August 27, 2005's how you say it.

Bou made a post regarding how some people will adapt their pronunciation of words and speech patterns to match those they are speaking. Ever since I can remember, I called this having an elastic voice. The individual’s voice will stretch to conform to those they are speaking. Sometimes this is a good thing because I feel it makes for smoother communication between two people from different regions. Then again, this can be a bad thing as someone may think you are ridiculing them. Bou refers to a story I told her about an incident that happened to me six years ago. This story explains why if you have an elastic voice, you may want to keep it in check.

Seven years ago, I started working for my current company as a Customer Service Representative. Most of my day was spent with me answering phone calls from customers (usually angry) and assisting them with their questions. Anybody that has been reading me for a while knows that I have a deep hatred of phones. It had already been issue by the time I started working here, but it has only gotten worse.

I was in my second season of re-enacting. At that time, we did more Elizabethan times Scots at most of the events. We had Renn Faires, Highland Games and Celtic fests that made up most of our schedule. For our shows, I was Seamus MacPhail, Lord Master of Arms. Most of the spoken words were mine. My days were filled with my rehearsing lines and giving speaking parts in a Scottish Brogue. (It’s a Burr if you want to be technical). To this day I’m very proud of the fact that I have six different regional brogues that I can speak in, from an easily understandable Lowland to a very thick, barely comprehendible Highland. When I’m at events, I tend to talk in a brogue for most of the weekend, especially if there is public around.

Whenever I hear someone with a Scottish accent, my first instinct is to kick into my brogue that best matches theirs. Since mainly this happens at a re-enactment it was never an issue. When you are answering calls at a customer service center, it is a problem.

I had been working as a customer service representative for about a year. I was in my third year of re-enacting. That was the heaviest scheduled year I have ever had. I would slip into a Scottish brogue if I heard someone on television use one. If Sean Connery were on the screen, I’d instantly go into one. You can imagine what happened when I was at work and took a call from a customer that had just moved here from Scotland.

Answering the phone in my normal voice, we started our conversation. Less then 30 seconds into the call, I’m in this thick Scottish brogue and I didn’t even realize it. The member interrupts what I was saying to him and angrily berates me for making fun of him. At this point, I realized what had happened. After spending about 5 minutes getting the customer calmed down I explained to him that I was a re-enactor, part of a group that Portrays Clan Chattan during the Jacobite Rebellions. This calmed the gentleman down due to his curiosity being peeked.

He started asking questions about what we did and where. When he moved from Scotland he never imagined that American’s of Scottish decent would still re-enact and portray that part of Scottish history here. By the time I finished explaining, he was laughing about the whole incident and understood how it could happen. When I asked him how my brogue was, he told me it was very good. I only had to clean up some vowel pronunciations. Other then that he told me I could have very easily passed as a Scot. With his help my brogue improved so much that I’ve had multiple Scots actually ask me where I was from at a re-enactment. After I helped him with his question, He even inquired he could join my group. Of course I said he could, unfortunately he lived in St. Louis and was too far away.

From that time on I always controlled my voice better. I still slip from time to time, like when we went on vacation to Kansas. My in-laws have a soft southern accent; I started to pick that up. Nevertheless, I have never slipped back into a brogue unintentionally.

Posted by Contagion in Re-enacting life. at August 27, 2005 12:06 PM | TrackBack

If I start to stutter with my customer, I have no excuse. I can't say I do something on the side that requires me to stutter!

BTW, I cannot believe I swore you posted this already. I was all over your sitemeter yesterday, both blogs, looking for this damn story. ;-) You should have seen what I was googling, trying to get it top pop up.

BTW, your Search on your blog doesn't work.

Posted by: Bou at August 27, 2005 12:15 PM

Heh. I am so bad at this too. My Southern is slowly fading, but I can still pull it out.

I went to NY for 2 weeks when I was sixteen, and I had my parents pulling their hair out when I got home, taw-king about caw-fee and how much fun I had on long gisland....

Posted by: caltechgirl at August 27, 2005 12:39 PM

I will definitely pick up an accident (particularly Southern) if around it long enough. Most of the time I don't realize it until someone points it out.

Posted by: VW Bug at August 27, 2005 06:19 PM

I have the same facility with all sorts of accents, but I love using the pseudo French accent ad naseum with snooty french people.

I guess that's why I love pepe le piu so much, he cracks me up with his accent!

Posted by: michele at August 30, 2005 01:11 AM

Bou - you can always tell him you're in a Mel Tillis tribute band :-)

Posted by: Harvey at August 30, 2005 01:19 PM