Kerry Dawkins, 2017
Many of us speak and write a different dialect of English to the one the front persona is expected to use. We’ve been exposed to multiple English dialects owing to our somewhat peripatetic lifestyle, and many of us are also interested in dialects as a matter of course. I myself am massively interested in sociolinguistics so it’s one of the things I’ve personally read quite a bit about.
I’m one of those people who sometimes feels some dialectal tension – I’m English. Code-switching to write like an American is actually quite difficult for me. I have to think of which words to use and which ones not to use. I have to mind my sentence structure and spellings and punctuation and all sorts of things that can be difficult under stress. Using an American accent is nearly impossible for me; my ordinary accent is a Received Pronunciation English accent that’s hard to hide. I don’t ordinarily talk aloud to people who don’t know who we are. Richard has a similar problem with his accent. I also frequently find formal British or Irish writing easier to read at first glance than American or Canadian writing, even though you’d think it’d be the other way round or identical, given our collective upbringing.
There are ways we try and work round these differences. Some of us avoid variant spellings or use synonyms for words that differ between dialects. Some of us have an easier time ‘passing’ than others; Richard and I are notorious in-system for not being able to completely hide our own expressions and accents, whilst people like Yavari and Hess have an easier go of it. Things get even more complicated if you’re not a native speaker of English and your sentence structure or tone reflects that. Noël runs into that problem; he’s fluent in English but it’s not his first language and it’s obvious in his writing and speaking style.
There are times when a system-member will use their own vocabulary by accident when writing in the ‘default front persona’ voice; a few years ago we were working on a document for work and I’d written ‘accountancy’ instead of ‘accounting’, which somebody else had noticed. ‘Accountancy’ is commoner in British usage than it is in American. I didn’t even realise I’d done that until it was pointed out to us. For me my words are simply normal, the way things are meant to sound. I don’t realise they may sound odd to people sometimes unless it’s pointed out to me.
There are places, however, where we won’t compromise; in personal writing as the front persona, British, Australian and other non-American system-members will use the spellings and punctuation they prefer. Phrasing is a bit more complicated, but our ‘colours’ will keep the U, thanks. Of course we’d use whatever was expected if we were doing work writing. There’s so much we can do without feeling we’re completely erasing who we are. We feel as though we’re stretching ourselves enough.