We moved to New Zealand when I was a kid. One of the first things to happen for me was that all the other kids at my school now sounded quite different from me. I’d come from London, England and pronounced
room in a way I can’t find any comparison for. It’s kind of like making the ‘r’ sound followed by an ‘mmm’ sound. Meanwhile the Kiwi kids around me were saying it with a pronounced ‘oooh’ sound in the middle.
At first, to preserve my individuality and sense of self-worth I guess, and because my family around me all pronounced it the same way I did, I stuck to it in a determined fashion. We also pronounced some other words with that same ‘oo’ in the middle the same way: broom, for example.
Now I’ve been in New Zealand for more than 50 years and pronounce it the same way as everyone else around me, with that long ‘oooh’ sound. Somewhere along the line my identity morphed.
Of course that wasn’t the only thing I pronounced differently (then, but not now). Another was the word
scone, which for our family rhymed with ‘stone’. Kiwis though say it as though it rhymes with ‘scon’. Which is why the article How do you pronounce scone?, in the OxfordWords blog caught my particular interest:
… there is a definite transatlantic divide when it comes to the humble scone. If you’re holding a bake sale in the US, make sure you’re rhyming ‘scone’ with ‘cone’ …
If, however, you’re in the UK, the tables are turned (possibly quite literally, if you use the ‘wrong’ pronunciation.) While ‘scone-to-rhyme-with-cone’ has some leverage, over half the country will politely pretend not to have heard you, and ask (rhyming scone, of course, with ‘con’) “Would you, dear friend, perhaps like a scone?”
I find it interesting how our pronunciation (and other aspects of language) are influenced by those around us. I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for around 7 months back in about 1981. My flatmate was from Glasgow and had what I thought was quite a broad Scots accent. So did her 5 year old son, and the various visitors who turned up from time to time.
After a month or two I felt quite a tension in how I would speak. I was tempted, on some visceral level, to speak in a way that sounded like all of them. On the other hand, as a person in my late twenties, to sound like them wouldn’t be to sound like the me I had always been. I stuck to the ‘me’ way of sounding, but I’m sure if I’d been there longer, a few years or more, I would have ended up sounding more or less like them.
At least the English me, the Kiwis, and the Scots all have a language in common, even if we vary it a bit in the particulars.
It must be a very tricky thing for families who migrate from countries that speak a language that isn’t English. I can imagine those same pressures at work: to want to stay true to one’s own identity in speech and lifestyle versus fitting in with the wider group and culture.
Of course, I use the example of English here because that’s the most widely spoken of New Zealand’s national languages. I’m using it as a placeholder for any one of two ‘different’ languages.
When it comes to languages, there’s a lot to ponder on …