Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thuh Nyew Zuhlund Iksint

In an earlier post, I said how I’m the one with an accent in New Zealand, and that’s obvious: I wasn’t born here, so whatever I say is with an accent. That’s not affected by how long I’m here—I’ll always pronounce some words differently.

I was asked recently if when I first came here I thought the NZ accent sounded English. Coming as it did in a discussion of the British soap “
Coronation Street,” which I can barely understand at the best of times, it was a sort of leading question.

The short answer is that when I first arrived, the NZ accent did sound somewhat “English” to me, but since I’d been to Britain (sniff, twice, actually, sniff), I knew it didn’t sound all that English except, maybe, as compared to Australians who have an accent all their own.

I had no trouble understanding New Zealand English, except for a few things. Chief among them, the letter “R” is routinely suppressed to an extent that it’s almost inaudible—almost, because if you listen closely, it is there. One weekend, still relatively new to NZ, my partner took a Ford Ka for a drive. He came home and told me about it, and I asked, “yes, but kind of car was it?” He answered, “It was a Ka”. In those early days I couldn’t hear the difference between “Ka” and “car”, so the exchange was a bit of an Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first” thing.

Those days have passed, and apart from the odd bit of slang, NZ English seldom surprises me anymore. I can even get the joke when people make fund of NZ accents, as I did in the heading for this post (and it’s an exaggeration, by the way, a parody).

The truth is, after eleven years many American accents sound as foreign to me as the NZ accent once did and as the Aussie accent still does.

I could be profound and say that the lesson in this is that if we listen to other cultures, they won’t seem so foreign. To be honest, all I cared about was that I could go to a store an actually buy what I was after, or figure out how to use a bus, or any number of other things that make daily life possible. But, then, maybe that’s the essence of understanding.

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