My piece for Thought Catalog this week is about accents, adapting, and identity:
Accents are, of course, so many things. A proxy for class status, wealth, education. A marker of immigrant status, for better or worse. A way to signal that you belong, and a way for other people to assume that you don’t. They’re a barrier to communication, or a way to entice people to listen to you more closely than they might to someone without an “exotic” or attractive lilt. People pay good money to learn to eliminate their accents, and performers pay better money to learn to imitate other ones. For most of my time in the US, I’ve thought of my accent as a source of pride. Now, though, the word that comes to mind when I think about my accent, or when I listen to recordings of myself, is “malleable.”
For every Australian who spots me as one of their own, there are many more Americans who fail to notice my accent. Earlier this week I was chatting to a group of women, and when I told them where I was from, they all expressed surprise. They hadn’t heard any trace of an accent — until I said, “I know, it comes and goes.”
“Oh, there it is!”
There it is. Goes. No. The Australian “O” sound is a very distinctive one: it contains at least four vowel sounds, and it’s almost impossible to transcribe here. And if my American friends’ efforts are anything to judge by, it’s almost impossible to imitate, even with extensive drunken practice. Once, when we hadn’t been dating very long, my current beau asked me if I wanted to go to the movies or cook dinner or some such thing I had no desire to do. I answered with a long, stretched out “No.” He stopped and stared, and asked, “How many vowels do you know?!” The Australian O is really something, and it’s the one element of my accent that hasn’t slipped at all in the years I’ve been living in the States.
You can read the whole thing here.