Language Autobiography, Benchmark #2
December 20, 2010
I’ve always wondered about accents. They tell the history of any person you speak to immediately; they are the gateway to understanding a person’s culture. Many Americans can recognize a British accent instantly, and they worship it religiously. A Dutchmen can quickly distinguish a Dutch accent with influences from other European countries. And a native Boston citizen knows exactly what neighborhood another his from after merely one word. Accents give prestige, and a level of distinguished honor to the speaker. Accents are exciting to hear and decipher, and add a level of interest to a person. However, when one has a bland accent, or one that cannot be determined, does this make the person themselves bland? I’ve always wondered this.
Me being born and raised here in Philadelphia, I always felt that I had no accent, or that my accent is so bland it doesn’t even register to most people. I have, what many consider, to be a standard “American accent”. It comes off just as that, too: standard.
A few years back, I went to a global student leadership forum for a week, held in Washington, D.C. In the first day, I was just as nervous as everyone else, not knowing any one there. While waiting in the hotel’s ballroom on the first day, I met Sarah, an Australian born exchange student who currently lives in the Midwest. She was nice, cute, and very interesting, but I wondered what it was about her that had me so interested, besides her great looks. We talked, and talked, constantly interrupted my other kids in the forum, introducing themselves. Once she spoke, however, they were just as hooked as I was, and it was hard for them to turn away. She spoke of her days in the land down under, of when she moved to the US, and of her life now, and every word she uttered just seemed so surreal.
“Are you from Australia?,” new people asked as the first introduced herself.
“I’ve heard a lot of things about how fun it is there!”
“Why did you move to the U.S.?”
“What do you think about our accents?”
The questions went on and on, with hesitation, from everyone, and during the conservation we had, I continued to wonder what about this Aussie-born girl that made her so interesting.
Later, I finally realized what it was: her accent. The beautiful way her words were executed made all the difference to me, and to everyone else. Her accent made her unique and interesting, and served as a glowing light into a dull room of indistinguishable accents.
I realized that with her accent, came assumptions of her life in Australia. People wondered if she did all of the things that Australians are known for, and if she stated she didn’t, they were confused and wanted to know why. I concluded that when one speaks with a distinguishable accent, one becomes an “ambassador” for the area in which their accent hails its origin. In other words, when Sarah spoke in her Australian accent, she embodied all of Australian hobbies, cultures, and lives, which thus made her more interesting in contrast to dull accents. When people heard Sarah’s accent, as they would for any accent that is not their own, they caught interest, made assumptions, and compared and contrasted their lives to hers.
I feel that people like me, whose accents bare no exciting and unique characteristics to be easily distinguishable to the majority of people, often have problems gaining an identity instantly. When I meet new people, people openly ask where I’m from, as there are no clues or indications as to where I am from. With the “bland” accent, I feel that sometimes, it takes me some other interesting ways to keep an appealing conversation going. It is a commonly known fact that interesting accents keep people interested, and those who don’t have these accents are left to pick up the pieces on their own.
However, there are advantages to having a bland accent. Like I said before, when one has a distinguishable accent, others often make assumptions about them and their personal experiences. Not having such an accent allows one to tell their own stories, without having their accents do it for them. People with no accents are not subjected to the stereotypes that those with accents would be. The lack of a distinguishable accent, in short, allows for others to truly get to know a person and find other things to make them interesting.
In conclusion, accents, as I stated before, have always interested me, as they do for many other people. The ways the words are pronounced, phrases are used, and other things provide a large contrast to the way I speak. However, there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the language spectrum.