A dialect with an army and a navy

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.


About A. Faris

A. Faris spent her formative years at libraries and scribbling odd tales that somehow always end up romantic. She writes in between running after her son.
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