On Accents

Monday 22 July 2013

Some subscribers to this website know me personally. They know I speak English with an accent. Specifically, they know I speak with a Glaswegian accent. I can’t really help it; I was born and grew up in the city of Glasgow, and to try to speak some other way would sound, you know, affected. So, I’m stuck with Glaswegian. As accents go, it’s not the most mellifluous; Glaswegians frequently experience and come to accept, a priori, that their interlocutor, unfamiliar with the particular modulation of the accent, will recoil on first hearing it, as if driven by some atavistic predisposition.

I sometimes wish, at my most delusional, that I spoke with that pitch perfect, accentless – uh-hum – English of those most fortunate. Viewers of ‘The Adventure of English’ – recently reviewed on this website – will learn that this feeling is not new amongst the Scots. The founding fathers (sic) of the Scottish Enlightenment, luminaries such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and David Hume, were apparently ashamed by their inability to enunciate (and worked to do something about it). And, in the present day, speaking Glaswegian won’t enhance a teacher’s ability to tame dumb insolence in the classroom and, at worst, may lead to a feeling of entrapment.

Personally speaking, I increasingly care less about the politics of accent, which isn’t to say I couldn’t care less. I grow weary when I hear stories of people maligned for their accent, their career aspirations thwarted, and I remain shocked by misjudged educational measures to repair the specious deficiencies of certain accents and dialects.

Last night, I learned how ‘German sounds compared to other languages’. It’s funny. Or it’s puerile. Or it’s offensive. You decide. What is, however, revealed is the way in which language and the stereotypes we learn are never that far apart. 



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