Dear Blog readers, today I want to get a little serious, taking a short break from my random pedestrian irreverent rants. Oh well, I confess, I have misplaced my funny bone. Maybe Holly’s cats took it. Okay, let me take that back. I don’t intend to get serious, but I’m trying so hard to enter a pensive mode of recollection and it’s not working. All memories of the nice funny things I wanted to tell you has suddenly disappeared, and all that stares me in the face is an empty bottle of Foris Pinot Noir. Again, I’m kidding.

My thoughts have ranged from the wonder of the world when observed from above, as well as the diversity of accents. But just last week I got a collection of songs from the movie My Fair Lady, and I was surprised at how amused I still was with the lead song “Why Can’t the English (Learn to Speak)” There was a nice line in the song which the actor Rex Harrison delivers with such a priceless speech and a straight face. It goes,

Why can’t the English learn to set a good example to people whose English is painful to your ears… There even are places where English completely disappears: In America, they haven’t used it for years…

That part always made me laugh, especially when read against the diversity of American English accents. Everywhere I went in America, everyone seems to speak so differently, and even the students do not share a common accent. The linguistics class that I attend weekly is one nice theatre of such differing sounds of speech. My Fair Lady is a treasure, and the play (Pygmalion) by George Bernard Shaw that spawned the movie and Broadway production is an even bigger delight. Take it from a thoroughbred Shavian like me who has sworn among other things to see at least one Broadway or Off-Broadway play before returning home. Come, come winter.

However, I do not go about campus like the Professor Henry Higgins now jotting down the varying sounds of the American working class, even though the prospects of such endeavour sound rewarding, but I can at least boast of a general delight in ear sampling of accents. The knowledge of such diversity of speech has built for me a stronger confidence to resume my own Nigerian accented English rather than trying hard to sound American. It is not always an easy effort to pronounce just about every “r” in every word whenever you speak. When a Nigerian pronounces the word “pork”, you are not likely to hear the “r” pronounced, and that always left my American confused, and they always replied with “What?” “I beg your pardon,” “Come again please.” On the plane from London, a co-passenger warned me that if I want to say “hot”, I should pronounce it as “hat” or else no one would understand me. It has turned out to be a good advice so far. “Flu shot” had been “flu shat”, and every word that I’d otherwise pronounce with a closed mouth has undergone such dramatic transformation. I even admit that I have to take conscious effort to speak slowly just so I can get my thoughts across.

I admit, I’m being gradually Americanized. My “butter”, “bitter” and “letter” are now easily pronounced if the “tt” segments are called like the American “r”, but thinking forward to my mandatory re-absorption into the Nigerian speech pattern a year from now, I’ve been selective in my assimilation. But I can never get away from the occasional strange glances that respond to my sometimes deliberate attempt to speak the British English, Nigerian style.

2 thoughts on “Clearing a Blocked Head

  1. People are so not used to hearing any kind of accent in Southern Illinois that even my accent (which I always thought wasn’t strong at all) is incomprehensible to many people. I tried to talk to somebody in HR a couple of weeks ago and she had to invite an “interpreter” to tell her what I was saying. 🙂 I have lived in so many places in North America and it never happened to me anywhere else.

    I think the presence of people like you and me in this part of the country is a great thing It gives people an opportunity to learn about all the beautiful difference that exists in the world.

  2. You’re right Clarissa.
    There are so many accents in Southern Illinois, and it’s funny because one would ordinarily assume that being English, everyone would understand each other fairly easily. It’s hardly the case.
    I’m enjoying the experience. Like I said, it’s giving me more confidence to speak my own accent proudly without being worried about sounding wierd.
    You have a nice blog.

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