Learning to Pronounce My R’s!

Posted on May 30, 2021

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By David Ettinger

New York Accent
I recently wrote a blog commemorating that I have now lived in 3 different states for at least 20 years each. (Read “3 Homes, 20 Years Each.”) Those three states are New York, New Mexico, and Florida.

Despite the latter two, a fellow blogger – after listening to a teaching video I posted – noted how my accent is still strongly New York, despite having moved from there more than 42 years ago!

And really, I had worked hard to shed by New York accent by learning to pronounce my R’s. (I’m sure my friends from the U.K. and Australia understand what I’m talking about.)   

So, how did all this come about?

“Barb,” Not “Bob”
Upon arriving in southern New Mexico at age 21, it was apparent I did not sound like anyone else there. As soon as I met someone, they would ask, “Are you from New York?” Not much mystery there!

Shortly after, I met the woman I would marry, Barb. At first she got a kick out of my accent (by contrast, hers was somewhat southern twangy). My accent included pronouncing her name as “Bob” rather than “Barb.”

Cute at first, but it began grating on her. Barb finally said something to the effect of, “I’m a girl, not a guy. ‘Bob’ is a guy’s name; my name is ‘Barb.’ You need to learn how to pronounce your R’s”!

And, she added, as we had shared a dog together: “It’s pronounced ‘dog,’ not ‘dawg’!”

I certainly recognized my marching orders and set out to learn how to pronounce my R’s at the end of words. I would literally walk around my apartment saying out loud: “Not cah, but car. Not staw, but store. Not beah, but bear,” and so one.

I even started lifting my O’s on words such as “dog” and “floor.” After all, it is flawed to pronounce “floor” as “flaw” – and for that matter, “door” as “daw.” And let’s not even mention cawfee!

Noticing the R’s
That was in February of 1979. In May I returned to New York to visit the family. Within 2 minutes of being home, my siblings immediately noticed the addition to my word pronunciation, leading my brother to say, “You sound just like a hick. What happened to you?”

And note, of course, he sounded just like a New Yorker, whose accent I now snootily frowned upon. (Not to mention that I never knew most Americans pronounce the “H” in Houston; most New Yorkers simply call it “U-ston” as opposed to “Hue-ston.”)

My family spent the first few days laughing at me and rolling their eyes every time I spoke, refusing to acknowledge that I was now speaking correctly. I didn’t let it get to me, though. “The heck with them!” I thawt, I mean, thought.

No Escaping the Dreaded N.Y. Accent
For the most part, the succeeding 4 decades have seen me speaking correctly. Compared to most native New Yorkers, I consistently pronounce my R’s at the end of words, though when speaking extra-fast, I tend to drop them.

The same with “dog,” “floor,” “door,” “coffee,” and the like. Although, when not on my guard, I occasionally will shamefully fall back into a “dawg,” “flaw,” “daw,” and “cawfee” pronunciation. And when I do, the folks at work let me know about it!

“‘Flaw?’” they’ll snicker. “Don’t you mean ‘floor’?” I begrudgingly concede the point and correctly utter the given word.

But alas, despite all my laborious efforts, there’s no escaping my dreaded New Yawk – uh, York – accent. It’s enough to make a guy like me who lives in Aw-lando, Florida, want to hop in his cah, drive to the beach, jump in the wawtah, and swim fah, fah away!