A friend just moved into his new apartment and invited me over for dinner. Upon my arrival, I was introduced to his other friend whom I had not met before, his housemate. As we exchanged names I noticed the rhythm with which he spoke and the stress on certain words; this immediately elicited a curiosity in me. Before I knew it the words “Where is your accent from?” left my lips.
You find that anyone with an International Accent has a dominant twang.
Living in London I find myself asking this question very often as the city is a melting pot of people from all over the world. From my experience, It’s usually a great conversation starter as people see a genuine interest, an innocuous fascination that spreads across my face, beaming while I eagerly wait for an answer; their story. His reaction to my probing wasn’t any different; He tells me where his accent is from, which then segues into engaging and utterly unique accounts of his life thus far. He notices that I have a “twang”. “ what do you hear?” I reply. I’ve had many encounters with people whose eyes light up with the same curiosity whenever they hear me speak for the very first time.
He purses his lips. Then squints. Now smiling, seeming to arrive at a conclusion he says “ you have an international accent”. I return the smile and nod “ I knew you’d say that”.
I was born and educated in Ghana until age 11; then I moved to London, UK. Ghana, being an ex-British colony, I was taught English from as early as 3. Like most countries, we were entertained by American television and music.
When I moved to the UK, I found the accent of my classmates very odd. It was the English language I knew very well, probably better than my native peers, but I had a Ghanaian accent. Like all adolescents, I decided to mimic how my peers spoke. It was very difficult.
if you watch the Kardashian’s show, you will find that they have a unique way of speaking which resembles each member of the family.
The very familiar words I’d known from as early as I can remember were now uttered differently: ‘Garage’ is now pronounced as ‘GARAAGE’. ‘Zebra’ as ‘ZEHBRA’ not ‘ZEEBRA’. ‘Water’ butchered as ‘WUU-AH’.
I quickly had to unlearn what my British-inspired school, and aptly named ‘Cambridge International School’ had taught me back in Ghana and adopt this new British accent.
I survived 5 years in my secondary school in Walthamstow, London. I was now thrust into adulthood. Luckily, I was creative, which led me to work on TV from as early as 17. This meant that I started meeting people from all walks of life. I realised that I needed to put back all the ‘T’s I removed; ‘WUU-AH’ back to Water. I deduced that the absence of a ‘T’ wasn’t desirable as an adult. The accents of my close friends now ranged from French, German, Canadian to Californian. Now and again, someone would say ‘you sound American’. Other times they’d say ‘you sound African’. In the States, they think I am either British or Kiwi.
This has obviously led to a great deal of confusion in myself. I have lived in London longer than I have anywhere else. I have been educated here longer than I have in any other country, so I see myself as British as I am Ghanaian. But my accent confuses and arouses the interest of everyone I meet.
Eventually, something strange began to happen: I started meeting people with accents that I couldn’t identify — I couldn’t pinpoint it to a specific country. There were things that they all had in common: they had either moved from country to country in the past or they went to an International School. I’d discovered that more people like me have been International-School educated.
What exactly happens at these International Schools to spawn people with hybrid accents?
“Accent is the stress placed upon a word in a sentence or a syllable in a word.” Many languages are variants of other languages and equally, dialects are deviations from an official language which may or may not be understood by other groups who share the same official language.
This is down to how we influence each other in a group. If for a long time one group doesn’t receive any new influence, it creates a feedback loop. For example, if you watch the Kardashian’s show, you will find that they have a unique way of speaking which resembles each member of the family. Teenagers have their own way of communicating; you’d struggle to decipher text messages exchanged between teenagers. Pop culture is also influencing grammar. Language has been evolving from the beginning — it isn’t set or formed; it grows. The same phenomenon applies to accents.
My life experience thus far has shaped my accent to the extent that I no longer sound like I am from the country I was born in. I don’t exactly sound like my peers from school. My accent is a median of all my experiences, places that I have been, the media I consume, the people with whom I surround myself; all have formed this accent — and similar to language and dialect, my accent is derivative of a main accent, which, for me is the British accent.
Often you find that anyone with an International Accent has a dominant twang; this is a giveaway of the place they’ve spent the longest time in. With the ease in which we are all able to travel and the access we have to the internet, music and TV, an International Accent may perhaps be the future.