Saturday, December 9, 2023

Ain’t not what you say but how you say it

Speakers of the Queen’s language have a long standing debate on whether you effect or affect an accent. The controversy over the grammar however fades in comparison to the actual slipping into an American or British accent which has now become a cause c├®l├¿bre among local armchair linguists.

While Batswana Afrocentrics feel effected accents are the most irritating social faux pas those who prefer to speak with a twang are convinced it is a sign that they have arrived and have even given the practice a politically correct term: code switching.

Senior Sociology Lecturer at the University Of Botswana Sethunya Mosime says code switching definitely can get people certain perks. “Women know how to code switch well, they can easily change an accent based on who they are speaking to and in which environment they are in. Most interviewers or bosses in companies like to hire people who can articulate themselves well so having a twang is an added bonus. Audience matters, for instance if you went to a store like The Body Shop you’re somehow expected to speak a certain way, with an accent maybe but if you were to walk in to Choppies with that same accent you probably wouldn’t get tended to as quick.” She says most people who code switch have the emotional intelligence to know what works where and for which target audience.

Almost everyone who spoke to the Sunday Standard Lifestyle seemed to agree that humans are quick to judge a person based on accents. That accent can trigger social categorisation. Botswana has become attuned to the social status and stereotypes that have been attached to various accents. A British or American accent is often associated with the affluent class who went to expensive private schools while those who speak English with a heavy Setswana accent are believed to be descendents of the blue collar class who have never seen the inside of an “English Medium “school.

So while for some, an accent is a source of cultural pride, for others it is a secret source of shame. Boipelo Pule a waitress at Nandos in Game City says accents definitely matters “ I have noticed that in my job, sometimes when I serve a customer it is more appealing to put on an accent in that way the customer takes you more seriously and sees that I know what I’m doing.  The customer even goes to the extent of conversing with you a little.” She says it’s not because she is ashamed of how she speaks but it is because of the audience she has to mingle with at work.

Many people in  professional life who once spoke with regional accents, and maybe still do in familial settings, have found themselves altering their pronunciation to ‘fit in’ with their middle class peers: be it broadcasters, doctors or lawyers. The higher up the social scale you go, the more people start to sound the same. This is because accents have always been seen as more prestigious, something to aspire to in the educated circles perhaps the reason why most radio disc jockeys in Gaborone’s radio stations speak with an effected twang.


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