When I was younger and still attending school, some of my classmates would travel to the good old USA for the summer holidays. Some would visit England too, but by far, the most-coveted vacation spot would be America.
The funniest part about these kids travelling to that foreign country was hearing what they sounded like when they came back home.
Now some of these kids would stay for two weeks, some for maybe a month – but when they came back home you’d swear they’d been living there all their lives. The American accent was all up and through their speech, and those of us who weren’t so easily influenced would laugh at the poor impressionable souls.
The tendency to adopt this new way of speaking was so pervasive that there used to be a running joke about the guy whose accent changed the minute his feet hit the tarmac as he walked towards the plane that would be taking him to “foreign”.
But the laugh is on me, because these many years later I am learning that there is a condition called “foreign accent syndrome” which is normally associated with small amounts of brain damage.
The professor who was discussing the syndrome said that when we meet someone we don’t know we try to determine where they are from and one of the ways to do that is by listening to the person’s accent, so I guess my classmates wanted to be Americans even though they knew good and well that their parents didn’t file any papers.
Looking back, I understand the desire of children wanting to be like everybody else, and copying the speech pattern was a way to fit in. What I didn’t understand was why they would continue to hold on to it weeks after they came back and returned to the same school and the same friends they left at the end of the term.
My kids are different. They like the greater number of choices and the bounty that characterizes most things in North America, but duplicating the accent is not something they’ve ever had the slightest inclination to do.
But on this island now, there are a multitude of accents – a result of the large number of people from different places who are living here now. So just to be on the safe side, I’ll make sure to guard against any head injuries because I don’t want to have to ask my own kids, “So, where are you from?”