I’m thinking about something a bit different today, not literature but instead language. If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know I am Welsh/British, living in the States, after a few years in Denmark.
More and more recently I have noticed a change in how I speak. And it feels as though I have somehow lost a part of myself. I recently asked my husband for a ‘cwtch’ which is the Welsh equivalent of a cuddle or a hug, and the word felt alien and wrong in my mouth. My Welsh accent (which I love) is barely there anymore, and when I try to speak in one it sounds awful and fake.
It all began before I ever left the UK, when I moved to Birmingham, England, words which had never seemed odd to me, or registered as particularly Welsh weren’t understood. In a Welsh accent Ear, Year, and Here, are all pronounced ‘yer’. I used the word ‘sosban’ not saucepan…never really registering that it was any different.
I began to consciously modify and change my language. After a short time these words were no longer consciously altered but were now natural to me. In Denmark there were comparatively few problems, as most of the people I interacted with were using English as their second language, any odd words or colloquialisms I used were just assumed to be unknown to the listener.
And then I moved to sunny California…where people speak English, so I didn’t even think about it before hand. But American English is very very different to English, more so than I ever would have expected. Words which again are totally ordinary to me are met with confused stares. I try my best to moderate my language but sometimes things are unexpected, and for a few instances I hate the American version and refuse to use it! Some examples, I will never call underwear, panties (EW!!), and trousers will not be pants, pants are underwear. Others I just never get used to, crisps and chips, I end up referring to either as both and ending up not knowing which way is up! And then there is the unintentional use of the incorrect word, ‘it was only a few pounds…no wait, I mean dollars, arrrgh!’
Another thing which is more surprising to me about the American use of English is that, by and large in my experience so far (just short of a year), it is far more polite. No one ever says they are going to the toilet, (or the loo!), they are always going to the bathroom…at work…you know there isn’t a bath in there right?! Saying bathroom doesn’t make me believe you are doing anything other than using the toilet…! And I don’t think I have ever heard an American swear, which I find hard, I swear a lot, maybe too much, and Danes swear a lot, so I am used to doing so and hearing it, I miss swearing!
Anyway, back to my point, the longer I live in America, the more I feel I lose part of myself. I love living in America, but the loss of my accent, my colloquialisms, and fun expressions that never seemed anything other than mundane previously, upsets me. I never realised how much of our identity is tied into our use of language. And I live in a country where people technically speak the exact same language as me…I cannot imagine moving to a culture where the language was completely alien. I did so in Denmark, but everyone there speaks such good English and I quickly learnt to read signs, instructions and basic necessary terms in Danish that it was oddly never a problem.
I wish I could go back, and retain my accent, be proud of the odd little terms that confused people, but as I said, now when I use a Welsh expression it sounds wrong, odd and forced. Oh well, living in a different culture changes you in many ways…this is just one I didn’t expect!