Friday, 13 April 2012

Acute accents

Eeh, by eck, it's t't mill. Beam's gone
skew on t't treadle!
Many years ago, while still at BA, I had the misfortune to cross the Atlantic sat between two large ladies. They were GI brides who had decamped from Newcastle to Texas in the 1940s and were now returning to the States after a nostalgic visit to the North-east of England.

The worst thing about sitting between them is that they talked across me for the entire flight. I tried to swap seats with either of them without avail. They seemed to find it amusing. The one slight consolation for being in this trap was listening to their accents. Although they had been in Texas for a good 40 years, there was still a strong Geordie twang amongst the American drawl. It was an unusual mix, to say the least.

The reason I bring this up is that I sometimes get asked about my accent, and I think people get the question the wrong way round. As I've mentioned before, I come from Rochdale, in the North-west of England. It's a place with quite a strong Lancashire accent and as a child I had the full works, as broad as you like. Yet, if you hear me speaking now, I have very little in the way of a regional accent, with just the struggle with the odd word (bucket is a classic) to give me away to those with an ear for the voice.

People have often asked me how I lost the accent, but this is what I think they get wrong. Instead, they should ask why some people keep their accent after many years in other parts. As far as I can see, it's very easy to pick up an accent. I only have to spend a day in part of the country with a strong accent to start getting a few shifts in pronunciation. And take me to somewhere like Wales, Ireland or Scotland and I have to actively fight off slips that might be taken as offensive. It just happens - and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

My suspicion is, when someone does hold onto a regional accent that is different from the local accent where they live, it is most often an attempt to cling on to identity, perhaps because the person is a little insecure. This may be conscious or unconscious, but it certainly happens. You even get people whose accents get significantly stronger after a while away from home territory. This is defensive, pure and simple.

 I think as I've always felt reasonably at home in the various places I've been in the South, I haven't felt the need to put up the barriers. And I actually think that's a good thing. I know many would disagree with me, but I don't think there's any great merit to clinging on to your accent. Go with the flow, I say. It really isn't a matter of identity. If you really know who you are, and have your own views, you don't need the crutch of an accent.


Image from Wikipedia

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