Where does your accent come from?

As Malaysia goes into a period of lockdown from 18th to 31st March, I will be publishing a new post on this blog everyday to keep all my friends back home company. This post is part of the #Lockdown series.

Where does your accent come from?

Well, I am glad you asked.

Is anyone here who hasn’t heard me? If you haven’t, I suggest going to my Instagram and watch my Story. In fact, what I am going to do as soon as I hit “Publish” on this blog is I’m going to read it out loud like an audio book to you on Instagram, so you know exactly how I sound.

The problem with accent is that it’s a fish doesn’t know it’s wet situation. Who doesn’t have an accent?

If you want to talk about accent, I think we ought to first talk about languages i.e. spoken words. Why do we talk? When we speak, what we are doing is we are drawing air from our lungs into our larynx. In other words, when we talk, we are not breathing properly. We are constantly taking breaths and are constantly running out of air.

So why do human talk? The simple answer is to get what we want. Survival is our natural instinct. We are such selfish animal that instinctively we would only do something at the expense of our life when we want to get what we want. It could be asking for favours, voicing opinions – so that we appear a certain way we want others to see or think of us, or simply to express an emotion that would otherwise become a trapped, toxic energy that we wouldn’t want in our body.

So, when we say we are fluent in a language, what we really mean is that we can articulate certain types of sound in a way that people can understand. Our messages are only conveyed in so far as the person we are talking to can understand the sound we make. This is how accents develop. We speak like the people around us because instinctively we want to get what we want in the most effective way without having to die.

Accent is functional.

But accents can be faked or changed, you say. Yes, that is correct. Because we human are also very clever and very manipulative animal. The question though is not why would people fake or change their accents, but why do we have a reaction i.e. care or be discriminatory when we hear an accent which doesn’t sit subjectively well with us?

What’s your reaction when you hear someone posh? Do you resent it? Why do you resent it? What’s your reaction when you hear a native Indian speaking like a native English? Do you find it odd if he/she told you that he/she had never been to England? Or would you find it “acceptable” if he/she later told you that one of his/her parent is English? The truth is all our responses to accents, regardless of whether they are complimentary or derogatory, are prejudiced. The opinions we form of people’s accents are opinions we have of our origins – which could either be our deepest shame or our shameless pride – because otherwise, there will be no reaction. Think about the last time you spoke to your mum, you don’t even notice that she has an accent. It is only when you hear her speak to the others, who have a different accent, that you start thinking, Ooh mum is…

So, where do I pick up my English, or should I say very confused, accent?

TV? Films? Maybe from meetings and discussions at work? The pub? Or maybe the vending machine that I buy my confidantes and friends who share the same liking for beige food and soggy weather, but not live 8 hours ahead and two oceans apart? Maybe also from the news that I put on every morning to drown out my singing in the shower. And certainly from the automated attendants who had probably wasted 5 years of my life making me Press 1 for English, Press 2 to Make a Payment and Press 3 to Tell Me Why Is He Such a Dick.

With love x

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