Every year Rhodes students organize a marathon reading of the Odyssey. They develop a schedule and students and professors take turns reading for about 20 minutes each. They start on Friday afternoon and go right through the whole thing finishing around 10 the following morning. It's the kind of awesomely dorky thing that absolutely makes me miss college.
They did the Odyssey Marathon this past Friday and since Prof. Grady had signed up to read I decided to tag along. One of the student readers was a first year student from China. The kid had a thick accent but read VERY well and at the end everyone applauded him. Everyone was really encouraging, kept telling the kid he was doing great and helped him out when he wasn't sure how to pronounce certain words. I was having such a serious flashback to my own freshman year in college, I couldn't say a word.
My accent has been a constant source of worry and anxiety for me for 10 years now. That's how long it's been since I came to the States for the first time in 1999. I've aways known that it's nothing to be embarrassed about but still hate all the attention it attracts. It makes me feel more inadequate and insecure than anything else. I've gotten to a point where my accent doesn't show itself immediately. Usually I need to have talked to someone for an extended period of time before they "catch" me and ask. It doesn't even sound Eastern European as much as it just sounds idiosyncratic. But I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Still.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from Yolina. She's Bulgarian and lives in Switzerland with her husband Marcel. Yo told me that she had just recently talked to her mentor at work, an American, who told her that sometimes when she talked, she sounded harsh. Actually, he told her she sounded like the Russian Spy in old movies. He didn't mean it in a bad way of course... just sort of... matter of fact. He also made sure it was clear that it was nothing that she said, it was simply the way she was saying it, etc. etc. etc.
Yo and I had a long exchange about that. She queried her husband and her co-workers. I spoke to my in-house linguistic expert (Kyle) and my dear friend Doriana who lives in D.C. There's no consensus on the subject but all have recognized that sometimes Bulgarians can sound a little bit, for lack of a better word, harsh. Kyle thinks its our intonation. Marcel thinks that whatever it is, it comes to the surface only during work-related conversations. Some of Yo's co-workers think it's differences in the etiquette of conducting business in Europe and the States. Others say they notice the accent but they wouldn't necessarily qualify it as harsh. I say that I don't know what it is but I am terrified that someone will notice and fixate on it. Ha! I guess I am terrified of myself.
So, this is sort of a long and rambling story without much of a point to speak of. But I wanted to put it all out there and ask for your thoughts on Bulgarian accents but also on accents in more general terms. Do you have one? And, more importantly, what is your relationship to your accent? Love it? Hate it? Both?