I don’t think myself to be a stylized writer in any way, so I was amused to be questioned on my use of a certain idiom in my last post – “not a bit of.” Was I, my bemused reader asked, using this phrase in the American way, meaning “not much,” or in the British sense of “quite a bit?”
I’ll confess I haven’t been paying much attention to form or style in any of my writing lately (it’s enough just to get the words typed out most days), so I accept this observation as yet another mark of the slow evolution that seems to be happening in my personal phraseology and language.
I first noticed the beginning of change in my way of expressing myself on my trip back home last summer. I was engaged in an extended conversation with a friend in my hometown when I suddenly became conscious of a shift in the tone and tempo of my own speech to match my friend’s. I speak English with people of a variety of accents in my work, and I rarely feel any urge to match, say, a British pronunciation when speaking with a Brit, so I was surmised that the direction I was slipping was actually back towards what had once been a more “normal” place for me. I found it rather amusing that I could actually speak with a “northern
Then, during the training in these last few weeks, I was surprised to be assumed to be, again and again, not an American, but an Australian, by non-native English speakers attending our training course. At first I assumed this was by association as the vast majority of native English speakers there were, in fact, Australian. But then I began to notice that the other Americans that were there were, in fact, immediately recognized as American and at one point in particular, the Australians began remarking on the pronunciation and phraseology of one of the other Americans – one I would have labeled decidedly “Midwest” (i.e., generic) accent. I asked why they had never commented equally on my pronunciation. Several of them considered it, and then said that it was because I don’t talk like that. Not that I spoke like an Australian, mind you, but my speech just wasn’t remarkable.
So, maybe the way I talk, write, even think in English is changing. The most obvious influence on this would have to be the weeks, even months, at a time I go without speaking to true native speakers of English. And when I do speak to another native speaker, it’s rarely in
The funny thing for me is how difficult it can be to actually SPEAK English with another native speaker. I often find the conversation goes too quickly – my accessible vocabulary is whittled down to essentials, so while I can understand everything going on, I have a lot of difficulty expressing myself clearly in return. I even find myself intimidated when going into a conversation that I won’t be able to keep up or represent myself in a clear and natural way.
There is another influence on my language – perhaps a little less obvious, but it’s definitely a strong one – radio and audiobooks. I am very happy with my satellite radio, which is most often tuned to NPR from the
I am taking advantage of our online library source for downloading books for catching up on my classical literature. There’s a wide selection of classics, and I’m working my way through a slew of Charles Dickens and other mainline classics. I’ll save the literary commentary (other than the Count of Monte Cristo is FANTASTIC), but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after hearing 18th and 19th century English day in and day out, I’m beginning to imitate it. It seems that I am slowly making a transition from Special English to the Queen's (or King's, depending on the period, I guess) English.
Which brings me back to the original idiom “not a bit.” After looking back at the post, I did use it in the British way, meaning “not a little bit” or “much.” So, everybody I met has a lot of pride in that little big island off the coast of