Thursday, 30 May 2013

Changing accents

I have recently watched in amusement as my children play pretend games with American accents. I can remember doing exactly the same thing at their age. I suppose the main reason is that a lot of the films and cartoons have American voices, so it seems "cool" to imitate them. I like to think that following the release of "Brave", the Disney/Pixar film, that there are some American children copying the Scottish accent, but I guess that's unlikely.
I am now extremely proud of my Scottish accent, acknowledged as one of the nicest in the world, but that's not to say it always makes life easy for me. For example, voice recognition and the Scots, are not good friends. On an automated phone system, given the option to say my choice, or press a number, I learned long ago to stick to the numbers.
I have more reason than most to have an interest in accents:my husband is Romanian, and almost two years ago, our two nieces from Romania came to live with us...long story, possible book to follow. (One more quick point on the voice recognition issue, something seems very wrong about the fact my Scots accent may as well be some kind of Martian dialect, but my husband's Romanian accent is immediately understood).
A Scots accent is not only a challenge when abroad, even when I travel to England I have great difficulty making myself understood. On one occasion, after repeating myself three times and still not being understood, my Romanian husband stepped in, and his Eastern European accent cleared things up straight away! I worked in customer services in a well known toy shop in London for a while, and I was often bemused when I called a member of staff over the tannoy system, and some random employee not in the least bit connected with the issue I needed assistance with, would appear in front of me. I'm sure there are English people who find it hard to be understood in Scotland too, it's really very strange when we are all part of the UK.
There are times when I can sympathize with people who change their accents deliberately in order to be better understood, or fit in. I was, however, pleased when I heard the Radio One DJ Edith Bowman say she refused to change her Scots accent so radio one listeners could better understand her. After all, why should she?
I had always believed that changing your accent was a personal choice, I found it hard to believe your voice would change depending on the people around you. Now, I don't really have a theory on it, everyone's different. In fact, maybe it's harder to hold onto your own accent than you think, if you are immersed in another country and constantly speaking a foreign language. I know my husband's accent is not nearly as strong as it was, but I've often been surprised by other people's reactions; people ask if he's Irish, Australian and sometimes German. I guess it's hard to pinpoint Romanian with a touch Glaswegian. Also, on recent visits to Romania, people have remarked "you speak very good Romanian sir", much to my husband's amusement. They always look embarrassed when he informs them he is, in fact, Romanian. Clearly, even though I'm not aware of it, his accent has changed a lot.
My husband's accent may not have noticeably changed, at least for me, but the change in my two nieces in two years is amazing. The girls arrived with very little English, and with great support from their school, as well as family, they are now sounding very Scottish as they converse in fluent English. I think for children, it is a very positive thing if they manage to adopt the accent of the country they move to, they are better accepted by their peers, and don't feel like outsiders. It can, at times, be very amusing. I never expected two little Romanian girls to sing me "you cannae shove yer granny aff a bus"! The elder of the two is very fond of the word "wheesht", meaning be quiet... it would be hard to find a more Scottish word.
The UK has many, extremely different accents depending on the area (see the image link below). I'd like to know if other countries find the differences in their internal accents so pronounced. Share your views...would you choose to change your accent if you were to relocate? Do you think it would be a conscious decision or something that just happens?

 Different accents in the UK:!Selected_languages_and_accents_of_the_british_isles2_rjl.jpg

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