By Smriti Haria.
In case, you haven’t guessed it, this piece is about accents. Yes, I mean accents – the very typical feature of everybody’s speech that is frequently stereotyped and mocked to elicit giggles.
If you meet an Indian girl of average height speaking loudly in a multicultural accent, I assure you that she will most probably be me. I don’t know if it’s amusing or ridiculous that this one feature of my speech (and everybody’s speech if you think about it) has bothered me to such an extent that I’ve decided to write about it.
My troubles with accents have landed me in quite a lot of fixes – most have ended in raucous laughter, whilst some have ended with my cheeks pink and my tail between my legs.
If you ask any of my childhood friends, they will tell you (gladly and very amusedly, mind you) of my eleven year old self’s inability to watch the Harry Potter movies without subtitles. Not being from (or anywhere near) Britain, amongst other factors, had contributed to this slight difficulty I faced in comprehending accents from there. Of course, now that phase is far behind me and I can proudly say that British accents no longer faze me and that I can watch the Harry Potter movies without furrowing my eyebrows in perplexity. This might have more to do with the fact that I’ve watched the movies so many times I’ve memorised the dialogues but ssh, don’t tell my friends that.
Until recently, I’d thought that my troubles with the British accent were long gone, until the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in the eponymous show destroyed my new-found belief. Benedict Cumberbatch’s monologues (which are, inarguably, one of the best parts of the show) are delivered with just the right amount of panache and really tie the whole plot-line together. Honestly though, I feel like I would be able to appreciate them more if his bullet-train speed and overpowering British accent weren’t blurring the brilliance of his punchlines.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good British accent – like every other non-British teenage girl – but only when I can understand it.
It’s not that I don’t have a propensity for the English language. In fact, very recently, one of my cousins told me that my accent was made for the English language and that the national language of my country sounded odd being spoken by someone with my accent. Which brings me to my next point, how can you decide which language suits an accent? Or the other way around? I understand how a voice can suit an accent (you know, the light and breathy voices are ostensibly very French and the rough voices supposedly suit German or Russian), but a language?
Ah, but languages and accents are correlated and considered almost synonymous (is there a difference between speaking proper French and speaking French in a French accent?). My apologies dear cousin, I concede.
On a slightly related note, I want to bring up another incident from my younger days. I lived in the U.S for a few of my formative years growing up, but I have no recollection of forming an American accent there. But some of my words happen to be heavily Americanised. Because of this, some of my mom’s friends used to guffaw when they imitated my friends and I addressing them as ‘Aunty!’ (Insert an extremely American accent dragging out the word and roaring laughter – all in good fun of course).
A few weeks ago, after we met some Americans, my sister brought up (very amusedly and accusatorily) that whilst speaking to them my accent had suddenly sounded very American. Obviously, I scoffed at her claims and lightly berated her as any other older sister would do when her pride was in question – you see, where we’re from, ‘putting’ on an accent is considered blasphemous. But on further introspection, I realised that she might have been right. Speaking with an American accent in response to another’s was so natural that I hadn’t even noticed it!! That’s when I realised just how pervading global influences are. Even though I hadn’t been to the States in seven years, I had a slightly Americanised accent! And it’s not even that I was ‘putting’ it on. It had been slowly developing in my language for years now, and having something to compare it to, my sister would have only just noticed it. Such is the power of the religious following of American TV shows and pop culture.
It seems as if this American accent is haunting me; I have yet another tale to tell with it as my protagonist, this one involving music. Like most people, I enjoy music. Like most people, I listen to English music by American artists. Unlike most people, I face a big dilemma when I decide to sing them in public– not just because I can’t sing . Should I sing twenty as ‘twenny’ like they do or sing it as ‘twenty’ like I would normally pronounce it? I am yet to solve this dilemma. Any suggestions?
Apart from contributing heavily to my personal quandaries, this multicultural accent I’ve acquired has also highlighted just how global everything has become. From folklore and fiction, to food and fashion, it’s not surprising that accents are the latest things to go global, inadvertently transforming all of their individual users into global citizens.