After a month splitting time between Montreal and London, I returned to Southern California this August unable to remember how I used to speak. There were these inflections in my words which, back in my native SoCal, seemed weird, fake, and forced. It took me three days to feel comfortable in my own voice – three days of incredulous looks from bartenders and questions asking which part of Australia I’m from. By the time I returned to Portland, I was back to normal.
I’ve had this problem as long as I can remember (temporarily picking up a Spanish accent in junior year health class was particularly embarrassing), but only recently did I discover it’s not a problem at all. Maybe it was after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, where he alludes to the emotional connection we subconsciously seek through mimicry. Or perhaps it was reading various reports on a University of California, Riverside study to the same effect. What seemed perfectly natural to me was, in fact, perfectly natural, even if most of us don’t express it.
All of which makes today’s criticism of Joey Barton weird, opportunistic, and ignorant. While I wouldn’t put it past the former Newcastle, current Marseille striker to assimilate an accent for other purposes, it’s entirely possible that during the process of living in a new country and learning a new language, Barton’s subconsciously sought to emotionally connect with his new surroundings. Hence the accent today’s Independent lampoons as “[speaking] with comedy”.
They aren’t the only ones making fun of this press conference, an interview conjuring memories of the Dutch accent former England manager Steve McClaren adopted upon his first spell at Twente (McClaren’s video follows Barton’s):
On the surface, it seems weird that we’d change our speech patterns based on our surroundings, but it’s a completely natural (if subconscious) trait. Even if it wasn’t, would it be such a bad thing to take a “when in Rome” attitude toward these things?
Perhaps if we weren’t talking about Joey Barton or a failed England manager, we’d let the whole thing go. But when it comes to Barton or McClaren, everything’s fair game.