I read this post and the comments it generated with lots of interest, then this one turned up too. It's a subject I was talking about recently with a friend and one in which I am fascinated.
I have come to a conclusion that people of all sorts DO change their voice and accent in order to blend in with their surroundings and environment. But the amount that a person will change their voice or accent is a direct reflection of the amount of self confidence the person has. It's something I have concluded after some, although hardly statistically significant, observation of people who do a lot of public speaking and presentations.
The people who have a large dose of self confidence are the ones whose accent remains largely unchanged wherever they are. The ones who lack self confidence, at least in some areas, are the ones who try to change their voice to suit the environment. It makes perfect sense to me, it's a reflection of a person's security in themselves.
Accents are also key to a person's identity aren't they? How often do we judge a person becase of their accent? Most of us will continually judge people we meet from their voice. Let's face it, if you heard David Beckhams's voice and didn't know that it was him you probably wouldn't conclude that he was a teacher or a Doctor would you? You wouldn't take a listen to Stephen Fry and think that he's a footballer.
When I was in Sri Lanka a while ago I had dinner with Java Jones. It was the first time we had met face to face. Whilst we were chatting he mentioned that he had expected me to be "more Sri Lankan" than I appeared. It was an interesting comment and when we discussed it further we figured that he had expected me to have a Sri Lankan accent, something I don't even borrow on Sundays. It was interesting how Mr Jones had built up an impression of me almost solely from reading my blog, how he had expected one accent and I had turned up with a different one, but also how we all make these assumptions. If I heard my own voice, with its dreary South London tones, then compared it with Java's sultry Sri Lankan lilt, I'd totally assume that he is Sri Lankan and I'm British. Technically true, yet I also consider myself as Sri Lankan.
But, I do find that my voice and accent changes a bit when I am talking to certain people in Sri Lanka, specifically people whose English isn't as good as others may be. The older I have got the less my voice shifts, a reflection of my inner confidence I think. But I still catch myself when talking to an old Aunt or someone and I notice that many words take on a "Singlish" sound to them.
I was discussing this accent thing with someone the other day and she said that she thinks the phenomenon is also a sign of adaptibilty, that people who shift their voice and accent in order to make themselves understood are simply attempting to blend in with their companions. This must be true too, we all crave acceptance by our peers although we have different ways of showing that craving.
The whole issue of people putting on "false" accents and returning to Sri Lanka after a couple of months in England with an accent like Vinnie Jones' one is just laughable for two reasons. First is the fact that it is clearly put on for effect. I can't understand why many people often hold Western culture with such high regard, perhaps it's largely because of the influence of TV and music and the MTV generation. But secondly it's the fact that these accents don't sound anywhere near genuine to a Londoner. If you think that Dick van Dyke's cockney accent was a good one then you may fall for the charms of a Colombo boy trying to sound all "gansgta" but that's about the only type of person you'll impress.
So, this is a big moment for me. For about the first time since I started to blog I have reached a conclusion in a post. Normally I start off with good intentions and then ramble to a point that is so far removed from the start that I finish in mid air. This time I have a conclusion of sorts, the first I have had since chemistry lessons at school.
It's this; the amount that a person changes their accent and voice in the company of others is a direct reflection of that person's self confidence. So the more you change the less self confidence you have. But, the important point is that it's self confidence in relation to the people we are interracting with, it's not absolute.