Monday, February 28, 2011

Tweak the tongue: Expats, accents, and adjustments

Filipino expats stand out whether we like it or not. We don't look like the general population, unless we seek sanctuary in Little Manila, Chinatown or some such cultural enclaves. We don't sound "normal" to the ears, normal being defined as whatever the natives are used to hearing.

It takes some effort to twang the Filipino accent enough to be understood and deemed acceptable in the U.S. Some of us who arrived here as children make the transition more naturally, although not without some initial taunting from playmates. Some of us slip back into short 'a's when we let our guard down. Some, particularly in our parents' generation, never quite make the transition.

For the first six months or so after my arrival in 1985, I resisted twanging like the natives. It just struck me as pretentious, and I resented having to change who I was just to fit in. What was this, junior high? Eventually I gave in. I got tired of being quizzed on where I was from and being asked to repeat myself. Life seemed simpler if I could have a regular conversation that focused on what, not how I said things.

I don't know the young man in the following video, but it captures in a humorous way what we expats experience when we transplant or get transplanted abroad. He's from Canada. Apart from the late Peter Jennings' classic way of pronouncing "about" as "aboot," I can't tell a Canadian and an American apart.

If the video doesn't play, here's the link: The Filipino accent

Have you had to change something about yourself to fit into your environment?