From the book’s release onto Irish shelves in September 2018 to its appearance on our screens last month, no Trinity student has been left unscathed by the discourse surrounding Sally Rooney’s wildly popular Normal People.
Love it, hate it, claim that you’re the only person in the entire universe who hasn’t read it: no matter what you say about Normal People, there is a near certainty that someone else has said it before. This means that most of the discussion surrounding the novel and now the series is boring, predictable and tired, and most people’s thoughts on the subject are just often not interesting.
However, since I grew up in Sligo and now study at Trinity, I am obviously the only person in the whole world allowed to have opinions on this matter. And opinions I have, in buckets.
It’s convenient that the release of Normal People has corresponded so perfectly with a pandemic that has forced me to move home to Sligo, as it has been the prime opportunity for me, the protagonist of reality, to consider how this fictional depiction corresponds with my own lived experience.
It’s convenient that the release of Normal People has corresponded so perfectly with a pandemic that has forced me to move home to Sligo
My much-battered copy of the book has been underlined, annotated and more or less destroyed in the name of self-enlightenment, with parts circled, starred and occasionally enhanced with a little sprinkle of names and dates in the margins as I decide to try and better understand my own life through Rooney’s lens. I have replayed that part of episode ten when Connell talks about never being able to get his old life in Sligo back at more 2ams than it’s polite to admit.
But aside from making me contemplate all my interpersonal relationships or any interaction I’ve ever had with anyone ever, the recent release of the Normal People series has made me consider one thing above all else: my accent.
The only reason I still keep the Snapchat app on my phone is for those horrific “on this day three years ago” reminders, where snaps that your teenage self formulated are sprung upon you with no warning and you are forced to reckon with your identity, your decisions and, in my case, your accent.
I hadn’t thought that my accent had changed that much since starting College. Sure, I had started pronouncing the “ing’s” at the end of words. And maybe I had begun to think twice before using “ye”. But compared to others who have fully assimilated and adopted the most authentic of south Dublin twangs, I thought I had been keeping to my roots as well as could be hoped.
But a stray Snapchat reminder caught me blindsided. In March came a reminder that three years ago I had sent a video to my friends from my desk, evidently in the midst of some sort of leaving-certificate-related breakdown. I was rambling and inexplicably blowing bubbles, but this wasn’t even the most shocking part of the video. What really caught me off guard was the fact that I no longer sound like that.
I hadn’t thought that my accent had changed that much since starting College. Sure, I had started pronouncing the “ing’s” at the end of words
My accent had undoubtedly fallen victim to the new-age colonialism present in Trinity, where culchies are taken in before having their accents and mannerisms ridiculed, diluted and ultimately destroyed. I mourned a little for my loss.
A few weeks later, Normal People made its way to our screens. By this stage, I had acknowledged that I had in fact allowed my big city living to infringe upon my identity. I wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t feel like there was much I could do. But within the first episode of Normal People, I began to feel the full weight of my loss. Accent and identity are so intertwined to the point that when one begins to change, so does the other.
Of course it is normal that accents change when people move to a new place and are influenced – subconsciously or otherwise – by the speaking habits of those around them. But at university, there can be an implicit push towards homogeneity when it comes to speaking and accents. In a university as Dublin-centric as Trinity, this can be amplified as students feel pressured to fit in and portray an image that matches that of their peers. Words and phrases that are different or even exclusive to culchie accents suddenly begin to decline and then disappear completely.
I have claimed before that during freshers’ week, College’s administrators take everyone from the west of the Shannon into a room for intensive elocution lessons. Although this might not be the most accurate of descriptions, it is essentially what happens over years of assimilation and adulterating some of the most colourful accents the country has to offer
Compared to others who have fully assimilated and adopted the most authentic of south Dublin twangs, I thought I had been keeping to my roots
Accents are much more nuanced than merely marking where we are from: idiom and mannerisms all come into play too. In Normal People, Connell’s accent never changes as he moves from secondary school to university, but those of the people around him do, marking his change of status from someone who belongs to that of an outsider.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that by the end of the series, Connell’s Sligo accent is still alive and thriving. He doesn’t seem to have been infringed upon by this potent form of neo-colonialism. He is a better person than I, in this way at least – or maybe the production team scrimped on a consultant producer specialising in accent change for this specific demographic of student.
With lockdown meaning that entertainment sources are far and few between, I’ve decided that this is the time to reclaim what I’ve lost. I’ve taken stock of what has changed and tried to relearn the old patterns of my world. It’s a slow process and it’s hard to monitor how well I’m doing. But when we return to campus, whenever that may be, I plan to bring the entirety of rural Sligo’s linguistic richness with me.
And when that godforsaken Snapchat reminder comes round next year, telling me about “four years ago today”, I look forward to watching and saying to myself: yeah, this is what I sound like.