Do you find that you sometimes subconsciously emulate the tonal inflections of the people you speak to?
The phenomenon of ‘twanging’ (the word itself is a souf-efrikanism I believe) is best explained by the action of adapting your natural accent to mimic the one of the person you’re addressing.
Twangers are derided by their critics for aspiring to sound more ‘upper-class’ than the dictates of their social status [squared] quo, with commentary running along the line of “Why you talking like a white?”.
So far, thirteen years of democracy in SA is just a band-aid on the schismic gashes left by the idea that each racial group be left to develop along a path set by white supremacists. With that as our baggage and legacy, our fully heterogeneous society makes up a chorus so varied and rich, that South African Accent in itself is a misnomer. Our voices bump up against each other everywhere. It’s this huge conversation, and here and there, we encounter the Twang.
I twang. And I only realised it after I listened to an interview I recorded. It was with gag-disbelief that I heard my voice outside itself, “Yawh, That’s true.”
I said “Yawh”, the way most White South Africans would.
Not “Yah”, the way most Indian South Africans would.
It wasn’t a conscious act. At no point, did I commit to thinking, “Ok, I’m interviewing the woman the Sunday Times billed as South Africa’s richest. I can’t show my ‘jaat’* here.”
And it’s not just ‘talking White’. I’ve since noticed I adjust not only to accent, but also nuance, pace and cadence of the people I speak to, more so when it’s a situation that requires engagement and earnest concentration.
My mother twangs too, though she’ll deny it. And when she speaks to elderly indian women, she lapses into indian-aunty talk (when every fourth word is ‘shame’, regardless of the positive nature of what’s heard. E.g: Your husband bought a new car? Shame, that’s so nice, shame. Your daughter’s engagement is on Saturday, shame, you must be so happy.)
I’ve heard friends and work colleagues twang. And I do not believe that anyone of them do it with purposeful intent.
When we converse with someone face-to-face, we mirror their body-language. When they sit with their legs crossed, we tend towards crossing our legs. Apparently, we do this to create a sense of empathy with the other and establish common denominators to smooth the interaction.
Perhaps this holds true for twanging. Some subliminal notion that if we sound like the people we want to engage, we create commonality?
I welcome your thoughts.
*gujarati for caste or social standing