Accents

The idea of ‘accents’ is such interesting subject especially for Malaysians, or for most Malaysians, because it is closely linked to whether we are ‘Malaysian’ enough or not; whether we are proud to be a Malaysian. Let’s be honest, a thought like that do sound ridiculous to some people, even to myself actually, but I do find myself posing the same question to my fellow Malaysians when I do meet someone with a rather ‘accentized’ accent. Well, more like accents that sound fake and believe me, it is not hard to spot a fake accent.

Anybody, Malaysian or not, can easily spot a fake accent. When someone ever so comfortably change an accentized accent to a more ‘Malaysian’ one or vice versa, you know that it’s not real.

Here’s a confession by me. I somewhat have an accent. People who have heard me talk would ask me if I went to an international school or have lived abroad because of my accent. Yes to international school (or rather, university), no to living abroad.

Here’s another confession, I have multiple accents and my accents include Indian, Chinese, Sabahan, Australian-American-English accent (undetermined yet)… A lot; not just one accent.

The thing is, we live in a very connected world thank you to the mighty Internet and TV (cable, to be exact). We adopt accents, just like we adopt to several lifestyles that criss-cross our lives. It doesn’t help one bit to be in the ever so multi-racial Malaysia where everybody have their own accents! I love it though :)

So obviously, we will pick it up and practise it in our lives.

To condemn someone for speaking a certain way (or rather, a very ‘westernized’, un-Malaysian way) is just so wrong. It’s understandable to cringe a little, but very wrong to go on a rampage over it. Like for example, demonize someone because of their accent.

Yes, I admit, I do cringe whenever I meet a Malaysian with an accent. But I suppose, they have their reasons; they’re comfortable speaking in that accent, they actually lived outside of Malaysia before, they studied in a private school, they were adopted, their parent is non-Malaysian, they are public speakers (my case most of the time)… etc..

I don’t know… Something! Or nothing at all! (Paradox, I know, but bear with me. I’m laying all the what if’s here!)

Personally, my ‘accent’ derived from not just the telly, but also my role as a public speaker back in high school and emcee where I had to pronounce words more clearly and abolish the usage of ‘lah’ and ‘bah’. When I speak to someone I am not close to or to someone who is not from Malaysia, my English is more refined (no broken English, no ‘lah’ or ‘bah’) which occasionally come across as being accented.

When I speak to an American or Canadian, I do occasionally find myself speaking in an American accent because of my exposure to North American TV shows and movies. But most of the time, I (and Malaysians in general I suppose) sound a bit English because of our British-influenced education system where we heavily emphasize on the ‘t’ and we spell color as ‘colour’ and humor as ‘humour’ as well as pronounce can’t as ‘kh-aa-nt’ and not ‘khent’. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I hope it does, somehow.

However, when I am surrounded by friends and family, I usually abandon my proper Queen’s English and be more in tune with my heavily accented Sabahan English with multiple usages of ‘bah’s and ‘lah’s and various other local slangs like, ‘budu’, ‘palui’, ‘bida’, ‘sandi’, ‘macam tai’ etc… Lol!

I like what one commenter on this video said about accents. At the end of the day, “an accent is not important, proper grammar is important. If you use the correct words, nobody will care what accent you use“.

So true.

Despite all these accent hoo-haa, I do have to say that Malaysians do have very good English. Same goes to Singaporeans (no surprise here since English is their first language!), Indonesia and India – since I only know people from these countries; don’t know a lot of people from other Asian countries! A lot of my friends from the US, Canada, UK and Australia said that we have awesome English; in writing and speech! Big compliment for sure! :)

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11 thoughts on “Accents

  1. I agree.. In Malaysia English is not the 1st language and the level of spoken (or written) English taught in most secondary schools is not really up to par with the rest of the world. So naturally most of the people who speak good english learn how to speak from watching tv shows or movies and listening to music. And these are mostly from America so it’s no wonder that some people speak in a more American-sounding accent. And if you go to certain websites, you’ll notice that even people from countries that are supposedly English-oriented, do not have the best grammar (or spelling) in the world. It all depends on the person I think.. :)

    1. Well said Oliver! That is true :) I have to totally agree with the American accent bit. We watch way too many movies and tv shows! It would be weird not to be influenced eh?!

      1. Haha yes it would.. And I think the problem of not knowing what accent to stick with isn’t a problem in countries like the UK n US.. Coz that is all theyre exposed to.. Well mostly.. Like British people usually always have the same accent no matter who they speak to.. Same goes to Americans.. Probably because they learn to speak through school and through parents and friends.. Haha..

    1. That is quite a hard question to answer because it depends on people really; I personally adapt according to who I speak to (ie, I sound more Chinese – by this, I mean, I throw in some Chinese slangs – when I speak to someone who has a more pronounced Chinese accent and I sound more American if I talk to someone who has an American accent). Most of the time, there is no such thing as ONE accent.

      The question is usually, “Out of all your accents (LOL!), which one is more prominent? As in, which one do you practise more?” Lol. Just my thought though.

  2. I’m an actor researching accents, and I was wondering: do you find yourself switching between one accent to the next mid-sentence sometimes? Does it happen with more of a pause, like in-between sentences? Or is it more like just specific syllables or words?

    1. Hi Matthew,

      Personally, I don’t tend to switch accents mid-sentence because the moment I have an idea on how the person talks like (whether he/she speaks in a very local accent – with slangs and what not; or in Malaysia’s case, when someone throws in some Malaysian terms in their sentence or during our conversation – or someone who talks in a very formal way), I tend to pick that up and speak according to the person I’m speaking to.

      The only time I would probably change mid-sentence or after a sentence is when the person who I am talking to changed his/her accent to probably an accent they find most comfortable with. Like say, from speaking with a formal tone, the person suddenly changed to a more relaxed, local accent; so I will change according to that accent too since I’m much comfortable being in that with another fellow Malaysian speaker. But it would not be a direct change though, it’ll be a gradual change of accent where I’ll put it some slangs and then slowly putting in some Malay words and finally, speaking in a very Manglish (Malaysian-English) kind of way where our sentence jumbled up which doesn’t make sense for a non-Malaysian, but makes sense to us! LOL!

      Example:

      Formal English – “How come you didn’t call me last night?”
      Adding slangs – “How come you didn’t call me last night ah?”
      Adding Malaysian words – “How come you tak call I last night ah?”
      Manglish – “Why you tak call I last night ah?”

      Formal English – “I don’t like the way you eat your food, please have some table manners.”
      Manglish – “Don’t eat like that. Have some manners lah!”

      You get the idea.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Thank you, Jasmine, that definitely helps! I was also wondering are there certain Malaysian phrases, words, or sounds that stick with you regardless of whom you’re talking to? Or is it all dependent on the environment for you? (Example: my mom is from Chicago and no matter whom she speaks to, she’ll pronounce the word “wash” with an “R” like “waRsh” which comes from her background, even if the rest of her sentence sounds Californian which is where she lives now)

    1. It definitely depends on the environment that you live in. I personally don’t have a particular word or phrase which has a certain sound to it. Or at least, I don’t think I have! Haha. It’s hard to speak for most Malaysians here though because everyone’s different depending on where they live and who they mingle with; their community. Some have a more Indian tone to their English and some a more Malay tone.

      It’s hard to write about the mechanics on how accents sound like, you have to be here to experience it!

      But I do know that in the Philippines, they have more emphasis on letters like ‘R’. Like ‘woRk’ or something like that. I guess I’m too immune with the Malaysian accent to actually pick up any difference in it!

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