Sunday, 28 October 2012

Standard deviation

There's this adorable kid I know, three years old, with the world's sweetest accent. His mum's Welsh, his dad's Italian, so he speaks with a lovely lilting mishmash of the two, with a hint of old Southampton drawl round the edges. Basically, once you've seen a chubby toddler clambering determinedly up the stairs shouting "Il gatto! IL GATTO!" in a Valleys accent, it will take a lot more than a cute sneezing panda video to tug your heartstrings.

But I realised that a lot of the reason I found this affecting - the reason it qualifies as an anecdote at all - is basically because I see myself (as we all do) as the measure of all things. A Welsh/English kid with an accent hovering somewhere over the Powys border: not much of a story. Because English = neutral, an English accent = a non-accent, a lack of accent.

No one thinks they have an accent. Because we all, subconsciously, assume that we are the Default Human Being, with all others a deviation from that rule. But some of us - like, say, white middle class girls from Hampshire (hi!), or London, or the Home Counties - have that belief backed up, reinforced daily, by a world which places Cockney or Geordie or Scouse or patois as Other; a world which still gets shocked - shocked, I tell you! - when Radio 4 daringly hires an announcer who doesn't speak in Received Pronunciation.

But some of us - those who learn to talk one way at home, but to polish their speech for job interviews; who get used to blank incomprehension when they relax for a moment into their mother tongue - are reminded every day that, however they might see themselves, their very voices are defined as a deviation.

No comments:

Post a Comment