The Lazy LInguist



Learning to read, write and speak a language other than your own, unless you are a natural polyglot, is hard work. Learning all those grammar rules, vocabulary, how to say the words properly, getting just the right accent. However, I’ve found a way around it. It’s fun and it’s easy. I like fun and easy.

Instead of learning the language, I just learn the accent and speak English with that accent.

I learned this from some of my Icelandic Canadian friends. They consider being able to talk English with the same ringing and dinging cadence as Icelandic is every bit as good as speaking Icelandic and absolutely,  completely confirms their identity as Icelandic.  Practice an Icelandic accent and eat vinarterta and Icelandic citizenship is guaranteed.

I love curry. I really love curry. When I have people over for a curry supper, then we all do our best to speak with an East Indian accent. To get ready for such suppers, some of us seek out East Indian taxi drivers, especially for long drives to the airport and we ask them endless questions, doing our best to get the accent just right. It doesn’t matter what they say, it’s the way they say it. Never mind all that history and political and cultural stuff. We also make it a rule that every dinner guest brings with them the names of six common objects from that language like roti, bazaar, chili, chutney, curry, dhoti,  hubble bubble, madras, jodhpurs and find ways to fit them into the conversation. The more words someone fits into the conversation, the more points. It´s very competitive.

Sometimes, we have Greek evenings. I think Greek food divine. Succulent lamb, Greek salad, yogurt.  And everyone brings a Greek accent. If you’ve been to Greece, you get bonus points.  Spanakopita, feta, salata, calamari,  ouzo, baklava, opa (but not with my good china). They’ve got this crazy alphabet but if you’re just learning the accent so you can speak English as if you are Greek, you don’t need to worry about that. It´s sort of like the Icelandic alphabet with its weird letters. If you get the accent right when you are speaking Icelandic English, you don’t have to worry about things like  þ and ð and ö.  Who needs them anyway? Th,  d and oo do just fine.

I always look forward to going to Vancouver. I love Chinese food and I love having authentic Chinese dinners. Chow Mein. I love Chow Mein. Sometimes, though, we mix it up and also have Swedish meat balls. When I go to Vancouver, I try to overhear Chinese conversations. I go to the Chinese stores and while I’m looking at brightly colored fans and dragons and chopsticks I might use for decore for the supper, I listen as closely as I can to how Chinese people speak English. I want to get that accent just right.

International evenings are fun. Sometimes, we have an international potluck night and each person brings food from a different ethnic group and they also speak with that accent for the evening and try to use some specific words from that culture.  You might have someone with a Swedish accent, next to a Russian accent, next to an Irish accent, next to a Texan accent, next to Japanese accent, next to an Italian accent, next to a German accent. Fantastic! It is really international and really multi-cultural. And all those different tastes! Of course, we always have someone who has an Icelandic accent.

When I was a kid, everyone was trying to get rid of their accents. They all wanted to talk like the announcers on the BBC. It was incredibly boring. Plummy voices and plum pudding. We needed Spanish accents full of sunshine during the winter.

Our club’s annual Thorrablot is coming up soon. I’m so looking forward to it. I’m practicing my Icelander-speaking -English accent. I’m practicing my vocabulary so I can sprinkle in some authentic Icelandic words: faktori, farmari, fón,  harvista, jarður,  kabits, balari, bif, bonkhús. My grandfather built a bonkhús for unemployed men in his back yard. They had very little money so they ate a lot of kabits and bins. Sometimes a farmari would give them work making a fens. None of them  had a fón. If they wanted to shop at the hósil in Vinnipeg, they had to take the bus.

I’m going to eat dried cod, rotten shark , boiled lamb flank and vinartera. I might even have a drink of black death, a vodka like drink made from potatoes and spiced with caraway. Three black death  and my accent will be perfect.

If the honorary consul is there, I’m going to demand an Icelandic passport.