Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Evolution of the accent.

It's interesting how we can be doing something now and think it makes absolute sense, but look back at ourselves years from now and realise how strange we were.

Maybe when I'm 45, I'll look back on my now-22-year-old self and wonder what in the world I was thinking, parading my multicoloured jumpsuits around town in four-inch heels. But right now, of course, it makes perfect sense.

So I'm looking back on other things I used to do, and laughing at how silly I was. I just found an old YouTube video of myself, aged 18, giving an empassioned speech in class about why war sucks. (See video embedded below.) And in that video, I'm speaking in the fake English accent that, for some reason, was my "speech accent" from age 9 to 19. For 10 years of my life, I believed that that was only one proper way to give formal speeches - whether for public-speaking competitions or class presentations - and that required a pseudo-English accent.

I think that I believed it was my "winning formulae", so I never strayed from what I knew - even if it meant putting on an accent that was politically incorrect and rebelliously un-Malaysian. It was my "speech accent", and it came so naturally to me that it hardly felt like a fake accent anymore.

You see, hours and days and weeks and months and years of practising my speeches in that "speech accent" had drilled it into my brain. Judges in competitions remembered me as "the girl with the British accent" and gave me awards. Teachers praised what they called an "impeccable pronunciation" and "clear voice". When I was a child travelling abroad with my parents, strangers in foreign countries adored me when I spoke in an accent they recognised to be their own. "She's got an English accent!" they'd exclaim. I revelled in their encouragement and was never given a reason to think that I was doing something strange.

And then, I entered university. University is a melting pot of cultures, accents, opinions and strong beliefs. And one very strong opinion that reverberates through campus is that being "fake" is never good, because we have to be the best version of ourselves. One day, I heard one of my lecturers criticising the DJs on LiteFM for having "fake American accents". Until this day, I disagree with his criticism - I love LiteFM, and I think they speak really well, the kind of English I hope my children will speak in the future! - but the lesson I took from his comment was that I should find an accent that is true to myself.

Certainly, now that I'm older and surer of who I am - or at least, the kind of person I someday hope to be - I no longer put on my "speech accent". I still carry traces of a concocted accent, a potpouri of English/American/Malaysian that I've grown to accept. It's just who I am now.

Some people like to say that I'm not being "true to my roots" - but what they fail to understand is that people are exactly who they are because of their life experiences. From excessive travelling since infancy and pure exposure to British and American pop culture, zero knowledge of Mandarin and a barely passable proficiency in Cantonese, I think that these play a major role in forming my roots. So I've come to realise now, that as long as I'm true to myself - not someone else's version of myself, or what I should sound like - I'm on the right track. :)

But I can't help wondering, whether my accent is a continually evolving work-in-progress depending on where I am, who I'm with, who I decide to be. Is there ever an end to the evolution of the accent?