AA: Acquired Accent

Since I have come to live in Ghana I have developed a bit of an accent. It is not Ghanaian although my British friends think that there is a touch of the African in there. It is not British, although the Ghanaians still think that I am slanging. That was until they heard my sister speak. Typical East Londoner, she sounds like somebody straight out of Eastenders and she talks at 100mph, so it was amusing watching their faces as they tried to keep up with what she was saying. The stronger ones would push their ear forward and try to catch what she was saying, the lesser would just slump back give up and just answer ‘yes’ if it sounded like she was asking them a question. My accent is just a much slower, much more pronounced way of speaking so that I will be heard. I am surrounded by African’s from all over the west coast, and the expats are mainly French, the rest are made up of Asian’s, other Europeans and a couple of South Americans. There is one Australian and one British person but the majority are of countries where English is not their first language so I have learnt to slow it down. The only time the indigenous British accent comes out is when I’m with fellow Brits or when I am doing a presentation and I am lost in the flow.

Depending on who I’m talking to also depends on which accent comes out. If it’s anyone from East London, the cockney starts to flow. Not too much mind you, my mum slapped the cockney out of me years ago, “m’efia, it is not Wa’er, it’s war-ta-ta-ter, what is innit, ISN’T IT, speak properly’ oh I can remember it like it was yesterday. But I do miss out the letter ‘t’ still in a few words and let out the few ‘inits’. When I’m talking to my other friends though or relatives, the English is a bit more refined because really the East London English is a language on it’s own.

I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy last night, it was late so I was actually listening to it as opposed to watching it. In the scene there were these kids from Africa who had been flown over to be operated on. I could have sworn though that the accent of the actor was more heading towards Jamaica than Tanzania, it always gets me when actors are playing an African or Carribean for that matter and they completely botch up the accent. But we have been messing up with accents on TV since the days of Mary Poppins, it’s just not right but after listening to a few American’s attempt the British accent, well I just think it’s an American thing, my dear friends from across the pond, it’s not funny or amusing when you attempt to emulate another person’s accent so stop trying.

Saying that, my Ghanaians or should I say African friends have a nack for acquiring accents on their travels, but their’s is not for fun, on the contrary, they travel to the US or UK for a week, and they pick up this strange accent, I don’t know if it is to show that they have travelled or it is something in the water but it is just there. A cousin of mine went to the UK, he was there for a couple of years but things didn’t work out and he came back. I don’t know what happened, because when I used to come here on holidays he was a pleasant guy, very well spoken you could tell he went to a very good school. Two years later, he comes back and every second word is ‘innit’, then there’d be a ‘gwan’ and a ‘yes blud’ and ‘you know what I mean’, I find myself squinting now when he speaks and pressing my ear closer to him to catch what he’s saying, I never hung around with the ‘innit, innit’ people or the ‘gwan blud’ people so this is all foreign to me.

Another family member moved to America somewhere, I don’t know exactly where, but somewhere where they say ‘y’all’ a lot apparently because that’s all I could hear from him. We met at a funeral and I was amazed at how this person who we put up for a while when he first came to England from Ghana was now speaking with a very heavy laid on American accent. I would not even attempt to repeat what he said, all I can remember from the conversation is that he said y’all a lot. My uncle who has lived in the States for over 20 years has an accent but no where near as thick as this odd job.

But at least I can say that I have proof that those people had actually travelled. Some people haven’t even been to Kotoka International Airport to even peep at the departure hall but they are around town, slanging with an American Twang ‘yeah, just came from Yankee, you know wha’ I mean, yeah, yeah’, really I just don’t get it. I hear it a lot on the radio stations. Every DJ host seems to have an American or British accent, there is one lady she is very nasally when she speaks and I usually turn the radio station when she starts chatting (she does go on for a while), I always wonder how long if she ever did, live in the States because it just sounds so extra to me.

I was in the doctor’s surgery waiting room the other week, when this young man walks in. He was speaking to his friend in this very strong American slang, as he was getting into the flow, the accent would slip back into the Ashanti English and then he would realize that the accent is slipping and he would pick it back up, I’m thinking chale, why are you disturbing yourself like this, nobody cares, just speak proper.
Speaking for Ghana alone although I know many nigerians who belong to AA, but I find with the Ghanaians it is mainly my people that are braven enough to gather an accent that they have acquired from watching gangster movies and MTV, I guess it gives them the inspiration to actually move their but it just feels so wrong listening to an obviously forced yankee accent especially when this same person had their American visa bounced so you know they have not picked it up from any kind of travelling.

I find it happens a lot in my office also. When certain colleagues are talking to their white counterparts. I have one colleague, I love him to bits, but when he is talking to the bosses, his voice suddenly becomes very loud and what was a very clear Ghanaian sound becomes a Ghanaian accent with a slight twang, I watch him as he metamorphoses into a British/American/Ghanaian hybrid and stare in amusement while waiting for it to stop the white man to go and for him to come back to his roots. I find that some people when they are talking to me also do that, the old man behind the bar, left England 20 years ago but still sounds like an English gentleman.

Now I know that when you travel, you pick up some of the phrases and your accent will adapt to the new environment but does it change so rapidly and have to sound so thick when you have only been in the country for a month. I can understand 10-20-30 years, but less than a 12 months and you sound like you were born in the country and then some. It always beats me. Then there is (in England), the streets talk like ‘gwan’ and ‘yes blud’, these are not words that are found in a dictionary, and you know you are living with your uncle who has a semi-detached house in Essex, and your father is a business man from East Legon where you grew up and were sent to the best school in Ghana so why are you talking like a ghetto youth.

But hey got to love it, it’s a great source of entertainment, listening to members of AA. On the flip side, I had this math’s teacher, has lived in England for over 40 years and has not even visited Ghana for one week since, yet still he has the same thick Ghanaian accent he left Ghana with, so you really it is difficult for me to hear that your new accent received in a little of 6 weeks came naturally.

About efiasworld

A British Born Ghanaian navigating her way through life.
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5 Responses to AA: Acquired Accent

  1. Mike says:

    I call them wannabees. There are three types of wannabees. There’s the ‘lived’ or spent some time abroad; the hold a foreign passport (often British PP, but only moved over after 18- too late for a natural foreign accent to have a foothold); and the shameless local nobody who is dying to be white or black American (akata), and probably practices American/British accents regularly. The lived/spent time abroad group is like and is typically the hip-life, tv/radio presenters. If you listen closely, you’d notice their American accents are almost entirely catch phrases Akata/hiphop/rap artists use. I met a few stateside. They come and quickly start forcing the accent change, and the easiest way for them to make the change is to sound like Akata. A friend of mine came out to the U.S. for college and within a year, he was slangin’, and I thought it was so sad. Listen to Alex- that big brother Africa guy (never seen that show), trigmatic, and that ‘to all my niggas on the block’ guy…I’ve forgotten his name, etc…they all talk that way. It’s very sad when I listen to them.
    The ones who hold foreign passports left Ghana too late that their Ghanaian accents are too thick to shake off. So, to show that they, too, have lived abroad and are of a higher status than locals, they over do it, and stress every word, every syllable to let you know that they’re American or British (I saw one on the ‘One Show’ a while ago, and she looked ridiculous). The worst part was the hosts were eating it up and started trying to imitate her.
    Then there’s the I’ll-never-go-abroad and the frou-frou (high society, but have yet to travel) types. The moment they hear a foreign accent, see a foreigner, or notice you’re a returnee, they act as if you both speak the same way and they seem to subconsciously try to out-do your accent as some way of showing that theirs is legit. You’ll meet a girl/guy and you’ll wonder how long he she/he lived abroad, then the more you hear, the more you realize, this Jack hasn’t been anywhere. Ghanaians, especially the 14-40 age group are the ones who usually do this and often seem a bit too desperate to sound like you.
    I have an accent. There’s American, there’s some amalgamation of Ghanaian in there, but not normal Ghanaian. I can speak like Akata and talk like I’m hood, i.e. a ‘nigga’ if I wanted, but it’s never been my thing and I didn’t care to be with them or like them, so I never used theirs, but Ghanaians who make it out there do just that. Your accent will not naturally change if you left Ghana after 18. The local accent will always prevail. If it’s different; it’s been forced. If a person has lived abroad for less than 5 years and didn’t go over in their early or pre-teen years, that accent is also forced, or dare I say fake. You’ll notice they can only hold the accent within catch phrases, and it disappears when they have to use proper English. I went over in ’95 when I was 14. It was only when I didn’t want my accent to change that it began to change, and also when I was around whitey a lot. Most of these Ghanaians rarely interact with whites or even Akata, which makes the accent change harder, and which forces them to ‘learn’ on their own.
    A long response, but I hear it everyday and have grown very sick of it and needed to vent!


  2. P says:

    I could add more…but will spare you!
    Found your post and Mike’s reply incredibly interesting. Great post!


    • efiasworld says:

      I hear u girl, I’m didn’t even going to start on the Jafaican accent, you know what I am talking about, they do it here too…like they’ve watched one too many Shaggy interviews…lol


  3. P says:

    LOL! Girrrrrrl!!!!! It makes me *SO* mad! I love the phrase “Jafaican” BTW… classic.



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