How do you feel when a foreigner speaks in your local accent/dialect? Are you offended when a foreigner imitates your local accent?

Intellectually, I want to love it.

Regrettably, being human, I freak out. Not much, just slightly, Uncanny valley-style.

Ross Daly for example is an Irishman who has lived in Crete for four decades, and a practitioner of Cretan folk music (among others). Having gone to the Cretan highlands to learn Cretan music, he speaks Greek like a Cretan highlander. And when he is interviewed on Greek TV, my reaction is… something… is… wrong here…

Like I say, intellectually, it is beyond awesome that an Irishman speaks better Cretan dialect than I can ever hope to. But the reptilian brain is tuned to using accent as an in-group marker, and it finds it jolting to see the clash between ostensive ingroup and outgroup characteristics.  Like Patrick Edwin Moran said: “orange” written in purple ink.

And yes, I have the same reaction when I see the kids of African immigrants speaking idiomatic Greek on TV. And no, I am not intellectually proud of that.

I was much cooler about the Japanese PhD student whose Australian English accent was impeccable, even though she learned English as an adult. Partly because it was obvious what was happening: her accent was identical to her PhD supervisor’s, down to the intonation. (It was, after all, a phonetics PhD.)

And partly because non-ethnic-Anglos speaking English is rather less unusual than non-ethnic-Greeks speaking Greek. I didn’t bat an eyelid at Albanians speaking Greek like natives, after all. They look Greek. 🙂

I’ve inflicted that Uncanny Valley reaction in reverse, so that’s karmic revenge for you. I was speaking to a gelati seller in Lake Gardo, in my cod Italian, only to be asked “have you come from Friuli?” She could work out that I wasn’t from around there—so she assumed I was from the next district along. (The one that doesn’t speak Italian. 🙂

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