Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Speaking English- By Accident or Design?

September 20, 2010 · No Comments

About two weeks into our time here, I had a phone conversation with my mother that I found to be very interesting. I was going along and recounting some of my adventures when she interrupted me, saying “That’s great, Elizabeth, but don’t talk to any more English people.”

Puzzled, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“I can barely understand you as it is!” she replied.

After some explanation I understood that she meant I had picked up an English accent and was speaking to her in it, to which I responded “No I haven’t!” and then heard myself, sure enough, dropping my h’s and generally sounding like a lifelong Londoner.

Now this isn’t really very surprising, knowing me. Back home, I frequently slip into different accents for a variety of reasons: I have a really good ear for accents (which served me well for acting), I grew up around a variety of different accents (Californian/valley girls, a father from New England, a grandmother from Arkansas) and I watch/listen to far too much BBC. Picking up an accent while in England is the natural progression for me.

Around my American friends, I don’t notice it much, if at all. I’ve changed the way I say certain words, such as con-TRI-bute instead of con-trib-ute. But I start slipping into English speech rhythm and sounds much noticeably around the natives (let’s face it: we’ve all been saying “sorry” differently). Then, what, I wonder, is the explanation for it popping out so strongly when I talk to my parents? Am I just a particularly adept mimic? Do I want to show off a bit for them? Or am I somehow fulfilling the dream closest to my little Anglophile-heart? Am I BECOMING English?

[Photo from: http://winandwinnow.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/win-and-winnow-american-british-english.gif]

Categories: 2010 Elizabeth

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