Sara Merican | Speaking a opposite English

April 19, 2018 - Jonas Brothers


Credit: Sammie Yoon

“Hey, can we get cheese, onions, and tomatoes in my omelet please?”

“It’s teh-may-toes, not too-MAHH-toes,” snapped a dining staff. we looked behind during him, a small astounded and rather hurt. we had never felt worried vocalization my initial language, English, until now. 

I proceeded to spend a initial few weeks during Penn repeating myself in scarcely any conversation. My Singapore-accented “English” was too fast, too singsong, too treacherous — too foreign. It occurred to me that flourishing adult on a tack of Hollywood blockbusters, a Jonas Brothers, reruns and re-reruns of “High School Musical,” a American accent is zero unfamiliar to Singaporeans. On a other hand, many Americans have, understandably, never come opposite a Singaporean accent. There are maybe many perks that come with being a tellurian informative superpower that exports songs and films — and an accent —  in bulk, all around a world. 

Anxiety shortly gripped me any time we had to pronounce up, either it was reading a thoroughfare in category or participating in contention in a convention or praying aloud during church organisation meetings. Did people know what we was saying? Were they too good to contend if they didn’t? Do they mind how we sound? we disliked how any time we spoke, a initial thing someone hears is my foreignness: a wild, rare gusto of a Singaporean accent flies out. we see a demeanour on people’s faces. What is this … thing?


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The Singaporean accent is a fiery, wild creature, birthed by a fiery chilies that edging any plate of laksa and grilled crab, a sour lemongrass that seasons curries, and a pointy gingers that ornament wok-fried noodles, smoked in a mid-afternoon steam in bustling hawker centers dotting a whole island-country. English is a categorical denunciation in Singapore, where it has grown a possess creole and accent over time. Singapore’s English accent is set to an fatiguing symphony; syllables are stressed and authorised to freshness into fullness. We take liberties with a vowels, sketch them out. In a Singaporean accent, one can hear a tongues of a many ancestors: a accurate intonations of Chinese, a sing-song cantabile of a Cantonese dialect, a rhythmic articulations of Malay, a counterfeit grunts of Hokkien, and a rapid-fire arches and curves of Tamil. This is my local song, a intonation of my nation, a contours of home.

What does it even meant to have an “accent”? An accent is usually an “accent” since it is different. My “accent” was never an “accent” behind in Singapore, though it is an accent here. The word “accent” also seems to indicate that an original, customary theme is altered, transformed, accented … ornate by time and history, place and memory — and becomes an “accent.” Our accents are a museums of a life; any rhythm and intonation is an exhibit, an artifact we have picked up, amassed and defended on a journeys. 

Everyone’s accent tells a story — about your family, your community, where you’ve been and where we are. Accents are formidable beings, and I’ve come to know a farrago of “American” accents. You could have changed from Los Angeles, Texas, or even only opposite a overpass from New Jersey, to Philadelphia and still have an “accent” here. 

I have witnessed some of my friends changing their accents to “fit in” here. One day we are carrying coffee, chatting and shouting in a informed welcome of a Singaporean accent, and a few weeks later, we am eating with a same chairman though a opposite voice. Some of my other friends have turn masters of code-switching, grouping food from a waiter in a ideal “American accent,” (again, if it even is something we can impute to homogeneously) and afterwards stability a review in a typical Singapore accent, unscathed. 

I many admire these friends, whose tongues and identities have turn fluid, means to switch and morph facilely during will, who have embraced straddling dual opposite worlds. And here we am, stranded in a bounds of my aged voice, stranded with my aged tongue that refuses to learn, refuses to hook to form new sounds.

Perhaps it was half an inability, half a reluctance, to “pick up” an American accent. What becomes of a temperament when we consciously try any day to change and forgo partial of it? You cut off a small compatible here, and trim off a small highlight there, and shortly we turn a stranger, not only here, though behind home too. With all around me so new, opposite and constantly changing, my accent, a citadel of home, is something that we can reason on to and remember where we am from and who we am.

Yet, as time wore on, it dawned on me that either it was an accent, or an attitude, or a perspective, it is infrequently braver to concede a place to change we a little, than to quarrel all in a anthem of “staying true” to “yourself” (whatever that is). we started to douse my accent’s intonations and tongue-tied a inflections a little, replacing them with wordless “T”s and rolled “R”s. we attempted to sound some-more “American” when we am on a phone grouping tickets, seeking for a refund, or anticipating my Uber driver, to assistance a chairman on a other finish of a line know me better. we also picked adult a opposite vocabulary, substituting “elevator” for “lift,” “restroom” for “toilet,” “car trunk” for “boot,” and “line” for “queue.” 

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My new voice now reflects new geographies and histories. Penn happened. America happened. New people, new land, new cultures, new sounds, new voices.

There is something pleasing in permitting something to sing a lullaby to your ears and peace your lilt. There is something pleasing in ceding control, and noticing a energy of life and new places to change you. My accent still carries a pleasant effort and sings of a apart home. But it now also reflects a contours of a new place— a intonations of rumbling subways, groan firetrucks, flickering neon signs, and shouting friends.

SARA MERICAN is a College sophomore from Singapore, study English and cinema studies. Her email residence is 

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