One of the interesting things for me as a Yorkshireman who spends upwards of 90% of each year outside of England is that the culture I identify with varies on a kind of sliding scale. When I’m at home, with family or childhood friends, I’m not just a Yorkshireman – I’m from Batley. There are words that I would use in conversation with other people from Batley that someone from Dewsbury (3 miles away!) might not understand.
When I’m overseas and find myself in the company of someone from the north of England my home accent comes back (in a smoothed-down form; the odd flat vowel and dull consonant), and we can instantly strike up a conversation about some Northern peculiarity or shared experience – the new CEO of our school is from Oldham, and my first conversation with him began, “Oldham! Home of the tubular bandage!” referring to the now demolished Mumps bridge. This is my boss’s boss’s boss, and yet we can immediately strike up a friendly conversation with lots of “ohh, do you remember… ?” and “did you ever see… ?”
It’s an odd thing to admit, but arriving in Taipei to find a half dozen or so fellow northerners made me feel more at home than I had in the (wonderful) British Overseas Territory of St Helena. Getting an “eh up!” on the corridor was an almost emotional experience!
Most of the time, though, and certainly when I’m talking to my students or anyone from a country other than England, I identify as British, and speak with a fairly nondescript English accent. My students come from a wide number of different countries and speak a large number of different languages, but the language of instruction is English, and speaking with a regional accent would make life very difficult for many of them.
This actually came up as an issue for me a while back after reading that audio files of texts being read aloud can be helpful for EAL learners. I use some pretty extensive texts for the pre-university course I teach, so I hopped on Fiverr.com to find someone who would be willing to read some of these texts aloud and had a huge choice of nationality and accent. I pretty quickly settled on a soft Californian accent (see an example here) as that’s what the kids are used to from watching TV.
Interestingly, my pre-university class of 17 & 18-year-olds last year once asked me to speak how I would at home and I found I couldn’t switch it on. I had to show them this clip from Fry’s English Delight (starts at 00:40) to explain the concept of regional dialects, but also to remind me what it sounded like! It’s like I’d switched off the part of my brain that spoke Yorkshire.
I understand that language, accent and dialect are a very small component of culture, but it’s still interesting.
BBC (2010). Iconic Oldham Mumps bridge to make way for tram line, [Online] available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-11119238 [Accessed 21/09/2017].
Davidson, J P (Director). (2011). Fry’s Planet Word [Television series]. London, UK: BBC.