Saturday, 23 March 2013


This week I've been thinking about accents: the way people speak, or more specifically, the way I speak. The more I've thought about my accent, the more conscious I am of it, and so I thought I'd share a few words about my own experience as part of the 'Accent Minority'.

Living in Canada as an English person has made me acutely conscious of what comes out of my mouth. Before I came here I just spoke how I spoke and got on with life, but arriving here I suddenly found out that I have an 'accent'. I have compiled a list of the things I have learnt since becoming a talking freak show. This list might be a little exaggerated here and there, but most of the points are surprisingly accurate. Disclaimer: my tone is tongue-in-cheek, therefore do not take this all seriously. You have been warned.

1) My accent is apparently simultaneously cute, neat, awesome, and a bajillion other things that I was previously unaware of.

2) Sometimes people listen far less to what I say, than how I say it. For example, let's say I'm sorted into a discussion group in my English class. I start the discussion by getting into a 2-minute analytic monologue on Shakespeare's use of language in play X. What do I get in reply? Not a 'yes I agree with you,' or 'no I think you've got the wrong idea' - no, too often the response is 'Oh my gosh I love your accent'. Oh right. Thanks. Um, back to the assignment...

3) I have a British accent. Ignore the fact that there are three different countries in Britain and that each country has innumerable varying dialects. Nope, my accent is most accurately described as 'British'.

4) To continue the previous point, I've been told several times by people that I can't possibly have a 'British' accent because they have a British friend and I sound nothing like him. Upon asking where this friend comes from, the answer is invariably Manchester or Newcastle or Lancaster or York, while I'm from Hertfordshire (just north of London). So basically it's like me telling someone from Texas that they can't be American because they sound nothing like my American friend from Brooklyn. 10 points for logic.

5) Apparently, my accent is a guy magnet. Speaking the way I do means I am bound to have scores of admirers. I am yet to see just one of these legions of lovers. More often than not, I get the reaction of 'Sorry, what did you just say?' when I speak to any unknown male, rather than 'Marry me, English chick'.

6) I am misheard very frequently, to the point of people asking me to repeat myself 3-4 times. Last year in a lecture I answered a question and I kid you not, I said it five times before the girl next to me to took pity on the poor foreigner and repeated what I said in her Canadian accent, and only then did my professor understand. Speaking differently can be mortifying.

7) I have become paranoid about how I speak. Do I say this word funny? Oh no, have I started pronouncing that word with a Canadian accent? Do I sound WEIRD?

8) Saying words like 'rubbish', 'naff', 'brilliant', 'knickers' and 'lovely' will almost certainly produce laughter and mockery.

9) I am apparently also Australian. So many people tell me I can't be British because I sound Australian. I love Aussies, but I sound nothing like one. I had been in a class for 3 months when the professor asked me which part of Australia I was from. No comment.

10) Whatever I say sounds intelligent because of my accent. Of course I don't live by this rule myself, but it is the general consensus amongst classmates. To prove this point, I shall write complete nonsense - 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' -  but if I tell you to imagine Mary Poppins saying those words, they of course become literature.

I'm sure this list could go on, but I will end the sarcasm right here. I don't really mind all of this accent-fuss, but every now and then I feel that I need to go home and massage my head with a brick. A couple of good things have emerged from being in the accent minority: I am infinitely more compassionate to others who have different accents and try very hard not to ask them to repeat everything they say; and I have converted eleven-year-old twin girls to the wonders of Harry Potter by reading aloud to them in the Mother tongue.

I leave you with a serious thought:  Listen first and foremost to what people say rather than praising/insulting them for how they say it, for the way someone speaks does not define who he or she is.

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