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I’m from the Ottawa Valley, eh

The rural area where I grew up is in the news.

CBC news reports that a University of Toronto linguistics professor is spending time in Ottawa Valley towns listening to people talk. We speak differently from everyone else, you see. You could call us a linguistic enclave.”

When I left the Ottawa Valley decades ago to attend university in southern Ontario, my accent—my Ottawa Valley twang—was the source of much frivolity for my classmates. I called potatoes “pu-da-duhs”, and  they found it quite amusing. The word “bank” in my hometown comes out more like baw-ink. They laughed at that, too.

Some of the quirks of the twang defy explanation. For example, if someone dies and needs to buried, we pronounce the word “buried” just like it’s written, while others say “berried.” On the other hand, if we want to eat berries, we call them “burries.” Similarly, a carrot in the Ottawa Valley sounds like “car-ott,” while a car we drive sounds more like “caare.” The list of unique expressions and unusual pronunciations seems endless. A former high school teacher of mine started a list:

When I landed at the University of Windsor 31 years ago, in order to fit in, I changed my accent. I bought into the idea that the way they talked was “better than” the way I talked. I had an accent from a rural area, and I bought into the myth that urban is better than rural.

I don’t believe that now, anymore than I believe any of the other “better than” myths: black is better than white, or vice versa; straight is better than gay; tall is better than short.

I’ve been gone from the Ottawa Valley for 31 years, but the Ottawa Valley is not gone from me.

I spent my formative years in an area where we dug in the dirt; where we grew our own food and food for others; where we treasured manure instead of shunning it; where neighbours were far apart physically but close together emotionally; where we ran free in fields in our bare feet; where we had “play” clothes and “good” clothes, but the good clothes rarely got used; where pick-up hockey took place on a frozen stream; where road hockey games could go on forever without having to shout “Car!”; and where we honoured the cycle of life by welcoming every mewling kitten and mourning every lost cow without denying that it be so.

If there’s anything “better than” that, I can’t think of it.

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