Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Putting the accent on…accents!

Giovanni’s comment on a previous post got me thinking about accents.

  • Why is it that certain accents are pleasant to the ear and others are not?
  • Why is it that the French love the British accent (meaning, a British person speaking French with a British accent) while they detest the German one?
  • And why is it so ear-acking for the rest of the international community hearing a French speaking English or an American speaking French?
  • Why is it considered funny that Japanese can hardly pronounce the “r”?

Certain idiosyncrasis also applies at a more micro level, within languages…

  • When I moved to California, after 4 years on the East Coast, I suddenly realized that people back East had an accent (I finally got all those NY “coffee” jockes).

  • I have been in France for four years and I am finally recognizing the southern French or the Canadian accent from the Parisian: defintely not the same cup of tea.

Almost every single foreigner I got to meet in my life has told me: “I love the way Italian sound! It’s so musical!” But do they realize that there are dramatically different ways of speaking Italian? Italy is subdivided into 20 regions that little more than 2 centuries ago where single states. Therefore the accents in each reagion are significantly different. It’s really a matter of intonation, you can be saying the same phrase, but singing a completely different song. For political correctness reasons I'll abstain to say which ones I like and which ones I don't, but here are some descriptions:

  • I’m from the North West region of Piemonte, and already at the same latitude, the way people from Milano and the Venice region speak catches my ears. We are talking about 2 hours away!
  • In Toscana people speak with a distinctive accent, hardly pronoucing their Cs (they aspire them into Hs): Coca Cola in Firenze becomes “hoha hola”!
  • The Romans have this curious habit of chopping words and putting the accent on the second to the last vowel. Mangiare becomes 'magná,' dormire becomes 'dormí,' etc. It is very charismatic and it has an intrinsic humorous and contagious value (when you are in Rome after a while you cannot help yourself from doing the same, while the Romans cannot stand a non-Roman talking like them, it really disgusts them!)
  • From Rome onwards, the differences are even stronger. It’s not just a matter of accent anymore, often in the southern regions the dialect takes over the Italian language, and these dialects are languages in its own.

My Flemish beau has become astonishling fluent in Italian in the last few years, yet he does not feel like speaking in Italian with me because...he does not recognize me when I speak Italian! It sounds horrible, but I understand him: I am not particularly fond of his Dutch tonalities either! I guess our English softens the respective extreme nuances of our native languages. We spoke English to each other when we met and fell in love, so to hear one another speak another language is like discovering a new person.

Milo is starting to have a somewhat anglophone accent when pronouncing French words with an “r” and some Italian words. A few weeks ago he learnt how to say “mum left” in French (Maman est parti) and he pronounces parti like a British would do! I suspect what I hear as an anglophone accent it's actually the Dutch influence.

Why does this happens and what determines one language vs another to have a stronger influence on a multilingual kid?

The mistery continues…


giovanni said...

Recently a lady at a gas station near Valencia (Spain) asked me where I came from.
"Guess," I said.
"From Italy," she answered.
"Why do you think so?"
"Because you talk just like my mother."
The lady came from Argentina.
My dream is to be able to distinguish Italy's 20 different accents (and "languages")... but before that, I still have to learn Italian. Oh, one life is too short!
I like the "hoha hola".
Indeed, English can become the preferred language, even among lovers!

Alice in Austria said...

Hm. Interesting! I totally agree that the German accent in ANY language is totally GRUESOME!!!
Same with the Austrian accent versus the North-German Accent (Hochdeutsch). If you have an accent from Northern Germany, people here will declare you a 'Piefke' in a very derogatory way. Germans, in turn, tell me sometimes patronisingly how 'cute' my accent is. Líke you can't take anyone very seriously who talks like this. And let's just forget about the Swiss accent!!! ;) LOL.

Clo said...

Alice, and what about among Asian languages? Can you recognize a Chinese or a Vietnamese speaking Korean?

Alice in Austria said...

I don't think I would recognise them because honestly, I've yet to meet a Chinese or Vietnamese who speaks Korean (I am sure they are out there, only I've never had the occasion to meet them so far). So I really don't know. I can tell the difference in regional accents, though. Oh, and I could probably recognize a Japanese speaking Korean. There was a Japanese lady in my Korean class who used the same Japanese intonation for Korean, which I thought was cute.

Anonymous said...

What does the Australian accent sound like to Europeans?