After an afternoon exploring part of Vienna, eating apple strudel and sampling schnapps after dinner, Elena, her partner Thor, and I stayed up talking late into the night. Thor, from Iceland, was fascinated by my accent. I ended up explaining that both of my parents moved around a bit, especially my mom; I have lived in four states; the city I grew up in had five active military bases and most of my friends were somehow affiliated with the military, and thus from all over the country. Not to mention the fact that I have lived the last five and a half years in a corner of Scotland, though my housemates and colleagues were mostly English, American, and German.
I have written before about how my accent confuses people. I have had strangers insist that I am Canadian (or if I wasn’t, my parents were), ask if I am Dutch, and comment that I had excellent English for being German (!). Usually people would guess accurately that I was from North America, though they couldn’t pinpoint from where. When learning that I am (mostly) from Texas, the inevitable response is: “Texas?! But you don’t sound like you’re from Texas!” At these moments, I feel frustrated, flabbergasted, flustered: my accent proved that I was not from here even though I had lived in the UK for years and was making it my home.
Inversely, I have had family members and friends claim that I “sound British”. I have had strangers stop me in bookstores in Texas and ask me where I am from. “From here…” I would say, to their surprise, and then explain that I lived overseas. At these times my accent was a source of pride as it so clearly demonstrated that I have travelled, that indicated that I am not quite as from here as I claimed.
But at the same time, it can leave me with a sense of homelessness. I don’t sound like my parents. I don’t sound like my friends. I don’t even hear my own accent — I just sound like myself. Even though I unconsciously mirror some of the pronunciation of whomever I am speaking with, I still don’t sound like them. Probably the only other people I sound like are North American ex-pats in the UK. My accent is a conglomeration of all the places I have been and the people I have talked to; it is, as I commented to Thor, lost somewhere over the Atlantic.
One good thing has come out of this confusion of accents, however. While losing a sense of my own accent, I have also become somewhat deaf to accents in general. As a result, I’m fairly good at understanding English regardless of the speaker’s native tongue. (Well, to be fair, the Fife accent still throws me for a loop from time to time.)
I know that some of my readers are also widely travelled, both within their home countries and without. Have you noticed your own accent changing? What do you make of it?