Monday, 12 October 2009


I have just been pining to write today, so I skipped the second half of my morning lessons today to come back home, strip down to my boxers (it is still quite warm) and type you something.

Last night I, despite having had no more than six hours sleep in the past three days, went out with some of my new multi-cultural pals. Inevitably, as we are all language students, we got onto the topic of language learning and more specifically our accents. I continue to cause a stir with my reserved English tones, constantly contrasted with those of our American friends. A large majority of those on the table, including a Frenchman, one girl from Sweden and one from the Philippines, all said they wished they spoke English with a ‘British’ accent.

I chose to not be my usual, pernickety self and avoided asking which ‘British’ accent they wanted. I would usually run off the absurd number of different forms of annunciation packed into a country not that much bigger than the state of New York; Scouse, Jordi, Cockney, Brum, RP 等等. To be honest it has simply become a way for me to show off a bit, “Look how many accents I can do!” Foreigners don’t need to know my Liverpudlian is in fact probably closer to Irish, and my attempt at Scottish sounds suspiciously similar to French.

I especially turned to the French guy, asked him, “Why?” English sounds wonderful in the thick French accent that tumbles out of his mouth, and after all, why would you want to disguise where you are from? Are you not proud of being French?

I realise in retrospect this was a some-what lame and ridiculous argument. I was clearly just playing devil’s advocate for the sake of it – I blame my tired self. I have a tendency of just go looking for confrontation when I haven’t had my beauty sleep.

Now I think of when I speak my languages. The only one that I speak well enough, in which I can be considered to have anything other than an English accent, is my Spanish: laced with Catalan inflections from years of working there every summer. I am clearly not trying to fit in; ever tried to pass as a Spaniard when you have pale skin, blue eyes and wear nothing but Topman? It rarely works. But the way I speak tells a story; it carries the residue of everyone I have ever spoken to and has evolved because of the very human desire to fit in.

My own English accent has always kind of bothered me, purely because of its schizophrenic nature. Over here I speak a fairly standard form of English, not quite RP but not quite Cockney. It is the accent American will try (oh so hard!) to imitate. I basically have a very androgynous accent when I go abroad, I sound like I am another generic Londoner. This annoys me greatly; I am an Essex Boy and proud.

When I am back home, however, the way I speak wobbles all over the place. My parents are from other sides of the country; my Father from Essex, in the east and my Mother from Bristol, in the west-country. My tongue can never decide which it wants to be; Bristolian or Estuary English. It has always made me question how genuine the way I speak is and have never been sure if I have been subconsciously forcing it (paradox?). I remember times at YouTube gatherings when my accent has been all over the place, because of the mix of people there and their ways of speaking just screw with my brain.

But I guess the way I speak will always change, whether I am at home or abroad. I will flit between the London accent, impossible to place, the country-bumpkin Bristolian or the Essex Boy who greets everyone with, “’Ello sweetheart!” or, “y’aright mate.” Part of me wishes my brain would just make up its mind! But I guess as long as people here continue to tell me my accent is ‘cool’, I suppose I can’t complain.



Hope Is Not A Myth said...

Your post made me smile. I am kind of the same way when it comes to accents and dialects. I lived my first eight years of life in Texas and when I moved to Indiana my "ya'lls" and calling everyone hon were blatantly obvious. But those faded with time (except the hon part) Whenever I go down south though it is maybe a few hours before I sound like one of the locals. Then recently I moved in with a girl from North Dakota. I find myself saying "dontcha know" and "oh my" just like here. I think its fun. It keeps people on their toes :) In my opinion if you change how you speak well then it means that you are actually listening when people speak thus picking up on their accents, which is a great quality to have.

Anonymous said...

First off, I'm glad to see you on the interwebs again. I have had a Jazza-shaped hole in my internet life.

As someone with a fairly bendy accent, I know what you mean. When I'm at home I have a non-regional accent, one that could identify me as someone from anywhere in North America, but when I'm around people with different accents I tend to pick up little bits and pieces of how they speak. I went to a YouTube gathering in Bristol and my accent went everywhere from vaguely Scottish to very london. It's not something I try to do, and most of the time I don't even notice the change, it gets pointed out to me by someone else.

My acting teachers love it, though.

Dave said...

I don't know where my accent comes from. I seem to be on both sides of the North/South divide, which I guess makes sense being a midlander! But I don't talk like people I went to school with. Sometimes I say 'grass' and sometimes I say 'grass'... You know what I mean! I think uni changed it quite a lot, and it probably depends who I've been hanging out with lately.

But I don't really mind, one of my favourite parts of living here is the range of accents you come across, and I'm happy to be influenced by a lot of them.

Sara said...

I'm glad you posted again ;D
I'm portuguese and due to years with British teachers and watching BBC I now have a kind of british accent. But my friends start laughing at me when I speak English because I don't talk with the more americanized accent they all adopted! They are not very familiar with the british wide range of accents... I would blame the complete lack of british TV series in portuguese television xD.

eibbore said...

I have the extremeley annoying habit if subconciously changing my accent depending on who I am talking to and their accent. I should have a really strong accent but I don't. That's kind of annoying. When I was in the US people didn't notice I was Scottish.

Lubby said...

Accents are bendy by nature. My mother's accent the standard non-regional/maybe vaguely Midwestern accent we all have here, but whenever she is even just a little bit upset, or even just playful, she reverts to a full Southern accent. And perhaps just because of her influence, I do it too.

But I don't really understand accent envy. You've got what you've got. It always seemed like a stupid thing to fixate on to me.

Monica said...

happy to see your post again (:
my english teacher was from the UK when i was little, he did influenced me of my accent, but when i went into junior high school, almost everyone got an American accent. i couldn't made up my mind that whether i should say 'fast' or 'fast'....(you know what i mean.) and now, however, i got an terrible accent that usually mix up with both of it....i wish i could have the accent like yours, but it's impossible now :P