Thursday, 6 September 2012

Speaking in Accents

Have you ever thought about how your accent affects your interaction with other people?

I love accents. I love the subtleties, I love guessing what has shaped an individual's accent, where they come from, where they passed through to get here. I can listen to my beloved husband and just hear his beautiful intonation and forget to listen to what he's saying (ok he may have been talking C++ but it's still not an excuse - he just has the most amazing accent which can be distracting). I truly love the diversity of accents in Glasgow, where you have anything from the proper Weegie to people from all over the UK and from around the world. I always thought Glasgow to be particularly rich in this diversity of accents because there's probably less than 50% of native Scots here (I'm guessing!) or at least so it seems, you hear different accents every day. At work, there's people from further north, from the east, from the south.

And then I'm in an east end cafe ordering a roll and I feel awfully conscious of my own accent. Builders and bakers speaking in the most amazingly beautiful gutteral Glaswegian, and I dread to order my butty because they'll spot instantly I'm not from here. I then order and stutter with a whisper as nervous as I used to be as a choir girl singing a solo.

Am I paranoid? Fact is that in spite of me living here for over 15 years, the other day I discovered that most of my friends are not Scottish. Now this may be because there is generally a lot of movement of people and that this is a fair representation of reality. But maybe accents keep us apart because they locate us in some sort of social drawer that we can't really get out of to explore another drawer.

It's not even that people instantly know I'm German - but it's obvious I'm not born and bred working class Glaswegian. The thing is, I can by now put on a Glaswegian accent, but it feels wrong doing so. This comes from a woman who had no qualms about speaking with an Irish accents some 18 years ago and still slips into it automatically when speaking to an Irish person - but that was just how I spoke English, I couldn't not speak like it. Now it would be a choice and while I know non-Glaswegians who do this, to me it feels wrong. Or maybe I just feel people would make fun of me (and possibly rightly so?).

On a day to day basis though, the accent thing is about class and (perceived which then becomes real) power. Generally, the people I meet to set programmes up with mostly speak much like me, with a neutral English accent tinged by a soft Scottish intonation and pronunciation. The people who take part in the programmes mostly speak Glaswegian. Just now, I even noticed how someone changed her accent when on the phone to me, and it made me feel all conscious as to what that meant - did she relate to me differently, did she see me as not in her drawer?

I wonder how this applies to people with other accents, say an English accent and if it differs whether it's a "posh" or northern English accent. People have certainly labelled me as English (which is funny as I never spend much time in England) and were surprised when I said I was German, and I'm not sure which label I prefer or how that changes the way this person perceives me.

And I keep wondering if accents may stand in the way of trust and creating personal and professional relationships and create a barrier that has to be overcome, that may  not be there if you share the same accent.

8 comments:

kat @ slugs said...

Accents in Scotland is one of my favourite topics!! When we lived in London, there was hardly ever a question of accents. Sure, if you wanted to start a conversation with someone, it was a good starting point, but it wasn't A Thing. But here (and I do mean here in the Hillfoots), man, people are so concerned about accents!! Its so funny how much people care about where you are from and how you sound.

And you are right, it is so caught up in class. I remember doing a site visit in Kyle and talking being introduced to someone as local, but then he started talkin in an English accent, I kept thinking my guide was confused, until I asked my boss about it and, of course, the local with the English accent was born there and he was also the Laird...

Niamh said...

Class is not such a big deal in Ireland and you definitely had a culchie accent so that wasn't an issue. Are there upper crust accents in Glasgow as well? It can't be all working class!

Tallulah@Bilingual Babes said...

I'm rubbish at recognising accents, but it's a good starting point in a getting to know you chat! I think when people start talking in the same accent as you, it's just that they're trying (probably unconsciously) to ingratiate themselves with you :-)

cartside said...

I guess I used working class to distinguish between the two types of accents you get here. It's more socially defined than regional, and middle/working class is a shorthand for it. I do stick out in an east end cafe at lunch time. And I always feel a bit guilty if I cause someone to change their accent because of mine. And I slightly reject if I sound middle class - I guess I am but my family background isn't so I've probably have a bit of a class identity crisis ;) Interestingly I got speaking exercises when at primary school to get rid of my own accent.

farmland investment funds said...

Accents are fun to figure out. However, as a Russian - albeit one who moved here 20 years ago - it can be a bit irritating when people are just too aggressive about trying to figure out where I'm from.

Niamh said...

True, I never heard you saying anything like "dat"! Those elocution lessons were probably a good idea.

koralimba said...

Hi, I just came across your blog while browsing blogs of bilingual families. Very interesting post! I agree with Niamh above in that class is not such a conern in Ireland. I find there is a huge focus on class in England and when I lived there I did feel with some people that my Irish accent was responsible for some presumptions about me.

Asiolek said...

Very interesting post!I love accents too. Unfortunately, sometimes this is a problem when you come from outside the country. However, as you pass people who kept to a problem with your accent, you can be happy.

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