To a T

I imagine that you would have no trouble identifying the sound of the letter T, if I asked you. Or any other letter of the alphabet, for that matter. If you’re young enough, you might still remember the chart on the wall of your primary-school classroom, which perhaps said T for Teddy Bear, or Train. But take a moment to say a few words to yourself featuring the letter T. Not only that, include a variety of words with T at the beginning, middle, and end. I’m quite confident that one or two of those sounds didn’t quite sound like the classic T sound you imagined at the beginning.

Let’s look at the following sentence: Continue reading

Cultural Cringe

Have you ever heard one of your compatriots say something and thought to yourself, embarrassed, Oh my God, that’s so Irish/American/Indian/English etc? If so, you may be suffering from cultural cringe.

Oxford English Dictionary: The view that one’s own national culture is inferior to the cultures of other countries

Coined by Australian writer A.A Phillips in the 1950s, the term is often discussed in reference to (post)colonial societies, to demonstrate how a culture can internalise its colonisers’ view of it as inferior. Cultural cringe can often manifest itself as a reaction against the language or dialect of one’s culture. A common example would be someone who hates to hear certain colloquial terms from their region. Have you ever changed your accent, to avoid it’s “regional” sound? Made sure to pronounce your g’s, when perhaps your parents didn’t? Sometimes it’s a pragmatic decision to fit in in a new environment, sometimes it’s an unconscious, gradual process, but sometimes it’s because you don’t want people to know where you’re from, or at least to think you’re a stereotypical representative of there. Continue reading

American Life: Appalachian English

It seems appropriate today to cast my eye on the United States, but not in the way you might expect. You’ve probably heard and read enough about that already, so I just want to share this video about the way the natives of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States speak English. It’s delightful to hear their accents and very specific vocabulary. It sounds quite unique, though I think I definitely detect something of the original Scottish and Irish settlers. I think there’s definitely a link between the fact that they call a bag a poke, and in Irish the word for pocket is póca. I’m not surprised that their vocabulary and accent wouldn’t change much over time, being so isolated.

These are the type of people who might be stereotyped as hillbillies, but they all seem like nice folk. Hard to understand at times, but nice. I don’t think there’s much point to this really, just to show what English can be, and how diverse, culturally and linguistically, America can be.

From Ireland to Jamaica

The English language has an amazing variety of accents, not just internationally, but within different regions of countries. One of the most recognisable, and oft-imitated, is the Jamaican accent. And of course people often imitate it badly. And when they do, a common remark is that they sound more Irish than Jamaican. Well, that’s no coincidence… Continue reading

Getting Rid of your Accent?

While in London recently, I came across a book entitled Get Rid of Your Accent: The English Pronunciation and Speech Training Manual. My initial reaction was to get quite annoyed, and my feeling hasn’t really changed since then. Accents and pronunciation are often on my mind, as an English teacher, and at the time I was particularly conscious of this area of language as I was on a course with fellow teachers from England, The Isle of Man, Scotland, Australia, India, Serbia and Portugal. Everyone of course had quite different accents, but was perfectly comprehensible, which is obviously important for an English teacher.

And comprehensibility is naturally a primary concern for language students. You want to make sure that people can understand you when you speak. Which is why I understand when students are concerned about their accent causing communication problems. And that can happen, depending on the person’s native tongue, nationality, and particular way of speaking. Therefore one can help students with developing their accent in terms of certain words and phrases, or specific sounds. But getting rid of one’s accent? Not only do I think that it’s never necessary, I actually find the thought quite abhorrent. Continue reading