Post 162

Politically Incorrect: Reflections on Accents

English is a nice language. It’s got a lot of words.

It is widely known and countries that have a primary language other than English often have a population that is quite familiar with English as its favorite most useful second language.

This post is going to be about the different accents used when speaking English.

Spoken English sounds very different in different parts of the world. The English you hear spoken in Bangkok is different than the English you hear spoken in Santiago or in Ottawa or in Edinburgh.

Your ability to speak English is affected by several factors. One factor is your mother tongue. If your first language does not have a “sh” sound, for instance, then it will be difficult for you, initially, to say English words that contain the “sh” sound. Some Asian languages have a blended r-l sound, so it is difficult for those speakers to make a clear “r” sound or a clear “l” sound. They always mix in a little of the other letter.

On the other hand, if your first language has flourishes that do not occur in English, you may tend to import the flourish with the letter. Here I am thinking of the rolled “r” which is common to many languages. When a speaker from France sees the letter “r,” he is tempted to roll it. Mind you, it sounds rather nice, so we will forgive such a thing.

When those from other countries arrive in Canada, their accent will often be quite heavy. In other words, you need to listen to only a sentence or two to realize that this person has only recently arrived on Canadian soil. If you live in a larger urban centre, it is common to meet many people who speak English with a non-Canadian accent.

This post is going to become less and less politically correct as it progresses.

Accent on English: Where Blogger Actually Has the Nerve to Rate Accents of the World

I like some accents more than others. I like the way English sounds when spoken with a Polish accent, a Russian accent and a Ukrainian accent. Five stars.

Don’t you think all music teachers should have eastern European accents?

I also like the French accent. Everyone knows how devastatingly romantic it sounds, so soft and smooth. English spoken with an Italian or Spanish accent also sounds very nice. Four and a half stars.

I haven’t heard all the accents in the world, of course, and so my list is very incomplete. The Bulgarian and Portuguese accents can sound to me not entirely different from those I mention above. Come to think of it, I probably like the way English sounds when spoken by those from any of the European nations. Four and a half stars for all of them, let’s say.

I also like the slight change in word order that occurs when English is spoken by Europeans. I find it entirely pleasant.

I don’t like the South American accents quite as much, but they have their own charm. They are more sunny and have a lot of verve, but they don’t have that waltzy feeling. They’re more mango-ish and tango-ish and cha-cha-cha-ish. I’d give them three to four stars.

I don’t like the Australian, New Zealand, Scottish or Irish accents quite as much either. And I find the accent of those from the country of South Africa difficult to understand. I’d give these all three stars. (This blog post should be subtitled, “How to make half the world hate you.”)

I dislike Asian accents and African accents. English, when spoken by someone whose mother-tongue is Chinese, for example, winds up sounding, in general, very harsh and chop chop unmelodic. The African version of English is also hard to understand, but I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes it sound blurry and garbled to me. I don’t like the Indian accent either. It sounds, to my Canadian ears, gulpy and loop-dee-loop-dee with the emphasis in all the wrong places. One or two stars for these, depending on how difficult they are to understand.

What (Not) to Do When Your Accent is Different From Those Around You

Upon arriving in Canada, the immigrant’s accent begins to fade away and be replaced by the Canadian version. The speed of the change varies, depending on the amount of interaction the immigrant has with other Canadians.

It is a process that is quite natural. We all tend to absorb the accents of the speakers around us. We adapt, both deliberately and unconsciously. That’s good, even if you have a five-star accent from southern Greece. It’s generally quite painless.

Unless –

There are exceptions.

Some people foist their difficult-to-understand accent on others by deciding that they really need to be the lector at their local parish. I really dislike this. I really dislike it when those with non-Canadian accents volunteer to be readers for Sunday Mass.

Now before you get all 100% shocked and appalled, be honest with yourself. Do YOU like hearing the Letter to the Colossians read in such a way that you can’t make heads or tails of it?

I bet you either tune out or find it quite a struggle.

Admit it. There is NO WAY that the local news station would allow the weather report to be delivered with any accent that isn’t completely understandable. We would scratch our heads in stunned disbelief if we heard the commentator for the hockey game speaking with a thick Swedish or Singaporean accent.

So why do we act like it really doesn’t matter how intelligible the readers are for the Mass? Why the double standard?

Readers and cantors for Mass should be easy to understand. End of story. If the person is eager to volunteer, then choose a different ministry. Be an usher. Be a minister of communion. Be an acolyte. But please: don’t read. Not yet.

Wait.

Wait until your accent is mellowed. Wait until we can follow you. Wait until we can understand what you’re saying. Readers should be clear.

I’ll tell you a secret.

The thing is, many of the people who go up to the ambo (you see, now I know the word) to read are quite thrilled to be reading, but not for the right reasons. They aren’t doing it because they love the Old Testament, the New Testament the Psalm or even the Mass. They are so often doing it because it’s a feather in their cap. They view it as a Personal Accomplishment, a test, a proof of their English Ability.

To such people, I say, Hey man, this ain’t no ESL class. Go sit down. I can’t understand you.

Priests: Imports and Exports

And on this note, I actually oppose the worldwide movement and migration of priests. I don’t think it’s right for priests to leave their homelands to be transplanted elsewhere. At minimum, I would say that it shouldn’t be happening to the extent that it currently is. My thought is that something which began as a good missionary impulse has now gotten quite out of hand.

If country A isn’t generating enough priests, then let country A deal with the shortfall; don’t import priests from country B as if country B is a stop-gap supplier.

Why does Canada get to import priests from Nigeria, Poland and the Philippines in the same way it imports everything else? These good men are the treasures of these countries, and yet we take them so easily?

What am I missing?

Isn’t it the case that they could be put to very good use in their countries of origin? Besides, I dare say that they would be more effective when they are anchored in amongst friends, neighbours and family members. Their energies would not be spent on adapting to a foreign language and culture. When they arrive in a foreign nation, they are in charge of a parish which has challenges that are daunting for anyone, let alone someone who is so easily dismissed as an outsider. I am thinking specifically of the predicament of the parish priest who arrives in a new-to-him parish where the office secretary, the office manager and the caretaker really care next-to-nothing about Christ and his message, but who enjoy the good pay and the cushy hours. They snicker behind the back of the confused new priest who spends hours upon hours redrafting his homily, hoping to be able to pronounce all the words for his new flock.

It’s just not ideal. That’s what I’m saying.

As for the flock, they aren’t as appreciative as they could be of the sacrifices made by their new shepherd. Some are genuinely friendly to the new priest, some are falsely friendly, and some are entirely cold, but the vast majority are just finding that here’s another priest whose homily they cannot quite follow, because they can’t understand the words when spoken with that unfamiliar accent.

One of the worst accents I have ever heard was from a priest who was originally from Poland but who learned English in Scotland and then ultimately wound up in Canada. Who could understand a word that he said? That accent was like a perogi wearing a kilt. Uniqueness isn’t really a plus, in this case. But put that same priest back in Poland and every riddle would be solved; every line would make sense.

As for those priests already relocated and swimming upstream, my advice would be to keep the homilies as short as can be. Too many foreign-language priests tend to make up for their language deficiency by making their homilies ultra long. They seem to be eager to prove that their intellects are in full force and effect and the congregation becomes bleary-eyed as the paragraphs stretch and the pages turn.

It’s not the way. Just end the pain.

Get straight to the point. Be direct, say what needs to be said and be done. That way, inspired or not, at least the congregation will be glad to see your face. They’ll say to themselves, “Ah, it’s the Indian priest! We’ll be home in time to watch the game.”

That English Accent

My least favorite accent, on Canadian soil, is the English accent.

It’s an accent which I find entirely fine in England. Chesterton had an English accent, and so did some of my ancestors.

Here in Canada, however, I have noticed the strangest phenomenon. I find it to be so often the case that those with English accents never lose them. Their accents don’t soften and blend into the Canadian. Long after the accent of the German, the Chilean and even the Vietnamese has mellowed, we still hear you sounding like you arrived the day before yesterday.

Strange.

I dislike.

Zero stars.

One gets the very distinct impression that something different is happening, and indeed, here is my charge: I think that far too many immigrants from England have an attitude about their accent, and the attitude is one of superiority.

They purposely DON’T want to sound like everyone else. They like this Most Precious Accent, and they are proud of it in a way which is distinctly unbecoming. (In the same breath, I here mention the example that comes to mind of a Canadian-born man who, after returning home from years of travel abroad, decided to adopt – and never shed – some weird mixture of every accent in the world. Uh? I believe it is meant to sound Cosmopolitan and Continental. Ack! It just doesn’t work.)

So hey man, it’s time. You’re not in England anymore, Dorothy.

Just shed it.

Drop it.

Talk like the rest of us.

Put down your tea cup. Take off your tiara.

You’re in Canada now.