Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sorey abowt tomowhrow's doehler, eh?

Okay, so now it’s time for the inevitable entry about accents. Canadians think Americans have accents, Americans think Canadians have accents, etc., etc., but in reality, we all have accents.

What has surprised me is how much has surprised me over the last 11 months in this regard. To begin with, I was astonished at how strong and stereotypical the Canadian accents sounded when I first moved to Cambridge. I could always recognize a Canadian accent, and I knew I would hear those accents when I arrived, I just didn’t realize how much listening to them would catch my ears off guard. The thing is, not all words spoken by Canadians sounded different to me. I could be listening to someone at work talking, and I would be lulled into a false sense that I was not in a foreign country, hours away from where I grew up, when suddenly, a word would hit my ears and startle me. Basically, any words that have an “o” followed by either a “u” or a double consonant really strike me.

Here is my best attempt at writing online what a Canadian sounds like to me, keeping in mind that most words sound the same in Michiganese as they do in Canadian, so the ones that sound different really stand out.

“So, Mary, I was thinking aBOUWt going OUWt to a movie toMOHro night. Do you want to go with me? SORE-EE, I should have asked you aBOUWt it sooner. I think it only costs eight DOEHlers. We can just meet up at my HOUWse, eh?”

I found the accent to be very distracting to me, especially during the first three months. I’d catch myself involuntarily smiling as if I was listening to a five-year-old say something cute. At that time, I don’t think I realized that the Canadians were noticing my accent just as much. The difference? The Canadians are generally way too polite to comment on your accent until they know you very well. (It took my hockey teammates about three months to feel comfortable making fun of my accent, and it’s taken my soccer teammates about eight months!)

This past spring, after I had been in Canada about seven months, I realized that I wasn’t actually hearing the Canadians’ accents as much anymore. I figured that I was just getting used to hearing it.

What I didn’t account for was what would happen to me when I visited Michigan this past June for the first time in several months. People I’ve known for many years and people I just met were telling me I had picked up a Canadian accent. Was it just people’s imaginations, influenced by the knowledge that I am living in Canada? Doesn’t matter, actually, because the most shocking revelation to me of all was noticing a Michigan accent when I listened to my friends talk!

You can’t imagine how disconcerting it is to listen to people you’ve known for years and suddenly hear them speaking with an accent. For now, there are only a very few words that my Michigan friends and relatives say that sound different to me, but I expect those will increase over time.

So, I really am in an interesting spot now. People in Michigan think I have a Canadian accent. Okay, fine. But, the Canadians still think I have a Michigan accent. Just today I was speaking with some Canadians during an all-day meeting at an insurance brokerage in Windsor. Towards the very end of the day, one of the participants blurted out, “Where are you FROM?” I chuckled and replied, “Well, I’m from Michigan.” And someone else at the meeting said to her, “Yeah, Michigan, couldn’t you tell?”

I must have my own bizarre hybrid accent. I guess that will make me unique. I do know I’ll get a lot more feedback about it when I’m in Michigan than in Canada as the Canadians aren’t as quick to call attention to someone’s accent. (If the roles were reversed in the meeting I attended today and a Canadian was presenting in a meeting full of Michiganders, it would have taken probably less than 30 seconds for someone to make a comment about the Canadian’s accent. It took the Canucks approximately six hours of listening to me present before they would comment on mine.)

When Sarah goes back to England, the English tell her she has an American accent. Of course, everyone in the US and Canada thinks she has a strong British accent. She always says that there must be some island in the middle of the Atlantic where people have the same accent as she does. If that’s the case, then there must be an island somewhere in the middle of Lake Huron where people sound like me!

1 comment:

cls said...

If your interested, check out on Youtube a CBC documentary called "Talking Canadian". It provides not only the historical background to why Canadians and Americans speak the same English, yet differently; but also explains how we sound differently from one another.

Glad your enjoying your move to Canada. All the best