My changing accent

By Fred Cloud Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/7 17:48:40

"What's with the funny accent?" my wife said to me after I made some remarks the other day. Although she was just referring to a few words, it was still a totally unexpected observation. I have only ever lived in Beijing, so how could my accent have changed in my hometown?

My work environment must be the primary factor that tweaks how some words roll off my tongue. None of my colleagues in my department are from Beijing, and some speak dialects I can't make heads or tails of while they are on the phone with their relatives. It's not a problem as we all speak Putonghua and can understand each other.

I tone my accent down talking with my colleagues because Beijing dialect is like a frisky, blithe, devil-may-care and happy-go-lucky cousin of Putonghua, better suited for bantering in casual settings than formal conversations in an office. That may have paved the way for my colleagues' accents to seep into my speech.

What I have gone through in terms of my accent could be far from an isolated case. Being the metropolis it is, Beijing resonates with accents from all over the country and even the world. Just as the city may change a newcomer's habits, it may also color the way they speak as they come into contact with people of all linguistic stripes.

Despite my initial shock, I don't feel my changing accent is an inherently bad thing. How boringly restrictive it would be to grow up and work with people who have so much in common with you? It may feel comfortable shooting the breeze with people who share your accent, but chances are you are in for little that is new.   

However it may alter, the backbone of my Beijing accent, like a birthmark, will always stay the same. The subtle variations that appear here and there are authentic and even welcome because they reflect the vibrantly inclusive nature of my hometown and my life experience. As buildings of a wide variety of designs have risen in Beijing, changing the once uniform, courtyard-dominated landscape, the language scene of the city today is also far from monolithic. These days, you need to lead a hermit's life to keep your Beijing accent pure. The choice is easy enough for me.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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