While getting a lift home with the Ambassador and his wife last Friday evening (yes Dili is that small – Peter and Susan are in choir with us), a conversation about accents and living overseas came up. Susan told us that their daughters had a different experience with accents while attending an American international high school on posting with them.
One daughter, very good at picking up accents, decided after one day that she would just talk like the American girls, since nobody could understand her Australian accent.
The other said ‘I’m Australian and they can take me as they find me!’ (direct quote), and kept on with her Aussie accent. However she didn’t have much of a choice, as she didn’t have her sister’s ability to pick up accents quickly.
When they left – the daughter who became a Valley Girl – no trace of an accent. The daughter who stuck with her Aussie accent – had picked up a distinct American accent which took ages to shake.
People, I’m afraid my accent will be just like Peter and Susan’s second daughter when I leave here, only with a Tetum twist. It’s shameful for a linguist, but I simply do not have an ear for accents. I *do*, however, have an unfortunate way of unconsciously imitating the speech of those around me. In Timor I work most closely with two Timorese men who have very good English – but who speak it with a distinctly Timorese manner. I also work closely with the lovely, Portuguese Teresa, who again has a strong accent.
This means I have to alter *my* strong accent and speak much more clearly than I do in Australia, or to other Australians, because I speak English too fast and too drawly and with too many contractions and idioms for everyone here. I also end up completely dropping words or rearranging my sentences so they are more like the structure of Tetum.
So when I come back and I’ve forgotten how to talk with good – please don’t point and laugh – I can’t help, I am only talk like with people Timor!