Why Do Our Accents Change When We Immigrate Abroad?

Today let’s talk about a little something that we all see or do when we go abroad.


The Change of Accent

This “art form” goes by many different names:

a) Wenging or wanging

b) Butchering/murdering the English language

c) Pretending/ Being fake

d) Becoming “bougei like that”

But why does is it that the way in which we pronounce words all of a sudden changes when we move to a foreign nation?

Mwangi’s Theory

The reasons I think it happens, which have probably been discussed heavily in private conversation, are:

1) Marketing

2) Inferiority complex.

Inferiority Complex

Very few Africans are in doubt that many of us do have inferiority complexes when it comes to white people and Westerners.

Sure, it varies in degree, character and expression but a lot of us kinda know that its there.

However, there are those of us who still vehemently hold on to the belief that Africans do not think of themselves in any way shape or form as inferior to our Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Western and other cousins in this human race.

To prove my point, journey with me as I go through a mental exercise. Let’s call it, “Why doesn’t……”

Why Doesn’t……

Our accent change when we go to:

1) Other African countries

2) Meet with people from other tribes in Africa

Seriously, some of us can spend our time around other African people from other countries all our lives and our accent will never change.

By Comparison

I actually have a friend who the moment they landed here, immediately abandoned Kiswahili (why do people call it Swahili, it’s Kiswahili, folks, Ki-swahili) and her native tongue and until this day spends most of her time butchering the English language, check out the silly audio below for an imitation of “her linguistic skills”.

On the other side, people close to me have considered taking lessons with an expert on how to adapt their accent to the what I lovingly call, the Down Under Drawl.

I will move into the second point, marketing, by continuing with the game of

Why Doesn’t, Part two

Why doesn’t our accent change when we go to:

1) India

2) Oriental Asia

I have met quite a few people who went to study in India and none of their accents changed a lick. I have met other folks who have studied in Malaysia, and nothing.

Give me 6 years here and all of a sudden I sound like a hybrid between Patrice Lumuba, Emily from friends, Kofi Kingston, the All blacks, Steve Irwin, Mtukudzi and Wainaina.

The Marketing Stereotypes

It’s all because other groups have been marketed as cool (Acolyte, I am aware these are stereotypes, but note how these stereotypes are indeed used to push products and TV shows out there):

1) Americans market themselves as the loveable, uber-committed, individualistic cowboys and rogues

2) The Brits are posh

3) The Aussies are laid back and charming

4) The French are romantic

5) The Spanish are lovers

As to the Indian accent, I’ll let Russell Peters talk about that one (NB: There is some swearing in this video clip) :

And so on and so on and so on. Combine that with the Western entitlement syndrome, which even we buy into and it results in us believing that Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians are the superior human product that we should model in order to become better people.

My Take On It

And with that, you have my take on why our accents switch gears when we land overseas.
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Finally: A Silly Spot of Fun

If you are not a fan of silliness as I am, skip this and leave a comment below. As I was writing the article, I got the idea to record this. Lovers of folly enjoy (Keep the volume on a mid setting because the volume fluctuates)

 
icon for podpress  Bad Imitation of a Wenging Person [1:02m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Question:Why do YOU think our accent changes?

Mwangi

44 Comments

  • By Mimmz, July 6, 2008 @ 5:06 am

    And sometimes people just change their accents because they need to so they can be heard. You know asked “what was that you said ?” a whole lot less…

  • By acolyte, July 6, 2008 @ 5:11 am

    ‘coz peeps out here don’t or rather try not to understand you when you don’t roll your Rs the same way they do.
    ‘coz you are just sick and tired of answering questions about where you come from.
    ‘coz you don’t keep Kenyan/African company and bit by bit even though you don’t notice it you begin to use the same slang and terminology they do and even though you dont plan to, you get an accent of sorts.
    -Human beings when they spend enough time with other human beings acquire their mannerism even unconsciously and accents are one of them.

  • By Carol, July 6, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    Hey Mwangi, good topic! They said Kenyans pick accents wherever they go, even if they stop over in a country to change flights, stay within the airport only, they will pick that country’s accent. I haven’t I am not and I will not develop some queer accent!……..A Kenyan forcing herself to sound American, British or others, is so fake and stupid.But we still do it.
    Oh TZs are cowards,or is everyone actually scared of Americans?
    The person is swahili (mswahili in kiswahili)but the language is kiswahili…but guys prefer short and simple,Swahili.
    You are a real silly nguy, mbye!

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 9:11 am

    @Mimmz: Hello, welcome to tDA. I hope you enjoy your stay in the comments thread. That is definitely a huge point in and off itself, that folks want to make sure they are heard.

    However, I think if we take some time and think about it, this is probably representative of the inferiority complex as well. Americans and other Europeans have NEVER adapted their accent when they travel overseas, especially to Africa. We simply had to learn to accept their way of speaking. I don’t know if you read my post on “Every Immigrant Has a Story Like This” for an illustration of how difficult it was to decipher the Aussie accent when I first came. And yet they never change it, even when they spend years with us, either working or as friends.

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 9:18 am

    @acolyte: All valid points. Yet again though, just like with Mimmz points, the question I ask is why don’t Westerners do the same when tables are turned. There are folks who hang out almost entirely with Africans but their accent stays solid and the way they pronounce words in languages like Kiswahili for example doesn’t change a lick.
    Even Asian people, Indians or other minorities never change their accent to adapt to ours. So why is it that we so quickly change ours, I do ask? Yet again to illustrate the point, I will reference you to Russell Peters- just switch over Jamaicans and Indians for Africans and White people: http://youtube.com/watch?v=1H9PTljv1R8

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 9:24 am

    @Carol: I have never met folks who go around picking accents but I would love to meet them. I can’t go on a rant about how silly accents sound because I’m kinda part of the problem.
    As for the Swahili thing, where on Earth did that name came from? I have never heard it called anything other than Kiswahili in Kiswahili Sanifu classes?
    Glad you enjoyed the silliness like me.

  • By Hann, July 6, 2008 @ 10:27 am

    ACCENTS change. This is not something unique to Africans. Some people are more liable to accent change than others. My accents change like anything. 2 weeks in the UK, and my accent starts changing. My accent has stabilized at generic American and I spent 4 years there, specifically in West Virginia, I used to have a thick West Virginian accent when I first came back from the States, and I didn’t really do it on purpose. I do remember sometimes West Virginians didn’t always understand what I was saying so I would pronounce things in the West Virginian way so they could understand me better. (Instead of IN-TERe-STING, I said INNE-Resting) Maybe that was how it started.
    I speak Spanish as well, and Spanish people who go to live in South America find their accents change as well and they sound more South American than Spanish. I know French people who lived in Quebec and their accents changed.
    There probably are people who do it on purpose but living in another country, many people’s accents DO change. I know an English guy who’s lived in the US for much of his life and he’s got the weirdest mixed English/American accent. This affects some people more than others so it’s not just an African thing.

  • By Hann, July 6, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    I also want to say that Americans often speak only one language ALL their lives. Accents are linked to language ability. To be able to change accents means you are sensitive to different nuances in language, and someone who can speak various languages like many Africans do, is more sensitive to nuances than your typical American who has spoken ONE language their whole life (apart from the occasional Spanish or French class in high school). I find it quite easy to pick up languages and I can imitate the sounds of Chinese or Japanese credibly cause I can pick up the subtle sounds. I find that my American friends CANNOT do this. So basically the reason their accent doesn’t change is because they are language deaf.

  • By Ken, July 6, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    Bwana Mwangi, salaams…!
    Speaking of accents, yes, I have met quite a few fellows who have ‘changed’ their accents, and if you have been here for a while you can pick the new accent in a jiffy and my oh my some sound terrible… almost as bad as some of the accents on the FM stations.But, that said, the reasons you have noted for changing their accents is accurate…

    However there is a point I can add if I may, i.e. we (kenyan) pronounce things slightly differently (I suppose schools, background etc have a a role to play here) when you get to the west (I came directly from Shags!!-the country) you realize the ‘correct’ way of pronouncing particular words. We have been in situations where you have to explain what you mean to chaps in the west to the level of spelling the word!! Try telling a newbie to pronounce Circular Quay! ;-)

    This after some time can me construed as an accent change…

    cheers,

  • By Ken, July 6, 2008 @ 11:10 am

    sorry for the typos..!!
    This after some time can be construed as an accent change….

    some sound terrible… almost as bad as some of the accents on the (Kenyan) FM stations…boy some are cringe worthy…

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 11:40 am

    @Hann: You know, I must say, I never would have thought that people from the West ever changed their accents. Here, the largest minority is English people and I can always tell an English person, or Irish or German or American or any person from a Western nation because their accent rarely changes all that much – though in some European countries, it’s interesting how they learn English with an American accent and so speak their own language immaculately and also speak English with an American accent very well.
    Now Spanish people changing when they go to South America, I didn’t expect that. Part of this theory of mine is that folks from the economically weaker nations always default up to trying to fit in and be understood by folks from the stronger nations via an accent change.
    Thanks for the insights.

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 11:44 am

    @Hann: You know something I have always been curious about in language learning is learning the accent. I think that the learning of accents and the way to pronounce things should be a separate, very richly studied area of language learning in addition to any rote learning or phonetic learning. It really does make a difference.
    As to people from single language countries not being able to learn other languages…..hmmm, I really don’t know enough to verify or discount that but its definitely something I will keep in mind now when I observe how Anglo Saxon folks move about the world.

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 11:54 am

    @Ken: Yeah, I think I shared the story on that one about how I had a verbal battle with my English teacher here in Australia over how to pronounce adolescence (I said Adoooo-lay-sense while she pronounced it Ado-laysense). So that one definitely plays a role.

    Yet again- I’m not saying this to be provocative but it just occurs to me every comment I read – I think this is representative of the inferiority complex. There is really no proper way to pronounce anything, as much as we might make fun of people who say things differently than when we were taught, language is organic and adapts to its circumstances.

    I guess if people wanted to be very pedantic about it, they might say that perhaps the English are the only people who pronounce things right but people from Australia and USA don’t seem to care about that one lick and still speak English their way and think of it as the right way.

    So I think just that fact that we think that the Western way of pronouncing things is “the right way” and our unwillingness to continue to speak as we did and make the environment adapt to us instead of what we do, adapting to our environment is representative of how low we perceive ourselves on the totem pole.

    The word quay is a trip isn’t it? Btw for those who don’t know “Quay” is pronounced “key”. I have had many a laugh over folks pronouncing Torquay as “Toorrkay” or even “Turkey” instead of “Toorkey”.

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 11:56 am

    @Ken: Considering folks at radio stations are showing me some love right now, I plead the fifth on this one. But I will say this though, why don’t people promote “cosmopolitan radio shows” or afropolitan products with folks with accents from upcountry or home grown accents? Me thinks it goes back to the points in the article…………..

  • By Caustic Blonde, July 6, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

    Mwangi, I have to disagree with this statement: Americans and other Europeans have NEVER adapted their accent when they travel overseas, especially to Africa.

    My friend Tom is Kenyan and he has a British accent (he tells me he doesn’t, but I swear he does) and if I spend too much time around him I start talking like him. I know this as my nephew pointed it out to me one day that I was talking as though I had a British accent. Believe me there is a vast difference between American and British accents (not just accents, but in the way we say things). I have a lot of Latin friends, particularly Mexican. I speak fluent Spanish, but the one thing my friends and I have noticed is how I am speaking Spanish by rolling my R’s and such. I not only speak the language correctly, but I pronounce the words correctly. My friends tell me I only have a slight accent when I speak Spanish, unlike other people who speak Spanish and it is obvious Spanish is not their first language. At times I tend to say a Spanish word before the English word and I think in Spanish.

    I know that if I lived in an African country where they speak English, I would over time pick up the accent. The countries that you mention where Africans do not seem to change their accents, are not most of them non-English speaking countries? Maybe that has something to do with it? And not the evil Westerners and their marketing plans?

  • By Mwangi, July 6, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

    @Caustic: I grew up in a country with 2 national languages – Kiswahili, English – and most people in the country had at the very least a marginal understanding of English. We also have a few British left over, as well as American tourists and stuff, and their accents never changed. Unless they grew up in Kenya (and even many of them who did), Americans, Brits and other foreigners tended to keep their accents.
    Even here out in the West, I know quite a few folks who spend most of their time around white folks and I personally am around the Asian community quite a bit and our accent doesn’t affect them at all. Interestingly enough, you adapt to his British pronunciation of things as opposed to his more African pronunciation, I don’t know whether there is enough of a point on that but it’s worth thinking about.
    If you’re accent when you speak in English changes when you encounter folks from other English speaking places, my experiences and observations tell me you are the exception as opposed to the rule. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing to influence this world, I certainly don’t….that art form is powerful.

  • By Saz =), July 6, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

    Mm… I was talking about this with friends over a pizza today. Another friend had just come back from spending about e years in London, after having grown up in his school years in Oz, and he’s asian. They were saying how they could hear his british accent though he said that it was even more so when he was back in London.

    Coming from an ABC pov (Aussie Born Chinese – though I’m not a true ABC), who don’t speak chinese, we were saying how it is easy to pick up an accent when you spend any amount of time in a different country. Go to Singapore, and you’ll start talking with ‘lah’s or ‘lor’s, go to China and start using really basic English (I had to start introducing myself as LiEn). A good point my friend brought up was that it was easier to be understood by the locals when you adapt your accent to theirs.

    Spend any amount of time around my mum and you’ll see how she easily she adapts her accent to others. Relatives who live in Britain come and visit for Christmas and you’ll find she picks up a British accent. Same as for relatives from the US. And when she goes back to Malaysia with her family… ahhh… the true Malaysian in her comes back. Mixed Chinese/English and all. But as soon as she touches down here in Oz, it’s all back to normal.

    As for me, I’d say I have a predominantly Aussie accent though I’ve been told that I still sound like I have my British accent (though I was hardly talking when I moved from the UK!). You’d probably be able to tell me more about what kinda accent I have.

    Btw, you still have your African accent. Very much so. And we love you for it.

    It’s all part of living in a multi-cultural, global community.

  • By Leeban, July 7, 2008 @ 2:33 am

    LOL, that accent was hilarious!!

  • By -JIM-, July 7, 2008 @ 5:34 am

    In some cases, Of course, accents changes if you stay for a while with people who speak differently. However, some of you are lying. Some are implying that moving from USA to UK will suddenly make you change your accent. At certain age (after 16), changing to a different accent which you can speak fluently is almost impossible.

    I think most accent don’t change but you only speak better. For example, TDA has a Kenyan accent but he speak better than most Kenyans

    @TDA…Great work on PodCasting. Maybe you should interview high profile people in the future

    -JIM-
    http://www.kenyanzone.com

  • By Caustic Blonde, July 7, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

    @Mwangi,
    Everyone I have ever met that is from another country (that speaks English) tends to pick up, if not ever so slightly, the accent where they are staying. I am not the exception, I am the general rule. If you know anything about the United States you will know that when visit different regions people have different accents. I have lived in the North, South and The Midwest. If I am in the South or even talking on the phone with friends from The South I will usually speak in a slight southern accent. I was raised in the Midwest so I will say that my main accent (for lack of a better term) is Midwestern. But even in the Midwest if you visit different states people speak with slightly different accents. The point I am trying to make is that if you stay around a group of people long enough you will pick up their accent, marketing or no marketing. :)

  • By Mwangi, July 7, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    @Saz: Hmm, I guess I have to keep my eyes peeled because I never thought it happened except for when people from the global South move up to the North. Personally, I have never seen it happen to Africans who have lived in other African countries, unless they moved when they were very young and so even if I was to go live in Lagos my accent wouldn’t be more West African or more Tswana if I went to live in Botswana. We may pick up a couple of words and be able to use their language and their expressions in bits and pieces but overall even when we Africans spend time with other Africans, we usually end up a lot like we started.
    Thanks, yeah my accent isn’t too bad. Me thinks I’ll keep it :D
    Come to think of it, when I first heard your accent I thought it was just a standard Aussie cosmopolitan accent but now that I think about it there are definitely some English bits and pieces thrown in there. Very polished and sopshisticated.

  • By Mwangi, July 7, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

    @Leeban: Glad you liked it my friend, I’m a pretty big fan of it too :D

  • By Mwangi, July 7, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

    @Caustic Blonde: Hmm does that happen, because as a result if TV and youtube I have definitely heard the huge contrast in accents there in the States between places like North Dakota, New York, Texas, Boston etc etc. Even when people are grown up and didn’t spend much time in a particular region as kids, they still pick up different accents from different regions? That would be news to me.

  • By Mwangi, July 7, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

    @Jim: Thanks for the kind words. If you have any idea about who exactly you think I need to interview, leave a comment or email me at masmilele@thedisplacedafrican.com

  • By meek meek, July 7, 2008 @ 10:08 pm

    hehe have you ever heard a shady Kenyan with an American accent…now thats something to write home about. Im actually convinced that guys should just stick to their original accents.. i think i have…. Its quite catchy and after a while people start imitating you… I was talking today to a friend about influences… so the theory is when you move to the states you get influenced so, depending on who your first American friends are, you begin to acquire behavioral and speech patters from them. So i was asking what i was… considering that all my friends are white am i white? and if not then what am i? Anyway we didn’t get to answer the question but we did agree that people change and acquire habits that help them fit in… whether its an accent or a swagger or a look…

  • By Mwangi, July 7, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

    @meek meek: The little immitation I did above was my ode to the shady Africans who try to imitate the accent. Don’t people know, leave empty pretentiousness to folks in the upper classes? ;) I think it really depends on who you believe is cooler or of more social value than you. There are two brothers for example who came here and actually adopted African American accents as opposed to Aussie or British.

  • By Hann, July 9, 2008 @ 7:05 am

    I disagree with you Mwangi that Westerners don’t change their accents. I’ve lived in Spain since I was 10, and I went to an international school with people coming from all over. People’s accents do change. If you ARE used to moving around, I think it’s more likely that your accent will change. If you just left your home country yesterday and you are older, probably not. Lots of programs seen all over the world are American, so many many people pick up their English cues from American movies, and the international accent starts sounding more American. Many Americans cannot UNDERSTAND British accents but I believe most British people have no trouble with American accents, because they are used to watching American programs and movies with diffferent types of American accents. I don’t believe this is due to an inferiority complex but more a reflection of making yourself understood. Like I mentioned, I started saying things in a West Virginian manner because West Virginians didn’t seem to understand what I said and then it stuck with me. I certainly didn’t have an inferiority complex in yeeha country.
    In Spain for instance a carro is a carriage, and a coche is a car. In South America, it’s the other way around, so you have to start speak South American so you don’t confuse people.

  • By Mwangi, July 9, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

    @Hann: I really didn’t know that Westerners accents changed in between countries, that is definitely news to me. You and Caustic have definitely taught me that, thanks. If you listen to the audio in the post, that imitation is representative of an interesting group of people who come from Africa, mainly the rural areas, and adopt the desire to imitate the Western accent with such hilarious gusto. The issues behind accent changes for people from the global South are probably quite different, even though subtly, from accent changes within Americans and Europeans for example

  • By Mzeiya, July 10, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

    Honestly I cant believe what you are saying here. Inferiority complex? Accents change for a number of reasons. The younger you are the more likely you are to change your accent. At times you can change it so as to adapt to your surroundings easily. If you went to a hood in Nairobi eastlands you might just find yourself putting to use your best sheng so as to fit in with that environment As for Africans changing their accents when they are around other tribes and regions that too does happen. Eldy(Kaleo influence) people speak different from Nai(the full mix) and Coast(swahilis) guys regardless of one’s tribe. Hang around a group of people even in the West that speaks differently and I bet after a while you too will be speaking almost in a similar way. Its normal..

    Mwangi, English is an international language and it behoves on one to learn it well. You know how its a pain when u have to repeat yourself to someone just coz u said you wanted a “carry bag” instead of a “c^erry b^eg”. I doubt if you still have so many people rubbing on those back home that they are westernised and yet the west stopped being a mystical place ages ago. I mean we may like the dream that the west offers but surely we are not so naive as to start experiencing inferiority complex. Lets go back then if thats the case. Some of them also love Africa and have endeavoured to learn our ways but we never hear of them having the inferiority complex.

  • By Mwangi, July 10, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

    @Mzeiya: But don’t you find it odd that people who go to India never come out of India with that Indian accent or that people who visit Malaysian come out speaking English with Malay inflections.
    In addition to that, Europeans and Americans who come here a lot of the time don’t end up changing their accent.
    Indeed we may add words to our vocabularies or even change the general way in which we speak but I still hold on to the belief that our accent’s relationship to the West is very strong.
    As for accents changing when you hang around other folks (Africans to Africans, Westerners to Westerners), you guys are definitely teaching me that and I will keep my eyes peeled for that.

  • By solomonsydelle, July 11, 2008 @ 5:45 am

    lol!!! I am listening to your imitation. I’m not even going to touch this subject because I have the odd ability to transform accents when necessary. A product of living in too many places and learning too many languages, perhaps.

    Anyway, hope all is well with you and yours.

    NIGERIAN CURIOSITY
    IT WAS SO MUCH EASIER WHEN I ONLY HAD ONE…

  • By Mwangi, July 11, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

    @solomonsdyselle: Glad I could make you chuckle. Yeah I have that accent transformation ability too.I am well, I hope you are blessed where you are.

  • By meek meek, July 11, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

    Ok im going to finally give in…. i have the ability to switch from a semi British accent to an American accent to a Kikuyu accent…i attribute this to my upbringing, i dont think it has much to do with being in the states. I do agree however that we do all we can to fit it. I know i have a different phone voice/accent from my actual natural accent… and i speak differently to people from different places… i actually went to a store once where the sales lady had a British accent and i started speaking like her [ my American buddies were like...huh?] but then again im a pointee so i dont conform to anything, i dont look like anything and i can fit in anywhere… Actually when i came to the states i used to complain alot about that… ‘Africans dont accept me… Americans dont accept me… Mexicans dont accept me… Persians dont accept me…so where do i fit in?’Now all i need to do is learn a little spanish and i will be set…

  • By Mwangi, July 12, 2008 @ 5:51 am

    @meek meek: That whole pointee (which for the uninitiated is short for point 5 – 0.5 – which is a Kenyan term for a biracial person, almost always half black/half white) issue opens up a whole lot of questions for me, especially as an immigrant.
    But if you have any Indian or Pakistani or Asian friends, why don’t you ever change your accent and sound more like them?

  • By meek meek, July 12, 2008 @ 5:57 am

    Well see thats the thing, i dont have any Indian or Pakistani friends so that has never been an issue… My mother has a distinct British accent and i live in America so those two are definitely influences… to top it off im Kikuyu so when the situation presents itself i bring out my Kikuyu accent which of course invokes gasps of shock [because i look anything but kikuyu].. Its a little different walking in my shoes because im mixed. In fact its probably very different.

  • By Mwangi, July 12, 2008 @ 5:59 am

    @meek meek: I can imagine. Your mental cultural landscape must be ginormous. I can tell you from hanging out with Asian folks and Indian folks and seeing other people who did that I never saw African people change their accent in that direction.

  • By Hann, July 15, 2008 @ 8:32 am

    I don’t know about others and Indian accents, but I swear if I’m around Indians for a long time, my brain starts thinking in an Indian accent. I do think if I lived in India for a while, I would pick up a slight Indian accent. Maybe this doesn’t happen so much like it does for American accents or Australian or British is because English is an official language of India not a native language (as in thinking and speaking in English) like English is in Australia or the US. It’s THEIR language like Hindi or Gujarati would be in India. I mean French people who speak with Americans who speak French wouldn’t pick up the American speaking French accent, why would they?

  • By Mwangi, July 15, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

    @Hann: To project my theory onto what you have just said, perhaps that wouldn’t happen because French people perceive themselves as the “true owners” and higher on the scale of French speakers than Americans or other foreigners trying to speak the French language.

  • By Kibz, August 1, 2008 @ 2:56 am

    Hi Mwangi, this is a very interesting thread. Thumbs up! Its a complex issue that am sure is sensitive for most non westerners and some westerners alike. Inferiority complex should not be ruled out by any one although it is not the main cause or factor that makes people want to talk differently. Hann gives very strong reasons that i feel explain for the most part why people change accents, i think its also cool to be able to do so. But am more concerned with the inferiority complex part of it. Its rather easy to say ” i just do it to fit in” but what people are really saying is, is that people would think they are weired or different and they will not be accepted. Am in adelaide and its very disturbing and agonizing to see my fellow non westerners (Africans and Asians) talk in funny accents, get fake western names or westernize their names all in the name of trying to fit in. Come on people, its there, its happening and its true. This is a great opprotunity to talk about it candidly and let people know that its ok to talk in your original accent, its ok to have your own name and let people learn to actually pronounce your name correctly and its cool.

  • By Mwangi, August 2, 2008 @ 4:46 am

    @Kibz: You know that Asian habit of making up Western names has always struck me as such an odd habit and I wonder why they do it.
    Indeed whoever it is you change to assimilate with or get along with, you must somehow perceive to have higher value than you. I know for myself and my peers, for example, if we went to the rural areas and hung around people who we did not perceive to be of higher social value in some way shape or form, our accent would stay put.
    Anyway, Hann and a lot of the folks who commented on this post definitely taught me some things………

  • By cecilia, July 17, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

    Accent changing becomes imperatives to a certain point if you wish to be understood by the locals. I do agree with Hann, even europeans are put in a situation where they have to pick up an english or american accent so they can be understood. A french person speaking english in a french accent can be completely uncomprehensible just as a luo or kikuyu or kamba…etc doing it in their given accent. For Kenyans who didn’t pick up their local language tribe accent, they tend to have a somewhat flat way of pronunciation especially with the “A’s” which gives a totally new meaning to what you are saying to the British or American person. So rather than criticise people for trying to be understood and trying to speak correctly in a language that is borrowed, do some constructive phonetics training. You will need it for every other language you learn and you’ll realise being able to sound authentic saves you a lot of head aches.

  • By Cmac, February 21, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    when I am talking to white people I will ‘mimic’ their style of talking, much like body language experts reccommend mimicking another person’s body language in order to receive a favourable response. For me, it’s because I wish to gain an advantage, or because I hope it will help me gain what I wish to achieve (i.e. advance my self-interests), when with others like me, I automatically switch back to what’s familiar among us. Is this fake? Pretentious? Lack of self-esteem? It has worked well to my advantage, that’s all I need to know. :)

  • By Julia Fry, March 11, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

    I got to your blog by typing this question into Google: “how does landscape affect accent?”

    Your blog was the only related piece I found. I was born in England in Dorset. My father was in the army so I had a posh English middle class accent. My father was upper middle class and my mother is working class; she comes from Lincolnshire and her accent was retained all the time we were in the army. She has a strong sense of her roots being geographical and always yearns to return to Lincolnshire if she leaves. My mother, sister and I moved to Lincolnshire when I was 9. I adapted my accent to fit in and my accent became flatter and I pronounced a lot of words differently. I moved to Brighton in the south when I was 18. After a few months in Brighton I changed my accent again so it was easier for me to be understood by people who had never ventured north of London.

    I’m intrigued about how accents become tied to geographical places. How did the American accent come about? When the English left for America they still had English accents didn’t they? Interesting…

  • By annie, October 21, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

    Comment is a couple of years too late, but…
    How about westerners who come to Africa? Do they change their accents? No. When we go to their homeland, they give you the “I don’t understand what you’re saying unless you use my accent” look. Ethnocentric Americans, especially. It’s just sad that we have to conform to fit in there but they live freely when they’re here.

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