Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Accent That Never Was

I've been in Australia for a bit under nine months. Normally, when I live abroad, it takes a couple months (three or four) before I can start picking up how to speak like a local. In London, after a while I could confuse locals with my British lilt and pronunciation of "schedule". In Paris, I learned how to say certain words quickly with a Parisian accent, so as to avoid head spins in local shops.

By now I had expected to be speaking with a curly Outback drawl and abandoning the hard "r" and use of the word "afternoon" (Aussies read this as "arvo").

This time, though, I can't for the life of me get the accent.

While I hang out with locals and practice the accent (by obnoxiously repeating everything they say under my breath), I sound like an American doing a horrible job at a British accent. Sometimes, I start channeling several different types of Aussie accents with snippets of words in my otherwise very General American Accent.

What is frustrating about not acing the accent is that whenever I'm in public interacting with strangers, it becomes obvious I'm not from here. This means that, more often than not, the Aussie talking with me will pause somewhere in the exchange (whether it's ordering a smoothie, attending a yoga class, or networking) and ask me, "So, what are you here for exactly? Are you from Canada or USA?"

With an infuriatingly perfect Aussie accent!

On a side note: It is seen as polite to always ask Canada before considering a US passport, because Canadians can get sorely offended to be asked if they're American.

This exchange always takes some wind of of my sails because it reminds me of my temporary status. It also reminds me of my incredible failure at assimilating through adjusting my accent, something at which I'm normally so good.

And yet all Aussies I've met have nailed an American accent effortlessly, which only adds to my fury. They attribute it to Hollywood. I'm still not pleased.

For one thing, American voices are just plain loud, so compared to the more breathy accents of Australians, my voice nicely echos off of the buildings in the nearby suburb. We audibly stick out, and sometimes that is not what I'm going for.

Another thing is, I don't think my brain has been able to completely discern between the soft, mumbled accent of a Queenslander (where I am studying) to the more harsh twangs of a Victorian or New South Wales person. And bogan accents (aka hicks) are the ones I understand the best because of my watching of Kath & Kim when I was sick a few months ago. The accents here by region are subtle, yet noticeable after living here a while, and I still don't fully understand how to tease each separate type apart from the others.

I just saw an article come out about how the Aussie accent(s) first came to be. It says that it could stem from the early settlers being avid imbibers of alcohol, and their British accents got drawled out and warped by their drunkenness. I admit, this makes me feel better, as I reason that my decent British accent has not been able to develop into the complicated Australian one because I am not one who enjoys the spiked beverage very often, and therefore have little understanding of how to shift the "r" sound from regal to rough.

Maybe I will never be able to accomplish the Australian drawl. For now, I keep my conversations brief and end with a "Ta!" (which means "thanks"), mumbling as much as I can when asked for my order before running away.

The Australian accent is really difficult.

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