It happens to the best of us: You are working in Paresky or standing in line at Mission, and something catches your ear.
It is a voice so melodious and unusual that you stop for a moment and listen in wonder. You are immediately captured by it, and your eyes dart around the room to find its source. It is the unusual (and often sexy) accent of a non-American student. Compared to the unsophisticated twang of American accents, foreign accents often sound elegant and refined, so I decided to investigate how some non-Americans on campus navigate the reactions they get to their elocution. There are many accents represented on campus, and below are three students who have three different (but equally sexy) accents.
Henry Coats: Australian
Henry Coats ’14 found that most people on campus notice his smooth Australian accent almost immediately. “It normally takes a couple of sentences, because I’ve been in the States for five years,” he said. “But I get to about sentence three, and people will tell me that I speak funny and then subsequently ask me where I’m from.” He is also very modest about his accent. “I don’t really notice it most of the time,” he admitted. Coats finds that most of the challenges he has faced have come from words rather than his accent: “The accent is not the hardest part. It’s normally just words that do not mean the same thing over here, like thongs or rubber” (which apparently mean flip-flops and eraser – yes, I did have to look both up on Urban Dictionary).
Adrianna van der Linden: British
Adrianna van der Linden ’13 had trouble with her British accent after the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall was shown on Paresky lawn during her first-year orientation: “I had a lot of problems with people coming up to me, saying, ‘You sound like you’re from London!’” She has what most would recognize as a traditional British accent, which she described as “BBC English.” She was very modest about her accent: “I think it makes me sound stuck up,” van der Linden said, “but my friends seem to think it makes me sound cool.” Overall, she has found her accent to be very useful. “It’s an automatic conversation starter,” she said. “I’ve developed friendships from people who randomly hear me talking and ask where I’m from. I think it’s a nice way to open up a conversation with someone because it’s a pretty neutral topic.”
Kushatha Fanikiso: Botswanian
Kushatha Fanikiso ’13, from Botswana, said that his rich accent is not a stereotypical one. “The depth of my voice comes from the tribe I’m from, Bakalanga, and the way I pronounce my words comes from my English upbringing,” he said. People often comment on the “foreignness” of his accent and, like van der Linden, he finds that it’s a “great conversation starter.” The only downside to his accent is the occasional misunderstanding: “It can be annoying when people can’t hear what you’re saying when you are saying it as perfectly as you can – but it hasn’t been a major hindrance for communication,” Fanikiso said. He finds many positives to having an accent, and the fact that “girls love accents” was definitely one of them, he said with a laugh.
James Wang: Also Australian
Although he has been in America for seven years, James Wang ’12 still has a fairly strong Australian accent. “My accent is a little phased out, but it’s still there,” Wang said. He sometimes gets self-conscious when speaking to Americans, since he is often gently teased for some of his word choices and pronunciations, such as his pronunciation of the word “tomato.” Although he was very aware of American accents growing up – noting, “in Australia, there are American TV shows on all the time” – he made an important discovery when he first got to the States. “I didn’t realize that there were different American accents,” he explained. His favorite accent is the Bostonian accent, since “some of the words they say are hilarious.” Wang finds that he can relax when talking to fellow Australians on campus. “My accent comes out a lot more when I talk to other Australians,” he said. “Then I’m not afraid to talk like I did growing up.”