Accent-uated

Recently I spent a weekend with a super group of girlfriends. We chatted, as women do, about a million different things and lounged about, as women dream of doing, and enjoyed each others’ company.

One of the ladies happens to be a Kiwi.

She brought her own flavorful mix to our group and I wish I could tell you that I had long meaningful conversations with her.

Instead, I encouraged her to do all of the talking and I did a great deal of listening.

Blame phonics.

Phonics was the tool of choice when I learned to read in kindergarten, and I distinctly recall hearing the sounds of syllables rolling around between my ears and forming verbally down in my throat as I slowly drew my finger along each word.

English forms the bedrock of my interpretation of words. It’s the bread and butter.

On the flip side, Spanish, Italian, and other languages are music.

I don’t have to understand it to love hearing it.

I love the crescendos, the ‘a capriccio’ gestures that accompany the rhythm. I can hear their ‘coloratura’ and see the passion in their eyes…even if the monologue involves, from what I can glean, selling the most magnificent cantaloupe in the open market.

But.

If you take my beloved English and put just a little twist into it, I’m a goner.

It’s embarrassing and I can’t seem to help myself; I will start mimicking your accent.

I sat and listened to my New Zealander go on about her children and her job and her love of Joshua trees, and felt my throat constricting. My tongue felt thick and and my heart rate went up just a teensy bit because in my mind, she was taking the language to a whole new level.

It’s not just the use of small, geographically correct words that she sprinkled through her narrative, words like ‘I reckon’ and ‘no worries’ or ‘heaps’, but the flow of her vowels and the ebb of her consonants.

‘Aye’ (literally, ‘eh’, pronounced “A”) is sort of both.

I opened my mouth and used “cah” and “petrol” in the first sentence.

I snapped it shut again and thankfully, she didn’t laugh.

I’m not mocking her speech; my brain is attempting to sing her song.

Because I understand (well, most of the time) the message, I focus on it’s presentation.

Accents are the fancy wrapping paper on the gift of language.

It’s just enough of a tease to my ears that I subconsciously think the inevitable, “Hey, I can do that.”

No.

On many levels, this is just disturbing. I have to stop.

We have a girlfriend from Germany visiting this week. She’s lovely. She’s travelled a great many more places than I have and she carries nothing with her but a backpack and a camera.

I can’t decide if her lack of German accent is from traveling long enough to smooth it out or higher education; regardless, her English is fluid.

It’s the first time I’ve held conversation with someone and not found myself starting to slur my words like a drunk or do caffeinated verbal gymnastics.

We were in Texas once, and my mouth turned into wide open Southern drawls the minute we sat down to chat.

I knew I was doing it again when Hubby gave me the slightly worried look a dog has when it hears a super-high tone but can’t decide if howling is called for.

He’s heard me do a London accent. It wasn’t pretty.

Suit yourself, Mr Higgins, but don’t take me around the natives if you can’t handle the verbal voyage.

When in Rome, and all that.

"Here. What are you sniggering at?" "The new small talk. You do it so awfully well." "Well, if I was doing it proper, what was you sniggering at? Have I said anything I oughtn't?" "No, my dear." "Well, that's a mercy anyhow..."

“Here. What are you sniggering at?” “The new small talk. You do it so awfully well.” “Well, if I was doing it proper, what was you sniggering at? Have I said anything I oughtn’t?” “No, my dear.” “Well, that’s a mercy anyhow…”

3 thoughts on “Accent-uated

  1. Rebecca

    Oh, Jolie! I do the same thing! Had put it down to straining to audibly understand the linguistic acrobatics – don’t want to miss the musical cadences .. but why does the mouth have to get involved? Glad to know I’m not the only one – thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      hilarious. Copper does it all the time. She has no idea that she does it either…this week she had an Aussie accent. I am sure I do it a bit, but maybe I do the kissy-huggy thing…soon as I am around Latins or Texans.

      Reply

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