I was always aware of the question of “identity” in accent modification, but it didn’t really hit me in the face until, as I mentioned in last week’s post Thoughts on “Identity” and Accent Modification, one of my clients brought it up in class. She talked with great insight about the internal shame she had absorbed related to accent modification as well as the loss of identity (feeling like a fake) in choosing to take on the accent of the native speaker.
Not all students are dealing with the psychological trauma of political tensions in their native country. However, the issue of feeling like a “fake” is something I’d heard before.
But what if we were to focus instead on the music of language? What if we could step outside our fixed ideas of identity and adopt a more open and fluid sense of self?
In my hometown Toronto, we can turn on CBC radio or Radio Canada (Canada’s English and French national broadcasting systems) and hear artists singing in languages other than English or French. We can hear music from Africa, Latin America, South America, for example –– and that, without even searching out a specialty radio station. We may not understand the words, but we respond to the rhythm and the melodies. As we listen and respond viscerally, for that brief period we become one with the music.
Can we do the same with spoken language – listen for its music and respond with the innocence of a child? Can we take the time to listen in a new way and go beyond the words? Can we go beyond consonants and vowels, beyond the memory of muscles and mind? Can we embrace new rhythms and melodies by putting aside assumptions about who we think we need to be by listening with attention to the musicality of the speech around us and absorbing it without judgment?
After all, we can learn to sing a song in a language other than our own and dance to the music of a country far away from home. We may not be the best singer or the best dancer but we can sing and dance with abandon. In the same way, it’s not about losing an accent. It’s about flowing with more of the sounds of the everyday speech and dialect, the vernacular, of the adopted language.
Far from being a “fake” for reshaping a native accent with the music of the vernacular, I think we become richer. We experience a little shift, knowing that we’re no less who we are for embracing a place in the middle with enough room for everyone in the music of English.
And speaking of everyday speech, check out “ vernacular” in this week’s One-Minute Words.