Author: Zuniga, Nancy

A Manner of Speaking

Have you ever caught yourself lapsing into an unlikely speech pattern influenced by the person to whom you were speaking? In the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties”, I made my living driving trucks, and found myself adopting the patter of my fellow road jockeys. Aside from hearing CB lingo such as “That’s a 10-4” and “What’s your 80?,” it seemed that nearly every voice that came over my truck’s radio had a southern accent… rather odd considering that I did most of my driving within California and Nevada. Without realizing it, I began to talk the same way when I was out on the road. One evening as I was heading for a truck stop in Nevada, I got into a conversation over the CB radio with a fellow trucker who had a thick southern drawl. He was stopping at the same truck stop, so I joined him for a cup of coffee. Much to my surprise, when I began to converse with him in person, his southern accent had disappeared. I learned that, like me, he was a displaced school teacher from the West Coast who had decided to learn to drive big rigs. I don’t remember our conversation except for my commenting to him that he sounded very different in person, and he told me that I did too, as he thought I was from the south! It seems that I had mimicked his fake southern accent without even realizing it. We both had a laugh over the way that truck drivers affected that speech pattern when they were yakking over the CB radio.

It’s only natural to speak a bit more formally in some situations than in others. Common sense tells us that slang expressions, incorrect grammar, and even profanity which might be acceptable in the company of one’s peers are inadvisable in a conversation with your employer or your elderly aunt. Generally, I don’t have to make a conscious effort to speak in a certain way; my brain just automatically seems to adjust my way of speaking to fit the situation. Stuffy, formal speech while hanging out with my friends would feel just as inappropriate and uncomfortable as raucous banter during a job interview.

If there is one area in which I am very much aware of re-adjusting my speech pattern, it’s when I’m singing bluegrass songs. I’d like for my singing to come across as genuine and unaffected, but the truth of the matter is that most people who grew up in San Francisco aren’t accustomed to dropping the final ‘g’ on words like “darlin’ ” or “corn squeezins”. Like most natives of the Golden State, I called my parents “Mom” and “Dad”…not “Mama” and “Daddy.” I was taught not to say “ain’t”, and I’ve had to overcome my aversion to improper grammar when singing certain songs. It occurs to me when watching professional singers, both bluegrass and non-bluegrass, that performing a song isn’t all that different from acting; just as an actor takes on a part which may have no similarity to his or her real life, the singer is stepping into a role and trying to make it believable. Hopefully, when I get into a jam, my enthusiasm for the music will compensate for my lack of authenticity. (And it might help for me to stay out of the corn squeezings, with or without the ‘g’.)
Posted:  10/6/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email