The accent conundrum…

I’ve written a few posts on this blog concerning language and my experience with it as an expat, even though I live in an English-speaking country. Obviously, English is the predominant language in many countries, but in each of them it’s spoken just a bit differently.

There are, of course, different pronunciations: tomAHto vs. tomAYto, baaazel vs. BAYzel, fill-et vs. fill-lay.  But recently I have been thinking about a different language conundrum – that of the accent.  If I was living in a country where I’d also need to learn their language, part of that language learning would be spent in getting the accent correct.  When I am in Paris, I do my best to speak French with as close to a Parisian accent as possible – the fact that they switch to speaking English the second I start conversing leads me to believe I have a lot of work to do in this area, but I digress.

The point is, when we learn a new language, getting the accent correct is part of it.  But what am I supposed to do in Ireland?  Most of the American expats I’ve met still have their American accent no matter how long they’ve lived here.  And it doesn’t seem like people here are expecting me to learn how to speak with an Irish accent.  But why not?  Shouldn’t part of fitting into my new home be trying to sound like those around me?  Or is part of my identity so tied up in the accent with which I speak that I need to hang onto it with all my might?

Some American accents are nice, but mine is not one of them.  I speak very nasally with hard vowels – it’s not elegant, it’s not pretty.  And I love the Irish accent – I would be very happy to adopt it, or at least try to.  But I fear this would be met with derision and mockery by friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic.  Look at how people ridicule Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, and they’ve both lived in Britain for years now.

So, I guess the conclusion I’ve come to is that, even though I am living in Ireland, I’m supposed to keep sounding like an American.  And I’m not sure how I feel about that.


8 thoughts on “The accent conundrum…

  1. I love your accent!! It’s what makes you, you!! (a very special person). My Grandad who was born and raised in Scotland but moved over here to start a family, still to this day has a strong Scottish accent.

  2. That’s an interesting point about adapting our accents to a country which speaks our native language. It hasn’t occurred to me before, but I can see the logic. It’s a good point you made about speaking French- though I’m not sure I would sound French no matter how hard I tried!
    Logic aside, there is also something a bit strange about intentionally changing our native accents, isnt there? I’m only speaking about changing our accents for our own language..American to Aussie..Irish to American. Doesn’t it seem as though we’re not exactly trying to adapt, but to change who we are? If an American spends six months in Australia, should we adopt their accent to fit in? I do think we assimilate ourselves into other cultures by learning about and appreciating them, even using words from local dialect, but we (even unintentionally) maintain the characteristics that make us unique. After years of living outside your home country, I believe you are constantly changing ideaologies/beliefs, adapting to new environments and generally growing and shifting as a person, little by little.
    As for me, my southern accent is pretty much gone after eight years of being in Europe and I no longer think anyone needs to own a gun (it would be utopia without them!), but overall still American 🙂

    • Very well put, Leila. I’ve only been here four months, so we’ll see if my American accent softens a bit. I don’t think changing one’s accent would necessarily mean one is changing who they are anymore than speaking Italian while living in Italy would. But you are right in that most people would find it strange.

  3. When I was a teenager I lived in Germany, went to public school and worked hard to sound as German as possible. One good exercise is to record yourself speaking – just for a few minutes reading something is fine. There’s something about hearing your recorded voice which encourages self-correction next time you speak. It’s a gradual process, but I believe you can “split the difference” and Irish-ize your accent gradually (if you wish) without sounding ridiculous. In other words, if you don’t want to go “100%” Irish, just aim for maybe 35%?

    • i do find myself using a bit of an accent with words that the irish use that I am starting to adopt like “grand” and “fekkin”. 35% seems like a good number.

      Hope you are enjoying Peru!

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