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The power of our origins and language

Posted by Lotg on October 23, 2003

In Reply to: Accents posted by Lotg on October 23, 2003

: : : : : : In an earlier thread, Anders mentioned that even though he learnt English in Scotland he doesn't have a Scottish accent. But I asked how he knew.

: : : : : : I once worked for a german born man, named Bernie. Bernie moved to Australia just before the 2nd world war because he could see the writing on the wall. I was only 20 at the time, so alas I must confess that was 25 years ago. Therefore Bernie had to have been in the country for some 40-odd years.

: : : : : : One day when he asked me and another staff member to do something, we misunderstood what he said. When he realised he asked why we didn't understand him, and we said it was because of his accent, that we often had trouble with certain words he used. He was horrified and insulted. He stated, in a very thick gutteral accent, zat he has no accent and he shpeaks eccsactly like Oshtralians!!! He was very touchy about it, so we backed right off.

: : : : : : However, I have other friends, originally from non-English speaking countries, who tell me they're unaware of their accents.

: : : : : : And when I spoke French in France, I can't really say that I was aware of my own, no doubt very Australian, accent.

: : : : : : Strangely though, I am aware of my accent within the bounds of my own country. ie. I can hear that I speak like a girl from the Victorian bush, because I can hear that I sound different to people raised in other parts.

: : : : : : So how many people can be truly aware that they have an accent?

: : : : : Hi Lap,
: : : : : Good one! I'm heading off to work, but will return later in the day. Meanwhile, let me remind people trying to judge their own accents that there's a huge difference between listening to yourself as you speak and listening to a recording of your voice. Obviously, your evaluation should base itself on the latter.
: : : : : Anders

: : : : I speak passable German - I have a German wife. One day when buying something in a shop in her parents' home town the shopkeeper asked me 'do you come from Holland?'!! Praise indeed - he didn't recognise me as an Englishman speaking German. This has happened more than once - double praise.

: : : I have never noticed Lap typing with an accent - so I would never have guessed she had a Victorian Bush accent. I come from a town to the north of London, but when I moved sixty miles south, nobody thought I was from out of town - yet, before that I had moved 60 miles north and been entirely detectable as a non-native, whilst a student. Now 18 years later, I can really tell that my voice has changed - to my ear, it sounds much more precise when I speak and yet when I listen to taped radio broadcasts, much deeper and more resonant than I would suspect.
: : : There is quite a considerable variation within a 40 mile radius of London, which is amazing as these days a local area has people from so many places. Accent-wise, the oddest thing I heard was meeting a West Indian for the first time. He was white and sounded the same as his coloured compatriots. I had never heard a white West Indian and had always thought of the accent as belonging to black-AfroCaribbean culture. No reason to make that assumption, but I had.

: : While vacationing in London a couple years ago, I found it amusing that some of the English I met had a hard time understanding my American (Detroit, Michigan)accent. They'd ask me to slow down when I spoke, or would say "Come again?" I dunno, I just figured I had a plain straight-forward manner of speaking. Then I visited Paris, and well, forget about it. I couldn't communicate much at all. I just ate crepes, saw the Eiffel Tower and went home.

: Holy Guacamole - I just read Anders' reply and I aint touchin' that one. It's probably a Danish thing. I've heard about you Scandinavians.

: Ha ha, I'll have to watch that typing accent of mine too.

: As for Yankee Doodle, I love the way you got around your accent problem. Crepes - sounds perfect to me. Actually, just to pat myself on the back a bit (well only half really), apparently my french accent was so good, that they thought I was French - but before you all reel in horror at my bragging, the downside of this was that they would relax and speak so quickly that I didn't have a hope in Hades of understanding what they were talking about. Whenever I'd then explain that I spoke either very little or very bad French, they'd exclaim in astonishment that I sounded French (so I guess the Aussie accent thing wasn't really an issue). So apparently I sound good in French, it's just a crying shame that I have no idea what anyone was talking about - he he! So like you Yankee Doodle, I ended up resorting to food - which in France isn't a real tough sentence.

I just re-read Lewis' comment. He said that he has noticed that his voice has changed over time. I haven't really listened to any tapes present or past, so can't make a true comparison. I've met friends from many moons ago who grew up with me in Wangaratta who tell me I sound exactly the same now as I did then. So I suppose I haven't changed. But some of that has been quite conscious. After moving to the Big Smoke, on many occasions people (particularly in business), tried to encourage me to change the way I speak. It was too country for their liking, and not very politically correct. I objected to this, because the way I speak is not grammatically incorrect (overall), just different, and I found it objectionable that they should think I should conform. There were times when I would hear myself adopting some of their phrases, intonations and pronunciations, and I would very consciously correct myself and return to the original me.

I found the same was true when I spent time in America and Canada. Although for a slightly different reason, I felt it important for me not to lose my accent. So again, sometimes I would hear myself slip into their intonations, etc. and again I would very consciously correct myself.

Maybe this is obsessive behaviour, I don't know. But there's been for me an unexpected payoff. These days, and for some time now, I've been winning quite high level, high profile contracts and thus moving in senior management circles of large enterprise. I find that most people who move in those circles feel obliged to conform, to be politically correct. In my opinion, that's insecurity. In fact, what I really think is that they're 'wankers' - not at all politically correct of me I'm afraid.

As far as I'm concerned, when I'm working, I know what I'm doing and I know I'm good at it, so I feel no need to do as the boss does - in fact if I did I'd be very bad at it and it would be my undoing.

I'm the sort of person who'll say things in emails like, no sorry I can't make that meeting cos I'm flat out like a lizard drinking, or in meetings I might say things like, don't come the raw prawn with me, get back to me when you've sorted this all out. This sort of thing is not common corporate speak.

I will not deny that I exaggerate my use of such terms, because it works. People remember, take notice and I get action.

So maybe this takes us to a couple of other threads, such as the discussion re formal vs informal language. I use language, and my origins, in a quite deliberate way sometimes to get things done or make things happen the way I want. Apart from that, the way I speak is completely natural and comfortable to me, so if I attempt to conform to anyone else's standard, I find that I just make a fool of myself.

And let's face it, don't we all love other people's accents? OK, some accents are awful and hard on the ear, but generally it's endearing to hear foreign accents. I think it would be a shame to move to another country and lose one's accent completely. And some accents are stronger than others. Scottish would have to be one. And I once met a man from Hull - who's accent was so think that I didn't realise he was speaking English!