Thursday, September 27, 2012

You got em accent?

I did a short post about the power of language awhile back. My thing was that language is a powerful animal. Language can boost you up, but it can also crush you. I think accents are a different animal but still, they can be used in powerful situation. Accents can also be a determining factor in our view of somebody.

I was thinking about this because of my visit with Robert Connolly. Robert Connolly is not a relative of the famous Billy Connolly, but he could be. Robert comes from the same village that Billy grew up and they are about the same age. It was one of the first questions I asked Robert, is Billy Connolly your cousin, your brother? He laughed. But he knows who Billy is and says Billy is a regular guy. Robert lives in Scotland and his accent is pronounced. He was on a holiday trip in Vancouver. We met on one of those dinner cruises that is offered in Vancouver.  A short boat trip that is a lot of fun, tranquil, scenic and has decent food. Robert had the real Scottish accent. Robert is actually Irish but is three generation Scotsman. It was fun to visit with him, his wife and their friend. Their friend was a riot. She is also Scottish but has a Canadian accent. She was telling us about her Clan and how those Campbells ("those murdering sons a bitches") killed the McDonald's in their sleep (around the sixteen hundreds). The way she was talking about it, the murderous act took place yesterday.  To this Lady the bad feelings still run deep. It was pretty funny as we prodded her into talking about the Massacre of Glencoe. "The McDonalds fed and put up them, and the Campbells murdered them in their sleep, murdering scum", she said with a little bit of a smile (or sneer, not sure). 

When you speak to people with accents you are intrigued and begin to judge. I have this one friend who has an Indian Mom and non-Native Dad. He is one of those colonized thinking type of guys. Where the suit and tie rule the world. In addition, how you speak is part of his thinking as well.  Me, I speak with a slight accent. I can't hear it and no one in the Reserve hears it either. But it has to do with the absence of the "h" sound in words like three, think, thank, and there. In other Reserves the accents are different. Like Peguis First Nation, they sound like they are from England mixed with Ireland. A very melodic singing type of accent. Up north some of the Cree Reserves have no "sh" in their sound. So when they are talking about their shoes, it sounds like they are talking about their soozes.

Most people are not familiar with American and Canadian Indian accents except for the Asia Indian accents, like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (Apoo) on the Simpsons. When you hear the accent what is your first thought? Or how about when you hear the Chinese person speaking English?  I bet you think that these people are not that smart, mmmmmmh? An accent can cause us to judge negatively right off the bat.

I like listening to accents. When I was in Vancouver, many of the people in the hotel I stayed at were from Australia. The accent is pleasing to hear. Funny.? I noticed that in some of the service industry businesses, the hosts have accents, either English, Australian or New Zealand. Wonder why? Is it that there is an image that comes to mind when we hear those accents? I think we do have judgements, prejuidices, and approval based on how someone sounds. I can't say for sure which accents are acceptable but I can tell you that United Kingdom accents seem favourable.  Eastern European accents depict a hard people. Asian accents are not seen as cool.

You know what is a good indicator of how we judge accents, just look at Hollywood. In many television shows, and movies the accent defines a character. Many of the Blacks, Browns, and other Ethnics are played as clowns, goofs, and the funny oddball. You ever see the movie Freaky Friday? The Chinese restaurant owner? She had this profound Chinese no "r's" accent. Yet this woman in real life does not have that accent. Wonder why the director wanted that accent? 

Ever wonder how we categorize accents?  How we can call one accent exotic and others are ridiculed? Sophie Vergara is one of the hottest actors on television right now. A lot has to do with her acting ability and her magnificent accents. Latino women are exotic. There is no doubt about that. It has to do with the accent. Some of the exotic labels come from looks in the case of other nationalities and not on their accents. Some of the exotic people are ridiculed based on their accents. Funny eh?

An accent can make something sound so credible or even spiritual. Billy Connolly is a comedian. How can he make things credible? Its in the accent. Connolly does a documentary called Journey to the Edge of the World.  In this documentary he travels around to interesting places and meets people. In one trip he goes and meets with some Indians and takes part in a Sweatlodge. He calls the experience "lovely". With him you really truly believe it was lovely, more than lovely. Watch the video and you can almost experience the greatness of a Sweatlodge. And it is due to his narration, with his accent.

Have you ever heard anyone say an Indian accent, specifically a Cree accent is exotic? How about an East Indian accent? Or a Chinese person speaking English with an accent? Is it exotic?

We are judgmental. For whatever reason we have put some weight on different accents as opposed to others. I guess it is all in who we are listening to.  We think of people as stupid, comic, all because of where we put the status of the accent. Stupid isn't it? 


  1. …got em aayee !
    "Knock knock"
    "Who's there?"
    "Dishes who?"
    "Dishes da Navajo police... OPEN UP!"
    Thank You for the very interesting study. The topic of « linguistic inferiority » has intrigued me for years. Folks who assume that ex. a Chinese guy is less intelligent than they are on basis of his usage of t h e i r language, rarely take into consideration the fact that the guy is actually able to communicate while they are not able to utter one word in his language. And isn’t the lack of knowledge about indigenous languages in the very country of indigenous people a sign of total and arrogant ignorance? Thinking that Lakhotiya is “Russian or Spanish” because of “g” pronounced as “rrr”, Navajo “Arabic or Hungarian”, Apache “Polish or Chinese” because of sh and n’ ? A linguistics professor- moron whined that “the Canadian reservation Indians” (?!!!!) “sound like Hindu”.I recall many hateful remarks from anglos concerning my accent and also a hysterical laugh I had with my friends over twinkies’disappointment: they hoped we would sound more like them Hollywood Indians:”Me be chief”sort of thing. While there are no linguistically “superiour”languages or accents, some folks assume their own lingo is better than “the rest”. British will grimace at “American English”, the French will tell You that “le Quebecois” is from a different planet, finally a “sophisticated” New Yorker will classify Southern accent as “hillbilly”. I have a very own heretic view on the Tower Babel story. Just can’t believe that our Creator would like us divided and our “tongues mixed”. I think some people will always try to impose the “supremacy» of their culture, religion or language. The ferocious guardians of Babel…Stupid, INNIT?

  2. Hahah, that is funny and great. Yeah, we make fun of guys that want to sound more "traditional" based on Hollywood talk. "Long time ago me go far". At least I never hear the Many Moons ago. :D But you know what, there are some guys that really do sound legit with their broken English. They are the First Language guys/gals. Thanks for the comments.

  3. thanks for interesting read. I often find myself more intrigued with the different accents. Yet, at times even finding myself begin to judge those who do not speak English, like 'we do. Only to be brought back to reality that I had not the privilege of learning my Native tongue. I'm beginning to but with an accent.
    Silaada said, "Just can’t believe that our Creator would like us divided and our “tongues mixed.' I would like to think that our Creator wanted this to be a bridge to get along even more.

  4. I found your blog recently and put a link on my fb page. Hope that is ok with you.

  5. Thank you I do appreciate that. Steve

  6. That's all very true! The people that don't speak english well are really just like us when we try other languages and think we are doing it right (or not!).

    I'm from VA, where accent is determined by region, race, and even class- the more ordinary people speak very differently from the upper class or well educated ones.

  7. never been to VA. Been to florida but. i want to take my wife to washington (washing ton jokes) to see the smithsonian. i do like accents. it is kind of boring not to have an accent ;d

  8. hi there. I'm a voice & speech teacher for actors at York University in Toronto. I'm working on a "big" research project to try to develop resources to help Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit, Métis) actors with learning accents, and I'm trying to scour the web for people's thoughts on accent and your site came up. Interesting to read your thoughts. I'll be working with indigenous artists to try to identify what they feel are their needs, to set goals in terms of resources that should be developed. You can follow our progress (such as it is) on our Facebook page here:

    One thing we're hearing a lot is how "all indigenous accents sound 'the same,' when people speak English." Theories around this seem tied to the history of Residential schools. Any thoughts on that, from your perspective?

    I realize that this is a post from 2012, so perhaps you're no longer supporting this site, or this post. Keeping my fingers crossed!

    1. Greetings Eric. Not all Native accents sound the same.But yes for sure there are which do sound the same. it could be the common experiences many Indigenous folk have had. Lot of people who went to the French run Indian residential schools were thought to speak English by nuns who's first language was French. So many of our people have the accent with no "h's". And it could also be the absence of some sounds in the original language. I'm most likely not the best resource to speak with but I am always willing to put in my two pennies worth. Best of luck with all your work. You know it is interesting my friend who is Maliseet told me that if I ever wanted to be taken seriously that I was to "speak the Queen's English". Man that made me laugh. Steve