Category: Archive

In welcoming New York, the accent’s on being yourself

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

As usual, the villain of the piece was RTE. Poor RTE is blamed for just about every evil in Irish society. It is indeed responsible for the criminally wicked “Fair City,” a soap with the most stagnant story lines and wooden acting ever aired. But that, dear reader, is another day’s rant.
For starters, regional accents are hardly on the wane in Ireland. I have met several people in the last few years, both in Ireland and beyond, whose accents were so thick that I could have well done with subtitles. Secondly, the notion that we pick up accents from the television is spurious. I was reared on “Blue Peter,” “The Phoenix and the Carpet” and various other children’s programs broadcast by the BBC. Most of my generation in Ireland had similar viewing patterns because, apart from “Wanderly Wagon,” children’s TV in the republic was practically non-existent. None of us have English accents.
Also, it seems very few people in England have the standard BBC accent of my youth. And that accent seems to be a thing of the past. Tuning in over Christmas, I found the majority of the presenters under 30 had strong regional accents, half of them Irish. However, the irate listener from Carlow did have a point. The Dublin 4 accent has indeed migrated into the heartlands of the interior.
A D4 accent, for those of you not in the know, is what a lot of people would call a West Brit accent. During my time in New York I’ve met several people with D4 drawls. The strange thing is that almost none of them are even from Dublin. They’re from Cavan, Galway, Cork and Donegal. How might I be sure of this? Well, there’s a set greeting between Irish people abroad. You meet someone with an Irish accent and you launch into two standard questions that you never, ever deviate from. Question 1: “Where are you from [in Ireland]?” They respond and ask you the same question. Question 2: “How long have you been here?” Again, they respond and ask you the same question.
I think the above exchange has been enshrined in New York State law. So, the thing is this, if you are going around sporting a big fat fake accent, you are rumbled almost immediately. It’s not like at home where you hear someone’s accent and just assume that they were born and reared in the place that spawned that particular idiom. Why bother with the pretense? Every time I meet one of these unfortunates I have to bite my tongue because I’m just dying to blurt out, “Castlebar? Where in the name of God did you get such a snobby voice from?”
Then there’s Colin Farrell. A working-class Dub, or so his accent would reveal. Yet, Mr. Farrell comes from a hoity-toity suburb in the northside of Dublin and attended a private school. As Jerry Seinfeld might say, what’s up with that?
Mind you, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this verbal scamming. When I was in college all the officers of the Students Union had a fine coarse Ulster accent for themselves. This was extremely odd as Howth was the farthest north that most of them had been. They had adopted the dialect and pronunciation of our Northern brethren in order to be assured of political credibility. At that time, a Northern accent implied that you had “lived it,” man; instead of watching riots on telly from the safety of a D4 living room you had been out there hurling petrol bombs and insults at the British army and RUC. How inadequate us Dubs felt beside these young, enigmatic freedom fighters. Of course, the other reason for quickly adopting a Northern accent was the thing that motivates most politicians. A throaty Belfast accent endowed the owner with instant deep-down raw feral sexiness. You could be the biggest nerd in Newry or a dummy from Down but once you crossed south of the border you were hot stuff, baby, and politically credible. Phew, we were powerless to resist. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Liam Neeson. No, seriously, turn on the mute button on the VCR and take good look. He ain’t all that and a bag of chips. Now turn the sound back on and . . . it’s all in the voice, see?
New York City has always been a haven for those who have felt outside the mainstream. We all come here to be with the other freaks and that’s what makes this such an interesting place to live and work. It’s also what makes it dangerous and frustrating, but, hell, it can’t be sunshine all of the time. Except in L.A., of course, and Lord above look what it’s done to the people that live there. This is a town where you can be yourself. People flock here for that freedom. And it’s not just bisexual, cross-dressing, devil-worshiping masseurs and the like. It’s ordinary folk who were just a little out of step in Smallsville, Ind., or whatever one-gas-station town they came from.
New York is a town where nobody gives a damn. You can dress whatever way you like, sound whatever way you want, think your own thoughts and practice whatever beliefs tickle your fancy. This is a place where it is acceptable to talk to yourself on the subway and sing to yourself on the street. A place where anything goes, where people will attempt to sell you Jesus and drugs within five feet of each other. You can hear 27 different languages spoken in any given day. You can hear accents from Russia, Germany, Israel, Japan, India and China. Need I go on? Honestly, in the midst of all of this babble does anyone care that you say Rah-ne-lah instead of Ren-e-la. I doubt it.
(The opinions expressed represent those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.)

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