Sunday, February 5, 2017

If You Don't Have an Accent, You Ain't Speakin' English!

There's a meme going around about how the poster is an immigrant who is accepted because they are white and "don't have an accent". It's supposed to make us feel guilty about being white, of course because we "notice" people's accents if they are foreign or ethnic. Well, I'm here to tell you that if you don't have an accent, you ain't speakin' English. The truth is that everybody has an accident. Even TV broadcasters borrow their artificial accents from the American Midwest. Someone evidently decide that the people in the middle should be considered as having the average American language style. Now they teach this style of English at all the nice liberal journalism schools.

Sometimes I think God chose English for America's predominant language. After all, English is adept at absorbing the words of other nations and cultures and make them their own. Every language has words for things that other languages don't have. Unlike French which constantly obsessed with making itself pure, if English speakers see a word they like, they just steal it. English vocabulary is stuffed with words from everywhere in the world - thanks in large part to the fact that England was a sea-going empire and set up shop worldwide. Exposed to the local languages, the servants of the British Empire borrowed them at will - especially words for the various types of food they encountered.
All this word borrowing from impossible languages like Celtic, French, Latin and German, makes spelling English words a nightmare. Still, it also makes the language wonderfully adaptable.English speakers can say things that people have to spend paragraphs to say in other languages. There are probably a few foreign words it might take us a couple of sentences to translate, but that's only because we haven't borrowed them yet. Be certain we will. We may not have invented it, but schadenfreude (pleasure in the misery of others) has become a surprisingly popular sin in the English-speaking world.

I suspect that English has more and varied accents than any other language in the world. We're also a mobile race (and by race I mean a multi-cultured people united by a common language of sorts). We carry our speech patterns everywhere with us. Visit Newfoundland and you'll find a deep Irish culture. New York City has as many accents as it has boroughs. Television has spread the Valley Girl speech pattern into corners of every high school in the nation. It's become sort of the lingua franca of blondes. And as a Texan, most people can identify me by my speech, especially if I'm tired or have been talking to family members back home on the phone.
Our most recent presidents from FDR on, all had accents from New York, Missouri, Kansas, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Midwest, Georgia, TV broadcaster standard, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Texas, West Coast, and now New York standard. We don't notice the accent so much here because they come from all over. We simply assign the accent to the person the way we identify Obama's ears, Trump's hair and Hillary Clinton's dumpy wild-eyed hysteria.  Accents, at least in America, do not mark you the way they do in England or Germany. There is no high or low English. It's simply English and it always has an accent.

So anybody who doesn't have an accent is trying too hard to be something he or she can never be - an unaccented American. We all carry around in our voices, the echoes of our ancestry and our home. You know, I quite like it that way. It's very American.

© 2017 by Tom King


Mark Milliorn said...

LBJ didn't have an accent. W and our new Secretary of State speak clearly and without an accent. George H. W. Bush still had an accent, while his wife did not. The rest of the bunch damn near needed an interpreter.

And of course, as a fourth generation Texan, I speak without bias. Or an accent.

Tom King said...

Well, I wasn't going to say it, but hey! You are right of course.