our accent marks us as migrants but also affirms our sense of self


versatilebloggeraward11[ Note : A little more opinionated, a little more candid, and a little less diplomatic this fair day for blogging.  Just spewing extemporaneous thoughts with little regard for the consequences, spoiler alert : the text suffers from ADHD and is incontrovertibly scatterbrained. Thanks for your time! ]

IN MY ultra-simplistic zero-sum yin-or-yang world, that recent royal-morning-sickness- aussie-DJ-prank tragedy can be ultimately reduced into : greed for information on one hand, and a sad lack of accent awareness, on the other.

Behind the naughty anything-for-a-laugh antics of those DJs who successfully attempted to access the Duchess of Canterbury’s sick ward, the whole world was waiting for news, any news about either the newest heir to the world’s most popular monarchy (rulers of the United Kingdoms of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Crown Dependencies and the remnants of the British Empire, on which the sun supposedly never set) or the Duchess’s early-pregnancy discomfort .  Preferably, news of the former, but the latter would do anytime.

Straining credulity on the other side is the willingness of someone tending to an ultra privacy-sensitive patient to believe that her grandmother would make a personal call, identifying herself without the layers and layers of protocol expected , and lastly sound the way she sounded, more like an audio caricature of herself (“this is the Queen, you know!”).

Yes, the DJs involved were trying to nail a stunt, pull a fast one on stressed, distracted health workers, but they were also shooting for the moon, outscoop everyone in merry old England from Way Down Under, and squeeze from the proverbial stone golden driblets of information and enhance their dubious status as semi-media outlets in the sea of TV, radio and print pseudo-journalists.

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But the story would not be complete without a naive, albeit efficient medical worker quietly doing her job, day in and day out, but completely unaware of what a British national, much less a reigning monarch would sound.

Would you believe that if I was a 48-hour a week rotating shift worker (regularly alternating from days to nights), confining nearly all my professional and social contacts to people of my race, and spending almost all my free time with family, I would, despite living in a country completely alien to my culture for a decade, not know much about anything besides my native language and culture?  Of course you would.

Particularly among low-income migrant workers, Asians tend to be parochial in outlook and habit, keeping among themselves.  In enclaves of migrants all over North America, Europe and Australasia, everything that reminds them of home is preserved and affirmed, and language is certainly no exception.  Would it be a big surprise that migrants here retain the tongue and accent they have brought from their native lands?

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It would then not be a big leap to assume that, not being much aware of what one needs to know beyond work and necessities, the subtle differences of accent between various English speakers would just be so much detail that matters little in the grand scheme of things.

Despite having a brother who had been in New Zealand the last 15 years when I arrived in Auckland in 2007, I had almost no idea of what a Kiwi accent was like.  There were no stereotypes in media to which I could refer, unlike icons of Austrian accents (Ahnuld Tuhminaytuh), American accents (Al Pacino or Clint Eastwood), French accents (Inspector Clouseau or Gerard Depardieu) or British accents (James Bond and his various incarnations), although I knew that there was a passing resemblance between Kiwi and British brogues.

Not just vowels and intonation, but also common words that had added, modified or even completely different meanings.  flat for apartment, torch for flashlight, rubbish for garbage, tins for cans, jumpers for jackets, and so on.

More insanely, I had not only the Kiwi accent to contend with, but other migrant accents as well.  Indian accents, Chinese accents, even Korean and Vietnamese accents.  And if I thought that being of Chinese descent would help me, I was mistaken : the Northern Chinese and Cantonese accents were markedly different from the Fukienese (Fujianese) Chinese accent I was accustomed to at home.

The only way I was going to entrench myself as a migrant, in a babel of tongues and accents, was to expose myself and not be intimidated by the different ways people from myriad races express themselves.

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And if that meant exposing them to my Pinoy accent, inflection and idioms, so be it.

The very fact that Pinoy call centers and business process outsourcing is now one of the mighty powerhouses of the Filipino economy serves notice that, Pinoy accent and all, we are understood at the very least and appreciated by the English speakers of the world.  It’s not so much that we have a way of speaking as the fact that we are understood by the way we speak.  Because of and in spite of, take your pick.

[ distracting thought : If you  talk the way you talk by the way, make yourself understood, and make your life easier, why make life hard and change your accent?  I DO concede though that a good part of our Filipino brothers and sisters speak with a very strong Pinoy accent, a little adjustment might be in order, but no biggie. 🙂 ]

Returning to the main kwento.  Conclusion : If you limit interaction among the people you were born with, you will have minimal understanding of the various accents that surround you, despite their physical presence in your adopted world.  Conversely, immerse yourself in the mixture of accents (and speakers) you hear around you and you will be conversant among strangers, friends with people you’ve never met before.

Even a passing awareness of how different races of people sound leads to better anticipation of what and how they are communicating, and ultimately to better understanding of these people, whether they are hosts or fellow migrants.

Consequently, we end up with a more profound appreciation of ourselves, as distinct yet interacting actors in the global village.

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It’s so sad that a life had to be wasted in that episode of the Duchess and her morning sickness leading to Aussie DJs and their prank call, but we can’t deny the resulting lesson that many of our daily problems between people all over the world might be solved with a little more understanding, a little less concern with privacy, and a little less deceit.

Regardless of the accent.

Thanks for reading !

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6 thoughts on “our accent marks us as migrants but also affirms our sense of self

  1. Ha! It’s like talking with you over coffee! Hahaha. I just remembered po BBC Journalist Rico Hizon, he delivers the news to the world in his Filipino Accent and he’s very much proud of it for why would you deliver in a British accent (because you work in BBC) if your main market are Asians? He pointed out that his viewers won’t be able to identify with him if he will force an accent. He celebrates the Filipino accent (not the strong one) and he’s proud that he is understood by many with this. 🙂

    • hahaha, I often get that zezil. I also get that when I read your blog, but your stories are more interesting 🙂 thanks for the comment, it’s true that the Pinoy accent grows on you!

  2. I have California accent, I guess. My Mom’s accent is okay, it’s very generic, but Dad’s is a bit on the Filipino side….. but I sometimes cringe when I hear some Filipinos speak, especially the older ones,.,. they don’t pronounce the letter F , for one. And they are very fond of the phrase, ” as a matter of Pak” or worse, they pronounce it like the four letter word that starts with F. 6_6 Native speakers do a double take everytime they hear that.

    • hahahaha, i love, love that! so many different ways of speaking you hear from Pinoys 🙂 I appreciate your sharing of experience Renx especially since you’re half Pinoy, and half American. Cringe-worthy!

  3. Pingback: can’t-miss markers of our pinoy accent | YLBnoel's Blog

  4. Pingback: dinner with white people | YLBnoel's Blog

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