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19.11.2008 Feature Article

'Abrokyire' Palaver: Foreign Accent Syndrome by choice?

'Abrokyire' Palaver: Foreign Accent Syndrome by choice?

Can you imagine suffering a stroke or a severe head or brain injury and coming around only to realize suddenly that you now speak with a foreign accent?

This is the bane of a number of people who after suffering a stroke or head injury woke up to realize they were speaking with completely different accent- a condition known as the Foreign Accent Syndrome or FAS. They completely lose their native accent.

Medical wonders! Last week ABC TV showed some of these victims, all women, who suddenly woke up one day speaking with entirely different accents. One speaks with a Russian accent, the other French and the third one pure British accent. The interesting thing though is that they never spoke any language other than American English and one had never even traveled out of her home state.

It was so inexplicable hearing previous voice messages they left and hearing the way they speak now. Although scientists are still working to find out the real cause of FAS, as it is called, it is believed that it is a result of the malfunctioning of the left side of the brain during a medical crisis which affects the linguistic-processing functions of the brain.

It is a rare medical condition that has yet to be explained fully but nonetheless exists.

This reminds me of when I first came to this country. Many were those who thought I had to quickly learn how to 'twist my tongue' a little in order to speak American English. I remember my good friend giving me a good tease when we went to borrow a movie and I asked the shop attendant, “where can I find The Last King of Scotland” and was met with a big “aaahhhh do you mean The Last King of Scadland?”.

I really could not be bothered because I knew there was no way I would ever want to speak with any other accent other than my pure Ghanaian accent. I was told how difficult it was going to be for Americans to understand me when I spoke but I did not intend to make it any easier for them as I was not having it easy understanding theirs too. (One-one draw).

I therefore find it interesting speaking with Ghanaians here. Whiles some have maintained their accent in spite of the number of years they have spent here, others are still working their way to make FAS not a medical condition that should inspire more research but rather a matter of choice.

In this respect you find three categories of Ghanaians living in this country:

The first category is made up of those I call Americo-Ghanaians. These no longer sound Ghanaian at all, they sound very American as is the case of a school mate who was introduced by a mutual African friend. After only four years in this country it is difficult to distinguish between him and the Clintons. Although he still has a Ghanaian name it is pronounced 'americanly'.

My second category is the Ghamericans. These have obviously put in a lot of effort into sounding American and yet there is something weighing so heavily on their tongue that makes them very frustrated at not endearing themselves to their own people by speaking like the American. They sound forced, confused and end up not knowing where they come from because their newly-acquired accent has failed to clearly distinguish them as coming from any of the continents on earth.

Then there is the last category of Ghanaians who will not even attempt it and are very much like Nigerians not born in this country. Trust the Nigerian who stays here even for 40 years. For as long as they were not born in this country it is still “bot Oga I jost arrived from Lagos”. These are my personal favourites. They believe in the power of their language serving as a critical pointer to their identity. That is who they are and nothing will change their line of thought in that respect.

Ultimately one's choice of any of the above categories is purely a matter of personal preferences and what one believes in. Having worked as a food vendor for a year and now working with students on a daily basis I am convinced that gradually people get used to your accent just as well as you also get used to theirs. It is only a matter of time. Just take time off to listen to Indians and Nigerians who have lived in this country for decades, they still survive perfectly without having to “twist their tongues”.

The interesting thing is that while medical research seeks to find out what causes FAS and how to deal with it, others are so willing to embrace it. That is the irony of life- one man's meat is another man's poison- isn't that what they say?

Credit: Dot Asare-Kumah [[email protected]]

Dorothy Asare-Kumah
Dorothy Asare-Kumah, © 2008

This author has authored 21 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DorothyAsareKumah

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