Eccentric accent & ‘unquestionable’ answer

April 12, 2011 Comments Off on Eccentric accent & ‘unquestionable’ answer

For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter; to most of them she spoke herself.

“Cleopatra’s Influence over Mark Antony” (Excerpt taken from Perry M. Rogers’ Aspects of Western Civilization: Problems and Sources in History vol. 1 (Pearson Education, Inc., 2003), p. 200.)

The striking excerpt comes to mind after reading Mary Schneider’s weekly column about accent that these days seems to reach the speakers even before they have yet to step their feet on the country of its origin because when I showed the words that Plutarch beautifully crafted about one of the most prominent female figures in history to my friend (just to prove to her that Cleopatra’s beauty was overrated and overtly fantasized by Elizabeth Taylor’s devoted fans), her first reaction was, “Wow, do you think she spoke all those languages with accents? Accents were few those days, right? Did they even exist? Well, like an instrument of many strings, I guess that counts as accent all right because when you compare banjo and violin or violin and cello or guitar and….” until I told her to shut up for good *sigh*

I’m not sure about the Malaysian deejay that Ms. Schneider refers to but believe me, we don’t have to switch on the radio to hear stray accents flying around in the air; travel faster and with higher fidelity than any FM broadcasting. All for the self-delusional status that makes communicating in English with localised accents (like Malay, Chinese and Indian) an unforgivable sin, though still forgivable once the speakers convert to the Queen’s English or more dramatically (oh well, we all do love drama these days) American.

Am I bovvered?

Yes, I don’t (about converting my accent) when I, too, am trapped in the maze of eccentric accent dilemma that I’ve been suffering for 12 years after abrupt atmospheric change from the land below the wind to the rice bowl of Malaysia. Of course, Sabahan and Kedahan are two different dialects, not accent, in which none I can claim to be able to speak fluently but in my case, the self-delusional status is all mine for speaking in a dialect with foreign accent. In Kedah, words that end with ‘r’ are somehow uniquely pronounced as ‘q’ which means biar is pronounced biaq or bubur becomes buboq, hence, imagine the irritated and annoyed glances many Kedahan people gave me at a pasar somewhere when I asked my brother if we were going to eat in Guar (yes, the ‘r’ was voiced and slightly pulmonic). I understand their annoyance since I never even bothered to take my time to learn the dialect anyway even after 12 years of residing there but unlike Ms. Schneider who could probably leave behind a tribe of Amazonians who speak English with a Scottish accent, I am always at a loss to explain to people I just met or acquaintances of the reasons why I try to speak like KL people and Johorean when I said I was from Kedah but what is it about being born in Sabah but can’t even speak like the native other than tipak-tipak actually means ‘pencil case’ in Sabahan dialect? As a result, school was never easy for me as expected and cases when children can be cruel? Been there so many times when some of my friends mocked my superficial Sabahan dialect that, in their expert ears, was heavily masked by my Semenanjung accent while in three districts in Kedah (Langkawi, Kulim, and SP), many students just assumed I was putting on high airs for speaking the only way I knew how to speak in my mother tongue since I was a little girl that probably in their minds made me too thick headed to understand their feelings or laugh at their jokes.

The next time you want to manipulate Cleopatra in your product advertisement? Forget beauty creams or body scrubs. Language classes and/or podcast work better. And more relevant, actually.

*                             *                             *

Would you believe how long a train could be with all its coaches? I was just descending the escalator to the overcrowded platform and I saw people were rushing to their respective coach as if the train would leave in a minute. Of course, their flight was made easy with the help of the train officer who patiently showed the direction of inquired coach to the sea of passengers who surrounded him like he was… um… no, I’m not going to say Justin Bieber, ah yes, Roger Federer! Ha-ha… I know he was a shadow of his former self these days but who can let go of that remarkable one-handed backhand when you know how hard (or how classy) it is than the double-handed? Back to the train. I checked my ticket. Q2. I saw U1… and rushing, blurry bodies of people so I decided to make good use of the service provided, namely, the officer. “Pakcik, kat mana koc Q2 ni ha?” “Anak pergi depaaaaaaaaan lagi kat sana tu,” he pointed at the coaches that seemed to me without end. After thanking him, I rushed–just like other passengers–to my coach when I saw the pairing alphabet and number printed in bold font.

Less than five steps from where the pakcik was standing. From where I had asked him.

Some answers should not be questioned at all, I guess.

But right now, all that I want to ask him is how can we get something that we don’t want (even despise), but–ironically–need without hurting anyone.

The Audreys – Small Things

Writer’s note: I still remember the look of relief on the face of one of my students after she heard me speaking in Malay as we walked together to the school on one beautiful morning. She said that it was tiring to hear me speak English all the time but I told her it wasn’t my intention. And you could guess where the conversation was leading at the first few words in my mother tongue, “Teacher, where are you from?”


She had no idea, of course, but she told me of her discussion with her friends that they thought I was Chinese because of my eyes. I just smiled but I didn’t tell her how low I felt every time I found myself dumbfounded at verbal inquiries or greetings I received in Chinese at common places such as the park, shops and even hospital.

I couldn’t remember my answers regarding my origin but I remember it felt good to walk like that and talk freely with my student. I could walk for miles and miles every day but I don’t think I could ever walk that way again–with a company so undiscriminating and perceptive.

Not until I find myself walking with you.

*Doctors should have prescribed The Audrey’s soothing and beautiful song to anyone with fever, cold and sore throat or any types of illnesses because it works. I hope it does for the readers, as well.


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