Unexpected Side Effects of International Media Obsession

culture from a couch

Once I spent several months calling takeout “takeaway.”  It wasn’t an affectation, nor did I pepper the rest of my vocabulary with British slang (well, there was one “car park” incident).  For some reason my initial impulse, when discussing food that one picks up from a restaurant and takes to eat at one’s home, was to call it takeaway.

The purpose of this article is to examine that reason.  I’m not a socio-linguist, so I’m not going to be able to make a serious study of it.  What I want to do is to play with the idea of what happens when someone watches a ton of foreign media (as most of us do here at With An Accent).

We all know that cultural immersion can have its effect on one’s speech, both in the terms one uses and in one’s accent.  Spend enough time in a foreign country and you’ll start to use their language.  Maybe you’ll start dreaming in Spanish or suddenly find yourself ranting about your bad day in German (as a friend of mine, studying abroad in Germany, once did; she felt fluent for the first time that day).  Even if you’re staying in a country that shares your own language, you might find their slang words replacing your own, or their accent starting to rub off on yours.

It’s happened to me: I’m originally from Philadelphia, and we call “subs” (or “grinders,” or whatever) “hoagies” there.  In college everyone called them subs, so I started to, to my Philadelphian chagrin.  I think media immersion can have the same effect.  My “takeaway” experience proves it.  I wasn’t running around intentionally trying to talk like I was from the U.K., I just happened to be reading and watching a lot of British media, and it rubbed off for a little while.

another favorite george

Warning: Can cause readers to unintentionally talk like a Beatle for a few hours.

It’s just funny that I’d pick up British words when I’m not actually living in the U.K., or living with anyone who’s from there.  That’s what I’m trying to point out here: if you read, watch, or listen to enough media from another country, in some ways you are effectively surrounded by that culture.

Of course the effect is smaller.  One of my best friends is a fan of epistolary novels.  She and I constantly email back and forth, sometimes several times a day.  I can always tell when she’s reading her epistle books, because her emails suddenly take a more formal tone, as if she’s emulating the style that she’s currently reading.  Her writing sounds like she’s a character out of one of her books.  It’s not a very conscious decision on her part.   It’s just that when she’s absorbed in such books the style rubs off in her own writing, particularly when she’s also composing a letter of sorts.

The “takeaway” and “car park” incidents aren’t my only personal experiences with such behavior.  I don’t even want to think about how goofy I sounded after reading George Harrison’s autobiography.  I definitely got a few raised eyebrows from my boyfriend and from my then-roommate (also the girl who lived in Germany).

I know you might not believe me, but I really wasn’t trying to sound like I’m from 1960s Liverpool.  George is just my favorite Beatle and I was really into his story.  Because I barely put down the book in the day it took me to read it, I’m sure I only spoke like that for a couple hours.  The point stands: if you get enough into a piece of media it can have an effect.

There’s an argument to be made that, although I don’t make a conscious decision to adapt British jargon, I am an Anglophile.  There might be a part of me somewhere that enjoys incorporating British slang into my own vocabulary.  That could be true, or at least could explain some of what’s going on.  Certainly my high exposure to British media is due to my Anglophilia, and I do think the accent sounds cool, so maybe there’s a part of my subconscious cheering me on.

That theory hits a roadblock when I consider kdramas.  I’m obsessed with them; I’ve watched tons since first discovering them, and I often finish an entire 16- or 20-episode series in a matter of days.  Obviously, I’m very immersed in kdramas.

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