Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Accent in Spanish

I’ve been obsessed with my accent for many years. I have been told it’s neutral and that that’s good because it shouldn’t be regional sounding. No one, for the most part, beyond a few initial phrases, takes me for a native speaker, although I do seem to pass for a heritage speaker despite the fact that my looks often override everything that comes out of my mouth. Online, people I’ve just met, without being able to see me, often tell me I sound like a native, although not from their country, but nonetheless, that’s the biggest compliment I could get and it’s very satisfying. Considering the fact I’ve acquired the sound system in the U.S. (through the Cuban community in Miami) in late childhood and have never lived for an extended period out of the country, I have plenty to be proud of. However, the concern about my accent has persisted until recently.

A few months ago, in a conversation with my husband, I came to realize that my situation isn’t as unique or particular to a non-native in the U.S. as I thought. My husband, who is originally from Colombia has been here a long time now without regular contact with others from there. In fact, he really only speaks Spanish with me and the Mexicans with whom he works. Over the years he apparently has lost his Colombian accent from being in a country where one gets exposed to a variety of accents. No one can tell where he is from, even Colombians, who have a hard time believing he was born and raised there.

So, if a native speaker who was brought up in the language can no longer be recognized as a member of his ‘own’ speech community because of prolonged contact with a variety of other accents, I shouldn’t feel bad about my own perceived shortcoming.