I call it the gradual culture shock.
It started with the weird looks I’d get asking where “the washroom” was. Then it was someone at Cafe 3 telling me “past-a” sounded “nast-y” — “I’d eat pahs-ta, but I’d never eat past-a,” she said. Last month, my roommate heard me saying the word “sorrow” in my sleep and proceeded to chuckle to herself, saying “sorr-row” over and over again with the long “or” sound before teasing me about it the next morning.
The funny thing about language, however, is that it loves to play chameleon — as rapidly as “hella” was entering my vocabulary, “sawr-ry” was also quickly replacing “sorr-ry.” I’m lucky — Vancouver has an even mix of Canadian culture and West Coast vibes, so simply adopting one pronunciation over another, still-familiar one was almost too easy. I started using the bathroom instead of the washroom, drinking soda instead of pop and even ditching pencil crayons for coloured pencils (sorry — colored pencils). And though I may have found ways to insert “Mr. Moose” or “the prime minister” in my previous posts on Strikeout, that didn’t hide the somewhat-ugly truth — I was losing my sense of Canadian language.
True, I embarrassed myself less often, but this realized loss was still a sad one. I was never the one in my family who used “eh?” the most — that would be my dad — but still, the first few times I said the word back home again, my tongue fumbled over it like a canker sore. That’s when I realized that language wasn’t something that needed to be relinquished at the border. Language is personal. There may be a dictionary, but whatever words or phrases you choose to use in your day-to-day life is all you. In fact, there may even be words that you can find no better way to express — “Eh,” for example, is most commonly tacked onto the end of sentences that ask for an agreement of opinion (“Gosh, what a nice place, eh?”) or a confirmation (“You should probably go to sleep soon, eh?”), both of which could be replaced by “huh?” or “isn’t it?” but would then probably sound either clumsier or more formal than intended.
Language doesn’t have to be official or even popular to be utilized and understood. For some, “Chinglish” is a thing. For others, hip-hop slang. I have a friend who brought a word up from his neighborhood in Southern California that is now used on a regular basis by our entire friend group. Language may first and foremost be about communicating an idea, but how you choose to express it is completely up to you — it’s kind of like your own, individualistic form of art.
Pretty cool, eh?
Contact Mikaela Luke at [email protected].