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Samuel Okopi: Learning To Speak Like The Brits & Americans



I love British and American accents.

Yeah, I do. I love the way many Brits omit the ‘t’ from ‘forget’ as if to challenge their ancestors about what they feel is an unnecessary inclusion of that letter at the end of that word.

I like to listen to Americans talk. A black American stressing his words as his hands speak a visual language of their own, is a spectacle I always find exciting to watch. His dramatic sentences can begin first as words jogging on a plain, and then sharply shooting up to the mountains where one word—just one word—becomes a sustained marathon of music that suddenly dives into the calm sea of normal speech.

I love British and American accents. Seriously.

What I don’t like is the imitation (and subsequent corruption) of these lovely ways of speaking the English language. It is amusing to listen to Nigerians, who have never crossed the borders of the motherland, talking to their fellow citizens with a foreign accent. I find it disturbing to have television and radio hosts feed me (and their esteemed NIGERIAN audience) information flavoured with what could be any strange mix of American, British, French, Australian, Jamaican or Italian accents.


I can’t help laughing when I ask myself some questions: how does he speak to the mechanic he takes his car to? How does she communicate with the tomato seller in the market? How does he talk with the average guy on the street speaking with a naija accent, without feeling weird? Is this all an act put up on television and radio? Is this act necessary?

Please, let’s not even visit Nollywood.

I wonder, because I believe many of these television and radio personalities have never crossed the borders of this country or stayed out for a period that justifies acquiring a foreign accent. I wonder, because each time I listen to our Coordinating Minister of the Economy speak, I hear the English language served unashamedly with a Nigerian accent even though she has spent many years abroad.

Or is this a problem with our generation?

Everyone has the right to the important freedom of self-expression but this matter is really not about that right but about the broader issue of what it means to be a Nigerian and to inspire fellow citizens to be truly and proudly Nigerian. It’s about a strong inferiority complex currently pervading our social landscape, one that hides under a superficial air of superiority that expresses itself through counterfeit customs. It’s about our society becoming blind to the value of our indigenous languages and the cultures they carry, all because of an obsessive longing for foreign culture.

It’s about the pressure to not be yourself.

Because, it’s truly a sad thing to be judged by your natural accent and not by the weight of the words issuing from your mouth. It’s sad to have a well-educated lady somewhat ostracised because she has what we have gleefully termed ‘the H factor’. I have made interesting and brilliant friends online who, several months later as we had our first voice conversation by phone, spoke with indigenous accents that were quite heavy. It didn’t change my respect for them and I have always enjoyed these conversations.

When I was much younger, my reaction would have been markedly different. Maybe I would have distanced myself from these friends on account of their accents which I might have found to be disgusting. But things changed. My mindset evolved. These friends I have made, when I speak with them, I not only enjoy the weight of their words but also the music in the inflections that come with them.

It’s a good thing we have begun to accept the value of some of our indigenous ways of speaking the English language. Comedy is one accepted value and we know how our three major languages and two others in the South-south have thrilled us in this regard. We now celebrate the Warri way of speaking English. But moving past the stereotypes and stain of inferiority this comedic value still embodies, we must understand one thing: the accents each Nigerian language flavours our official language with, is a window into appreciating the culture carried by that language.

A number of our popular artists have infused the musical quality of indigenous accents into their songs to immensely pleasurable effects. Think of Asa. Hit songs like ‘360,’ ‘Maybe,’ and ‘Be my man’ have this distinctive appeal that owes to the Yoruba accent Asa’s amazing voice is coated with. Should we also talk of fabulous Igbo rapper Mr Raw, whose fluid code switching and Igbo accent make his rap songs so so desirable? The praise and worship albums by many Igbo gospel artists give an entirely different yet beautiful feel to popular English songs that originated from the West.

Whenever I visit my village and listen to the church choir thrill my ears with a beautiful, accent-heavy number, I can’t help but think that our craze for foreign culture has done us a lot of harm. I can’t help but really wonder if we aren’t losing a great opportunity to tap into our rich heritage through the various windows our indigenous languages provide.

I love British and American accents. French and Italian accents, too. I really do. And if a Nigerian who has probably spent many years abroad serves me an authentic delivery of any of these accents, I will still enjoy listening to it. Notwithstanding, I am not ashamed to speak like a Nigerian among white folks. I am not ashamed to identify with Nigerians speaking with the standard Nigerian accent or the accent of their mother tongue.

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Samuel Okopi has a Masters degree in Architecture from A.B.U, Zaria. He loves poetry and engages with architecture, nature and culture on his website where he takes readers, every week, on an exciting journey round the world. Subscribe to his newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.