This thing about foreign accents on our lips…
It just will not go away.
Actually, I won’t let it go away, because every day I hear a new one, either in its pure form or in combination with another. Everybody wants to board this train – the upwardly-mobile kids from upper class families, students from middle income homes, young boys and girls who just “come from village”, upcoming musicians, established musicians, Nollywood stars, heads of Corporate Nigeria and newscasters and presenters in the electronic media. On a very good day, you would have to strain to understand what is being said during News Bulletins, Interviews, Fashion Shows, Product Launches, Reality Shows, Talent Contests and various other events. Sometimes I can’t help but think these imported accents are a prerequisite to gaining employment in these organizations, the way that one must take a GS course in English Language in order to study for a degree course in any Nigerian University.
So, what’s wrong with having a foreign accent, I hear you ask.
Absolutely nothing, is what I’d say. But when you start to sound ridiculous…that’s when we’ll give you a second look. There’s nothing wrong with allowing that Igbo accent to become diluted with Americanese, or when that Calabar intonation gets infused with some drops of Britico. Nothing wrong, my dear, but please while you’re at it – while you are slurring, drawling, stretching your vowels to the ends of the earth, “chewing” your words like somebody eating hard meat, undulating the tone of your voice, rolling your Rs as though you have hot yam in your mouth and generally sounding breathless and nasal – kindly ensure that it’s intelligible, authentic and believable. Thank you!
So, as we’re busy working these accents, I ask myself all the time, “Why do people equate speaking well with sounding contrived?” Nobody’s even giving a thought to the casualties which, in this case, are words. Poor English words! Simple basic words which make up our everyday vocabulary become manipulated into different variations and distortions on the tongues of those who would have them sound different by all means. A word like “But” metamorphoses to Burr, Burrt or, worse, Burrth; Fruit becomes Fruith; Carrot becomes Carroth; Fashion is pronounced Fershurrn; Close is pronounced Claus; Give becomes Gerv; After starts to sound like Orfterh; Weather sounds like Wethrrr; Later like Leto, and I did hear a radio presenter pronounce Chibok as Chibuurk! The originators of the English Language must be somersaulting in their graves each time we open our mouths to speak!
The most irritating is when somebody swings from one accent to another in one short conversation. What people don’t realise is that when they sound this way, they’re no different from that Igbo man they just made fun of because he pronounced Market as Mar-kate. See?
Don’t we just love the way people from the Southern parts of Africa sound? Or when our Ghanaian Bratherz and Sisterz speak? Their native accents would usually be in place, yet we don’t make an effort to understand them.
I can’t help it, I hear you say. Really? Why is that? Aunty, you’ve been back to Naija for almost ten years and you travel for only two weeks every year for holidays, so why are you still holding on tenaciously to that Scottish accent you acquired while studying for an 18-month masters degree program? You have even made it worse by adding an Australian accent to it. I’ll tell you something, that accent – or those accents, depending on how many you wear at each point in time – is tired of you. Please set it free, let them go! You dey hear me so?
Anyway…You know what I blame? I blame globalization, that’s what I blame. The whole world has become like the biblical blessing that is “pressed down, shaken together and running over.” All aspects of our lives and culture, including Education, Language, Music, Fashion, Foods have been thrown inside one huge global pot and cooked together. Today, the world has become the clichéd global village with groups of persons becoming custodians and imitators of the lifestyles of other groups of persons. Sometimes the influence from other cultures is so pervasive that it becomes difficult to remember where a particular influence, idea or trend originated from. Technology and the media have helped to spread this gospel of integration and socialization. The only problem I see in this whole thing is that, in struggling to be like others, some of us stand the risk of losing our essence completely.
But isn’t it noteworthy that there are some races we never want to imitate. I don’t see people trying to sound Kenyan or Indian or Lebanese or French or even Ghanaian. This begs for deeper questions. It says a lot about the dynamics of power and superiority. Even as I wouldn’t ascribe some profound, high-sounding political or socio-cultural reason to this trend, I would say that this desire to sound like others may stem from a place of discontent or lack of confidence about who we are; and that would be because mentally, we already have a reference point about which race is better than the other and worthy to be emulated.
It’s so sweet when you hear somebody speak naturally and effortlessly, with good diction, good pronunciation, elocution, intonation and little or no linguistic interference. It sounds like music to the ears.
And don’t we all love music?
Written by Vivian Ogbonna, tweets @vivianogbonna8 and blogs at undertheinfluence.wordpress.com