Having An Accent In America

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“Yes, the pink one” She said.

“The pink one” She repeated immediately, as if already conditioned to repeat herself before even asked to.

When you move into a new country, when you move to America, depending on conditions such as age, literacy or other unmentioned conditions, there is one thing that comes off as surprising: You have an accent. This revelation, depending on the source of your accent, can be “positive” or “negative”.

 I have sat in front of a computer and typed up “how to get an American accent” and “Accent reduction tips”. I have sat down, wondering why God ever divided the world’s languages or why we all sound differently. I have sat down, hoping to pronounce my “interested” as /InEResTed/ instead of pronouncing it as /InCHEResTed/. I have sat down and observed myself communicate in a battlefield of intonation and information.

 

Going back one paragraph ago, you read about how the revelation of having an accent can be positive or negative. That sounds bias, what makes one accent positive and the other negative? I found a meme a while back which depicted a French man saying, “Hey, I am new to this place, where’s Washington?” The French man was awed over and told that he has a “cute accent” but when an Indian man came over and spoke the exact same words, their reply was, “Ew, his accent. Learn some English

This brings us back to the question on what makes an accent better than the other? Is the white man’s way of speaking better?

As a young girl with a Nigerian accent living in The United States of America, even though I find it hard to admit to myself, this thoroughly messed with as much as a rigid self esteem a fifteen year old girl could have. During Bible Study with my family once, I was discussing the power of words. I started out that morning’s message by playing a game where someone tried to communicate with actions while my other family member’s tried to understand what the person was saying without using any words. As you might assume, it was hard.

Communication is a means of exchanging information and as we all know, the use of words is the most effective means of communication. It gets hard trying to express one’s self by spelling words for the other person to understand.

E N O U G H.

Yes, Enough. Pronounced /E nuf/

What makes an accent better than the other? Where they grew up, they are heard very clearly. There is this thing a lot of people in America don’t get, everyone in America has an accent. Newsflash, sorry to break your bubble. And I am just not talking regional accents.

America is a constantly growing melting pot which compromises of various people from all over the world and we Americans have to learn to be more culturally literate and stop being unconsciously xenophobic towards certain people because of the way they speak. There is no right way to speak, if anything, I have grown to now find it beautiful to be able to speak and to hear people speak the same language with different intonations and accents.

I have lived my life for the past two years thinking my accent was a distraction, but like an article I once read (Oh, I read a lot) said, so is my bright red shirt. I am a very smart woman who speaks English better than most “indegeneous” English speakers do. I was born speaking English, but America is the type of country where you get asked how your ESL classes went because you have an accent.

It took me a long time to accept that I had an accent, oh yes. I refused to be labeled different because my English sounded different from everyone else’s. And “You have an accent” didn’t often sound like a compliment, not everyone knows how to switch up or ‘fake’ accents. For me, there were five stages to my accent acceptance and love.

1). Denial :- No, I do not have an accent, I speak English.

2). Anger :- Why on earth do I have an accent? Why did God divide the world’s languages?

3). Bargaining :- Well I can change my accent, I’ll be able to fit in if I sound American. But I’m terrible at switching accents!

4). Depression :- Will I for the rest of my life be defined as the girl with the accent? What about my honor roll certificates? What about the fact that I am a very strong woman of God? What about the fact that I have a plan for my life? Will I be judged for the rest of my life because I sound different?

5). Acceptance :- Not to toot my own horn but, toot toot, I am a very smart woman who is very fluent in English, honey. Americans have an accent and if an individual can not understand me because I don’t speak like what they are used to listening to, they are the ones with the problem and not me. I haven’t lived most of my life in America and I can understand the thickest accent in America and if I do give myself some props, I’ll say from anywhere in the world. My accent hasn’t limited me academically, I ace my classes better than those without accents (Newsflash Americans, you have accents) so it shouldn’t limit me when I speak. Heck, I bet when Jesus got to travel to all those places he did, he had an accent when he got to those places, but he was still able to touch lives, so why can’t I? Having an accent is a great communication starter, and who wants to blend in when they can stand out anyways?

Never underestimate the power of a voice, after all? It’s won Toni Braxton a good number of Grammys and Justin Bieber, his fame. Without the voice, there are little other means of communication so when a person is made aware of the difference in the way they speak, it can lead to low self esteem.

I ask again, isn’t it beautiful to be able to speak the same language with different intonations?

 *

The beautiful art with the tongue and world’s map was gotten from here. You’ll never know how much power and beauty that art means to me.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Great post. One time I had a friend online from Scotland. I told her that she had a cool accent. She responded with thank you and your accent is also cool. I’ve always thought that was a clever response cause it’s true!

  2. Hi Naomi,
    I have a couple of thoughts that support what you say:
    1. When I was a kid, we moved from the U.S. to Malta (my parents were American) for 2.5 years. I went to a British school, hung out with British and Maltese kids, and didn’t have any peers that spoke in American accents (although my dad did, my mom had a theatre-trained accent). When we returned to the U.S., we moved to a southern city and into a suburb. The kids in that neighborhood verbally bullied me by “accusing” me of being British. I had picked up that way of speaking, although I couldn’t tell you how pronounced it was as there are no tapes to listen to. Part of this is just kids having a propensity to be cruel idiots and part of it is, as you say, a xenophobic instinct that is far too common here, but perhaps in different ways, everywhere.
    2. I have come to think of the problem many Americans have as a “listening” problem. In addition to the above, I grew up with a Gaelic name in an era when such names (saying or spelling them) was not common as it is now. If many Americans hear a name with which they are unfamiliar, they just give up – or many do. Many others, though – and I count myself among these – may not have heard it adequately the first time and want very badly to know the name, or some part of the words just uttered. I would call these two types (1) the habitualists and (2) the curious. The habitualists are used to stuff that is within their existing experience and cannot be bothered to learn much else. The curious are always wanting to know more.
    3. This brings me to this – whenever I hear someone with an accent, whether it is one of the American accents or not, I am immediately curious and wonder where in the world they are from. Why? Because I am happy that I have met someone new who has had a body of experience different from my own. If I have a moment, I might guess, with a “please forgive me but…” as a lead-in, then I learn something about this new person. I do this with the British as I watch a bunch of their dramas and try to learn what regions their accents originate.
    But I agree with you. Back in the ’70s, there was a song by Dan Fogelberg called “Part of the Plan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqDyH-dMrKw).” There is a line “Be who you are/that’s a part of the plan” that says all that anyone in the world needs to know. So many people are trying to be someone they are not and missing their unique loveliness. So I leave you with that.
    My apologies for the length of this!
    Kind regards, MSOC

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a while! Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for relating, thank you for taking time out of your day to type up all of these amazing words! I have to say, you are such a great writer! I really appreciate this and I am definitely going to be listening to the song! Thank you again and hope you have a beautiful day!

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