Thursday, August 14, 2008


I have a few American friends here but I spend most of my time with Ugandans and British and Australian ex-pats so I am finding that my vocabulary is shifting, if only for clarity’s sake. I’ve found myself saying “chips” instead of “fries” and “crisps” instead of “chips.” Beyond junk food there’s also “car park” = “parking lot,” “flat” = “apartment,” “coffee plunger” or “cafetierre” instead of “French press,” “you fancy…?” instead of “would you like…?” Yeah, it’s getting pretty bad.

I have been conscious of my tendency to adopt the language of the people around me since the New Year of the millennium that I spent in Vancouver. Spending a couple hours every day in the pool with a bunch of Canadian swimmers left me speaking like a Canadian. Lame, I know, but I couldn’t help it. I was ending each sentence with a question-like ascent in tone and my vowels were flattened, thankfully I didn’t pick up the famous Canadian “ey,” and my speech pretty much went back to normal after a few days back in the states.

In Senegal, one of my favorite parts of the language were the exclamations (you can read about that in an earlier blog entry) I picked up and if a French person ever heard my French, complete with West African rolled r’s and j’s converted to s’s, they would likely be confused about my origins or at least the origins of my French. Uganda being a former British colony, they speak English and I’ve been picking up on the way they speak English. My flat mate who grew up in Africa has the African English down to a T and it’s actually quite funny to hear her speak like that. She mostly uses it so people can understand her, like moto drivers. She’s been told numerous times, by these guys, how well she speaks English, so much better than the other muzungus. So I too find myself speaking slower, enunciated some sounds more some sounds less, changing the pronunciation of my vowels.

At one point, after having lived in Wisconsin and Iowa, finding myself in Philly and saying things like “wudder,” I became paranoid that my accent was becoming the worst possible mix of mid-western twang and mid-Atlantic speak. Now I add in what I’ve picked up in Africa, who knows if anyone will understand what I’m saying. J