I speak English

One of hubby’s jokes when people ask him about his accent is to say: “I don’t have an accent, you have the accent. I speak English.”

Having been in the States for almost 8 years now, I find my ‘r’s rolling a bit more than they used to, and sometimes I say “half past eight” with the ‘a’s sounding like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, instead of sounding like the ‘ough’ in ‘cough’.

Yet, still, I often get the comments about my accent and questions about where I am from. Most people guess Britain or Australia, unless they have actually met a South African, which is not too uncommon in our city. We have run accross the odd person who is incredulous that we are South African born and white-skinned, and one was flabbergasted that hubby works in the computer industry: “Oh, so you have computers there?” 😀

Accents are interesting things. My American friends say I don’t sound like an American, my South African friends (If they heard me speak to an American, when my ‘r’s are really rollin’) would say I’m picking up an American accent.

When I was in SA I thought the American accent was all about the ‘drawl’. Now I realise the biggest differences are in the vowels. This is where my American friends catch me out…my vowels are still very South African.

 It also took me a while to learn to say our pastor’s wife’s name with a ‘d’, when it is spelled with a ‘t’… her name is Katie. I tried to figure out if there’s any word that Americans spell with a ‘soft’ ‘t’, but none are quite as soft as mine.

I have grown so used to hearing American, that it is the norm for me now. For the first time in my life, I can hear my own accent objectively.  Sometimes when my son turns on the Discovery Channel and some South African game ranger is talking away, the accent immediately grabs my attention as out-of-the-ordinary, and I can hear as an outsider would. 

The strange thing is that the accents of South Africans whom I don’t know stick out like a sore thumb to me, yet the accents of my mom and dad and family are so familiar that I don’t notice them at all.

Another weird thing is that I have completely lost the ability to do a fake british accent. I get all mixed up when I try. I get this kind of Southern-Georgia-marries-Worchestershire-England type thing going. Mixed up vowels all over the place.

You’d think I’d have a real identity crisis with all of this going on, but no. When I’m around my American friends, I slip into American-speak. (Sumi-style) Around my family and friends in SA, I speak sort-0f South African-ish. It isn’t really a concious thing…it happens, chameleon-like.

Now if the Lord ever sent us to Down Under, or to Scotland or wherever, it could get really messy!

Or not.


6 responses to “I speak English

  1. I never noticed your accent… :o)

    I can do the same thing. I use to be a tour guide. If I had a group of people with a strong southern accent, I would pick it up by the end of the tour…. i really wasn’t making fun of them…. it just happens!

  2. Yep, I pick up the accents of others as well. It’s kind of fun actually. My hubby doesn’t do it unknowingly, he does it intentionally and is quite good. He’s not really lived around a lot of people w/accents like I have.

    I’d love to hear you speak Southern-American/Affricaner some day. 🙂

  3. I like Sumi’s voice. 🙂 For me, I can’t speak anything, not even English. 😆 The only thing I can do is speak the, what do you call it, southern low-life?, accent. 😀

  4. 😆 This made me laugh. I experienced the same thing coming back to Canada. I think because I grew up in B’desh that I was exposed to many different accents very early on that it takes only a few words and I imitate the other person.

    Have you ever studied how various languages have the speaker place their tongues in different places to make the sounds? A North American has their tongue hit the backs of their upper teeth, but a Sub-Continental Indian/Bengali/Nepalese has their tongue hit the top of their mouth. That means that they can’t make 3/4’s of our vowel sounds!

    I have relatives in S.A., distant, but related, and am familiar with the S.A. accent, it is distinct from British accents!

  5. You know what is really strange? I have noticed that when I speak Afrikaans my tone of voice is a lot lower than when I speak English, and when I speak ‘American’, it is still a tad higher. It also depends on whom I am hanging out with at the time.

    You might think I’m an alto when I speak Afrikaans, and a soprano when I speak English!

  6. Interesting about the pitch. I’ll have to listen. My parents speak Dutch sometimes at home, I’ll see if they have different pitches too!

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