Although I only speak one language, I am fluent in at least 3 accents. One of which can only be done in jest, behind closed doors. But I digress. The other two accents are to be taken more seriously for they disclose details of my life that people cannot gather from looking at me. Accent #1 is a special case because it is the sound of a borrowed mother tongue. It is the one that I started off with and the one I have once again adopted. Accent #2 is the case of mandatory assimilation, a “when in Rome, do as the romans” case. It is the accent most people are comfortable with because the colony it derives from became a world power. Again, I digress but I deem this a suitable introduction to the reasons for my speech pattern.
Many years ago, while I was in college, I was given an assignment that required me to write an essay about my speech community. The purpose was to expose the idiosyncratic words I shared among my family and friends, words that we either created or adopted. Under my impression, those who could come up with interesting words were bound to ace the paper. Sitting in front of a blank screen for hours on end, the assignment proved to be a pain. What kind of words did my professor expect me to expose? The temptation to create words was strong but not until I thought of a more honest approach: Pidgin English. I was convinced that this form of English would impress my professor and wrote a paper full of words that I hardly spoke myself. This brings me to my point, without a native language or mastery of Pidgin English (our cherished vernacular) Accent #1 has no reference point, no rhythmic foundation — so to speak.
Around the same time, I met an African American woman who was surprised that I only spoke English. She pointed out that my accent was probably a result of listening to people whose English was influenced by their mother tongue. As crazy as her reasoning sounded, it was a light bulb moment for me because it gave me insight as to why I sounded the way I did. It was possibly a result of listening and replicating those who have a reference point (i.e. a different mother tongue from English). So it made sense when, a few years later, accent #2 was in full fledge: a result of years of listening to Americans and inevitably shedding the less celebrated accent #1. And when I moved to other western countries, the ability to code switch became effortless. Accent #1 only came on during conversations with family and sometimes sounded like a new thing altogether. I found that (or perhaps falsely believed) that accent #1 was not easily embraced on foreign shores and it made sense to ditch the process of explaining why English was the only language I spoke by sounding like I was from a country that claimed English as its sole mother tongue.
But the story doesn’t end there. When I moved to Lagos, a magical thing happened. Accent #1 re-emerged. Over the years, accent #2 became second nature but accent #1 has gradually become my preferred choice; further confusing those who might have known me during high school when I switched up accent #1 for no reason in particular (it was in the late 90s and I was reinventing myself). I like to think that this magical thing is more than how I choose to sound and more about who I am choosing to become. I am, as I have stated in the past articles, not without flaw: a Nigerian without tribal ties, with a tapered love for my country but most importantly I believe I am developing a voice within that sounds like what it ought to.