SO MANY WAYS TO SAY THE SAME THING…
Everyone of us has an accent, admit it or not. Our accent goes to the heart of who we are. It locates us geographically; but what happens when we move some place else? It is pretty nor- mal to experience a weakening or highlighting of our accents and adaptation of colloquialisms. Jenny Young shares her guide to ‘Nornameririshcan,’ a mixed up accent -not here nor there.
by Jenny Young
When I first arrived in Belfast, I hopped into a taxi and the driver asked me where I was from. “The US,” I said, to which he replied, “Awk, I know, love. Whereabouts in the states?”
The next year I jumped into a cab and the driver said, “Your accent is very mid-Atlantic.” I was so impressed because I am from Maryland, which is the mid-Atlantic region of the US. With pride and enthusiasm I asked how he knew. He replied some- thing along the lines of, “You sound like you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with that accent!”
I’m at the stage now where people don’t ask where I’m from. If it ever comes up, most people think I’ve blown in from a small village somewhere, knowing I’m not from Belfast but having no idea where I could be from. The truth is, nowadays, my accent is not here nor there. It’s a hybrid all its own, which I refer to fondly as NornAmerIrishcan.
Although inspired by my mother tongue, (which my father has aptly named “American”) and infused with the very regionally specific Norn Irish (anoth- er variation on English), my language continues to confuse those near and dear to my heart from both Belfast, Baltimore and beyond. Inspired by the Essential Norn Irish Guide that my soon to be in-laws bought for my parents to help them under- stand my Belfast family, I have developed my own language guide. So family, friends and friends I have not met yet … this guide is for you.
The mixture of the American ‘’Hey, what’s up?’’ with the Belfast ‘’Alright mate, bout ye?’’ becomes ‘’Hiya, what’s up about ye, mate?’’ This does not always elicit the intended response.
Moving further into the conversation usually leads to confusion, mainly due to my over-use of Belfast phrases in America and misuse of Belfast phrases in Northern Ireland.
These phrases include abundant use of the word craic. As craic is widely described in travel articles and regional phrase-books, I’ll not go into too much detail except to say that this is a word I feel fairly comfortable with. That is until I try to get too fancy. Good craic, brilliant craic, bad craic – these are all commonly used. Cool craic is not. The craic is mighty, but the craic is not massive (massive being another word commonly used in Norn Ireland, but not in conjunction with craic). Saying what’s crai- calackin’ is equally as acceptable as what’s shakin’ bacon – so I try to avoid both.
As the conversations progress, they usually turn to discussion of the weather. This is where Norn Irish and American languages take wild turns down two very separate paths and NornAmerIrishcan is abso- lutely pushed to the creative brink.
Roastin’ means too hot, Baltic means quite chilly, Blowy means windy. These words I use freely and generally I express myself correctly, however, this is where I face difficulty with cultural perceptions.
Freezin’ in Belfast would be pretty mild in Baltimore. So when I get into a taxi with flip flops and say “wow, that weather is brilliant,” and the driver has on the heating and a winter coat, again my language usage falls victim. This time to my skewed climate awareness. I also never know when it will rain, which labels me as a clear outsider. If I say “it looks like rain,” you can rest assured the day will be lovely.
Undoubtedly, word choice will always present a challenge. If I’m unsure when to use lift or elevator, footpath or sidewalk, jumper or sweater; I default to nondescript terms like “that there,” or another non-committal variation thereof. This adds to my already growing list of NornAmerIrishcan phrasing.
Now that I’ve spent over six years in Belfast, I’ve naturally adapted a Norn Irish cadence. Although I speak much more softly in Belfast than I do at home, I still speak at what may be considered here as a shout, with what I’m told is an inability to whisper. How, eight, do (and words that rhyme therewith) can still sound quite awkward and exaggerated, but it’s certainly much closer to Belfast than Baltimore.
Despite the massive changes in my accent, I do feel very American. In moving to a new place, my own cultural identity has been shifted and shaped by my different surroundings, which is reflected in my use of language. I speak and therefore I am NornAmerIrishcan, a proud hybrid of two of my absolute favourite / favourite places.