Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You've got to accent-uate the positive

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I was having a business conversation with a woman I did not know from Eve recently. We had been talking for a few minutes when she said: "I love the sound of your voice and could listen to you all day."

I like to think it was the content of my conversation of which she was enamoured. But I know from long experience that often it is not what I say that people hear, but rather how I say it.

I immigrated to Canada at age 26 from Scotland in 1986 and have now lived an equal amount of time in both countries. What brought me to Canada was a job offer. I never had to struggle to find the elusive job without English proficiency. I quickly was made aware that I have a Scottish accent and frequently was told to "say that again" or asked "what did you say?"

As time passes, you either realize it is best to slow down your pace of speech or live with puzzled comments and blank looks.

Being understood in a different country takes effort. Those who have come from countries where English is not spoken have my sympathy and respect for how hard they must work and think just to make everyday tasks possible.

Thankfully, I came from a country where the mother tongue is English, although given the great range of accents in the U.K., some might dispute that.

When I was a teenager, for example, the BBC was interviewing a fisherman on a pier in Aberdeen, where North Sea oil was to be piped. To everyone in Scotland's amusement, when the fisherman started talking, subtitles came up on the screen.

It was clear to us that he was speaking English, but obviously the BBC thought otherwise. We thought the English must be slow if they could not understand the language without subtitles.

There is much more to Scottish accents than the "lilt" or "burr." To a trained ear, or to someone who has lived with accents for a good part of their life, how you say what you say conveys a wealth of information.

For example, there is a distinct Glasgow accent -- think Mike Myers in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Coatbridge, the town I was born and grew up in, is 15 kilometres east of Glasgow, and therefore my accent is different from the Glasgow version that people know well.

Living in Scotland, it is relatively easy to pinpoint, to within 15 kilometres, where someone comes from by their accent. If you say "ye ken" (you know) at the end of a sentence, chances are you're from Kilmarnock.

In 2001, on a trip to Scotland, my daughters and I were walking home when we noticed a wee boy, who was no more than eight years old, throw his wrapper onto the ground.

Doing the right thing, I told him to pick it up.

He basically told me where to get off the bus. As he walked away from us he shouted: "Hey, big man, shut it!"

Now we all burst into laughter, except him. He was serious. What struck us was that having left Scotland, we forget how real and raw it is.

Growing up we spent our summers in Lamlash on the island of Arran. There we played golf every day -- sometimes two rounds -- fished, hill-walked or spent days on the beach forming a dam at the end of a stream.

Great times and friends galore.

What does that have to do with accents? Absolutely nothing. A country does not define a person, nor does an accent, but life within the country does. It is all about memories.

People say Scotland is great. Of course it is. But so is Canada. It is what you make it.

I would say it is positive having a Scottish accent. It has been an icebreaker that has led to great conversations with those who have visited or who would want to visit Scotland.

Although I notice accents here from all over the world, my daughters don't have one that I hear. They were born in Toronto and they both say bagel funny or tomato or garage. Weird!

My sisters live in the U.K. One in Bearsden, near Glasgow, has two children with non-Glasgow accents, and the other has two children in London with London accents. Very funny when we all get together.

My children don't hear my accent, which I find strange. Some of their friends consider the accent cool, which is the only way I will ever hear my grown children actually put dad and cool in the same sentence.

I am a Canadian citizen and I love Scotland and am proud of the country, its accomplishments and so many inventions. But I am also proud of Canada and being a Canadian and will be rooting for Canada during the Olympics.


Ian Scott is a Winnipeg small-business owner.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J11

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