In an effort to expand my son’s language horizons, I have begun using the languages I know in my day-to-day interaction with him. No discernible effect on child yet (but it’s early days and I remain hopeful) but I did observe certain behaviours directed towards me as a result.
1. People assume I am a foreigner. Fair enough, especially with this being the height of tourist season in Europe.
2. People become dismissive of me.
It is the second that troubles me, to no end. I have had a woman say ‘Oh, she speaks no English’ as she walked away in such a dismissive tone that I got quite annoyed. No, incensed. In itself, the assumption was based on two sentences which I spoke to my son, which precludes multilingualism, a norm in most parts of the world, if not here. Fine. Let’s be honest. The dismissal grated. As if by virtue of not speaking English, I was not worthy of common politeness. The sociolinguist in me should not have been surprised. But, my goodness, was that a nasty shock.
It’s quite funny: I have always been a champion of local accents. To me, every variety of English – be it the much derided Northern one here (see Cheryl Cole as an example) or the various Englishes around the world – is equally valid. A contrarian of me, when my home country tries to eradicate its variety of English, deeming it sub-standard. But, in one heated moment, I felt like sneering at said woman’s accent. Because, as my husband teases me often, I speak “like the BBC”, an accent that places me firmly in the educated upper-middle class and she does not.
With my background in sociolinguistics, I know that attitudes towards language are based on attitudes on social class, etc etc. But to experience it in real-life is a very different matter.