Yesterday I was having lunch with a friend from Sierra Leone, when one of her friend’s, a British woman, happened to come by. « I can’t quite place your accent, » she said to me.
Although it’s been nearly 12 years since I left the UK, I’ve never stopped feeling British, and holding similar identities to when I left. But perhaps like with ageing, you change subtly in ways that don’t really register with your own self. I’ve had a number of people say to me over the past few weeks that my accent was « difficult to place », and that people weren’t sure it was British. Canadian was one recent suggestion. South African is a common one.
These sorts of comments can come as a surprise – have I really changed? In my primary cycles, I don’t have many British people, though my boss is British. I speak English with the kids, though their speaking is tinged by Sierra Leone. Otherwise, I’m speaking French at home. A lot of the aural media I consume (podcasts) are American or from Africa. I’m pretty sure Freetown has had an impact on my English, though I’m not best placed to say.
As one linguistic anecdote, I left the UK in 2006 when people (if I recall correctly) said ‘Two thousand and six’ (or is my mind playing tricks on me?). Skip forward, and I still find that I say ‘Thousand and eighteen’, but it’s taken me a while to realise that other people say ‘twenty-eighteen’. This morning, when I was wondering how I came to take a wrong turn in the road, I realised that in French it’s ‘deux milles dix-huit’, and that perhaps this was the reason I was not saying 20-18. Or perhaps the English language took a left turn after I left into making 2012 as two numbers, while I continued along the path of calling it two thousand and twelve.
This thing with accents can make you think that perhaps you’re losing your moorings. But whatever I’m drifting into, I’m quite happy to be there.