An accent makes all the difference

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Author: Lena Smith

I am spending part of my mid-semester break in Glasgow, Scotland. Having been here for less than a day, I already see how much work Scots put into producing and appreciating their culture. Here, plays, artwork, museum exhibits and food are designed to celebrate Scottish culture. I went to a lunchtime event called “A Play, a Pint, and a Pie” at a local pub with an attached theatre. The event, which features plays by Scottish playwrights, is held nearly every day of the week and was still packed.

In some ways, Glasgow reminds me of Strasbourg, a small city in the French state of Alsace. My host mother is from Strasbourg, and she took me to her parents’ house there for a weekend in September. What is similar about both Strasbourg and Glasgow is how different they are from their respective countries. Scotland maintains its differences from the rest of the United Kingdom, and Alsace identifies much with Germany, despite being within the French border.

Both areas have a particular accent that sets them apart as well. I can distinguish Scottish accents more easily than Alsatian accents, and hearing them is a constant reminder of what part of the world I am in. I am sure that for Scots, their speech creates a sense of familiarity, just as Californian English will for me when I return home. The sounds that set Scottish apart from Californian English may be less dramatic than those that separate English and French, but they still allow me and the Scots I encounter to project a piece of our identity.

When I was in Strasbourg, my host mother’s parents spoke about the differences between their accents and Parisian ones or southern French ones. They laughed at southern accents, making fun of the way southerners add a meaningless syllable to the ends of words, exactly like Americans make fun the Canadian “eh.” In addition to prompting an animated conversation, the discussion of accents showed me how Alsatians experience the same cultural pride that I have found in Scotland. According to my host family, their accent is just as integral to their culture as a “choucroute”, which is French for sauerkraut, or an old cathedral.

Accents unite their speakers, whether or not they recognize it.

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