I remember that when my siblings would return to Toronto after months away in our home country of Sri Lanka, that they would speak sorta funny. The inflection in their voices was foreign. Whether they were asking a question or not, it sounded like they were asking a question. To be honest, it was a little annoying because it was something that I wasn’t used to. I was used to hearing people speak Torontonian English in a purely Torontonian accent. I remember thinking, “Dude, you’re Canadian, try sounding like one.”
Oh, how the tables have turned.
Recently, I’ve realized that I’m not exempt from adaptation. I’ve come to notice subtle changes in my behavior, intonation of voice, word choice, and sentence structuring that have made me do a double take. In my head I would ask myself: “Wait, is that really how I sound?”, or “Wait, did I really just structure my sentence that way?”, or “Wait, why the hell did I choose that word instead of the one I would usually choose?”.
Well I know why I sound differently to myself, and why I structure my sentences differently, and why I use different words – it’s because I’m living in a part of world where English has manifested in the population differently than it has in my home.
I find myself saying sorry for things I wouldn’t typically apologize for, and I’m a Canadian. If you thought Canadians apologize to much, I’m sure you haven’t travelled to Ghana. It’s actually awesome, if not slightly comedic. For example, if you trip on uneven ground, if a regular old Ghanaian sees this, they will say “sorry” and come right away to lend a hand. What are they apologizing for? In my head, they are actually saying “I’m sorry that you are hurting,” which, when you think about it, is actually kinda beautiful.
I also find myself saying small or small-small far too often. This phrase is essentially a substitute for say “yea but I really flipping suck”. The following is an everyday interaction:
“Ay, you speak Twi?”
I’ve caught myself saying things like “AY!” when I’m surprised, or “OH!” when I’m feigning disgust at a taxi driver’s starting price (see previous post).
One day at work I was calling some Ghanaian agribusinesses to conduct some surveying (oh man that was miserable – surprisingly so, accent barriers aren’t made better by terrible cell connection, who knew?) and I heard myself speak, and I was like, “wow, is this actually how I sound.”
Now, I always find it weird when I hear my own voice through a recording or otherwise, but this time was even more strange as I realized that I had adopted an accent. I would drop the ‘er’ and replace it with an ‘a’ (i.e. Peter becomes Peta, and water becomes wata) and the inflection of my voice had altered in places in which it didn’t used to alter – whenever I heard myself I was all like…duuude, woah.
I’m coming to accept it now. It seems to be a natural progression of things – eventually you start to sound and act like the people around you.
Till next time.
P.S. This whole thing of me realizing that I sound different when I communicate in Ghana is even further exacerbated by the fact that I spend a lot of my time communicating avec les Québecois, who also speak English slightly differently than I do. I’ve noticed I’ve adopted a few of their speech tendencies as well – I laugh to myself whenever I catch myself repeating one of them.