Monday, 27 October 2008

The More Things Change...

... things just change, right?

Everything has the capacity to change, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. Today as I was walking home from uni in the cool (ok, frigid) air, I found myself thinking, as I passed by a somewhat-seedy looking man on the street:

"He looks quite dodgy"

Now, the man himself is not the interesting thing here. No, the fascinating part (at least in my opinion) is the fact that I actually THOUGHT a British the cuff, without forethought!

Now, it is easy once habitation in a new area has rooted one to a culture to MIMIC the accent, cadence, jargon, syntax (if applicable) and other cultural norms that one sees exhibited on a regular basis. To offer another personal example: yesterday, on a walk down Princes St. with my friend Tina, I adopted a Scottish brogue in reference to a hat she had just purchased:

"Och, lassy, that hat o' wool will keep yer hair o' lambswool dry, now"

(fyi, this was really an inside joke in reference to the fact that a Scottish rugby player had told her a few weeks ago that her hair was "like lambswool" a.k.a "really soft" and we had since joked about this, because it sounded so funny)

This happened to roll off my tongue quite easily, after a second's mental preparation in which I framed the sentence in my head before attempting the verbal correspondence of my joke, which was a jibe at the Scottish-ness of the wool correlation. First of all, I actually pulled the accent off, which surprised me, seeing as I have never been able to do a Scottish accent before. Secondly, I now see that by mentally prepping myself before elocution I was drawing from gathered local experience to IMITATE the culture I have embroiled myself within. Imitation is often done in order to garner a response or reaction, not in order to try to nestle oneself into the blanket of "insider" idea(ls) to which any culture group will hold itself in contrast to the existence of "outsiders" within their boundaries.

Now, in contrast to this example, do you see why it so surprises me to learn that I am not only using British/Scottish colloquial terms, phrases, and differences in syntax in my outward, SPOKEN interactions with people I talk to everyday (because I started noticing that I do that about three days into living here), but that I have evolved into actually THINKING in Brit-speak?!?!

The mind is a complex, personal entity (I say entity without question, because without our conscious mind, what are we beyond a fleshy shell?) and it is one that I had assumed would still draw on the implicit and well-ingrained cultural norms stemming from my previous 24.5 years of life in the western region of the United States. It is a little off-putting, like having a window into my thoughts (begrudgingly) left open by an invited guest. I liken this to dreaming. When someone speaks multiple languages, will their subconscious mind not still dream in their mother tongue for a period of time WELL BEYOND a move to a land that speaks a foreign language predominately? So when did it happen? When did I cease to think in completely American English and begin to form thoughts in the jargon of my current locale?

This question could have many answers. The most simplistic would be the idea that since I am being TRAINED as an Anthropologist-in-the-works to not only OBSERVE the culture around me, but to also PARTICIPATE within said culture, I would naturally begin to participate by altering my normal verbal patterns.

Another possibility is the fact that as I have always tended to pick up accents in imitation and use quite easily, this is just the next step within the acclimation process, and as I have never moved to a place with highly varied speech from my home, I never considered the possible vocal-mental connection.

Lastly, perhaps immersion really IS the most potent method of language transmittal-not only for communication, but also for mental processes. Immersion courses are supposed to be the most successful means of adopting a new language. Clearly this is true, seeing as everyone from Anthropologists to CIA agents use immersion to gain real fluency in new languages. Although in my case, seeing as Scots English is still ENGLISH, I didn't ever think about how quickly I would begin to THINK in the native dialect.

Overall, I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg in reference to the changes that I will continue to see in myself over the next few years. I anticipated a change in some areas of myself, mostly visual, such as clothing choice and preference (based on environment and culture) but other I had given no thought to at all.

This begs the question...what next? Will I find myself craving deep-fried Mars Bars and deep fried pizza? (Ugh, I shudder at the thought of this possibility-a good sign!) Or will I continue to amass countless Scottish and British cultural cues and personal traits, unnoticed, until I next visit America and can then see myself in comparison to my PAST SELF through the mindset of my PRESENT cultural self-metamorphosis?

Globalization may prevent things like this in the future from happening...with technology and the undying human interest in the "Other" to keep us moving, adopting, and changing our own and other cultures; we may find ourselves one day with a vast, "Earth" culture...a compilation of the hundreds of cultural groups, millions of cultural idea(ls), and TRILLIONS of cultural possibilities that exists upon our planet. That is a SCARY thought! (yet also image-provoking) What would the world be like it everyone was so similar that culture/language immersion was a theory of the past? An archaic rambling of Anthropologists long gone?

Interesting, no?

1 comment:

Darleen said...

I LOVE this post. Partially because you've successfully analyzed yourself with regard to cultural immersion, but also because I COMPLETELY empathize with you. I've found myself to (without consciously putting thought into it) start calling people "my lovely" and referring to things as "wicked." I also use the word "quite" way more than I used to. Language is such a beautiful and complex thing. Hehehee... yay for Brit-speak.