‘Hearing an Irish accent abroad connects you to home’

‘Ireland and Me’: Gráinne Perkins, South Africa

‘Surely South Africa, a country with eleven native languages, would have no problem pronouncing Gráinne?’

‘Surely South Africa, a country with eleven native languages, would have no problem pronouncing Gráinne?’

 

I think I know how Gráinne Mhaol, my namesake and a distant relative, gained her reputation as a no nonsense pirate Queen of Ireland. Non-Irish nationals couldn’t pronounce her name, and after a while she obviously got tired of repeating herself.

Irish-named J-1ers can relate from summers spent in America, where their names are transformed beyond recognition. Siobhan becomes “Shy-o-ban”’, Niamh becomes “Nymph”, and who can forget being called “See-a-moose” (Seamus) for an entire summer? I’ve become accustomed to “Gráinne” having many accented variations, all of them wrong.

Emigrating to South Africa in 2012, I thought my pronunciation troubles were behind me in the American summers. Surely South Africa, a country with eleven native languages, would have no problem pronouncing Gráinne? Paddy Power couldn’t have predicted how wrong I was.

Irish emigrants often forget how both their Irish names and accents shape their identities. A South African recently told this born and bred Dublin Northsider how they loved the way the Irish always sound hungry; because we eat the ends of our words.

After recently returning to Cape Town from Dublin, someone asked me what language I was speaking. “English,” I slowly replied. Both my accent and the speed at which I talk was just too much for them.

Apart from sounding constantly hungry, misunderstood accents can have profound consequences, as I’m sure Gráinne Mhaol discovered. In a conversation with two South Africans, it took only two sentences to cause mass confusion. I’m sure this is how many wars have started. The conversation went along these lines:

Ray: “I’m going to the Mosque. I’ll be back later.”

Me (hearing “I’m going to buy a mask. I’ll be back later”): “Are you going to a party?”

Ray: “What’s apartheid got to do with it?” (He heard: “Is it to do with Apartheid?”)

Although our accents differ, it seems that South Africans enjoy a similar sense of Irish humour.

My love of Irish accents has never waned. When home, stealing a day to wander Dublin and soak up the accents of the capital is a requirement. The sounds of the question-raising Cork-onians, perfect word ending Dublin 4-ers and Daniel O’Donegal-ers always remind me of the mix that is my home, a place where we sound hungry because we love our words.

While this love is evident in our poetry and prose, it is most obvious in our random conversations. Strangers in Dunnes, coffee shops and pubs share comments in a uniquely Irish manner which can make you buy that dress or have that second pint. When heard abroad, an Irish accents connects you to more than your county, it connects you to home.

To change my name or alter my accent to fit in would be to change my identity, so South Africa will just have to adopt my name. I can only hope that someday my name will be understood with no repeats or explanations required. Then I’ll be as much at home in the Mother City as I am in my Dirty Old Town.

Last November, The Irish Times invited readers abroad to submit reflections on their relationship with the land they left. This story is one we received. To read more, click here. The Irish Times 'Ireland and Me' eBook is available for download here.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.