On my way to work today I began to suspense something frightening: that I was picking up a Utah accent. I realized that when I say the word “mountain”, my T is so soft that it’s essentially non-existent.
This flashed me back (and having flashbacks while driving isn’t something I recommend) to one of my first jobs after my mission, as I was taking notes from my boss, and heard her say “mountain” with a thick Utah accent. It sounds like “mow-uhn” (“mow” with an “ow” sound, not an “oh” sound). Mow-uhn. Sounded ridiculous.
I’m not that far, I realized, but my T was on its way out. I thought I’d always spoken like this, but it couldn’t be right, could it? My pronunciation is closer to “moun-nnn”, with a T that starts but never finishes.
So I started googling, trying to figure out what the proper pronunciation of the word “mountain” is — or at least the common pronunciation in U.S. English. Took me a few tries, but I came up with this link, which says that the soft T in cases like this is common usage in all the U.S., except perhaps by broadcast journalists.
I was relieved, as you can imagine. I (unconsciously) consider all accents a sign of poor education, and loathed the thought of sounding that way to others.
I would love to teach an “American Accents” class to all the Spanish-speakers I know. Spanish has no laziness in it — each vowel has one vowel sound, and they don’t drop down into the American “uh” sound ever. I learned this in Argentina. When we make an O sound, for instance, our lips start wide and open, but close around the sound. Saying it in slow motion, you’ll hear “Oh-ooh”. If you cut yourself short saying “Oh”, you can hear the difference. And it sounds like a Spanish accent. We need to teach them that English is often lazier than they are used to, so while the pronunciation guide says “moun‘ tÉ™n”, that T is almost unheard. And the vowels all slide down to “uh”.
My 4-year old often affects a Southern accent for fun, or a proper, British-sounding one when she’s playing princess. AND SHE’S FOUR! It me a while to figure out that I sometimes affect the Southern accent, when I’m trying to sound more playful. (The proper she got from animated princess movies of one sort or another.)
(And did I mention she uses the adverb ‘well’ properly? Yeah, we taught her good.)