The wife instructed me a few days ago to put into words something called The Accent Rant.
So here we go.
First, let me begin by saying that I have a mixed accent. The flat, broad, lazy vowels of an Australian accent and the rounded, clipped articulations of a British lilt. (I’m not entirely sure where I’m from in Britain – it’s more Queen’s English than anything else, and I’m certainly not from Glasgow or Edinburgh or Northern Ireland, so your guess is as good as mine.)
My mother’s from a tiny wee town in Donegal, in Ireland. She moved to Harrogate, in Yorkshire, then Australia when she was twelve. She has a somewhat neutral Australian accent – enough for people to spot it when she goes home. I grew up watching British television – British crime shows, to be precise.
Midsummer Murders, Waking the Dead, Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, Luther, Prime Suspect, Dalziel and Pascoe, Broadchurch, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, A Touch of Frost, Vera, Silent Witness, The Sweeney, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Marple. … that about covers it, I think.
So, that was in the background, for twenty-something years until it’s started to creep into the foreground. I started to sound like the people I saw on the telly, rounding my vowels to high heaven and the accent only getting worse if someone pointed it out. It’s a tricky thing to explain to people: how I ended up with a British accent when I have an Irish mum with a neutral Australian accent and very few family members who are near enough to me to alter my speech patterns.
But it’s there, some days more than others. And suddenly it occurred to me the other day why all my teachers and tutors alike have said that I am good at learning languages. I’m shy about it most days, apologetic, and wondering if there would ever be another accent mutt like myself, swinging between intonations and lilts and tones.
And then I met her. And then I fell in love with her.
Canadian-Scottish, or. Scottish-Canadian. Glasgow, specifically, so, the patter.
And I love it. I love her brogue. I love the phonetic Scots, and the Leid. I love all of it. I love her Canadian accent, and the more she talks the more I learn where Canadians put their pauses and where they stress their words. Learning what’s British slang, and what’s American and what the Canadians have made their own.
So there we were, two mutts together, and imagine my surprise when – slipping into Scots – she would apologise profusely (like I would if I slipped into my own bastardised British) and correct herself. Said her family corrected her.
No, I thought. Her patter was all at once new and familiar to me, and it was wonderful, and she was apologising for it. She said – says – she couldn’t be understood – but I understood her, I understand her. And more than that, I like the sound of her brogue. I can answer her with my British vernacular and I don’t have to explain what a kip is or what miffed means.
And now she’s not using it, yeah? S’too shy or some other ridiculous excuse that makes me a wee bit cross. She thinks it’s ugly. I don’t. But, of course, she’s within her every right not to use it. I just … I want to know her, all her little quirks and eccentricities and love them all, even the ones she doesn’t like.
The wife corrects herself when she slips, and it leaves me wondering if I should correct my British slips, too. And pretty soon I’ll move over to Canada and be an ex-pat and with time I’ll have the most mangled accent anyone’s ever seen. Some sort of Australian-British-Canadian fuck-up. Too Canadian to be understood when I go home to Australia, and too Australian to be understood in Canada. I’ll be the odd one out, and I might always be the odd one out.
I find the patter attractive, I always have. I find her attractive. Put the two together and I’m quite chuffed, really.
But it makes me sad when she hides those parts of herself, because she has every right to be proud of who she is. And that’s my point. If you have a mixed accent, be proud of it. Maybe your parents are from different parts of the world, or maybe you moved, or maybe you lived abroad, or maybe you’re an ESL student – whatever you are, wherever you’re from, it’s all part of your life and your past and your history.
Be proud of that, of all the layers of your life and how they manifest.