Different ways of speaking

Have you ever had difficulty understanding someone because of their accent? As the above clips demonstrates, even the wonderful Stephen Fry has run into this problem. And it makes sense. If a person speaks in a way that you’re not used to hearing, it can be hard to comprehend at first. But does the way that someone sounds affect your perception of that person?

Last week, CBC Radio One’s The Current aired a fascinating segment on discrimination based on accents, also known as “accentism.” The segment referred to a recent study from Manchester University that found a person’s accent can affect how they are viewed by others. Experts mentioned how some people go to great lengths to hide their accents in order to fit in.
The discussion on The Current reminded me of an episode of the British panel show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry.
The talk about accents starts around the 1:35 mark, when Fry asks the panel what an average World War II fighter pilot would sound like. Because of the portrayal by actors in films, Fry explains, it’s commonly thought that most of these pilots were posh, but this wasn’t actually the case. At 4:15 in the clip, the panel discusses how modern-day pilots may alter the way they speak to mimic an accent that is perceived as more reassuring to passengers.
The more familiar we are with different ways of speaking, the better we will be able to understand other accents. Exposure is key. Living in a multicultural environment can be helpful, as can listening to and watching programs from other cultures. But, in the meantime, if you find yourself in a situation where someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, you might want to try singing to them instead.

The rise and fall of Cuba Livres

There are many subjects I know little about, but one thing I do know is literature—or so I had thought. Earlier this week I attended CBC Books Trivia Night, and even though I went in with no expectation of winning, it was a humbling experience.

The night started with me and three friends huddled around a table in the corner of the back room at Clinton’s. We sipped our drinks as we waited to meet the author we would be paired with. There were many authors in attendance that night: Terry Fallis, Andrew Pyper, Kevin Sylvester, Dani Couture,  Andrew Kaufman, Tanis Rideout, Robert Rotenberg, Nora Young and Brian Francis.

As we waited, we tried to settle on a team name. A few suggestions were tossed around, but we didn’t seem capable of making a decision. The only decision we could come to was that we’d make our author choose. When Kevin Sylvester arrived at our table, he’d barely said hello and sat down when we informed him of his task. Not to worry; he was up for it. After giving him our short list, it was decided: we were Cuba Livres.

All of us—Mr. Sylvester included—made a point of saying we didn’t think we’d win. In my mind, this was confirmed when I realized the room was filled with people who worked in bookstores, publishing houses and literary agencies. Yep. We were screwed. But we were there to have fun; winning didn’t matter.

The quiz had three rounds. After the first round, our team was tied for the top spot, which was much to our surprise. To be fair, I must give Mr. Sylvester some credit. He won a lot of those points for us. But, suddenly, winning the whole thing didn’t seem like such an impossibility. Could we actually have a chance at victory?

Unfortunately, that was the closest we came to the top. Our scores for the second and third rounds were much worse than the first. Most of our answers were guesses.

At the end of the evening, host Garvia Bailey announced the winners. We didn’t win the quiz. We didn’t win for best team name. We didn’t win any door prizes.

But we didn’t leave empty-handed. Each Cuba Livres team member received a copy of Mr. Sylvester’s book Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure.


I might be a little older than the book’s target demographic, but I’m still looking forward to reading it.

It was a fun evening, especially for people who love books, trivia and the CBC as much as I do. I recommend coming out next year. But if you’re hoping to win, you might want to start studying now.