From England

I haven’t posted anything substantial in quite sometime; the only things that I have posted have been on a different site – my Warwick blog – and it’s focused entirely on my research so it’s of little relevance here. I’ll admit it. I’ve become and uber-geek. Yes, geekdom with me has taken on new levels. Part of that is the unadulterated passion that I have for what I do; my current dissertation is even MORE interesting than my MA was. Another factor, however, is my, let’s call it, social isolation. My department’s small so I have few peers here, my work is independent so I can’t chill with the hommies, it’s a new country blah blah blah. So, what does that have to do with the title of this article? Let me explain.

Language interests me to no end. Surprisingly, most of the scholarly work pertinent to my topic is in English; but the author around whom the work is based wrote in Attic Greek. Plus, I’m in – Friesland aside – the motherland of our language. And man, is it different. With Fraser about to return back to the U.C.S.R. – the land of seal-clubbing, native protests, and dead soldiers, or so the British media would have you believe – I’m about to get less of that Canadian English; more specifically, the southern Ontario brand. So, the question is, when I return for a visit (hopefully late July) how will I sound? Well, I’ll know how I’ll sound, and I know how I sound, and it won’t seem to me to be any different. But to you, it could be something else entirely.

In my small circle of friends – well 2 separate circles – there are two Canadians, each of whom has been here far longer than I have. One’s from Nova Scotia; another’s from B.C. – with me from central Canada, and french aside, the many parts of Canada are fairly well represented in Warwickshie (though the numbers are quite low). Even though they have that unmistakable Canadian accent, they’ve both picked up a fair bit of the vocabulary, and the, well, I guess it’s sort of a generic England-English accent. First, one quick aside.

When I say ‘umistakable Canadian accent’, I’m being perfectly serious. If you are as passionate about both the written and spoken language as I am, you’ll notice that there are signficant differences between the english of Canada and the US; and even within Canada itself. The friend from BC told me when we first me that I sounded like I was from southern Ontario. While it’s problematic to base these sorts of assumptions on individual examples, I think there’s some truth behind what she said. One further point to this aside: you can divide the English speaking parts of the world into areas where generally the accents are pretty similar. So, you have North American English, which you can probably further divide into eastern Canada, southern central Canada, and perhaps western Canada, the south eastern US, the midwest US, the northeast US (and the various idosyncracies within that area), the western US (and remember, I’m only referring to the spoken language, for in regard to the written language we fall within the British English category, and perhaps our English in that regard shares more with Australian English than British English); British English, which can be further divided into England English (and perhaps Welsh should fall here too: there is a difference that Englishmen can discern, but as of yet I cannot. Probably due to my limited experience and still untrained ear), Scotland English, Ireland English; and southern hemisphere English, which can be further divided into African English, and more specifically South Africa and Zimbabwe (there are other nations which would fall under this category of course), and Australasian English, which of course includes Australia and New Zealand among others (again, limited experience prevents me from discerning the differences between Australia and New Zealand).

Now, it seems to me that the greatest variety of accents is actually within the UK, and even within England itself. Perhaps we should expect that, seeing as the language really took hold here and has a lot of time to evolve, and after the Americas were colonized. But, with that said, here’s where something interesting happens: those North Americans who spend a long time in England all seem to develop and English all their own. Last night (another thrilling night in Leamington) I was watching match of the day (a football highlight show in BBC 1) and on that programme there is the standard host, and two guest pundit (analysts as we’d call them), who are always, or almost always current players. One of them was a player who I think may lead the US to the World Cup title this summer: Brad Friedel. He’s been playing in the UK for years, and listening to him speak he had that North American in England English accent that is so marked in my two Canadian friends. I should point out before I continue that the BC friend moved here last February (2005) and the Nova Scotia friend has been here about 4 of the last 5 years. So, let me now return to the subject of this essay.

How will I sound when I visit many of you this summer? Better, when I return to Canuckistan next summer (July 2007 for my sister’s wedding, and perhaps April too), how much different will I sound then? Well, what I’ve been able to gather is that, and next year in particular (by then I hope to have been more fully-integrated to English life at that point), I will sound probably signficantly different to all of you. But, it also seems to be something that you (or at least many) can turn on and off. Plus, the advantage that I have, at least as regards how my English will sound, is that I’m older than my two Canadian friends, so I’ve been exposed to central Canada English far longer than they’ve been exposed to their respective varities. So, it’s harder for me to pick up this North American in England English(admittedly, I don’t know Friedel’s story and it would be interesting to know just how long he’s been here, and whether it’s become his home, which it very well might have). Plus, most of you know that I’m also one stubborn son-of-bitch who’s both open-minded, and resistant to change. As it stands, this is not something that I’ll ever be able to discern for myself. That’ll be up to you when I come and visit; and when you come and visit me. So with that, I bid you all adieu, I miss you all, and hope to see you soon.

P.S. GO SENS GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

P.P.S. Even now, listening to Ottawa radio to the games the people sound a little different as I get further immured in this country.

  • thunderchicken

    I say nothing more then accents go a long way. 😀

  • Quigley

    I have an associate that grew up with his French family but spent most of his adult life in South Africa. He can speak English either with his French accent or with his South African colonial accent interchangeably. He can’t sound like an Ontarian, but to switch between his two native accents is appearently very easy.

  • Anonymous

    Conor – from the UK myself, still have a Brit accent, according to most from years in Toronto and the last 4 in London, ON. Lived in Northamptonshire in the 50/60’s, the area of ‘ain’t, cain’t shain’t and ainagonna’. We were always amused when relatives from the North: Leeds, Warwick, Carlisle, and Selkirk/Galashiels, Scotland (where I lived my first 8 years due to the WW11 exodus from London by pregnant women) visited as they ‘talked funny.’ The range of visitor’s dialects, together with special words, sentence construction and mannerism was truly alien to us when growing up – due directly, I believe, to the British feudal system where few travelled between communities, hence communication developed on its own special flavour. Cumbrians even have their own touring entertainment groups, that seem to be following the troubador tradition: http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/g_troubadours.html

  • Asrai

    Linky, your associate should stick to the South African accent 😉

  • Quigley

    why’s that?

    p.s. beware. this question is a trap. >=)

  • SmartSsa

    I’ll answer it. Because it’s sexier than french.