Becoming Hybrid

Rather like the pace of life in the South East of England, my speech was fast, too fast.

Last year I was granted Canadian citizenship and with that I joined the dual nationality club. From time to time I’ve reflected on what being a citizen of two countries means but have never committed my thoughts to a post. Time to rectify that omission, well, at least in part; speech.

Firstly an admission.

“good evening I’m from Essex in case you couldn’t tell. My given name is Dickie, I come from Billericay and I’m doing very well”

WIth thanks to Ian Dury for songs like Billericay Dickie

Actually I’m not from Billericay, nor is my name Dickie, the Essex bit is true though, and I accept that hailing from that particular corner of south-east England opens me up to considerable social stereotyping. Fortunately, that stereotype hasn’t embedded itself outside the ex-pat community and I can live life in BC as just another Brit, untarnished by ‘dodgy geezer’ reputations.

However, after five years in Canada, I’m forced to admit that I’m becoming more and more of a hybrid, particularly when it comes to language. In fact, it’s something I’ve been through before. In my RAF days I was exposed to many regional accents on a daily basis and one could not help but pick up the odd word or phrase or even the intonation of others. Developing a hybrid accent proved helpful when communicating with the regional dolly mixture of people that make up the Forces. It wasn’t a case of intentional mimicry, it just happened over time. And so it is in Canada.

When I first arrived, British English was obviously default and the well known differences, trousers/pants, petrol/gas etc, caused the occasional difficulty as I either trotted out British English or stood speechless as I searched for the appropriate word. It was a conscious effort, but necessary to be understood. The other issue to deal with was the pace of my speech. Rather like the pace of life in the South East of England, my speech was fast, too fast for some people who were busy trying to work out whether I hailed from Australia or New Zealand. “Nope” “Oh, South Africa?” I’m sure many other ex-pats have had a similar conversation. Change had to happen and even though I’ve kicked and screamed at times; how I detest having to call football, soccer to the sportingly challenged, I’m becoming hybrid. The letter T is under threat from aggressive D’s. My R’s are really rolling, quite pirate-esque at times, probably verging on the comedic. But, the blank look received so often in the past is fast diminishing. My former hybrid RAF-ized Estuary-ish (I say ish as I’ve never tended to swap out my ‘th’s’ for ‘ff’s’, nor used double negatives) English is morphing in to yet another accent.

To my dismay, the pace of change seems to have accelerated. Home used to be a place where the family would converse in our native language. However, after a few years in the workplace, both my wife and I now regularly use Canadian English at home. Most concerning.

When it comes to speech the other threat to my cultural roots is losing the ability to flip in to passable regional Brit accents. There have been occasions at work where I receive the “So what does someone from Liverpool/Manchester/Birmingham/Bristol speak like?” As the months and years go by it’s becoming increasingly harder to deliver accents on tap, although it’s also nice not to be, as my youngest son once said after a particularly demanding day at school “an English dispensing machine, that’s all I am”. Accent therapy does come via the BBC though. Watching TV from the old country invariably involves parroting what I’m hearing. It’s good to practice, just in case I’m asked to provide an impromptu performance.

I’m left wondering whether I’m becoming more Canadian when it comes to language or am I a complex hybrid, the sum of the many accents and dialects I’ve been exposed to over the years. It was never my intention to be a staunch Brit ex-pat, hanging on to every last drop of Britishness I could, so maybe the changing accent is a sign that I’m integrating, well, mostly. After all, football is football, it’ll never be soccer.

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