Friday, December 14, 2007

Eish, lyk is this a treatise on twang? Yah neh?

Do you find that you sometimes subconsciously emulate the tonal inflections of the people you speak to?

The phenomenon of 'twanging' (the word itself is a souf-efrikanism I believe) is best explained by the action of adapting your natural accent to mimic the one of the person you're addressing.
Twangers are derided by their critics for aspiring to sound more 'upper-class' than the dictates of their social status [squared] quo, with commentary running along the line of "Why you talking like a white?".

So far, thirteen years of democracy in SA is just a band-aid on the schismic gashes left by the idea that each racial group be left to develop along a path set by white supremacists. With that as our baggage and legacy, our fully heterogeneous society makes up a chorus so varied and rich, that South African Accent in itself is a misnomer. Our voices bump up against each other everywhere. It's this huge conversation, and here and there, we encounter the Twang.

I twang. And I only realised it after I listened to an interview I recorded. It was with gag-disbelief that I heard my voice outside itself, "Yawh, That's true."
I said "Yawh", the way most white south africans would.
Not "Yah", the way most indian south africans would.
It wasn't a conscious act. At no point, did I commit to thinking, "Ok, I'm interviewing the woman the Sunday Times billed as South Africa's richest. I can't show my 'jaat'* here."
And it's not just 'talking White'. I've since noticed I adjust not only to accent, but also nuance, pace and cadence of the people I speak to, more so when it's a situation that requires engagement and earnest concentration.

My mother twangs too, though she'll deny it. And when she speaks to elderly indian women, she lapses into indian-aunty talk (when every fourth word is 'shame', regardless of the positive nature of what's heard. E.g: Your husband bought a new car? Shame, that's so nice, shame. Your daughter's engagement is on Saturday, shame, you must be so happy.)
I've heard friends and work colleagues twang. And I do not believe that anyone of them do it with purposeful intent.

When we converse with someone face-to-face, we mirror their body-language. When they sit with their legs crossed, we tend towards crossing our legs. Apparently, we do this to create a sense of empathy with the other and establish common denominators to smooth the interaction.
Perhaps this holds true for twanging. Some subliminal notion that if we sound like the people we want to engage, we create commonality?

I welcome your thoughts.



*gujarati for caste or social standing

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

ok, first off, brilliant blog.....such relevant issues, that we encounter everyday, yet ppl hardly seem to want to address these issues, or even jsut speak about them.

I twang myself, i do it alot, and thing is, i'm proud of it....y, cos it does create empathy, makes the conversation flow, and also makes the other person feel 'not so out of place', but there in lies the irony, i mean, how come when u talk to a white ou, he doesnt feel the need to speak like a chaaro, or even a black ou, or a coloured, howcome its only the indian filla who is gonna make a means to sound like the person he is conversing with, i mean what kind anol ekse?

see, for me, its easy, cos i am an actor at heart really, and so doing voices and accents comes very easily to me, but i'm intrigued as to how indians are almost like chameleons, changing to suit our surroundings........ofcourse, u get the 'coconuts' brown on the outside, white on the inside ppl, but then they permanently have a white accent......unlike the typical hindian filla or girly changing to suit the environment. Have u ever heard urself speaking to the domestic worker (not maid, its not politically correct)....eish, maar josephina, y u making so much noise today huh, u dont see the baba is trying to sleep there, go iron properly now, uddawise da baas is gonna b very cross if u bern his shat vandag!

i guess we are a unique breed hey.

u know, i'm just realising, u r probabaly the coolest person on earth! brilliant converstion company for sure! keep up the brilliant work! fan for life........

The Chosen One!

SingleGuy said...

I've lived in Many places as an adult, and I must say there is nothing as irritating a sound like a Jozi Northern Suburbs Twang. And Although I have adopted many accents, I think that that is one I could never adopt. The Twang of the Northern Suburbs for me represents the RICH, SPOILED, and DUMB.

When I lived on the Kaapse Platteland for a while, I think I may have adopted an Afrikaner Boer Afrikaans accent, naturally, wifout trying. In Jozi southern Suburbs, my voice have taken on an indian subtext, neh? On the other hand when I'm re-united with the coloured kids I grew up with in school, I regress to Cape Flats se Ma se speech. Sien Jy? Jy's mos lekker ge-ert as jy rittie recognisie, sien jy.

I also find it difficult to speak to an Afrikaans person in English. I am fully Tweetalig and often feel out of place when chatting to Afrikaans people in English, even when they are speaking English! It's maybe cos they have difficulty in addressing me in English that I want to make them feel more confortable?

SO maybe that's the basis of it. Maybe, We want to make the person that we're speaking to more comfortable, and therefore adopt their manner of speaking, without even thinking. And because of that, I don't think that everyone twangs on purpose.

Ok. THAT doesn't answer the reason certain people TWANG when they are in the company of their peers that they grew up with. I think here, it's probably the same thing like when your accent changes when you move to another city or country for a long time. You program yourself to speak the way they do, to fit in. And when you come back, it takes a lot of time to deprogram.

So YAWH, That's my thoughts hey.

P.S. You'll never never catch me imitating a northern suburbs jozi inhabitant. I'd rather catch pneumonia and die.

r said...

complete LOL moment at the "shame" line! Kman and i were chatting bout that recently. My mom does the same when she's on the phone to her lenz-residing sister. As well as that ever present suffix "ne"! I twang too. can't understand why seeing as though I've grown up in slumurbia and only attended indian schools. Delusions of higher class..?

Fatima said...

I twang SO MUCH.
I never noticed it until I was in Matric.
It was a mixed group of friends chilling out at break time - indians, whites, blacks, etc.
Us Indian girls were talking amongst ourselves and then when our white friends arrived our twang changed completely when we spoke to them.
The same happened when we were talking to our black friends.
They were flabbergasted at the way we changed our accents without even realising it.

I don't think it's such an issue. I do agree with you on the point where you state that we try to make the other person comfortable, which is why we end up emulating them.

It's strange and fun and I enjoy it. :)

The K-man said...

lol @ the shame line lol. Yes I read that and I thought of the the same conversation with r lol shame ! lol

I think we all twang subconsciously think its just something we do so we can relate to the people we are talking to. We talk differently to a child then we would to an adult so i guess it applies to different people also.

Im a twanger lol

Waseem said...

Wow post motherload :) and great ones too.

I always thought twanging was actually the forced way of speaking, so if you do it subconciously, is it still twanging? Also when you talk to people with a broader vocabulary, you would tend to use a better vocabulary, is that 'twanging'?

I dunno if jaat is Gujrathi, i think its across the border of Indian languages

Sara said...

I totally do that (including the shame thing)! After a few months of living in SA I started talking "Durban" and most of the time I don't even realize it. I'm surprised my friends (who are native to this country) pick up on it, but they do! And they're all like, "why are you trying to talk Durban?" but I swear, I can't help it!!!!! The funny thing is, when I just moved here, it used to irritate me when my fellow Canadian-South Africans would Twang, but I guess they can't help it either!!!!

Ta^KiLLa said...

"twanging" is a concept that ones self tells them to attain..
Maybe people who emulate other accents feel the need to fit or blend in..
Maybe if u sound INDIAN as many of us do, people will look upon you as some inferior being and u cannot live with that..
Personally i dont see the need to EMULATE..
However with many people it becomes second nature and they do not know theyve adopted the disease..
I find it a growing trend among the middle to upper class blacks in this country..
I just find it hilarious..

The Organ Harvester said...

Linguistically it's natural for us to emulate the people were are talking to depending on our goals, the social standing of the people we're dealing with. So things like inlfection, tone, pitch, timbre all change mostly subconsciously. What most SA need to get around is that stigma of sounding "ama low class. Sounding white does not maketh the human in my books.

But what do I know hey sals?

bb_aisha said...

I suppose I do too. But yeah, if I'm talking to different races within one group, it can change as I switch from person to person. I did it in Egypt too, when I was surrounded by people of different nationalities.

It's when people 'try to be white' & 'artificially ut on' that it's annoying.

Interestingly, when I was at Radio Al-Ansaar in Dbn, certain people accused me of twanging, when I was speaking in my normal accent.

And now at safm, I'm doing current affairs so I put on my 'news' voice, which some might think I'm twanging, but I'm not.

A Jordanian friend met a Capetonian (and from his description I figure the guy spoke Cape Flats taal) & said ;thats not english!' haha

ZK said...

ooo i twang on the phone...
and so does every one i know who happens to be speaking to a different nation on the other side :)
imagine my shock when i met some one once and the person on the phone did not resemble the colour i saw :)
miss you see you soon

irshaad said...

the most successful communicators are the ones who relate the closest to the audience they addressing: twanging to me is another mechanism we use (and yes i do,mostly without realising it) to bridge that gap that lies between you and your audience.

'imitating' peoples accents and even subtle body language makes them more attentive and willing to hear you out - so why not twang!
u gta love it

Anonymous said...

LOL, you guys can use whatever excuses you want about twanging, but let me tell you something. A true "communicator" does not go to the audience, but instead brings the audience to him, and anybody else is just an imitator, a homunculus, you will follow orders and follow the crowd, instead of being yourself and unique. I am so proud to say that I have NEVER EVER done it, and big ups to you guys who actually realised that you do, but to me its the most irritating thing in the world, be yourself, be a man. lead and not follow, the only reason you feel the need to attempt to male the other party feel comfortable in you is because you dont feel comfortable with yourself speaking to them at your level because you have the inferiority complex and you do this for, i dont know, acceptance?

FUCK THAT, like me for me or dont like me, but i will not follow, act and definitely not speak like you. "TWANGING" happens most in the indian community, because you guys dont have any back bone, unfortunate for me to say this but its the truth. Lanies have the original superiority feeling, darkies have the newly found superiority feeling, except for those coconuts, but they always speaking like that, and bushies just dont give a shit. So why do us indians then feel the need to emulate those who dont give a shit about us? Think about that, maybe I'm wrong though, but i bet there are others that feel the same way as myself.

saaleha. bamjee. hyphen. said...

valid points everyone, thank you.
you know, i'm not sure it does stem from inferiority complexes, but that too can't be totally discounted. if you're looking at it from that perspective, its as much about twanging 'up' as it is about twanging 'down'.

Fatima said...

i don't think it's about an inferiority complex - a lot of people just don't realise that they do it until somebody points it out to them.

Profane. Profound. What's your poison?