Living out here in France is such a big experience that to say that I haven’t changed would be to tell a bare faced lie of epic proportions. This said, most of these changes are to my personality and the way I think and as such are not immediately noticeable. One thing that has noticeably changed though is my voice.
Firstly, at the end of the winter term I had a bad cold and then a throat infection, both of which chose to make my oesophagus and voice box the battleground of the illness. So when they both passed, my voice was noticeably an octave lower which was cool. This normally happens after a sore throat and so I was expecting it. What I wasn’t expecting was that after recovering from my voice being an octave lower, it was actually a little different from before the illness. Maybe you can’t notice but I can feel it, it’s slightly deeper and with a wider range than before. This has nothing particularly to do with living in France however, it’s just happened to happen while I was in France.
The second thing to change is my accent. Some of you know that if I’m around people with a certain accent then I’ll slowly begin to pick it up. For those of you who know the fantastic Andrew Norbury, every time I spend more than two days around him I lapse into a strong Welsh accent just like I was born and bred in Swansea. I only realise this after another two days of Welshing it up and then I get paranoid and spend the rest of the week trying to hide it when I’m around him so he won’t think I’m taking the mick. I’m odd, I know.
Due to the severe lack of Welsh people out here however, this is unlikely to occur. What we do have out here though is a welcome contingent of Americans, spanning a range of accents, from Michigan to Mississippi.
Now don’t worry you English, I haven’t started calling it a to-may-to or started saluting the stars and stripes. It’s still a to-mah-to and I still maintain that they cheated in the war for independence (they brought the French in – the FRENCH! What a dirty trick) however, some things in my speech have changed.
For one thing, I’ve started prolonging my Rs like nobody’s business, moving them forward in my mouth (that probably makes no sense to anybody who hasn’t studied linguistics and/or phonetics). I’ve really begun to notice it, especially when I’m asking simple questions in to my pupils in English. "Where are you from?" now becomes "Whrrr’re you from?" "there" becomes "thrre" and, adding insult to injury by occasionally adopting an American word, "shop" becomes "storre".
It’s even more noticeable for me when I’m in the exclusive company of Americans like I was when I was in Paris over the February break. It was just Geraldine and me for the most part and then when Laura and Travis joined us and we began to talk about accents, it really kicked in! The intonations, phrasings, vocabulary – the whole cabudle.
That’s not to say that I now have an American accent or that I sound particularly as if I’m an estranged citizen from across the Atlantic but there are subtle differences which I notice. Nor is it to say that I don’t like the American accent or that I resent these changes to my speech, I find both things kinda cool if I’m perfectly honest.
The other thing that’s happened is that my Scouse accent which was a little poor before I came to France, has been ratcheted up a notch now. In fact, I’m so used to slipping into different accents to demonstrate things to Americans and French people who want to hear what the different regional accents of the UK sound like, that it’s almost second nature to me. My frankly feeble Scottish accent has now progressed to passable, my Brummie is also a lot better – or worse, it depends on your view on the beauty of the Brummie accent… After returning from my ten day stint in Liverpool, I found my Scouse to have improved as well. Not my Scal Scouse (the unintelligent and unintelligible variety) but my lighter Scouse which denotes somebody as merely having been brought up in Liverpool and not as a knuckle dragging, Lowe-Alpine and trakkie wearing, uncooth vagabond. [Here ends the snobbery]
All this has just made me fall more deeply in love with the sound of my own voice so I’m just a-warnin’ y’all… like.