I don’t think I have ever been more aware or conscious of my accent than in the United States. Frankly, I didn’t think I had that much of an accent until I got here and started getting complimented on it. I always thought I had a general American accent with a slight Pakistani twang to it, but apparently, it’s Pakistani with a slight general American twang to it.
I still don’t know how that makes me feel. Accents are beautiful – they stand as testaments to home, to culture, to roots, and yet when I hear myself talk I can’t help but cringe. Sometimes. In other instances, I take pride in how distinctive I sound; the Pakistaniat I want to exemplify in my very being comes across when I speak! Fabulous, that falls in with my brand new “Aggressively Pakistani and Unapologetic” look.
And yet (you knew this was coming)…and yet, I still feel a vague embarrassment when I hear myself speak, or when someone points out my accent. It comes out when I’m nervous. Hell, at times, it’ll come out no matter what, and I find myself trying to force a “neutral” accent. What the hell is a neutral accent, anyway?
I feel like a hypocrite, waxing poetic about the importance of being proud of where you come from, yet blushing at the sound of my own voice. Worse, it takes me back to the days where I would judge my peers for not speaking English as well as I did, for having heavy accents and not quite grasping the nuances of English proNUNciation.
Much of the aforementioned judging was in direct response to being mocked for not speaking Urdu as well as everyone else. That and, you know, internalizing linguistic elitism. And it is that linguistic elitism that I will blame – in part – for my knee-jerk reaction to my own accent. So much of Pakistani high culture (particularly in urban settlements) hinges on a grasp of the English language and the relative lack of accented speech. Growing up, I spoke primarily in English with my friends who, surprise surprise, tended to value English more than Urdu. I glowed whenever I received compliments on my superior English. My proficiency in the language was a source of immense pride and I would be lying if I didn’t consider myself at least a little bit more “literate” than my peers. Completely ignoring the fact that English is ridiculously difficult (beautiful, though) and you could spend a lifetime learning it but still be fooled by its subtleties.
Lingua franca of the world. Good job, guys. Good job.
I will not be too hard on myself though. I was merely a victim of that vile byproduct of media, cultural conditioning. I figured as long as I could speak like the Americans on TV, I had it made. The more I divorced myself from the standard Lahori, the better I would fare.
That is complete and utter bullshit, of course. No one language is better than the other and I’ve written an entire essay about my complex relationship with Urdu. I’m determined to teach my children chaste, perfect Urdu (Inshallah) and to pursue the perfection of my own Urdu.
…but still I cringe when my accent is brought up? Come on.
I suppose a lot of that stems from my deep-seated self-esteem issues, too. Either way, I need to be unapologetic. Sure, I have an accent. Sure, my pronunciation may waver sometimes (THOUGH I SWEAR TO YOU A LOT OF THAT IS BECAUSE OF PRONUNCIATION DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN AMERICAN AND BRITISH ENGLISH). But I can still write. I can still speak. And I can sure as hell can hold my own against the English-speaking world.
I don’t do things in spite of my accent, or despite it. I do things in tandem with my accent. And maybe it’ll take a while before I’m perfectly comfortable with my general American Pakistani-twanged, or Pakistani general American-twanged (whichever, as if it matters) accent, but hey. I’m here, aren’t I? And good on me if I can be aggressively Pakistani when I so much as speak. I’m doing my self-appointed job right.