“Are you British? ”
“Are you from England?”
“That’s a lovely accent. Where are you from?
Those are some of the comments I receive on an almost daily basis. When I encounter someone who’s actually from the (Dis)United Kingdom, I get:
“Your accent sounds British but not quite. It’s different.”
After reading a marvellously crafted article entitled “The subtle art of not giving a fuck”, I decided to employ a similar strategy re: wit and substance.
If you actually bothered to read other articles on this site (bravo for you), you might have determined:
1) I was born on the island of Trinidad, of Trinidad and Tobago fame.
2) I am somewhat intelligent, due to my education and life-opportunities to develop fully. Some I inherited, others I had to work my ass off for and strive for.
3) I am VERY outspoken, and embody the essence of not giving a fuck. One of my favourite sayings is “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
The accusation of having an accent began at St. Stephen’s College in Princes Town, the Secondary school which I attended. While I read out loud, my classmates would quietly snicker and say “Accent! Accent!” I ignored them because I’ve never sought to please anyone, nor given a fuck about conformity. I have always striven to be myself and continued reading as I had been taught.
I had a stellar Primary School education at the Robert Village Hindu School. I received elocution lessons along with my classmates as we read out loud. I’ll never forget the day when a supervisor from the Ministry of Education came to listen to us. Instantaneously, she corrected: “The word is in-terr-rest-ting. Not in-tris-ting. We in Trinidad speak English poorly and mispronounce words. We need to pay attention to how we speak.”
And so it began. I received clear educational instructions during my formative years, that standard English was to be spoken and used for learning. Dialect was relegated to solely informal use. I read extensively since my mother was a teacher and we always had a house full of books. She also bought audio cassettes of Disney stories that were created for children in the United Kingdom. Hence, I read along with the narrators and intoned as they did.
Mrs. Dailey, my Form Teacher in Secondary School was more blunt:
Children, I’m going to give it to you straight. You’re not White, you’re not rich, and you’re from a third-world-country. Your station in life is not guaranteed and you’re going to have to work harder than anyone else to get what you want. Education is the key, so study hard and learn how to speak properly. The first thing a person judges you by is how you speak and how you present yourself.”
It was the sagest fucking advice ever.
Much has been written about how people in the Caribbean were colonised, and now have an inferiority complex regarding their accents and local dialects. I have clearly explained how the spheres of acceptable language were delineated to me in my childhood and in my formative years. Now I’ll explain something else: I never gave a fuck about being Trinidadian.
Yes–you heard it right. I never cared to be Trinidadian nor remain in that culture. I recognised very early on that I was consciousness and intelligence, and not bound by latitude nor longitude. I was crudely aware that I was a soul in evolution.
I wanted to leave that place since I was 7 years old. We visited the United States of America then. Everything was bigger, better and cleaner. They had Disney World for crissakes. Being 7 and all, I was unaware of the gross human rights violations that were conducted internally and externally. But travelling to the USA, Curaçao and Venezuela before that, gave me the conception that the world was larger than Trinidad. Trinidad was somewhere that I lived, and could eventually leave.
As I got older, I started feeling confined by the island. Not physically but mentally. We got the internet in 1999, and I started reading atheistic literature and leftist political writings. I was at a dissonance from the created culture, which still is religious, conservative, hypocritical, tribal, hierarchical and grossly consumerist, outside of the Carnival vibration they like to popularise. I felt like an outsider and very alienated from the culture, because I fundamentally disagreed with it. I was afraid that my true self would die there and desperately endeavoured to get out.
When the time came to choose between Canada and the USA for university, I chose Canada:
1) It felt right. I had visited Toronto in the summer of 2001, and will never forget riding above a densely-treed area of the subway line. I thought “This is where I want to live.”
2) Free health and gay marriage were official policies. I thought “This is a highly civilised society.”
3) It didn’t participate in the war in Iraq. George W. Bush was not someone who I liked nor admired. His presidency was one of the most dastardly travesties to befall our planet.
I am not ashamed of being Trinidadian, nor about being born there. I still speak in dialect with my father, aunt, and others who I keep in contact with. There is nothing innately inferior about being born there nor choosing to live there. However, I chose to become Canadian because of the values I thought the country represented. Values that I deeply share and are a part of me. Values which allow me my freedom to be myself.
I am unadulteratedly proud to participate in this society. Et maintenant, je parle français! (And now I speak French!)
JUST SPEAK FUCKING PROPERLY, ALREADY!
I was obliged to become bilingual at the age of 26. It took me a number of years. I lived alone and had classes for 6 hours a week, during a period of nine months. I busted my ass off learning this language. (Figuratively, not literally. I still have a fine rump!)
I watched television, read the newspapers and whatever material interested me. Chatted with loving, tolerant friends and very kind strangers. Now, 7 years later I am fluently bilingual and work in French and English. I no longer feel exhausted from switching. I now have two internal languages instead of just one. Here’s an article explaining the bilingual brain: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/07/being-bilingual-good-for-brain-mental-health
Speaking another language opens you up to a whole new world and a different way of perceiving life. I realise that I could have been socialised in a multitude of fashions: The expression of my true self could have manifested in diverse skin-colours, genders and languages. My true self embodies the values which I hold dear and how I choose to act: Nothing more.
Having had to learn a second-language though, taught me this fundamental truth: Sounds should be standardized so that we can fucking understand each other.
Regional accents do exist, and these should be preserved because they emerge from, create and maintain a culture, but for true understanding and cross-cultural exchanges to occur we fucking need to standardize sounds, in order to communicate with one another in the first place.
Case-in-point: I was walking to my French class one day, and a young but not very well-educated man approached me. He wanted to know the time. I deduced this because he pointed to his wrist. I did not know what the hell he was saying for the majority of the time that he walked alongside me. He came from a small village in Quebec, and was just being himself. But, if I can make the effort to learn your fucking language properly why the hell can’t you? It is tremendously frustrating to understand the news, documentaries, movies etc. of a culture, but not some of its people. I don’t see why I should have to work harder and descend to their level, when they can simply do the work and arrive at a common standard. It’s sheer laziness, ignorance, and sometimes arrogance.
In a nutshell, I do acknowledge that there are different valuations attached to various accents, and some of them are incredibly racist, given the colonization processes which have scourged the planet. I have Indian, Spanish and Carib ancestry yet speak French and English. I do the best that I can with each language, depending upon what I was taught.
I am also tremendously intellectually ambitious, and make no apologies for this. I have a brain and I use it.
I had a look at “Côté çi, Côte là”, the Trinidadian dictionary which not so incongruously has a French title, since we were colonised by them at one point. The Aboriginal peoples who originally inhabited the island were almost destroyed, so not many words from their languages remain. What we have is a concoction of French, English, Spanish, Hindi etc. and human creativity.
For example, the phrase “pass with a push“ means barely acceptable.
“Even self” means “even if.”
“Crapaud smoke your pipe” means you are in big trouble.
These are undoubtedly very colourful ways of speaking and highly entertaining. However, they do not propel me to interrogate myself nor external reality. I am interested in quantum physics and the reality of of nature. In oppression, repression and societal realities. I commit myself to pursuing limitless possibilities and eventualities.
My island of birth, its culture and local dialect does not foster that.
I WAS NOT put on this planet to conform to anyone’s expectations of how I should evolve. How I should behave. How I should talk. How I should dress. I am here to develop and self-determine.
I pay my own bills now and that’s the first step to freedom. Ignoring haters and naysayers is the next.
Photo credit: “Talk” by Moiggi Interactive, Flickr.