October blog challenge - Day 4 - Random thoughts - On my Bajan Accent

October blog challenge - Day 4 - Random thoughts - On my Bajan Accent

A turn of phrase... 

So things don't always go according to plan. Today was supposed to be new recipe Wednesday, but I suspect that the new recipe will be done later in the week, which means that I had to come up with something else for today's post. Luckily my  brain is always full of random thoughts (and my latpop full of random blog topics) and I am able to post this one today. Enjoy my thoughts on a Bajan accent. To those who aren't Bajan, just go with it... and for the record, Bajan is another word for Barbadian, as well as for our Barbadian dialect, and I am referring to our local dialect in this post. 

One of the bones of contention I had with Bajan friends who moved away with me in the teen years to places such as Canada, USA and UK was about the Bajan accent and dialect. Indeed I have heard discussions here in Barbados on the subject of whether it should be "taught" in schools (although it has been my experience that it need not be taught in order to be learned) as opposed to "Standard English". There are many who argue that it is a part of our culture and heritage and it's teaching should be favoured, while there are some (like myself) who feel that it will be picked up regardless, but a working level of standard English may not be attained if it isn't taught in schools. In addition, it is still a reality that many Barbadians will want to study and work outside of Barbados, and with the improvement of technology, there may be opportunities to work with persons outside of Barbados virtually, so I think that a good solid English grammar foundation is a great asset.

In the case of my friends and myself, the discussion centered around how we spoke in the places we moved to. I myself can put on a pretty strong British accent, as could some others I knew, while there were some who refused to do so, and held firmly to speaking "Bajan". It wasn't difficult for me - we weren't really allowed to speak Bajan at school and as a result persons always said I sounded as if I wasn't from Barbados anyway. In addition, I find it easy to pick up or mimic other accents when I am surrounded by it. I will also say that when I returned home to Barbados, I found it easy to slip back into speaking "Bajan" and in fact probably did so more after I returned than I did when I was younger. This is something that I have also heard from other Caribbean residents who experienced this when they returned home.

However, it really does vary from person to person. I recently was having this conversation with a Jamaican lady who moved to Canada. She said that she was so afraid to lose her Jamaican accent when she moved, that it became stronger than ever! I also recall having a friend who moved to the UK with me, who thought it would be a dreadful thing to give up his accent in a new country as he felt as if he would be giving up his identity. My reasons however were different; I just wanted to be understood. In a profession where successfully carrying out my job relied on making extremely nervous people comfortable enough to allow treatment, I found that the best approach for a lot of them was a familiar tone. For that same reason, when I returned, I slipped into a Bajan accent for my patients who I wanted to relate to. I was even recently listening to a podcast where a linguist was referring to the fact that persons hear things differently from people who sound different. The example she gave - during some research in the USA, they played a clip of some one saying something, first in a "New York" accent then in a "London" accent. Apparently the listeners perceived that the persons speaking with the London accent was more intelligent. Make of that what you will. However, this raised the question for me personally - what is the function of spoken language - to merely express oneself, or to be understood at any cost?

I remember a story that my father once told me. When he moved to Canada, he went to a restaurant and ordered a glass of water and the waiter brought him a coca cola. That was the moment he decided he needed a Canadian accent and to his credit he developed it pretty quickly, even though he still had his Bajan accent when he moved back to Barbados. For those who have told me that their native accent has gotten stronger when they returned, some of the reasons given were to "fit in and not be perceived as foreign"; opportunity (some couldn't speak it at school or at home and relished adulthood and the fact that it allowed them to speak however they wanted) and the reason I gave earlier for myself - to ensure they were understood.

In terms of the reason given to "fit in" I have seen some persons experience (and have personally experienced) being ridiculed for sounding like a foreigner after returning home. I was always surprised that sometimes even when I put on my best Bajan accent persons would still accuse me of sounding "British" and I only received the answer why several years after returning to Barbados. It is related to the turn of phrase, and the difference between a Bajan accent and Bajan dialect. There will be words, phrases and expressions unique to groups of persons, even those who speak the same language. I remember discussing this at work when one of the receptionists explained to me that people "from town" would come to your door and yell "Inside" which was simply a way of getting the attention of the people inside. She grew up in the "country" and had never heard it, and it sounded strange to her when she moved closer to the city. More recently penned a post as a guest blogger for another website, located in the USA, and I mentioned “going on holiday” in the post. The person I submitted it to had no idea what I was talking about, and she asked me which holiday I was referring to. We had a long conversation before I realized that I was using the words holiday and vacation interchangeably and she wasn't familiar with the expression "going on holiday" meaning "going on vacation". It was a reminder to me that even persons who speak the same language may not understand one another.

The use of particular expressions will make up the language of the country or area as opposed to the accent. It so happened that when I returned to Barbados, I was not even aware that I had picked up expressions that simply were not used here. I had been away so long, that I didn't even realise the terms weren't used here in Barbados. I remember saying to friend of mine when she asked me what I had planned for the following year - "watch this space". She was baffled - she said she had never heard the expression in her life! It was such a part of my vocabulary that I was genuinely shocked when she said so. Because I was so accustomed to it, when she asked me to explain it I had to seriously think about how to do so. I suppose that no matter how much of a Bajan accent I use, when I say "watch this space" it will always sound British,since it isn't a part of the language here.  It also led me to understand a bit better why I sometimes struggle to understand people here, even though I can understand the accent. I use the example of asking a patient how long he had been in pain for and his response "since de dew fell". I asked him to repeat it 5 times before I realised that I simply wasn't going to understand what he had said. I repeated it to someone later and they immediately knew what it meant (and for those who don't know it refers to the wee hours when the dew is staring to settle on the grass). He could have repeated it a million times, and in perfect English, and I am not sure I would have understood it.

So here I am, seven years into being back in Barbados, and still falling into some British lingo. On top of this, there are new expressions that come out daily, weekly, monthly, and in every country and culture, so perhaps instead of trying to keep up, I shall simply be comfortable asking people to elaborate when they say things I don't understand.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you think Bajan dialect should be taught in schools? What expressions or "turns of phrase" do you think of as Bajan (to those who live here or outside)? Which ones have you picked up abroad? Do you still maintain a Bajan accent while living abroad? Why is that? What do you think of persons who adapt a foreign accent because they feel the need to be understood and do you think it isn't necessary to do so? I look forward to your comments and stories. In the meantime its late and the dew about to settle so I am turning in.

Sending you big love from a small island.

Ps since I was unable to post pics of a new recipe, I thought I would still post a pic of something I baked once, so that you can still stare at something delicious while you read... These were some cupcakes I made for a friend's wedding. Please note - I did not make the flowers - each one was lovingly made by the bride's sister.