Location: United Kingdom

A Naija Guy living (and loving) in the UK.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Identity Pt3: Language and Accents

A-Z Meme and My Fair Lady
In reading blogs of the Nigerian Community in the last couple of weeks I've come across quite a few A-Z Meme articles. From what I understand its one line questions A to Z which the respondent has to reply to in order to get some insight into their likes, dislikes and nature. Apparently when you have written yours you also need to 'tag' someone else (and no I'm not going to whinge right now about how I haven't been tagged and am feeling unloved, sob). The first item on the list is Accent. What I've found interesting is the amount of people who have either described their accent as 'Nigerian/British' or 'None' (how can you have no accent? none at all?).

An important element of personal identity is the way we speak, what language we speak in, any dialects and our accent. Anyone who has watched 'My Fair Lady' will know that most of us have regional inflections in our speech that may not be obvious to the 'neutral' observer but a trained professional would be able to pick out. It is argued that the 'Upper-class' have regionless accents but my counter arguement would be class in addition to region is another element of accent.Some of us are able to change the way we speak, especially we have had reason to move around from one region or country to the next, but most of us carry at least some trace of our accent and dialect origins with us all of our lives (some of us more than others).

On Faking the funk, Switching and Conc Naija Accents
On my first visit to New York in 1998, I stayed with a friend who had just moved to the states two years earlier. One of the things I noticed was how in speaking to me he would adopt a 'Naija' mode and when we went to shops etc and he had to interact with Americans he would 'switch' to an American accent that I couldn't distinguish from that of a native New Yorker. I asked him why he did this and his answer was he wanted to 'blend' and not stick out. Hmn.

I'm sure we have all come across 'Broda Kenny' who arrived in London last month for the first time and has already started spicing his every statement with 'init though' and 'yer know what I mean'. Why Broda Kenny is trying to 'blend' I have no idea as the Ibadan tribal marks on his face will always ensure that we know where he comes from. I call the Broda Kenny example 'faking the funk'.

In the last year I've taken to Naija Hip-Hop in a big way mainly on the back of the influence of my two favorite Nigerian bands Styl-Plus and PSquare. I must admit howver to prefering the music of PSquare as they are unpretentious and don't feel the need to 'blow Fhonee' on their songs (this is obviously my main gripe with some of the new naija hip-hop bands but thats another story).

I once worked for three months for the Employment agency and I worked with a guy called 'Ade'. This guy had one of the strongest Yoruba Accents I've heard on this side of the Atlantic. What impressed me about this dude is that he stuck to his guns and refused to fake the funk. Only ignorant people chose to act like they couldn't understand his English, but I found it no more convoluted than that of a 'Scouser' or a Mancunian. Fortunately he didn't do the Oyo thing where they stick the H in where there wasn't one and take it out where there was one, as in the "Enry, 'elp me 'ook my bra. 'Ook it. Ook it" fashion. Anyway Egbon Ade reminds me of the MC Lyte lyrics " can't be what you're not, so you better start living with what you got..." Nuff Respect!


Anonymous aihammed delot said...

dude, i feel you on this but only 50-50. i cant lie i put on phone everytime i'm with british people and it stems from getting bad vibes from back in the day. apparently being chatted up by an african wasnt the thing to be subjected to in the late 90's so i had to up my game and go with the flow.
More to the point, its not strictly about accents, its also about the way words are spoken and sentences are phrased: a brit is more likely to say "lets have a look" where a nigerian will happily cry out "lemme see!!!" i think alot of the time i just came across as being harsh and misunderstood, so i had to blend in. unfortunately i've spent 9 years in birmingham so i've adopted a deep west-midland twang...olroight?
Finally i have to pick you up on the point you made about everyone having an accent - Steven Hawkins hasnt got one.

3:57 pm, June 08, 2006  
Blogger obifromsouthlondon said...

hahaha you are funny man! i've got a nigerian/british accent (whatever that means) and my woman finds it extremly hilarious. I've come to reach some sort of balance/compromise. region neutral. now I get the white people asking me "are you welse?". can't win

10:18 pm, June 08, 2006  
Blogger obifromsouthlondon said...

welse? welsh lol

10:19 pm, June 08, 2006  
Blogger obifromsouthlondon said...

welse? welsh lol

10:19 pm, June 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice writeup. My accent switches up subconsciously. Now you've got me feeling like a j/k!

1:38 am, June 09, 2006  
Blogger tori said...

lol. I am the worst of the lot. I switch completely depending on who I'm around, and its [mostly] subconscious. I realise it about 5 minutes in, and switch back to nigerian, but then another 5 minutes and I hear myself becoming someone else again *shrug*

you win some, you lose some. But I have a lot of respect for the Egbon Ade's of this world.

And consider yourself Tagged!

8:01 am, June 09, 2006  
Blogger TaureanMinx said...

lol, yeah i tend to 'clear' my speech when speaking with people from other countries but a full blown change is out of the question. Im not shy about the Nigerian accent but we did do oral people did not gain anything from the lessons.

Dude why did you delete your comment on my post about the golden ratio?

11:23 am, June 09, 2006  
Blogger Kunle.... said...

Nice entry, lol, I can relate to Belle, my accent switches

1:28 pm, June 09, 2006  
Blogger Nneka's World said...

Lol!, nice entry!

My accent switches, hardcore naija when around my peeps and phonee when in work, sometimes mymouth gets tired of twisting the words and my naija accents comes out and i cant be bothered.

You should hear a scouse/igbo accent or a scouse/yoruba, you would not believe your ears

2:01 pm, June 09, 2006  
Blogger Adunni said...

You're right. I suppose my accent could be considered nigerian 'cos you would never know what tribe i was by listening to me speak english. Although i tend to use british pronounciations for most words thanks to my primary school teachers but mostly i think i speak english like a nigerian.
By the way since you mentioned it consider yourself tagged asecond time we'll be expecting your list.

6:28 pm, June 09, 2006  
Blogger LondonBuki said...

My accent is pure Nigerian but cos I have been in England for like 8 years, some things I say sound a bit British...

I tag you too!!!! LOL!!

11:48 pm, June 10, 2006  
Blogger Morountodun said...

You guys no go kill me oh! How you go talk say Steven Hawkins no get accent? Welshman called Obi? How far?

My sisters I can't say that I think its 'wrong' to switch, man get to chop abi? To generalise Oyibo man would prefer to act like say race no exist so by switching we help perpetuate the myth and prevent the riots that might ensue should they realise how many of us exist in their midst. Come Monday if you hear the Phonee wey go dey comot my mouth you no go believe say na me dey call myself Naija man here.

2:27 pm, June 11, 2006  
Blogger DiAmOnD hawk said...

it truly depends on the situation...i switch subconsciously like belle stated. I've tried sounding more nigerian but it's hard except im around nigerians and even then...

...I just have to accept it. even w/in america, some think i sound like a mix of southern and cali and up north...there are times i consciously switch out from american to british because i can...and im good...i typically do it when im upset or accent is mine...that's all i can say for's an original blend of everything...but what i truly cant stand is ppl faking the funk...if you aint got aint got it...dont force will come natural... ur name...thx for stopping by

3:58 pm, June 16, 2006  
Blogger uknaija said...

I hadn't reallly realized that I switch until my colleague said "Whenever you're speaking to a Nigerian on the phone I know because you talk differently even though you're still speaking English"

But then when I go to Naija the reverse happens and my friends are like "Ah ah why you never dey blow phonee you just dey talk like normal Naija man?" until they catch me making a call to the office in London....

I don't think it's a question of being ashamed- it's about what works and communicating effectively....welcome to the globalized world :-)

4:06 pm, June 16, 2006  
Blogger Lee said...

Ypu've got a very interesting blog, I must admit.. Nice..
My accent is Nigerian + Asian + british (Nigerian Influence) + American ( Filipino influence).

Now Imagine how I actually sound..:)

1:01 pm, June 29, 2006  
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