Monday, 19 November 2007

The Thing About Accents...

...is that when it's not your own, you tend to laugh about it. This is true wherever in the world you are. I spent three years in Hull, where the locals probably have the worst accent in the whole of the UK, if not the world, and yet they'd laugh at people who spoke more 'normally'. This coming from people who would cry out "hunnaaay, fern curl fer yoooouuuuuuuz!" and "errrr neeerrrrrrr it's sooondeeeeey meeeernin".

So anyway, in Sri Lanka this accent thing is a big issue. I was at law college the other day, trying to cram in as much as possible in the 15 minutes prior to when the exam started when these two girls who were also about to take the exam started talking in raised voices and varied accents, one american, one british, disrupting the blissful silence. The deafening cackle of foreign voices disrupted the orderly exam preparation that was taking place along the corridors, which made the students sit up, peer at the cacklers, giggle, sneer and then try to concentrate again whilst the conversation continued. However, it didn't stop. Which made me stop studying and ponder.

How is it that when some Sri Lankans go abroad, they develop an accent that they can't seem to lose even when they come back?

While you live abroad, it is invariably true that you develop a particular way of speaking in order for the locals of that country to understand how you speak. That sort of adaptation would avoid the weird looks you would get if you break into "ado that kaalla was bloody hot nuh you bugger?". I worked in call centres for the entire three years I was abroad, so at first people could not understand me over the phone. So I had to adapt my ways of speaking in order to be more clear, and it worked. But i'd lose the 'accent' as soon as I got talking to people who would understand me normally. Hence, when I came back, it was easy to shake off.

But, some people who go abroad for a short period of time, come back with a stunner of an accent that just doesn't seem to go, and sometimes doesn't even fit in the locality where they were based. For instance, a friend from school studied in Durham, but instead of the Newcastle-ish drawl, he came back with a perfect, high class, essex-ish accent. Another example would be the medic who studied in Nepal, and now has an American accent. Maybe my geography just sucks and I don't know what the hell i'm talking about.

But, my question is, if you can acquire an accent by being around foreigners and speaking like em, how come you can't lose it when you're back and speaking with your own kind? For one, you tend to be the laughing stock of the town. Secondly, a foreign accent is not something that makes you cool. Thirdly, I just can't understand you when you go "eeeeeeer i gotta geeeeeeer, fern curl".

8 musings:

Darwin said...

I don't get it either. A pet peeve of mine is classmates who went to uni in Aussie and now actually have the balls to do a "Gidaay Maaite". I would laugh except it's tragically unfunny.

Parthi said...

i personally think its showing off..i agree i do have an accent and to be honest when I talk english at my home or with my relatives I tend to speak the typical sri lankan way...even callign friends back home i dnt go off with pure canadian/american accent it changes its mode automatically...its more like an unconscious decision..yeah when I say certain words the accent comes up but other wise noo...so i think those ppl who cant seem to lose the accent has a conscious decision to speak it that way and kinda show off

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

It's also funny how an accent can be interpreted differently by different people. I've met quite a few people who appear to have a Sri Lankan accent to me but who are known to have a strong English accent by many locals. To some degree accents are very relative.

Azure said...

totally agreed!!!!

i had a friend who claimed it wouldnt get him any friends if he spoke normal...rubish...english wouldnt come out normally when he spoke...but singhalese was perfectly fine..

well now and then u do the usual imitation to have a laugh..but were so used to picking out ppl with accents in sl that its not even funny...but who said they werent hot!!!

S said...

I'm one of those diasporic people, born and brought up in the UK.

I've still got a southern English accent after fifteen years in London!

The only giveaway on my phone voice is when I use a Singlish word = e.g. petrol shed and the other person goes 'huh'.

Confab said...

I agree, accents can be relative. But my problem is with ppl who have one accent, then go abroad for a short period of time and forget how they used to speak...RD, S, u guys have been born and brought up abroad, naturally ur accents are attuned to those countries.

The thing is, when these ppl come back with new found accents they get laughed at. The new accent doesn't have the polish of the real deal, which makes them sound very stupid.

pissu perera said...

this reminds me of one of my lecturers. the man had studied in egland for a while so now, when he reads out from something or is explaining something he rolls his Rs and Ts and makes "order" sound like "odour" but when he yells at us he gets a good ole sri lankan accent and ends all his sentences with a "men". so funny.

Anonymous said...

Why... there's this one young girl who picked up an american accent at the clubs in colombo. and colombo being what it is... you just may know who i'm talking about :p