I've been wondering recently about accents. It's interesting to note that when we move to a place with a perceived cool accent (the U.K, even the U.S. and Australia) that accent is quickly incorporated.
Hey, I'm just wondering. Not that I've consciously inculcated (at least I don't think I have) it but I have a totally American accent (well the mid-western, less-accented version) myself so it's not like I am picking on others.
I know people who've moved to London and suddenly they sound like a Brit. But, on the other hand, I know others who've moved to Thailand or Kenya or Japan or Malaysia and they don't have the accent of the English-speakers of that country.
I guess, in India, someone moving from a small town to Bombay or Delhi takes on that accent. Again, because it's cooler. It gets you more. Impresses people. Perhaps even impresses you, huh?
But then it's not really unconscious, is it? I remember when I was in university (many, many moons ago) in Allahabad. This girl went off to be seen or meet or whatever it's called, her husband-to-be who lived in the U.S.. She spent a few hours with him getting to know him (how do you do that?).
Anyway, she came back to class with a weird American accent. When someone asked her she retorted, "Well, if you spend time with someone it automatically has an effect. It just happens."
I wonder if her fiance went back to the U.S. with an Indian, Allahabadi accent. Probably not.
But what's at the root of this phenomenon? Is there something else, something beyond the it just happened/it's natural/it just is excuses. Is it just that we pick up something from where live? But, if it's that why is our unconscious selection so discriminating? Why an American accent but not a Mexican one?
We choose to take on accents from those whom we perceive as being somewhat superior (interestingly few moving to the UK start talking with a cockney accent, or with a Texas twang in the U.S.), better than us.
And we might spend years in a country with other English speakers, even if they are not the majority (as in India) and never seem to pick up that less "desirable" accent.
What makes a British accent sexy and proper? What makes us go weak in the knees when we hear an Australian drawl? What makes the way we pronounce our words, where we place emphases, how we break them up so fraught with shades of superiority/inferiority, and dare I say it--- racism? Is there some subtle racism at work here? Something subterranean, lurking under the surface?
Are accents the fair and lovely creams of the language world? Do we smear them on to escape the duskiness that is just a thin surface away?
There is nothing inherently sexy or proper or cool about any of this. We buy into the Western superiority argument. Is there really an argument? We just do it...without thinking what that says about the world we live in, about us and about those we choose to emulate and more importantly, and more importantly, those we choose not to emulate.