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Accents and Cultural Imperialism

I recently gave up on a Nollywood film because I could hardly understand the characters. Their accents were all over the place and anything but…

I recently gave up on a Nollywood film because I could hardly understand the characters. Their accents were all over the place and anything but Nigerian. It felt like those accents were going through some sort of identity crisis. Sometimes, a character would switch from British (RP) to Australian to American to Cockney all in one sentence: “Hello, might! Wanna grab some wa’er?” Other times, they’d speak in an accent they had obviously made up themselves, making them completely incomprehensible to any listener. The plots might have been interesting, but life is too short for me to endure accents contorting themselves just to sound unNigerian. By the way, what’s wrong with our accents? People are out here swooning over the aspirated ‘H’ of the French, even when they speak English (calling it ‘sexy’), and raving about how absolutely lovely the Italian accent is. Meanwhile, my people are trying their hardest to eliminate any trace of a Nigerian accent, even if they have to invent one.

I thought the actors attempting to speak ‘supri-supri’ were bad until I learned that there are people in Nigeria who are paying Nigerian instructors, who have never been to the UK, a substantial amount of money to teach them how to speak with a British accent (RP). It’s truly astounding. Some are even enrolling their children in schools where they are taught to sound like BBC journalists and are shelling out extra money for elocution classes outside of school to ensure that no trace of their Nigerian-inflected English remains.

Putting aside the questionable logic of paying someone to teach you an accent from a country they’ve never even visited (not even for a brief layover), one has to wonder why anyone would want to completely erase their own accent and replace it with another. The supposed allure of a British accent is often framed as wanting to sound “classy,” to “blend in” when traveling to the UK (for holidays) or relocating for school, and to “have better work opportunities.” Okotorigba! I laugh in Igbo-accented English. It seems these individuals may not have heard of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African and first woman to lead the World Trade Organization as Director-General, or Chimamanda Adichie speaking to world leaders in her distinct Nigerian accent.As for your children attempting to fit in at foreign universities, I’m here to inform you that no matter which university they attend, they’ll likely have at least one professor who sounds like me, with a strong Nigerian accent infused with our local languages. Your Naija-British-sounding offspring are unlikely to impress anyone or blend in any better due to the accent they’ve acquired in Abuja or Lagos

It’s painful to observe that in the 21st century, long after the era of colonization, cultural imperialism is still very much prevalent. It’s disheartening to witness people who have embraced the falsehood that there exists a hierarchy among English accents, with theirs supposedly occupying the lowest rung. How unfortunate that anyone would be willing to entirely shed aspects of their identity simply because they perceive it as “inferior.”

It’s worth noting that the situation isn’t helped by the fact that in many of our schools, students are still penalized for speaking any of our local languages,  or that describing someone as having a local accent is often seen as offensive.. 

Language is not merely a means of communication; it is a fundamental aspect of one’s cultural heritage and personal identity. Every accent, dialect, and language variation is imbued with  a people’s history, traditions, and experiences. By selling the narrative that certain accents as “better” or “worse,” we perpetuate harmful stereotypes and create an environment where linguistic diversity isn’t appreciated. It also fosters a sense of shame and inadequacy in those who do not have the “right” accent.  Really, what I am trying to say, in the nicest possible way is that it is foolish to nurture an accent that doesn’t come naturally to you because it is “classy.” It is foolish and counterproductive. Stop it. Please. And (some) ndi Nollywood, please spare us the ‘phonetics.’  

Finally and most importantly, our accents are beautiful. There is no need to flatten them into some artificial ‘British” accent. I dey beg una. Thank you. I’ll get off the soap box now.


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