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What are the stereotypes of the native English speaker's accent as perceived by non-English-speakers?
October 7, 2004 7:07 AM   Subscribe

What are the stereotypes of the native English speaker's accent as perceived by non-English-speakers? (More inside-->)

Example: What does an American or English accent sound like to, say, a French person, when a (somewhat fluent) native-English-speaker speaks French? How about Spanish or Russian or Portuguese, etc? English speakers have stereotyped perceptions of how (just for example) a French accent on top of English sounds to them, but what about the opposite? Harder consonents, more monotonal, other nuances, what?

What characteristically stands out, or is missing, when a native English speaker speaks another language?

What about the stereotypes for English speakers speaking English? Are all Americans John Wayne or Geo W or maybe Ernest? Are Brits John Cleese, or a voice from the BBC News? Is there more than one American stereotype, like the Southerner vs the New England Yank? And do non-English-speakers differentiate between Scots, English, Irish, Aussies, Canadians, etc?
posted by Shane to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Generally, I think the idea of an American accent is based on opening your mouther wider (for vowels) and not closing it quickly and crisply (for consonants). Also, the a sound in words like "flap" and "happy" is not found in many other Romance languages, causing an exagerrated version of it to be used in American accent parodies.
posted by davebug at 7:27 AM on October 7, 2004


My French friends alwasy told me that to imitate an american accent you were to talk as if you had a hot potato in your mouth. I think it's to make the wide-mouth vowel sounds and sloppy consonants davebug mentions above.
posted by soplerfo at 8:02 AM on October 7, 2004 [1 favorite]


A Spanish friend I had in high school told me that we use a lot of 'r' sounds.
posted by adampsyche at 8:57 AM on October 7, 2004


Native English speakers tend to sound louder to Romance language types but that may be because instead of using soft, short vowels, like 'ah' or 'oh' they pronounce their A's for example like the middle A in 'banana' which also makes for a nasal, higher-pitched sound.
posted by vacapinta at 9:28 AM on October 7, 2004


When I speak French I find I have to force myself to speak at a lower pitch. I'm not sure if this is indicative of anything to do with the English accent, but I rarely hear French men speak at as high a pitch as we English speakers do.
posted by wackybrit at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2004


That hard, nasal A always sticks out to me when I hear native English speakers - especially when they try Spanish.

I know the timbre of my own voice changes when I switch languages - louder and nasal for English, lower and softer for Spanish. English always feels like more effort, even though it's my primary language.

A lot of the folks in my office speak English as a second language and when they try to imitate an American accent, they almost always start by drawing out vowels and making them nasal.
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:08 AM on October 7, 2004


In Spanish:
the inability to roll Rs, or rolling every single R they can get their tongue on.
Pronouncing the Spanish O (soft, not a diphthong) like the English O in, for instance, "toe". So a parody of an English speaker speaking Spanish might have him saying "houla" ("ou" is how you would write the "oe" sound in Spanish) instead of "hola".
Pronouncing silent "h" sounds.
posted by signal at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2004


Is there more than one American stereotype, like the Southerner vs the New England Yank? And do non-English-speakers differentiate between Scots, English, Irish, Aussies, Canadians, etc?

Nah, you're all gringos.
posted by signal at 1:32 PM on October 7, 2004


Here are some common errors that English speakers make in Japanese:

Trailing "n" not nasal enough. The American English "n" blends too much with the next syllable.

Not properly distinguishing between "tsu" and "su", especially when "tsu" comes at the beginning of a word.

Improper glottal stops (the double t in "yokatta", etc.)

Too much intonation. Japanese is pretty flat when compared to English, so when Japanese people imitate Americans speaking Japanese, they usually throw in lots and lots of seemingly RANdoM INtoNAtiON, just like that. Similarly, syllables in Japanese should each be the same length in pronunciation, but English speakers mess this up a lot.

English speakers tend to overuse Japanese pronouns. When Japanese people are imitating an over-the-top foreign accent, they'll often start every sentence with a pronoun.
posted by vorfeed at 1:45 PM on October 7, 2004


Is there more than one American stereotype, like the Southerner vs the New England Yank? And do non-English-speakers differentiate between Scots, English, Irish, Aussies, Canadians, etc?

My guess would be yes. I have a neighbour who is Latin-looking and married to a Mexican man. Yet I could tell from the way she spoke both Spanish and English she wasn't Mexican. I was guessing maybe South American, Turns out she's Castilian Spanish - but I definitely noticed the difference. I imagine it works the same for non-native English speakers. Maybe they can't tell a Canadian from a United States accent, but they could probably pick up the difference in, say, a Scottish and a Texan one.

I always think of Tracy Ulman imitating and "American" accent. She almost sounds kind of retarded, and often you hear a lot of California lingo and slang. I always shudder and think "is that really what we sound like?"
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:32 AM on October 8, 2004


"is that really what we sound like?"

Like totally.
posted by wackybrit at 6:25 AM on October 8, 2004


Maybe they can't tell a Canadian from a United States accent, but they could probably pick up the difference in, say, a Scottish and a Texan one.

Not from the accent, you might tell them apart from the way they dress, haircut, general attitude towards life, but the accent is basically the same.

Turns out she's Castilian Spanish
Small nitpick, but "Castilian" does not mean "Spanish as it's spoken by people in Spain", but rather one of the languages spoken in Spain (along with Basque and Catalan). What you call "Spanish" is actually "Castellano", which is what most people in Central and South America speak. Basically, calling "Castellano" -> "Spanish" is like calling "English" -> "British"
posted by signal at 6:57 AM on October 8, 2004 [1 favorite]


Thanks, all.
posted by Shane at 7:40 AM on October 8, 2004


Interesting, signal, I didn't know that. She told me she was actually from the city of Castile in Spain - so I took her accent to be a regional dialect. That also explains why I guessed she was Chilean or Peruvian.
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2004


6dw: well, spaniards do have their own accent (accents, actually, bunch of regional ones), mostly in that they distinguish between the "C" "Z" and "S" sounds, which latinamericans don't, and the consonants they drop at the end of words. Castile was one of the original spanish kingdoms, and conquered the other ones to form modern day Spain. Under Franco, the other nationalities where forbidden to speak their own languages, forced to speak Castillian. To this day you get some loud stares outside Castile if you call "Castellano" "EspaƱol".
posted by signal at 3:58 PM on October 8, 2004


Doubt anyone's still reading this, but it just ocurred to me: English speakers have a really hard time with unfamiliar dipthongs in Spanish. For instance, most native-English speakers completely fuck up the dipthong in "Dios", which they render as two separate vowels: "Dee-oh-s"; and the "AI" in "Buenos Aires", which they squash into a muddy sort of "uh".
posted by signal at 6:58 AM on October 13, 2004


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