Speaking In Tongues

I have a charming regional accent.

Well, a regional accent.

Its actual regional origins are a matter of some debate. It’s much more obvious when I’m speaking to people to whom I’m related. In the four years that I’ve been living here, it’s developed a Scottish burr, or so I keep being told by people in southern England and most of the students I met on elective. I am baffled, as are my Irish friends, by the multiple people who think that it’s Irish, including at least one member of the academic staff who, after being told that I was not Irish, asked if I was sure. To my own ears, it sounds like any one of the thousand voices you would hear in Newcastle, with the odd bit of Glaswegian dialect thrown in to confuse the issue; identifiably Geordie but not so much as to make me incomprehensible to television audiences in America or church congregations in the West End or confused patients in Parkhead.

This was all true until the last few weeks, when I’ve had a few conversations that have given me reason to ask if I’ve unwittingly begun speaking Klingon.

Exhibit A occurred early last month during a small group teaching session on autoimmune disease.

Consultant: In which disease do you find autoantibodies binding to the thyroid gland?
Beth: [with confidence] Grave’s Disease.
Consultant: No.
Beth: Really, not Grave’s Disease? [with less confidence, thinking that she must have her thyroid diseases the wrong way round] Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
Consultant: No.
Group: *offers other suggestions*
Consultant: *shoots them down*
Beth: [now quite clearly throwing out the names of random eponymous diseases that might in some way be related vaguely to any endocrine gland] de Quervain’s disease?
Consultant: No.
Other Student: [doubtfully] Grave’s Disease?
Consultant: [delighted] Yes!
Group: But — Ah — What?

Exhibit B comes from yesterday:

Consultant: Are there other causes of a high troponin?
Other Students: *give appropriate answers, including pericarditis and pulmonary embolism and suchlike*
Consultant: *agrees*
Beth: There are renal causes.
Consultant: Pardon?
Beth: Renal causes.
Consultant: I’m sorry, renal —
Beth: [gives up] Renal failure.
Consultant: Oh, renal CAUSES.

Exhibit C also comes from yesterday, not twenty minutes later.

Consultant: And what might the complications be of coronary angiography?
Beth: [guessing] Thromboembolism?
Consultant: Oh. Um. Well, no. The complication I was thinking of was vascular damage, which then can lead to clot formation and if pieces of the clot break off they go to other organs, for example to the brain where they cause a stroke.
Beth: … Wait, how is that not a thromboembolism? Have my translation circuits broken? What language am I speaking in?



  1. you *do* have a charming regional accent. But until you explained the geography of it (and it matched the places I’ve spent the most time), I thought, ‘wait: Beth doesn’t have an accent…’

    Is there a clever medical term for a failure of auditory processing due to regional prejudice?

  2. Cheryl Cole Syndrome?

    It isn’t difficult to hear if you know to be listening for it but it also isn’t terribly stereotypical, which I think is what trips people up. Back when I worked in a regional call centre for a living, one customer, who spoke with much the same accent and who was at the time at a bus stop directly below my office window, told me that I must be from, quote, some little office somewhere in Calcutta.

  3. I must agree with Kimberley – it is a charming regional accent.

    I have noticed of late that those who have what is perceived as a “regional” accent can understanding other accents. Those who claim they do not (i.e. from the South East) appear to struggle with accents unknown to them.

  4. I take your point, Stewart, but the two consultants in question were both Scottish and had both spoken to me on previous occasions without benefit of subtitles.

    It is a foreign accent, Kelvin. From Englandshire.

  5. Hi Beth
    Laughed when I read your blog. My husband is a Geordie who has lived in Scotland for over 40 years. He has in the past been asked, “Which part of Ireland are you from?”

  6. Pingback: Unwinding, Indulging, and What’s Next | The Road Less Travelled

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