Friday, February 11, 2011

Accent marking

I rolled in to work the other morning and took over the paramedic car from my mate Roy.

"Top o' the marnin' to ya!" he greeted me, and did a little Irish jig.

This was strange because of two things. The first being it was six in the AM, and no-one should be doing a jig at that time of the morning. I'm sure there's a bylaw that forbids it.

The second is that Roy is from Birmingham, and his Irish heritage is about as closely linked to him as his Kenyan ancestry. Judging by his pallor (and I do like to judge), that is quite a way in the past.

So obviously I replied in the same vein with an appropriately mangled "Top o' the marnin' to y'good self as well there, so it is!", proceeding to see-saw my elbows in and out which I understand to be the way all people speak in Ireland.

I couldn't help myself. It just had to be done. Upon hearing the Irish lilt,  my vocal chords suddenly became flawlessly Hibernian, as though I harked from the sprawling suburbs of Galway itself.

This, I thought, was odd. Why couldn't I simply nod and accept that he'd accented at me, maybe smile appreciatively if it was a particulalry good one, and then carry on talking in my (arguably) normal accent.

The following few days, as we crossed our finish and start times, I decided to try an experiment to see if the phenomeon was reciprocal.

That evening, as I finished the day shift, the moon was already high and bright, and Roy began his second night shift, I promptly hollered "Why aye mon, it'll be a braw bricht moonlit nicht tonicht!"

Without a moments hesitation, he answered "Aye, you're nay wrang. Icy an' all. Ah nearly hit a coo comin' here the noo!"

So, it wasn't just me then?

Roy caught on quick and, the following morning, I was met with "Guten Tag,  Englisher! Achtung, schnell, gott in himmell!"

"Guten morgan Herr Royzenburger." I replied, unable to help myself, "You haff ze car keys?"

"Nein!" he shouted back at me. "Ve haff vays of making you valk!"

How we laughed.

That evening, I greeted him with an accent from the Deep South of The United Americas (Northern Branch), politely enquiring if there was good eatin' on squirrels, and he responded with a Californian drawl, assuring me that, in fact, gingham foot-longs with crawdads were better.

This was still a success because in England we feel there are only three US accents. These are Hillbilly, Surfer Dude, and Mexican.*

So, it appears that, should someone greet you in an accent other than your own, there is some sort of psychological imperative to respond in kind.

Try it if you don't believe me.

I guarantee it'll either be true or false. Or possibly somewhere in between. That's how confident I am in my  hypothesis.

Maybe it harks back to tribal days when one might meet a well-armed stranger and, to reduce the risk of being speared by a xenohophobic Cro-magnon type, emulating his speech patterns would lull him into feeling secure in your presence, so you could then stab him in the back and steal his fabulous sabre-tooth head-dress which is all the rage down the cave system this season.

Or maybe, and this is my current favourite psychological theory, it's just silliness.

Of course, night shifts take their toll on anyone, and the first thing that tends to go is a sense of jollity. On our last swap over, continuing the theme I think we had both come to expect and enjoy, I hailed a not-so-sprightly looking Roy with a hearty " 'Ow do, is thee all reet?", and was rewarded with an appropriate faux-Yorkshire lilt straight back.

"Fook off, I'm reet not int' moooood."

Still, it's not the content that counts, but the delivery. My theory stands.

Thinking back, I may have come across a potential downside, as when the new Stores chap came to our ambulance station in a large white NHS van to deliver a single vomit bowl.

He came over to the corner of the garage where I was busy test-licking defibrillator paddles to say hello.

" Allo, mon amis," he said, outrageously "Ah em ze new supplah personne, 'ere to provide for your armbularns needs!"

Obviously, I retorted in a lengthy, french-accented soliloquy taking, for humourous effect, aspects of Monty Python's Ker-nigg-hut insulting frecnhmen, the policeman out of 'Allo 'Allo and an onion-necklaced, beret-wearing, Gauloises-smoking baguette-eating stereotype, thus crafting them into a beautiful, synergistic combination of humour and good-natured racism.

Eventually, exhausted and bouyed by the banter between myself and my new, nameless friend, I stopped, got my breath back and introduced myself. "I'm the Jules." I said, and proffered a hand, expecting us to retun to our normal, everyday Anglosaxon now we'd got the fun over and done with.

"Herve." he replied in a monotone, but strangely keeping on with the foreign accent.

In fact, come to think of it, he's still using it, which in my opinion has gone way past funny and is starting to get a bit tiresome now.

*In comparison,  Americans think that Brits have two accents; Upper Class Toff and Cockney.


  1. G-day mate, we dont have accents here in Oz, it's them bloody foreigners that have em, coming over ere with their weird bloody words likes they mean somethin or somethin. We just bloody ignores em and pretends we don't hear or understand em...which sometimes we don't.. thats our story, and we're stickin to it.

    Oh, ..and I aint no flamein robot..

  2. Thanks for the early-morning laugh. :-)

    Ya knoooow, a person might almost think it cold out dere today, so I hope ya wore yer toque, eh.

    (Minnesotans don't have accents, no matter WHAT the movie "Fargo" says. If they WERE to have an accent -- and again, we don't -- but if we were, it would be the sing-song lilt of some Scandihoovian accent or another, with long drawn-out "O"s and "th"s that sound like "d"s. Actual content would include mild observations about how interesting it is that you do something in a particular way and weather predictions.)


  3. Excellent! Reading this was a great way to spend a few minutes.

    I can do Jersey English, which is not to be confused with Jersey English. I'm trying to say I can do a mean Jersey Shore. Snooki style, not coast-off-the-coast of England style.

    I love that, furthering a Brit-French stereotype, you've utterly stomped on Herve's Frenchiness. Well played.

  4. Tempo - Wotcher. The Oz accent would be fine if it wasn't for that questioning intonation at the end of every sentence that has now been adopted by every teenager in the world. Ya buggers.

    Pearl - Uff da!

    p.s. I would like to get rid of the comment moderation, but the spam I get from Far Eastern companies which seem to be able to overide the word recognition test was getting out of hand.

  5. So what is a 'Geordie' accent?

  6. Nicole - Sorry, missed you in the corssover there. Glad you liked it. I can do the opposite accents, Jersey shore, not Jersey shore. Obviously.

    Eric - Being one quarter Geordie, I would say it's something my Grandad used to speak. Glad I cleared that up for you.

  7. Simply marvelous. My other half is a northerner, we never tire of the game where I get him to say words like 'globe' and 'loaf' and 'coke', then laugh riotously at his elongated vowels. Well, when I say 'we' I'm not sure that includes him...

  8. I am quite fluent in babbling crazy-like incoherent, but that usually doesn't get me laughs, just nervous glances.

  9. Sharon L - Treat it like a royal 'we', so it still stands.

    SkylersDad - Yes, but are you babbling crazy-like incoherent in Surfer Dude, Hillbilly or Mexican?

  10. Thanks for making me laugh on a grey, rainy day.

  11. How wonderful. You're the Meryl Streep of the paramedic profession.

  12. I enjoyed the shit out of this, The Jules! I did. Especially since all that talk of coos reminded me of "hairy coos" which made me homesick a bit. A LITTLE bit.

    The American accents are actually hillbilly, surfer dude, Mexican and hip hop. But close.

    Americans always assume I'm Irish. "Do you have these in Ireland?" they'll ask about some technological miracle that the UK and Ireland have had for ten years before America caught on and I have to reply, "I'll check next time I'm flying over Ireland on my way to Scotland."

  13. Starlight - You're welcome!

    Mdme DeF - The number of times I've been compared to Ms Streep!

    Veggie Ass - Flying? It's true then? You Irish folk are magical! And isn't hip hop just a sub-dialect of surfer dude with less consonants?

  14. Nice post! A bit longish, but fun, at least the parts I think I understand

  15. fighterpilotson - You could be right. I didn't have time to write a shorter one, I'm afraid.

  16. Sorry for coming late to the ball, but you're absolutely right: we North Americans think that the only two British accents that exist are The Queen's upper received pronunciation, or the vile Cockney of Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

    Luckily, although I am from Canada, my brother-in-law is in Essex, and I thank him for intriducing me to Catherine Tate, who in turn has given us the society lady who is horrified by Tottenham Court Road and Geordie Georgie.

  17. Sharon Needles - A semi-canadian friend of ours is educating us in Canadian after getting annoyed our only knowledge of the accent(s) came from South Park!

  18. So ... If there are only three American accents, what on earth was John F Kennedy speaking? ... Oh, I get it, he was speaking some version of Irish English (?).


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