Friday, June 20, 2014

Speaking Geordie or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Accent

Growing up I never realised I had an accent. Of course, everybody has an "accent" but for the sake of simplicity, when I say accent, I mean a non-standard accent. If you have ever ventured to the northeast of England, you will have noticed that very few people speak like they do on the BBC news.

When I was younger, I was surrounded by the natives of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, who proudly identify themselves as Geordies. As children learn a language by listening to those around them, I inevitably picked up the accent and never distinguished the difference between the varieties of English I heard on television from the delightful accent I was hearing at school from teachers and pupils alike.

I knew there were Geordie words because, when at home, my mam (I don't use mum or mom) wouldn't allow me to use Geordie words. I was told I'd "never get a job speaking like that". Oddly enough, swearing was fine as long as I only swore in the house, and never in anger towards someone. The only time I could use "proper" Geordie was when singing along to the local folk song, the Blaydon Races, which can only be sung in Geordie.

While I love the accent, I know there are people in this world who will automatically think you are stupid if you speak with a broad Geordie accent. Ironcially, I didn't realise how strong my English accent was until living abroad. During my ERASMUS year in France it became abundantly clear that I didn't have the same accent as the other Brits, Americans, Canadians and Australians.

Those from North America and Australia thought I just had a "British" accent. It was mainly the English who were very quick to point out anything I said that they perceived as "wrong". While the mocking was rarely malicious, I still attempted to standardise my accent and even considered investing in accent-softening, believing that if I wanted to be successful I'd have to talk like a Southerner.

It wasn't until I met a guy from Québec, Canada, and a girl from Andalucía, Spain, that I noticed that this problem is global. The French students would make fun of the Québecois for how he'd say things in French and if you have ever heard Andalusian Spanish, you know it is far from the traditional Spanish that is taught in school.

I was fascinated by their accents and their non-standard lexicon, and sought to learn to speak like them in French and Spanish. I stopped seeing my Geordie accent as a disadvantage and instead realised that while you can have standardised pronunciation and grammar, which evidently helps the largest number of people to understand you, you can also have a fantastic linguistic identity beyond that of your mother tongue. I know people won't always understand everything I say and when they don't, I am happy to explain and speak more clearly if they are having trouble. However, if they want to be dicks about it, I am happy to tell them exactly where to go...

Newcastle, the home and birthplace of one of the greatest English accents.

Have you been subjected to accent snobbery? Tell us your stories in the comments below.