Losing my linguistics

Jenny Hewett discovers her Australian accent isn’t as authentic as it once was

The Knowledge

Jenny Hewett discovers her Australian accent isn’t as authentic as it once was.

People who have lived in this city for any length of time will tell you that it’s extremely difficult to lose anything in Dubai. To be clear, post-brunch dignity is not one of those things.

Proving the point, I told my folks, whom I was living with at the time, that I spent my first year (involuntarily) hiding Nokia phones in taxis to see how long it would take for them to be returned. Likewise, my handbag and I have parted ways on a number of occasions, only to be reunited days later with all of the contents still inside. But of the small percentage of things I’ve lost and have never got back, I never thought my accent would be one of them.

These days it takes a very sharp ear to detect any debris of my once-undeniably Australian accent. One of the most fascinating things about living in Dubai is the mix of different nationalities here. But over the last seven years my vocabulary has shifted. My beloved ‘bogan’ has had to contend with the equally illustrative ‘chav’. It doesn’t stop at insults either. I’ll admit I’ve been replacing the colloquial terms of my fellow countrymen with unnecessary phrases such as ‘to be honest’. And it wouldn’t be a regular day in Dubai without going over the whole ‘no, I’m actually Aussie’ episode with someone I’ve just met who assumes off the bat that I’m British. Which, to be honest, wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that our relationship is historically star-crossed.

The ongoing rivalry between Brits and Aussies doesn’t really work in my favour when I’m on home soil either. Gone are the days of tucking into a meat pie on the beach to redeem my Vegemite-eating heritage.

Catch-ups with friends in Oz are almost always brought back to how ‘British’ I sound. The old me would resort to humour in my defence, but it’s quite hard to deliver a quick-witted rebuttal when you sound like the Queen.

But I’ve also noticed that not everyone in Dubai is susceptible to accent deterioration. So why me? Before you call me a fraud, an evolving accent is something I have a predisposition to. You see, I was also American in an earlier life. Having grown up in several parts of the world, there is a phenomenon I like to refer to as the chameleon approach to speech, whereby kids mimic what they hear around them to help them assimilate.

Now, decades later, it’s followed me into adulthood. And it’s not a bad thing. Back in the day, my wishy-washy rhetoric was how I identified with my childhood overseas – a product of adventure. But I also find myself pining for the Aussie drawl I’d so effortlessly mastered in my twenties. Either way, it makes me unique. Even if it means I sound like everyone else. Now, I’m off to watch Crocodile Dundee.

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