Thursday, February 10, 2011

on language. (English).

My English and American literature lecturer when I was a freshman in college was an enormously tall British graduate student with an absolutely impenetrable Midlands accent. He once recommended The Buddha of Suburbia as an interesting read, only it sounded more like "Teh Booba ef Suboobeyah." Took me ages to figure it out. Class was always an adventure in twisting my brain around his words, searching for familiar words spoken in his unfamiliar accent.

Language is tricky. The lines between dialect and accent are blurred, as we learn as children when reading The Secret Garden (Martha and Dickon's unfamiliar Yorkshire vocabulary) or Strawberry Girl (the hardscrabble south of Florida with its flat vowels and hard words). My ear can separate the Irish from the Scottish and the English from the Australian, but not pinpoint the region or city. Within what we think of as a generic "accent" there exists another range of variations.

I thought of Mary Lennox and her confusion at the Yorkshire words she didn't know as I was reading Richard Milward's Apples. Set in his native Middlesbrough, it uses language in a way I've never seen. I thought again of Daniel Bye's blog post in The Guardian and how thrilling it was for him to hear his native Tesside accent in the stage adaptation of Apples (and in the novel as well). For me, someone who speaks English as a second language and without any discernible (American) accent, this idea of feeling a connection to the place where you grew up through language is utterly fascinating.

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