I found myself sitting at a table with a group of friends recently in an in-depth conversation about accents. How do our lives affect the accent we have? And why does our accent change depending on who we are with at the time?
The girls and I were laughing because of how unusual our backgrounds are: one of us is a Thai, Australian who spent some time growing up in New Zealand; another of us is from the Philippines, grew up in New Zealand and lives in Australia; another one of us is Fijian-Indian, Australian who grew up in Canada; and then there’s me, from Sydney, grew up in Newcastle, recently moved to Melbourne.
Can you guess which friend has the most Aussie, bogan, ocka accent? It’s not me! It’s my lovely Thai-Australian friend from Bendigo! She asked me why we thought she has a strong Aussie accent and we decided that it is because she drags out some of her words. She then asked: “Hoooooowwww?” The other girls seemed to have kept their Fijian and Canadian accents where as I have lost my Aussie backyard voice. We noted some changes in the way we speak and how certain words are pronounced differently compared to in the past.
I guess I used to sound more bogan, chopping off the ends of words Rambo style and replacing them with an ‘o’ or ‘i’ anywhere I could. “Owwh yeah, let’s go fa’ra bevi at the bowlo, aye?”
Since learning Bahasa Indonesia however, my accent and even my vocabulary, has become more sophisticated – sometimes my family have trouble understanding what I’m saying. This, I believe, is because in Australia we pronounce our “A’s” as “Aye” where as in Indonesia, the “A” is pronounced “Ah”. Whilst teaching in Australia after returning from living in Bali, the Aussie students would ask me if I was from England, to which I would reply,”‘Nah way! Where’dya get that ideeya?”
There is this really uncanny thing that happens to my accent sometimes though and I have no idea why. Sometimes while I am speaking, I notice that a few words suddenly adopt a New Zealand accent without me even realising it! Why is that? Is it a brain thing? Is it a muscle thing? You will have to tell me because I have no idea!
Why are some accents funny? Interesting? Even sexy? Is it because they lure a culture that we don’t yet know? Perhaps, a mysterious land which evokes a sense of exoticism? Does it override fear of the unknown? Is it because, as in music, an accent emphasises something? Does hearing an accent emphasise our own and therefore ourselves? Maybe it is all part of identity. We ask our selves: who we are? Who aren’t we? Who do we want to be? Who don’t we want to be? We absorb the culture surrounding us but we hold on to the cultures of where we have been, and for some us, accumulating a tangy accent!
So why do we accessorise ourselves with an accent? Or, why do our accents adapt and change? Is it because we are like lyre birds, trying to mimic and fit in with whichever tribe we are socialising with? Is it Darwinism – the fittest accent survives? Is it human nature’s way of adapting to the changing world by communicating the best possible way in any give situation?
I have asked a lot of questions here and I don’t expect them all to be answered; but, it would be nice to hear what you think. Sorry, let me repeat that – Aww yeah, whatchya think o this, aye?