the way I spoke generally attracted much more notice.
I think the root of the problem (if you can call it that) lies at least partly in my childhood. When I was four years old, I apparently demanded that my mother teach me how to read a year before formal school was supposed to start. Ever since then, curling up with a good book of almost any genre, fiction or non-fiction, has been one of my favorite ways to pass a couple of hours or so. The books that you can generally find listed on any of those ‘Great Classics’ lists were a significant percentage of my reading material. Spelling was always my forte because normally I had already encountered many of the harder words in any given lesson several times before. I usually played the role of dictionary and spell-checker in my social circle. All of this has led up to my overly formal, seemingly uptight, and not-at-all casual way of speaking and writing. For my speaking and writing styles are quite closely related to one another.
I remember one English assignment that instructed me to write a piece in a casual, ‘conversational’ tone, with a list of helpful suggestions for the attainment of that goal. It was allegedly a ‘rest’ from all the academic five-paragraph essays I had written formerly. In reality it was harder for me than any of the previous assignments. Writing in an academic tone was practically second nature to me; writing as if I was talking to my family or friends (which the helpful suggestions recommended) and distinguishing it from the first style was difficult; for me, there wasn’t really a distinct difference between the two. When I finally finished the paper, it didn’t even remotely resemble anything that I would say in real life, much less write.
And I suppose in the end that therein lays the heart of the matter: trying to speak or write in a certain way merely because it is considered the norm among a particular group or expected in a particular essay is trying to alter a fundamental aspect of who I am. I may not be thought of as having a distinct accent (at least not in North America), nor do I have any regional colloquialisms I regularly use, but I do have a particular way of speaking that distinguishes me from the norm, and it is as much a part of my identity and history as any difference in dialect would be.