May 12th marks my ten year anniversary of arriving in San Francisco to take up residential practice. My main reason for coming was actually to get married to someone who was already living at the Zen Center; in fact my application to move in was so light on practice experience that the director of City Center at the time wrote to me to ask 'do you know what you are letting yourself in for?'. I said that I had been given a fair idea of what to expect, though I do remember being somewhat overwhelmed, having gone to bed very early that first day after the long flight from London, to get up and do the entire Saturday morning schedule for the first time.
I have only had one friend in England tell me, on the occasions I have gone back to visit since then, that I sound American, and I think, or I hope at least, that she was referring to my vocabulary more than my accent. Californians tend to assume that I am Australian, which can perhaps be attributed to the somewhat fluid accent I acquired living in London for twelve years, although no-one from England or Australia would make that same assumption.
My pronunciation has caused small ripples during services. This is mainly due to my obstinacy in saying neither (/ˈnaɪ.ðər/) rather than neither (/ˈniː-//-ðɚ/), which occurs five times in the Heart Sutra. I am also wont to say path, (/pɑːθ/ rather than /pæθ/) chant (/tʃɑːnt/) and so on, but the neither sticks out most plainly. Indeed one Tassajara tanto, even though he was from New England himself, and I heard him say naɪ.ðər on other occasions, just as I have heard other English people say niː-//-ðɚ, went so far as to publicly forbid naɪ.ðər once when we were having a chanting review, though I confess that I just got a little quieter as I chanted those sections rather than give up my natural way of doing things. At one of the first Practice Committee meetings I went to as ino, there was some gentle ribbing from the Abbot and tanto here as to whether I would be imposing my version on the sangha now. I think I have heard a few defectors recently. I know that it would be good if we all sounded the same, but somehow I just can't bring myself to give it up.