Sunday 15 September 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'Impenetrable accent music to my ears'

Notebook

'It is a struggle to grasp and unpick Cork's finer linguistic ticks' Photo: Deposit
'It is a struggle to grasp and unpick Cork's finer linguistic ticks' Photo: Deposit
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

I have spent more years outside Cork than resting at its ample bosom, but I'm still fluent.

Even the most impenetrable accent, delivered with machine gun rapidity, can be instantly unscrambled by an ear that knows where its roots are.

But not everyone is blessed with flawless Rebel and even for many compatriots, who should frankly try harder, it is a struggle to grasp and unpick Cork's finer linguistic ticks.

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Tourists, of course, are a different matter again. To them it's Olde English translated into Cornish via the Welsh valleys.

Taking the train back to Dublin from Cork the other day a family of Americans, weighed down by backpacks and no little stress, bundled themselves onboard just in time.

There was some swearing and inter-generational bickering. They knew they had to change trains at some point for Killarney but hadn't had time to work out where, so when the intercom cackled they called a truce on their verbal jousting and listened up.

The voice that emerged and lilted down the carriage was as pure and unapologetic Cork as I've heard since Cha and Miah used to dictate government policy on national television.

The announcer name-checked the various station stops, then added the vital information they were desperately seeking. They didn't catch a syllable, most probably because the announcer didn't seem to deal in such things. Or not as they'd recognise them anyway.

After a moment of stunned silence, the most authoritative of the group ventured that this must have been the Gaelic announcement and that the real one would follow. Bless.

Other passengers put them right, explained what had just happened and where they needed to change. Relief and merriment ensued.

No harm was done and, indeed, I'd be surprised if this wasn't one of the better tales they brought back to Minnesota from the old world. They certainly brightened up and whatever angst they carried, puffing and panting, on to the train seemed to dissipate.

We keep hearing that regional accents are vanishing. True, you could travel through swathes of Dublin suburbs and find no trace of the sort of local nuance that would have once set that place apart.

To witness how accents have been dissolved or diluted is, of course, sad. But it is neither surprising nor particularly new.

But there are plenty of regional accents that are immune to Californication and stubbornly resist every modulated vowel that globalised Anglo-American popular culture bombards them with.

The Cork city accent is certainly one. Mine has stubbornly clung to me for over three decades of self-imposed exile and while I never tried to shed it, I never consciously nurtured it either. It just happens to be a part of me.

Strictly speaking, travel announcements on public transport should be about putting passengers on the right track. It's the whole point, after all.

But there was something life-affirming about that little drama and nobody got lost because of it. As we say down our way, doubtyaboy.

Once upon a time in a very noisy cinema...

The middle-aged couple had barely reversed into their cinema seats when it started. First there was the crinkling of bags and the slurping of drinks, followed by muffled natter.

Then the lights dimmed, the images flickered and we were away. It was the new Tarantino and I was waiting to be impressed.

But Sean and Maura had other ideas. This, it turned out, was their show and they gave it everything. Not once did they find the film we all paid to see a distraction.

So, is 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' any good? Dunno. Better ask someone who saw it.

Irish Independent

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