Posted by: scribe9 | January 17, 2010

My foreign accent

This morning I heard a New Zealander named Catherine mention that when she lived briefly in Vancouver, she learned to pronounce her name “Ca-atherine,” so that the Canadians would quit calling her Christine or asking what her name was. I could understand their confusion; she pronounces her name “Kithrin,” very quickly. I’m lucky I have a very simple name that New Zealanders can understand, although many call me “Eye-me.” Rick’s been asked whether he’s Canadian, so when I hear a familiar accent I ask where in North America the speaker is from.

Of course, Australians claim that New Zealanders can’t pronounce words right, and vice-versa. The main bone of contention seems to be short i’s, as in “fish and chips.” The Aussies claim that New Zealanders pronounce it “fush and chups.” Many Kiwis hotly deny that, although I’ve seen at least one restaurant menu that playfully lists “fush and chups.” It’s certainly not universal, although this morning I also heard “fifth” pronounce “fufth.”

The main way I can tell a New Zealand accent from an Australian one is the lengthening of short e’s. (An immigrant from Australia assures me that there’s quite a variety of Australian accents as well as New Zealand accents, which makes sense when one considers that the countries have bits of population separated from each other, but I have yet to discern any differences.) “Steps” are “steeps,” a “tenant” is a “tee-nant,” and something “excellent” is “eek-sellent.” But not everybody does it, and different people choose to lengthen different e’s. I figure there’s no rule, and I don’t worry about it. What makes more sense is their pronouncing “ea” as “ee,” so “death” is “deeth” and “heaven” is “heeven.”

 Both New Zealanders and Australians have complex pronunciations of o’s and u’s that I can’t even approach. I’ll just stick with my simple, drawn-out,  flat North American vowels, and try not to be too self-conscious about them.

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