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to think you're from where you sound like you're from

(9 Posts)
SheCutOffTheirTails Tue 05-Jul-11 21:24:32

A colleague was talking the other day about the first time he met people of Chinese extraction in Northern Ireland, and how hilarious he found it that they spoke English with a Northern Irish accent.

But it's not like he'd never met English people who look Chinese and who speak with English accents. So why was it so funny that "Chinese" people would have an Irish accent? Or any accent when speaking English, for that matter.

Why is it funny for someone of Chinese heritage to have a Belfast accent, but not someone of Irish heritage?

The reason, I'm guessing, is that because these guys looked Chinese, he could accept them having a Chinese accent, or (I presume) an English accent (since as an Englishman that is a "neutral" accent for him). But it's hilarious for two types of foreignness to come together - to look Chinese and sound Irish is funny.

But to me, if I hear someone speak with an Irish accent to me they just seem Irish, regardless of what they look like, what their ancestry. This obviously means that 1st gen immigrants to me are just from where they were born.

But it also means that people who move somewhere and pick up a new language have an advantage in terms of belonging: I'll probably always have an Irish accent in English. But potentially I could have a Tromso accent in Norwegian. And so Jan Molby is Danish in Danish but a Scouser in English. And my friend John is Chilean in Spanish (or so bemused Spaniards have informed me).

Is it unusual to think like this? To me it makes perfect sense that accents are a more accurate sign of where you're from than what you look like.

Is it rude and presumptuous of me to hear an accent and make an assumption about where you're from?

fluffles Tue 05-Jul-11 21:27:51

A lot of research was done in scotland on racism and scottishness and concluded that scots will generally accept anybody who speaks with a scottish accent, whatever their skin colour or whatever they wear (headscarf, turban).

The main factor that scottish people use to decide is somebody is 'scottish' is apparently accent.

I find that very interesting.. not necessarily good or bad, just interesting.

DoMeDon Tue 05-Jul-11 21:31:49

I meet different nationalities on a daily basis and their English accent varies on where they learnt it. It does sound unsual if someone has a mix of accents - e.g Japanese/American speaking English, or German/Irish speaking English. It is unexpected and different to the ear that's all. Nationality and identity are very personal to people- who I identify as is differnt to how I sound.

DogsBestFriend Tue 05-Jul-11 21:35:52

I suppose that it's novelty value which makes a person do a double-take, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're being rude. I think nothing of my very dark-skinned Black friend who having been born in Cardiff has a strong Welsh accent but then I got used to it over years. When I first met her I thought, "Oh, well, I wasn't expecting that". I'm a Londoner and we met while working in the city. My quite extensive experience of people of West Indian origin was of those with accents from those islands, a mix of English/Jamaican etc accent or pure London. I just wasn't expecting a Welsh accent from her!

I bet my German ancestors turned a few heads when they moved over to Ireland before coming over here in the 1800s too.

PS send that Chinese/NI person over this way please... I love the Belfast accent!

DogsBestFriend Tue 05-Jul-11 21:35:59

I suppose that it's novelty value which makes a person do a double-take, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're being rude. I think nothing of my very dark-skinned Black friend who having been born in Cardiff has a strong Welsh accent but then I got used to it over years. When I first met her I thought, "Oh, well, I wasn't expecting that". I'm a Londoner and we met while working in the city. My quite extensive experience of people of West Indian origin was of those with accents from those islands, a mix of English/Jamaican etc accent or pure London. I just wasn't expecting a Welsh accent from her!

I bet my German ancestors turned a few heads when they moved over to Ireland before coming over here in the 1800s too.

PS send that Chinese/NI person over this way please... I love the Belfast accent!

quirrelquarrel Tue 05-Jul-11 22:02:02

I'm not English- from Benelux grin
Never said it that way before. Well, anyway. My dad speaks with a sort of mystery accent, half RP, so I've picked that up from him, but left the American and booook, coook etc bits. Then I saw 'draw-er' instead of 'draw'. I say 'et' instead of 'ate', which is common, I think. I also roughened up my accent loads for secondary school because being "posh" (awful word!) was an absolute crime there and so had two different accents for five years. Now I go to a school where half the kids have rich Southerner parents, so I don't get my pencilcase chucked out of the window for ahsking for a rabbar and I don't need to star' taakin' laak this. Okay, so I can't write Yorkshire.

I wonder how distinctive the different types of Irish accent are to a Britisher (you know what I mean). I can just about distinguish Scottish and Irish accents, probably they learnt English from the Scots...and then didn't Gaelic practically die out, with it being reinvented around 1900? That should make for some pretty interesting tongue twisting.

'Course it's not rude. Accents are generally regionally based. It's common sense, we haven't been globalised all that long. The Internet spreads things around very quickly, so do transatlantic flights and all those new things, but tradition isn't out of sight quite yet.

My mum and I paid a visit once on my grandmother's old maid. I thought she was Scottish, speaking in French specially for my mum, because she sounded all garbled and roundabout. Turned out she was my first real live Northener. grin Bienvenue et al!

quirrelquarrel Tue 05-Jul-11 22:04:07

* probably because they learnt English

magicmummy1 Tue 05-Jul-11 22:08:24

I'm from nowhere then, because nobody can ever place where I'm from! grin

Ineedacleaneriamalazyslattern Tue 05-Jul-11 22:20:30

I'm from nowhere as well, Scottish with a scottish accent but it is a mixture of places so people are always asking me where I'm from or trying to guess.

I agree that it is not being mean but it can be a surprise when you are expecting one thing and out comes another.
I attended a very good friends wedding a few years ago and watching the video with her later she laughed herself at how it would appear to an outsider.

She is Indian and on her wedding day had the works. A gorgeous red and gold sari, gold headwear and jewellery henna the lot she looked absolutely amazing it was breathtaking. In the video there is a shot of her standing with her mother before the actual ceremony and she opens her mouth and says "maw I'm pure dead nervous" in the broadest glaswegian accent you have ever heard. When she watched this back she thought it was hilarious that she looked every inch the Indian bride and came out with a total surprise voice she thought she sounded awful-as we all do when we hear ourselves back-
So it is not necessarily with any badness that we are surprised at the accent we hear it is a novelty and sometimes comes at us from the left field.

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