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“.
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! :)