Thursday, 20 October 2011

Me and John Barrowman Say Tomahto

Thursday, 20 October 2011
A couple of weeks ago I declared that England was confused.  It’s nearer the truth to say that it’s me that’s the wrong way round – especially when it comes to my speaking voice.

I was born in England, as you may well know.  We moved to Canada when I was 5 years old, and some of my earliest memories of that time involve being very quickly labelled ‘the kid who talks funny’ so it wasn’t long before my schoolyard survival instinct subconsciously began to kick in, and my Teeside twang gave way to a rounded Canadian drawl.  My brother was exactly the same.  At least, between the hours of 9am and 3.30pm while we were at school.

But as soon as we were home, we’d slip straight back into our ‘normal’ accents.  With our parents, we spoke as we ever did.  And that’s the way it was.  ‘English’ with English people, and ‘Canadian’ with Canadian people – it just made sense at the time to our still fresh-off-the-boat brains.

Now?  My accent oscillates between the sublime and the ridiculous on a daily basis.  I speak in a Canadian accent in front of my husband and kids, though neither of the boys have really picked up any elements of it.  There was a brief interlude when Ben was very little, when certain words (“candle”, for example, or anything else with a short ‘a’) would come out a little bit Canadian, but it didn’t last very long.  

But hooooo-weee, when my parents are visiting from Canada, I get completely confused. I can be sitting in a room having a conversation with my parents and Jason at the same time, and if I reply to something my Dad has said, it’ll be in an English accent, and if I reply to something Jason has said, I’m Canadian again.  It is such a struggle - I don't know whether I'm coming or going.  It really is most unconsciously done – it’s just something that happens involuntarily, like sneezing or a bout of the hiccups.  I must sound like a total knob.

Jason says it even goes further than that –  even the Canadian-ness varies by degrees:  he says that when I talk on the phone to my Canadian friends, I get ‘extra-Canadian’ and as soon as I put the phone down I revert back to ‘regular-Canadian’.

And here's another one:  normally I speak in a Canadian accent to tmy kids, but when my Mum visits and it’s just me, her and the kids, I speak in an English accent to them.  They must think I'm completely bananas.  

I blame my mother, God love her.  I can hear the change in my Mum’s accent when she’s talking with her Yorkshire brothers and sisters.  It's 'put t'kettle on' this and 'by 'eck' that and  lots of 'lick road clean wi' tongue' flying about the place.  And then the next thing you know, she's a bit more North Eastern when she’s speaking with me and Dad.  Don't even get me started how Canadian she sounds when she answers the phone in her office.  IT IS BONKERS.

What is 'hubba hubba' in Scottish?
I thought I was alone in this madness, until one day I watched a documentary about John Barrowman.  John, star of Dr Who and Torchwood (which I love, love, love) who was born in Glasgow but grew up in the US.  I can’t remember what show it was – it was a biographical documentary about him, and there he was, in his mother’s American kitchen speaking with a lovely hard Glaswegian burr.  And then… AND THEN!  He turns to the camera and speaks ‘American’ again! 

Oh, but did my heart ever skip a beat!  I’M NOT THE ONLY ACCENT WEIRDO.  Hurrah for me!  And hurrah for John! 

Here he is, speaking about it a little.  
The peculiar thing about it all now, upon reflection, is that when I was a kid all I wanted was to be able to blend into the background – I changed the way I spoke to fit in, and for no other reason.  And yet now?  I want to distinguish myself from the background any chance I get.  I’m no wallflower; the hell with blending in.  So living in England, unless I’m with my family In Yorkshire, I speak with my Canadian accent.  And just to eff with things in a balanced way (I'm nothing if not well rounded) -- when I am Canada, say, for example at the supermarket with my Mum, I’m the bloody biggest blimey Limey you ever did hear.

I know you think I’m a total nutjob.

Never mind, I know John would understand.   

5 people had something to say about this...:

Fame Throwa said...

Okay, this is nowhere near to your experience, but your post does remind me of the time I lived in the states and had a roommate from Alabama. After a few months together, it got hard for me to not say some words with an Alabama accent. When they came out, I thought they sounded strange, but I couldn't quite remember how they were *supposed* to sound because I spent most of my time with this girl, and heard mostly her speak.

Sometimes I think it's a clarity thing, too. It's not just about fitting in but also about being understood, so if we speak like our audience speaks, perhaps the conversation in both directions is just easier.

I totally believed that your accent change is a subconscious thing for reasons we may never understand. I'm sure some folks would accuse you of "putting it on", but it's not that. It's like you said: kind of a survival thing. Kind of an evolutionary thing.

I wonder what a linguist would think of all of this!

Lynn said...

Man, that is one handsome dude. I am finding I have a real weakness for the Scottish men. Glasgow must be the happiest place on earth.

I once worked with a guy who was from England but who had lived in Canada for several years. We all thought he had an English accent, and then one day we were all invited to his wedding reception. He was there with a bunch of his relatives from England, who had been visiting all week, and HOLY COW, suddenly we could not understand a WORD this guy said. His accent leaped from "adorably British" to Billy Bragg Brogue. CRAZY.

I wonder how he talks now?

I guess this all explains Madonna and her come-and-go accent. You should call her up!

GoHybrid said...

I think JB refers to it as being bidialectical. I used to have a co-worker who was the same way. Would speak southern as southern could be most of the time (we're in North Carolina), then would get on the phone with relatives in Jamaica or where ever they were from, and start talking like Bob Marley. Really blew my mind the first time I heard it!

So no, you're not too much of a nutjob, IMHO. :D

The Sentimental Suitcase said...

HAHAH! You're so cute Nicola! Make a vlog, I would love to hear your voice you nutjob!

Mammy P said...

BIDIALECTICAL. I like it. :-)

Sam, no freakin' way would I ever be brave enough to do a vlog. I would sound like a complete tit.