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Friday, 2 August 2013

Accenting Our Language

Anyone who has known me for six months or more will know that I love language and the accents that go with it. I love language and human speech because it is something that is unique to us, unique to Mankind. And, depending on where one is from, the accent with which they speak English will be different. This is a beautiful thing. It keeps our language rich and unique.
Between 2009 and 2011, I worked at the CN Tower. It wasn’t nearly as glorious as many people think, but my favourite part of the job was meeting the tourists in the elevator and finding out where they were from. Out of the fifteen people I had in my elevator, I could have had as many as five or six countries represented. The United States and England were the two most common homesteads of the guests, next to Canada. Other common countries included China, Japan, Australia, Korea, Mexico, Scotland, Columbia and Germany. One group from China even explained that Hong Kong is a self-governing city state connected to China rather than its own completely separate entity. I even had an impromptu Japanese lesson when I misheard the word kowai (scary) as kawaii (cute). I also had a German family going up to the restaurant ask me if I could say, “guten Tag”. But, for the two years I was there, I was surrounded by hundreds of different accents. There were many times, I could attempt to decipher where a group was from based solely on the accent. When it came to people from Boston, Bangor, Long Island, or Tennessee, I was usually pretty good. But when it came to someone who was from a place like the counties of North Yorkshire; Durham; or Northumberland, England, where the accent is a mixture of English and Scottish, I very seldom guessed correctly. But, I sure had fun trying!

I find it fascinating that there are many accents within my own country. Many Americans come up and claim Canadians have no accent. But those Americans have never been to Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Quebec, or, better yet, Newfoundland. In fact, despite being born and bred in Toronto, I have been told I sound like I am from down east. Considering my paternal great-great-great grandparents were born in Nova Scotia, I can see where they are coming from. I’ve also been told I look like I’m from Nova Scotia. Again, that could be in relation to the fact that my ancestors lived there for a while after sailing over from Ireland.
Accents are one of my favourite things. Some can be easily placed, such as a Long Island accent or one from Southern Maine. In the South, there are slight differences between a Tennessee accent and a Georgia accent despite the two states lying right next to each other. And never mind the fact that someone from Nashville has a different accent from someone in say, Chattanooga. (I have been to both cities and have heard these accents for myself.) I shocked one gentleman from Arkansas a couple of years ago. He had a table at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and in conversing with him, I recognized the southern accent, but I couldn’t quite place it. There was a hint of Western Tennessee mixed with something else. When I brought it up, he mentioned he was from “one state West of Tennessee”. With the map of the US in my head, my guess was Arkansas. He was a bit shocked I knew where Arkansas was. This was one of those moments when I was glad I paid attention in Geography class. A friend of mine is actually an excellent example of the amalgamation of accents. He was born in Morocco to Indian parents and raised in England by his parents. He spoke French as a child until being raised in England. His accent is one I enjoy listening to because it there are hints of different accents within it.

Accents give us an idea of where our fellow Humans are from, and for me, that’s a good thing. It gives me the opportunity to learn something about a place and lets me gauge my interest in traveling there. As it stands, I want to visit each and every one of Canada’s provinces and America’s states. Each one is different and special and I want to experience them for myself. I love immersing myself in accents, and on occasion, I even adopt them. Any time I’ve gone to Chattanooga, by the end of my visit, there’s a slight drawl emulating from my vocal chords. By the time my greyhound bus stops in Ohio on the trek home, the drawl has disappeared and that’s left is the memory and knowledge that I had the accent, albeit briefly.

Accents are beautiful and should be embraced, not criticized. They are part of who we are. Mankind is beautiful, and so is the way we speak.