Angie K over at Not Another Tall Blog started this conversation, and Ellen Hawley followed it up on Notes From The UK. They both got me thinking about my own strange experiences with my accent, and how I unsuccessfully tried to incorporate it in my writing (I’m no J K Rowling, that’s for sure).
Where My Accent Comes From
Australians don’t have strong regional distinctions like Americans do (and especially nothing like the British). I think we’re similar to the Kiwis (but you’d have to ask them – if it’s one thing I’ve learnt as an Australian is DO NOT try to speak for the Kiwis) in that our accent can be loosely divided up into “country” and “city”, or maybe more simply “strong” and “weak”. I definitely have a weak/city/international/whatever accent.
My dad grew up in Mt Isa (one of the last strongholds of Ockerania) and even though he was sixth or seventh (I forget which) generation Australian, he always found the English accent attractive. I think if you like an accent, you try to use subconsciously, which might have helped since he’s been living in Brisbane (state capital city, not big by international standards but still, it’s a city) for most of his life now. Now I can only hear a slight twang very rarely, and once, about seven years ago when I was still at school, my dad asked me if I was fair dinkum (ocker for, ‘are you for real?’) and I did a complete double-take. Looking back, I think that my reaction spoke volumes.You know that saying you can take the man out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the man? Yeah, my dad did his best to get the country out of him, and only the dregs remain. That’s why I was so surprised when he said something ocker – it just didn’t happen, at least, not around me.
My mum was born in England, spent primary school in Fiji and high school in New Zealand before settling in Australia. Okay, that makes it sound like she was part of some well-to-do family who went ‘visiting the colonies’. For the record, I am what I would call middle-class, and both my parents hovered around the lower middle-class mark for a long time. Never well-off, but never poor either. Anyway, I think I get most of my accent from my mum. To anyone in the city we sound Australian. Growing up and in school, no one questioned my accent.
As soon as I started working in the mines, it was another story.
What Australians Think Of My Accent
To be fair, mining is an international industry. I’ve worked with Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish, Italian, South Africans and New Zealanders, all in Central Queensland, Australia. So you get all sorts, even if most of the people I’ve worked with are Australians.
The country Australians speak with a varying nasal twang, and if you’ve heard a crow caw, then you’ve heard a drunken bogan trying to speak. Well, swear at you, at least. A strong accent can be indecipherable, especially on the radio. It just sounds like fast-paced mumbling.
I SOUND NOTHING LIKE A CROW!
So out bush, with the expectation by most that the scientists like myself are on 457 working visas, my fellow Australians would hear me speak and assume me foreign. Most thought I was English. Some even tried to guess the region of England. I think at least one person thought I was Welsh, and a surprising number thought I must be Irish.
I have to admit, sometimes I like to pronounce my ‘r’s. I don’t understand why we would have this incredibly useful letter and not use it. I do like the Irish accent (who the hell doesn’t?) so maybe I am a little guilty of putting it on occasionally. But it is only slight, and I think that, when you combine it with my light Australian accent that somehow marks me as an foreigner, they hear the ‘r’ and think, “Oh, so she’s Irish!”
At least, this is the conclusion I draw when I try to explain it.
So I am no longer surprised when people say:
“Have you seen any Koalas yet, love?”
“You know, my grandmother was Irish.”
“How are you handling the heat?”
“You miss home much?”
I like to think it’s a compliment. I like to think that I am trying to pronounce words properly and completely, instead of running them all together with very little change in tone. But when a guy from Liverpool thought I must be from some toffey-nosed English family who might be 189th in line to the throne, I began to wonder just what my accent sounds like.
The thing is, I have no idea.
Who really knows what they sound like? Unless you listen to regular recordings of yourself, which I assume actors or presenters might do but I can’t think of anyone else. And then if you can identify how you speak, how can you change it? The thought has made me realise why some speech pathologists would get paid so much.
‘D’yeh think yer parents didn’t leave yeh anything?’
‘But if their house was destroyed -‘
‘They didn’ keep their gold in the house, boy! Nah, first stop fer us is Gringotts. Wizards’ Bank. Have a sausage, they’re not bad cold – an’ I wouldn’ say no teh a bit o’ yer birthday cake, neither.’
Has anyone else tried doing this????
Accents can be such a strong part of a character’s identity. Anyone who has read Harry Potter will instantly know that was Hagrid speaking, even if they didn’t recognise the scene. Where would Hagrid be without ‘yer’?
I had played around with accents, and I gave up. Maybe I should try again, since it can bring such colour to dialogue if used properly. Of course, if it isn’t used properly then the dialogue is unreadable, unenjoyable, and just plain nonsense. Which is what happened the first few times.
It says pewter on yer list
I don’t even need to look that one up.
P.S. For some reason, my thirteen year old copy of The Philosopher’s Stone smells faintly of white vinegar. I wish I knew why. Maybe it was packed amongst the condiments when we moved house? I hope not, but at least it looks fine.