Monday, 10 March 2014

Accents...of the Vernacular Variety

I've often thought, and may have already said, that the written form of Internet interaction is very useful...

Consider Blogging: I write a post taking as long as I like to make it clear, grammatically correct and spell-checked, you comment, and with many of you, I answer and we have a written conversation via emails. Some of you have become very good and important friends to me using this method of communication.

Consider reading other people's Blogs: You write a post, I comment, you reply and ditto the written conversations!

Consider Facebook (which some may not wish to do!!): People post, friends comment and in abbreviated form interactions and communications ensue.

(Blogging and Facebook are my own two regular platforms for Internet interactions, that is why I am using them as examples)

So far so obvious- you write, I write and we all generally understand each other even if we don't agree with each other.

Now take the spoken word: Many of my Internet friends live across the water, very few here on the oul' sod. Each and every one of you will have some sort of accent, regional, country, international, for some English is a second language, and for some their spoken English may be peppered with local idiom and words in different languages.

For instance in East Africa very few people use only one language when they speak. I had not realised how much Kiswahili I was in the habit of using in everyday speech until I returned to live in Ireland and had to refrain from using all the local African linguistic short-cuts to which I had become accustomed. I still forget sometimes and have to correct myself when I receive blank stares. But in Ireland we use many Irish words and peculiar idioms in our general speech, which have to be edited when speaking to a non-Irish person. I daresay there are really very few of us who speak unadulterated, perfect English...and whilst we are on the subject, how exactly should we define perfect English?

Now, to one's imperfect use of the spoken English word add in the issue of accent: English, American, Scots, Finnish, French, Welsh, Russian, Canadian, and many more judging by my blog stats. In England there are many regional accents- I have lived in Watford, Hereford and Avon and noticed the differences each time. I know from the Church visitors we have had over the years that Americans have vastly differing regional accents and the same probably goes for most peoples.

I have tried to imagine how it might be if I picked up the phone to any one of you, especially those I know quite well, and I think that it is almost certain that although we might each speak English, we would also each have a desperate time actually understanding what the other was saying!

Have you ever heard a real West of Ireland country accent? With its use of idiom translated from the Irish? I know for absolute certain that I do not speak as I write. In writing I make my voice accessible and clear, grammatically correct (forget the spelling, that's always going to be atrocious, but sure it doesn't matter how badly you spell when you are speaking) and as lacking in idiom and Irish slang as I can make it. In speaking I can alter my use of language to a certain extent but its still going to sound local Irish.

Consider your own speaking- how accented or idiomatic would your natural spoken words be? Would I understand you? Maybe, but the communication would be stilted and full of possible misunderstandings, and a real ear-opener to boot!

One day I will get to meet some of you perhaps, I certainly would love to do so, but beware that although we may speak the same language, we may still fail to communicate!!

Viva L'Internet!!!


Amanda said...

But I would know you we're Irish from your writing, since various idioms and rhythms are bound to creep in. And I always read your blog with an Irish accent in my head, albeit inevitably the wrong one. The same with my American blog friends, I know they're American somehow and read them with an accent. American blogging friends have told me that I write in 'English' and they read me that way. I wonder how similar we'd sound to people's imaginings if we were to meet?

Ulla said...

This was something I have thought so much about! When I write or read, I can take my time to find the words I want to use, sometimes in a dictionary, and you can read my one hour's efforts in a couple of minutes, pretty fluently I hope. On the phone or face to face there would be awkward silences, and my embarrassment about pronouncing words I know well in writing but have hardly ever heard. Communicating in writing helps me get to the same line with you native speakers!

Benta AtSLIKstitches said...

I love that one if your readers "reads" your blog with an Irish accent! I of have this problem when I visit jackie: I can understand her snd the two daughters, but Dan and the two sons are much harder ands it takes me at least half way through the visit to not have to decode everything! As for my, after the first two years in Norway I've spent my life within 20 miles of Windsor castle : I'm Home Counties received pronounciation (without the posh bits)

Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers said...

I also hear an Irish accent when I read your blog and your emails. Maybe the wrong one, but definitely Irish. You use a lot of Irish turns of phrase, to be sure you do...!

It interests me that many people think they 'don't have an accent', but of course we all do. Even the Queen. It's just that her accent is what's accepted as 'received pronunciation'.

After 30 years in the south, my accent has moved away from my Northern roots to something much closer to R.P. and since you've spent time living in England (I didn't know that, by the way) you would have no problem at all understanding me. But once I was on the phone to a woman with a strong Belfast accent. It was hard for me to understand her. Eventually she said to me 'I can't understand your accent!' Plainly, she thought she spoke without an accent, and that I was the one who 'talked weird'.

Anyway, the reason I came over here today was to wish you a Happy St Patrick's Day. Have a good one and I hope all is well.


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