Mark Smith on... accents
There he is: Mr Gerard Butler on the front page of The Herald yesterday looking all handsome and smart, a famous woman’s arms curled round his waist, his feet sinking into the deep, deep pile of a red carpet.
But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something ... not stupid. Just something. Anything.
Have you heard his accent lately? It’s no longer real, like that glare off his new teeth that makes him look like oncoming traffic on a dark night. It’s the strangest mix of American and Scottish, like someone from Paisley putting on a bad American accent or someone from LA putting on a bad Scottish one. In the confined space of his mouth, purest Hollywood bumps up against pure dead Paisley. Is his voice reaching his own ears any more? Can he still hear himself?
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like that.
A little while ago I was interviewing Alan Cumming, who’s lived in America for years; in fact, he’s a US citizen now. Down the line from New York came that voice full of all its original grrs and rrrs. There’s clearly no need for him to change how he speaks, and I liked that.
And that’s maybe why I initially had a problem when I heard Gerard’s new voice: this feeling that by altering his accent, he’s maybe trying to alter himself, and I’ve been trained as a Scot to be suspicious of that.
It probably comes from a snobbish place, but my initial reaction was: Gerard shouldn’t get above himself. I couldn’t help feeling as well that changing your accent is a sign of weakness: you change how you sound to fit in, like one of those urban songbirds that start sounding like car alarms.
But, then, who am I to talk? My accent is nothing like it should be. I’m from a long line of Doric speakers yet I sound all posh and middle Scotland.
I also have relatives in America who sound just like Gerard Butler because that’s who they are: they’re Scots living a different kind of life with all kinds of different influences pulling at them. They’re not getting above themselves, they’re just moving forward in a high-speed world.
So I’ve never been bothered that I can’t speak Doric – and I’ve never been bothered about “saving” it, or any other dialect either. The way we speak changes; our voices alter and melt into something else. And the next time I hear Gerard, I’ll just have to remember that.