I attempted a podcast on accents, but it shall never be heard due to my atrocious American accent. Here is the transcript:
Hi everyone, my name is Amrita, welcome to Of Opinions. I’m trying to do an American accent, cuz some of you that tuned into my previous podcast commented on my Indian accent, and I said I’d do an American one just for fun. Now, it’s not going as well as I hoped. I think it’s been a disaster so far. It’s like a pan-American mock accent that some people do to make fun of it, and not have fun with it. It’s not the case here, cuz I’m trying to do my best at stretching the vowels and emphasizing my r’s cuz I’m too serious to do this without some attempt at perfectionism.
But, anyway, back to normal. It’s a little iffy and problematic right now to be talking about accents, but we are never political or deliberately controversial on Of Opinions, and never will be. But, about two months ago, I did have a few points to make about accents and their significance in cultural education and why a fascination with accents can both be a good thing and a bad thing. Now, how you speak is not an “accent” to you. My bad American one will prove that to my American listeners. It is an accent to those who are interested in phonetics, i.e. the mechanics of pronunciation. But, for the rest of us, it’s something other, a curiosity, that makes you either want to know more about that person’s cultural background or avoid them based on some preconceived notions.
They say, what you wear reflects who you are, which is why first impressions are so important. But, I’d say how you speak either cements or confuses that first impression. I’ve largely grown up in the suburbs which, as it is the case universally, is not as remote and uncouth as city people like to believe. I sound, I hate to use the word, posher than my background, which gives another sort of impression about me that isn’t accurate. Now, this is not due to some aspirational reason, neither is my bad American accent, nor my speaking English in the first place. It is just the way I learnt it.
Language, and self-expression, is an evolving thing. You express yourself differently as a child, as a teenager, in your twenties, thirties and so on. No two people speak the same. For example, Clementine in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind pronounces library as ‘libary’. My teenage cousin used to pronounce twelve as ‘two-love’ when she was a child. Even if you roughly categorise an accent as of a certain place, time or culture, it is still modified from person to person.
Of course, the golden rule of accents and social etiquette is: never copy someone’s accent to their face, nor make fun of it behind their back. If they are speaking a language you don’t know, then they might be flattered at your sincere attempt at trying to copy them to their face, and even help you learn the words. But, if you try to copy their accent, when they speak the same language as you, they are likely to get offended.
Now, something like this will cut any comedian’s material by half, but it is important to do an accent with love and respect, and not contempt and ridicule. Even if you don’t admit to the latter, chances are the very way you do the accent is enough to convey it. Because, unlike learning their language, it conveys their supposed flaws in communicating with you in your own. But, and especially for a language like English, given its special history in the history of the world, there is no correct English. There are many Englishes, and yes, that’s what its called and however you pronounce it, given your background, is how it is to be pronounced. You might be called upon to do a localized, general version of it, especially in a beginner’s classroom setting, but there really is no right way of doing it.
Now, accents are particularly fascinating because of cinema and television, especially the current obsession with British accents, or the perennial favourite French. But, that’s limited to a very narrow world of a narrative, and doesn’t really apply to a British person in a real life non-British environment. Unfortunately, we have, quite narrow-mindedly, applied certain character assessments to certain cultures on the basis of accents, instead of focusing on understanding the cultures themselves. You can’t reduce a country or a community to a single adjective. It is dangerous, because these narrow assumptions become embedded in some people’s psyches, people who are uninterested in exploring the culture further. What should be a gateway to something new only ends up being a tenuous, misrepresentation of it.
But, accents can still be fun. Years ago, I got intrigued with the Scottish accent*. I tried to be good at it, at least a wee bit, but it’s hard. However, I discovered a lot of the culture too, through books, music, films etc. And there is a lot on offer, much more than is humanly possible to know, than just the way they speak English. The same applies to my natural accent, which shows in the number of you who read my essays without ever hearing me. And I appreciate that. Now, I’d like to know your adventures with and opinions on accents. Leave a comment below and I’ll talk to you soon. Goodbye!
*A Glaswegian accent.
To listen to my previous podcast, click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiUvgPBzoWI
Read my previous post on having weird dreams about breakdancing clowns: http://wp.me/p3KqvA-1VR
Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/AmritaSarkar6