Accent Under Fire

14 Mar

If you’ve been reading my Facebook updates, you’ll understand that this post has been a long time coming. I never considered accents much back home in Canada. I knew my maternal Grandparents had thick Polish accents and that my favourite professor had a South African accent but not much else. I hardly consciously noticed these things. And I certainly never gave my own accent much thought. That is until I arrived in England where I immediately felt different from the moment the plane landed on the British tarmac.
Perhaps that’s not true. It was actually the moment I walked into a shop in Heathrow airport, selected some mints from a dizzying array of sweets I’d never seen before and paid using the funny-looking coins. As I opened my mouth to speak, I realised I was afraid to reveal my accent. I couldn’t understand where my deep fear stemmed from as I mumbled an inaudible ‘thank you.’
The following weeks illuminated the situation. In a culture where everyone’s favourite pastime is “winding you up” or “taking the piss,” my accent was/ is something of a target, particularly when people (especially relatives) realised there was no greater insult than to call me American. I was laughed at for numerous pronunciations of words that were “so American” and it didn’t matter how many times I said them. It never ceased to be amusing.
Take for example the word “Awwww!” which is according to my housemate is, “So American and so annoying!” I mean, who says that? You’re basically saying you hate the way someone speaks when they can’t avoid it.
Another word that’s apparently quite humorous is “water.” In England, you either strongly pronounce the “t” sound or pretend it’s not there at all.
And the funny part is that when the Brits imitate the way you speak they always exaggerate the differences so that it sounds all-American. So when their imitation of my pronunciation of water sounds something like “wadder.”
Then there are the numerous terms that are the bane of my existence, causing anxiety at the mere possibility I might have to say them.

  • Tottenham & Birmingham (you better not say the “h” sound)
  • Chancery (this “au” sound is impossible to pronounce)
  • Leicester (don’t make the same mistake I did. Tell yourself, in your head, it’s Lester)
  • Fenwicks (still can’t pronounce this one)
  • Argos (this “os” part is like the holy grail of British pronunciation. One day Maiya…one day…)

And that’s just the starter list!
So, I plead with the Brits, please remember I’m just an ignorant foreigner (which I know you take pleasure in reminding me of anyway) and that I’m still learning to adapt to your confusing speech patterns.

 

Relevant Links:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100079704/americans-are-turning-into-british-style-snobs/

http://www.boston.com/ae/specials/culturedesk/2011/03/actor_accent_smackdown_us_vs_u.html

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