Funlayo Akinosi: I love the way my sound tells something about me (30 Days, 30 Voices)



After all, when the Scandinavian big-mouth told me he ‘yenerally played shess’, my Yoruba tongue thought it was ‘tohtally hawesome’. 


A few years ago, an otherwise sweet Scandinavian told me he didn’t understand my ‘dialect’. This would have been perfectly understandable if I had been speaking in Yoruba or pidgin rather than in the English language I assumed I spoke so well. The first ten seconds afterwards were like a Nollywood flashback scene in slow motion: fragments of ‘me, a lawyer, winner of several oratory competitions in between many years of strike and some school, speaking in dialect? Thunder fire your mouth’.

 Of course, if I had been less sensitive and more sensible, I would have realized that my vocabulary-impaired friend assumed ‘accent’ was another word for ‘dialect’. An accent is fine. We all have one – Australians, British, Germans, and Nigerians. After all, when the Scandinavian big-mouth told me he ‘yenerally played shess’, my Yoruba tongue thought it was ‘tohtally hawesome’

These days, I have lost the frenzied pace my speech used to have, carefully rounding off my ‘th’s, and more sensitive to my listener’s ears. I’ll also admit that few people outside Lagos can keep up with the quasi-aggressive Lagosian pitch. So, I probably speak a little differently at work and with friends. The former sounds a lot calmer and polite; the latter, exuberant and ‘warm’.  But I like my accent and it’s a good thing I don’t have to lose it to work on radio. I like that it identifies with Professor Soludo’s smoky Igbo, Omotola Ekehinde’s CNN-lauded Yoruba inflection, and the tonal thump of Tuface’s Idoma.

I love the way my sound tells something about me – the way it hints at my roots, at the words in which I said my first prayers, and the languages my grandmothers spoke. And I love my language: the words I choose and how I use them. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the books I’ve read, the music I like, and the way my father raised me. I like the way ‘how now’ only makes sense to English-speaking West Africans and the way I can say a transliterated ‘did you sleep well’ with a straight face. I feel warm when I hear an empathetic ‘pele’ and look forward to the lazy ‘oh’ at the end of every sentence. I like our fascinating rules of decorum –in your face conversations with people you’ve met for five seconds, or the way someone screams your name from across the road when a wave would have done quite well. I don’t even mind genuflecting at pot-bellied strangers who speak to me in Yoruba.

It is increasingly important to me to remind myself that my difference isn’t awful or inferior. I’ll like to keep something for the children I hope will come – how to make and enjoy yummy eko and scrumptious egusi.

I’ll like to help them discover the oomph that scalding peppers add to every soup (or lose their taste buds trying to find it) and to cook without measuring spoons. These days, I’ve been rediscovering Tunji Oyelana, Jimi Solanke, I.K. Dairo, while keeping up with parties where D’banj, M.I, and Mode 9 rule. I pretend to stay humble when I hear other Africans rave about Nigerian artistes; I am proud of Nollywood and what it will become.

Yet, the world flattens every second and I keep something of the world with me. It will be foolish to insist my tonal tongue transform my speech to incomprehensible gibberish. So, when I practice my French, I’m careful to attempt a Parisian accent. These days, I write my seven syllable ‘Oluwafunmilayo’ as ‘Funmi’, while wondering if it keeps some of the emotion my parents felt when they chose my name. I love Tchaikovsky and wish I saw Pavarotti in concert before he passed. I read books from authors who have no idea a Nigerian girl would read them but skip the silliness from my Nigerian brother, Vic O – because I can.

It is a balance I am trying to find, a deeper appreciation of my own, remembering and re-learning, while adapting to other communities that make us part of one earth, and doing this with the smug Nigerian humility of ‘giving glory to God’. And I like it that way.


About the author: Funlayo is a ‘learner, life-reveler and a recurring optimist.’

Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.




Comments (37)

  1. absolutely love this…..absolutely……nice scarf ;).

  2. Wonderful, enjoyed every bit of it, wish the article didn't end.:)

  3. I've missed your prose, 'Fúnmiláyò Akinòsì! Gbam! my sentiments gangaaan!

  4. Brilliant, sweets. Kudos!

  5. Funmi and the succinct way she weaves her message-ridden renditions.

  6. Schoolmate(PROUDLY SO) You rock!!! This is nothing short of EXCELLENT. Wa Gbayi!!!

  7. OMG!!! you totally killed me with that Vic-O comment! hahhahaha

  8. Good one my friend!!! I have always known you have it all bottled up in the inside of you. What a masterpiece. I can almost identify with the narration based on my own current experience.

  9. My darling…once again you have wowed me with another one.

  10. Brilliant, sweets! Thumbs up…

  11. I got teary-eyed with this phenomenal piece. A perfect and witty expression of my exact thoughts about the balance I strive for between my culture and the West. May your pen never dry, Oluwafunmilayo.

  12. Funmi, msuur(hope you remember your tiv)…can't stop laughing, beautiful piece, I honestly wish it was longer. This piece captures my love for Naija, eku'ise, daalu, sanu, dooo, etc

  13. That was such a pleasure to read.

  14. this article is beautiful to say the least…

  15. This piece is not only brilliant but awesome.I love the seamless flow and the fluid style of writing. I wish Ynaija had a "Tuale" button. Would have clicked it twice with different IDs. 🙂

  16. Really kind words. Thank you very much.

    I think we liked this piece because despite the mess our politics and economy sometimes appear to be, we still love things Nigerian. Thank you.

  17. Absolutely wonderful article, beautifully written. Thank you for reminding me that we own those wonderful, hard-to-describe words like 'oh!' 'Abi' and 'How now.' You do well oh! 😀

  18. Ah Funmi! This was thotally hawesome!

  19. Brilliant writing from our very own @funlayo I enjoyed reading every line. Melodic and flowing.

  20. Love your style of writing- you carry the reader easily through your perspective.

    Interesting, fun, fresh……. well done!

  21. If I were a tad more articulate enh, I'd have beaten u to writing this fantastic piece. My greatest worry is the pace @ wch radio presenters lose what's Nigerian for something half-baked and confusing (foreign accents). Some of them get so mixed up that one tends to pick British, American, Aussie and sometimes French accents in a few minutes of listening to them. I remember how, as a kid, I loved listening to NTA network newscasters. They sounded so learned and distinguished. If the kids of nowadays look up to our radio n tv presenters like we used to, then there's little hope for them (of course I'm referring to those that can't afford British int'l sch et al). Nice work Funlayo

  22. Simply brilliant. This is one piece I wanted to just go on and on. It flowed effortlessly like therapeutic poetry. Thank you Oluwafunmilayo!

  23. Thoroughly enjoyable piece….very very good.

    Read it like a long song

  24. Defo one of d best I've read here. Kudos Ynaija. And chic sounds so interesting. Almost edible. Still not a H-factor fan tho 🙂

  25. After reading this lovely piece, I need to find out where my accent belongs

  26. Very beautiful piece Funmi. We may speak with calm or loud voices, but the keys of our lovely accents belong to us alone, especially the Lagos accent.

  27. Now this, this is absolutely beautiful! Wow. Nne, thank you. You have done well. God bless you oh 🙂

  28. Beautifully crafted. You sure have ways with words.

  29. Maximum respect, funmilayo akinosi. Maximum respect

  30. Love love love this writeup, undeniably one of the best I've read so far. A lot of us lose ourselves in foreign lands that we hardly notice when our roots become increasingly fragile. Love the way you hold on to yours…

  31. Where is the "love" button when you need it ?

  32. I expected no less, and you didn't disappoint. This is the best of the 30 day series I've read, and there have been some really good ones.

    Well done.

  33. Beautifully crafted.. Love the way she pointed out some core Nigerian phrases like 'how now'.. 'oh'.

  34. Too short oo, I wanted to keep scrolling down. Yes! You sound exuberant and warm, fast-paced speech too. I no sabi speak plenty ynaija grammar but I love love this post and mo must comment. Please leave my Vic O for me, thanks.

    Nice one, sisi mi. This your pic ehn, your face looks like it's about to break into a wide grin.

  35. I love this article. Its just jubliant. Congrats ma'am on a revealing piece.

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