A perfect world is one where the only barrier we have is language; no racial, gender or social barriers, just language.
I’ve always felt an immense desire to be adroit at languages, though it’s the toughest thing for me to grasp. My love for languages started when I realized I could use English to create an identity, not by my own doing but simply because of the way society responds to languages.
Growing up I had a very unorthodox teacher, “the T.V.”. I learnt a lot from watching television, I would mimic my favorite Power Rangers hero, not really knowing what they are saying but I would perfect the accent. Little did I know my endless hours of being engulfed in cartoons and teen flicks would in later years pay off.
Now when it comes to English, it’s the accent that matters. As Africans, we have been conditioned to the point that we don’t realize just how much we worship the ways of our oppressors. Let me explain.
We go for an interview, 3 of us – lets say a Damara, a Wambo and Coloured. Interviewers listen to each candidate attentively but there’s one that sticks out. The coloured guy who has travelled a bit and picked up a slight western accent, and so because of his accent he sounds way more “educated”, so he gets the job.
Another scenario, have you ever witnessed how waiters would jump at the chance to serve “foreigners”? How they would ignore your table and jump at every 10 minutes to check up on their foreign clients. And the only way you can classify these foreigners as such is by their accents.
So here’s how I used the system to my advantage. I realized that many people are drawn to a more cleaner and familiar accent; the language in it self is not even focused on, but the pronunciation of words is what seems to draw people to you.
I’d be at little get together’s and people would ignore me when I’m silent, not really ignore just not notice me. But when I speak, I could be talking about why paper is or something really boring, and they would look at me like they are at a Ted Talks.
Its truly sad that an accent would deem you fit for intelligence in todays society, but bring a dissertation on economic revolution and present it with a thick Herero accent, chances are people wouldn’t be as receptive as they would if someone with a western accent would have presented it.
Grammar has a special place in my mind, I’m somewhat of a grammar Nazi myself. And that’s just something I won’t compromise on. But accent is certainly something we can ignore… something like substance over style.
How is it that a French man can walk in here with a thick accent, where one can barely hear what he is saying or even comprehend what he is saying, but ladies would still fall to his feet not knowing if this guy is explaining his illness or whether he has just declared war. Come with your proposal in a loaded Damara accent and you stand to become a joke.
We need to learn to appreciate our accents as Africans, as Namibians. We should take the example of our western brothers and embrace our accents. Country men from places like DRCongo, Nigeria, Ghana and many more have made their marks all over the world, marks that are distinct and recognizable.
From music to movies to poetry and more, there are people from countries that have not conformed to western accents. And refuse to degrade their nationality by adapting or should I say mimicking the western accents. But scroll through majority media from Namibians and you can almost not even point at the Namibian.
Accents are basically the only thing that can differentiate us from countries that are so similar to our own, like the South Africa’s and Botswana’s, that and of course the weave, but that’s a story for another time. Embrace your national identity; your accent is your national fingerprint.