Of accents and English


I read something about regional accents being eroded by TV (in this case, the particularly heavy one in Maine) and it got me thinking about the subject of that and how true it is.

I’ve seen people go overseas for barely 6 months and come back armed with heavily accented Aussie/American English, complete with the appropriate slang. Some of them are obviously affected (a nicer term for faked or forced) but it could be argued that they just spent more time hanging with the locals.

Well, I have a pretty good command of the language but my verbal enunciation is sadly lagging way behind the clear grasp I have of the written form.

…and I come from a small town that speaks minimal English and only started using it on a daily basis when I went to New Zealand when I was 15.

I was doing Form Six English and I still can’t figure out if it’s reverse racism that the teacher keeps pointing out to the entire classroom that I’m the best in the class despite it being my second language. I didn’t do ESL (English as a Second Language) like the majority of non-Kiwis there, I went to the regular class.

…and I don’t think Chinese is my first language. I can certainly speak it fluently but can’t write a single cohesive sentence. That is an overstatement, I can’t even make sense of anything except a handful of basic characters. I never bothered learning, it was too hard and my mom didn’t insist when I was a kid unlike the other subjects coz it wasn’t in UPSR (our primary school graduation aptitude test).

I also did my four years of college and university in Melbourne and spent most of the time hanging around Aussies for simple reasons – the lifestyle I was living at that time with (real) raves/doofs and substances is a niche that not many Asians participate in.

Which leaves childhood, since that is the time when language retention is at its highest. I didn’t watch a lot of TV as a kid, it was frowned upon and strictly regulated by my parents. However, I enjoyed reading at a very young age, graduating to age-inappropriate material and adult novels before I even hit puberty.

(which was encouraged by my mom at least)

I still love reading for pleasure – in fact, I’ve somehow conditioned myself to be constipated unless there’s reading material nearly (back home there’s always the latest TIME magazine or National Geographic in the toilet). Hell, I still need to read the news or an ebook when I’m taking a shit nowadays.

Anyway, back to the accent, I’ve never quite figured it out (except for the affected cases) – do people who watch more TV when they’re under 12 years old speak better English?

What is your personal experience?

The puzzle

I nearly ran into an incoming police patrol car while making an illegal turn. The police had their sirens and flashers on but I didn’t notice coz my music was at full blast and I was thinking. I only managed to brake in the nick of time coz some part of my brain registered the blue flashes of light. I missed the police patrol car by inches.

It’s a good thing I didn’t get into trouble – the police car was speeding and it took the very same illegal turn and I nearly ran into it again when they suddenly braked. There was a fight in front of the mamak near my condo and they were there to break up the physical altercation by arresting people.

I was amazed by their efficiency – it took me no longer than 5 minutes to tapau my food and there wasn’t any sign of an impending dispute when I drove out. The police were already speeding there when I got into my car, resulting in the near miss. I imagine rear ending a police car wouldn’t have bode well for my general welfare, so it’s a good thing I didn’t.

However, I was thinking while taking the video with my cell phone (before I got bored and drove pass them)…if I had run into them, who would be at fault? Let’s pull out the POH-toshop illustrations: 


Please note that I haven’t actually taken the turn yet so I have plausible deniability. The police patrol car which was there on Official Business (TM) already took the illegal turn.

Who would be the guilty party if I had run into them? Knowing my country well, I know it’s definitely going to be me. Disregarding that, I could claim that I was merely avoiding the incoming patrol car by swerving (which would explain the odd angle of my car if I hit them).

What do you think?

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