Speaking with an Accent
You’re either from right here, or you’re from over there, and we’ll know the answer once you speak. Just open your mouth a smidge, nothing more is required, for a test of your fluency. Even if you’re a chameleon, shifting your vocabulary and pronunciation and tone, there’s a phrase, or a word, that will reveal the truth, that will expose your voice’s true address. Accents are geographic fingerprints, they’re acoustic maps, and they’re exhibited in every syllable, betraying just how far you’ve happened to travel. English speakers, as many have said, are branded on the tongue—with hints of class and birthplace present in every exhale—which sounds exactly right though a tad provincial, because there’s no need to limit the statement to English speakers: there’s not a person alive whose speech doesn’t expose their secrets.
Trying to place a specific accent happens to be one of my pastimes, as I adore the nuances of speech, the slight distinctions between neighboring cities, the varieties of tempo and lexicon and pronunciation, the history that’s inherent in even the most commonplace phrases. If you listen closely, there’s a rich culture underneath every word. And the English language makes this pastime particularly fruitful, for a language with such a global reach truly does have an endless amount of flavors, and that’s especially noticeable once you realize that the world has more non-native English speakers than native English speakers: the language is shaped and will eventually be controlled, you can argue, by those who already have another tongue. So any dissection of accents does require an understanding of English as a global language that’s not governed by its native speakers, which is perfectly fine for me, even though I am a bit prescriptivist about certain aspects of the language—perhaps dictatorial is a better term. But there’s no need to pick favorites when it comes to accent, though of course we all know which English accent sounds best.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Desk Notes by Charles Schifano to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.