what does babbling in english sound like?
February 12, 2007 12:01 AM   Subscribe

What does American English sound like to people who don't speak english?

I'm looking for audio examples of people of non English speaking cultures trying to imitate how Americans speak. I guess the reverse equivalent would be me saying Chinese sounds like "chang ching ding dong".
(apologies to rosie o'donnell)
posted by sammich to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Looking at the "english" tag reveals a number of previous variations on this question. See threads #3923, #10731, #20884 and #36065.
posted by Danelope at 12:13 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think this one's been asked on here before. My girlfriend's a Foreignese (Foreignese province of Hungary) and she used to imitate us English-speakers all the time. She said it was mostly "ra rarra rarra rrrar raarara ara ra".

Oh, and BTW, I love speaking in Foreign gibberish, whether it's German, or Japanese, or just some Foreign-sounding mishmash of nothing in particular. English was a problem until I found the "rarra rarr" "hook". Hungarian, however, has proven to be impossible to find "hooks" for. I absolutely cannot imitate it.
posted by redteam at 12:17 AM on February 12, 2007


In some African cultures: "Shriii, shriii, shriii". British english sounds okay, but american english sounds ridiculous because of all the "r"s they use, and the way they slur their words like children who cannot properly speak. Also, the way americans have of rushing through certain parts of sentence, then keeping a large pause, then rushing through again is funny.

It's a ridiculous accent to those who do not speak it.
posted by markovich at 12:31 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing that's important to realize is that foreign languages sound different to different listeners. Its not just that they emphasize different sounds to identify from the sounds made by the words, but that they actually hear different phonetics!

What sounds you are able to differentiate are hard-coded in your brain before you are 5 years old. People never learn to identify new sounds after that! This is why some people retain accents even after many decades of living and speaking in a non-native language; its also why some people like to expose their children to many languages at a young age.

Thus, American English will sound different to people who have been exposed to languages with different phonetics.
posted by Osmanthus at 12:43 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


In Korea the generic English babble is "shwala shwala."
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:50 AM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I should have mentioned that I knew this question has been asked before (though I didn't know 4 times over). I thought there might have been some audio examples out there in tv/movies or on the internet.
posted by sammich at 1:31 AM on February 12, 2007


Lots more nasal sounds than what the french-speaking ears are used to.
posted by Baud at 2:29 AM on February 12, 2007


I just realized my answer was no help whatsoever. Unfortunately, the only specific audio sample I can think of is the Korean dub version of episode three of "Azumanga Daioh." They use "shwala shwala" in that, but I can't find it. HOWEVER, they do have the Japanese version (subbed) so you can hear what the Japanese "blah blah" is.

Start watching around 4:45 and ends around 5:55. Of course you can watch the whole thing since Azumanga is hilarious.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:33 AM on February 12, 2007


Curses, I mean click here.
posted by kkokkodalk at 2:36 AM on February 12, 2007


People never learn to identify new sounds after that!

NB; some people do. Professional linguists are not aliens, and for those working in documenting previously unrecorded languages it was an absolute necessity before cheap recording equipment, and it remains a practical one. Which is not to say it’s easy.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:39 AM on February 12, 2007


From the responses here it looks like you may be wondering how to express some archetypical American accent in print. But if you want to hear what it sounds like, I think you can most closely experience American English babbling by eavesdropping on a Dutch or Frisian conversation. I'm American and have spent time in lot of non-English-speaking countries, and those are always the two languages that I hear and think "ah, Americans" before the sounds come close enough into reach and my brain shifts gears from "wha?" to "ah, Dutch (or Frisian)".
posted by cocoagirl at 3:02 AM on February 12, 2007


In college, I took a film class; one of the professors had been an extra in a film when he was a child.

He gave the anecdote that, when they were supposed to be "generically chatting", they were given the instruction to say "rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb..."

This was British English.. but still, a crowd of people repeating the word "rhubarb" was pretty convincing.
posted by jozxyqk at 3:43 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


My German friend does an excellent 'English gibberish', I'll try to get a recording of it.
posted by wolfsleepy at 3:47 AM on February 12, 2007


British english sounds okay, but american english sounds ridiculous because of all the "r"s they use, and the way they slur their words like children who cannot properly speak. Also, the way americans have of rushing through certain parts of sentence, then keeping a large pause, then rushing through again is funny.

At risk of sounding like I'm missing the point of the entire topic (make no mistake, I'm not), let me ask this: Why is it ridiculous that Americans consistently pronounce all the "r"s in a word the same way? After all, the British pronounce their "r"s as Americans do when they occur at the beginning of a word, but not at the end. Which way is more "ridiculous"? Obviously, there is no objective answer. As pointed out by Osmanthus:

One thing that's important to realize is that foreign languages sound different to different listeners.

Markovich, what language/accent do you speak with? I'm sure it sounds slurred, childish, improper, funny, or otherwise utterly ridiculous to speakers of some other language.

It's a ridiculous accent to those who do not speak it.

The same can be (and is) said for all of the world's accents and languages.

A useful answer you might have offered to the original question, without sounding offensive and moronic, would have been:

"One characteristic of American English that stands out to me is the heavy use of the "r" sound. It also seems rushed at times."
posted by whataboutben at 5:17 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I used to ask this of exchange students in high school, all the (non-native English speaking) Europeans would do some variant of a very nasal and choppy "wawawa wawa." The clever ones would toss "wawa Mickey Mouse NASCAR" in there.
posted by sonofslim at 5:48 AM on February 12, 2007


Also, when in Brazil, I asked my wife's aunt (who speaks no English) to give me her impression of American English, and she claimed the quintessential generic American phrase was "Fuck you!"
posted by jozxyqk at 5:52 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Rhubarb" used to sound like people talking is an interesting case. It apparently comes from "Rho Barbaron", which in Greek means the barbarian river. And barbarians were so called because the Greeks though that a lot of barbarians talking sounded like "bar bar bar".

I realise this is no help and that I will be torn to shreds by proper etymologists.
posted by Phanx at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2007


my chinese and brazilian coworkers both did it like "warawawararawara". an audio sample might be the trombones-as-parents in the animated charlie brown specials.

aside: whataboutben, that's a very patient and measured response to what i woulda called idiotic turd-dumping in askme. spending $5 just to point out how dumb the american accent sounds is either trollish or sophomore-in-college banal.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2007


Ricardo Montalban once said English sounded like barking dogs.

Also, the way americans have of rushing through certain parts of sentence, then keeping a large pause, then rushing through again is funny.


Actually William Shatner is from Canada.
posted by scheptech at 6:28 AM on February 12, 2007 [9 favorites]


I heard some Japanese young adults doing their imitation of an American speaking. They all sounded like John Wayne.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:50 AM on February 12, 2007


We have a lot of Europeans where I work, and when they make fun of us they sound like cowboys. Very twangy and lots of cursing.
posted by olinerd at 7:00 AM on February 12, 2007


I'm an American who will argue that American English sounds more slurred than most other English dialects. This is mainly due to how some consonants are voiced. Provided the the letter "t" is not at the beginning of a word, Americans will often pronounce it as a "d" or turn it into a glottal stop. Most American glottal stops are not as clipped as Cockney glottal stops.
posted by Human Flesh at 7:17 AM on February 12, 2007


I am so glad you asked this!
I went to France last year and because this is a question that I've always wondered myself, I asked some of the people I met to imititate the sound of English. Often, the people there would tell me that their teachers instructed them to pretend they had a potato stuck in their mouth — this would help approximate the accent of SAE (Standard American English). Is that funny or what?!

But it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I have thought that the best way to do this would be to get computer generated samples of an entire set of the sound segments of any given language (the IPA inventory for that language), as well as variations in prosodic features for those segments (pitch, tone, etc. — whatever that languages features are). Then you figure out the distribution for that language, how often (%-wise) these segments occur. Using a computer again, randomly order and repeat these segments according to the distribution, filtering OUT combinations that produce recognizable strings (words) consisting of 3 segments or more. Then run the program again, replacing certain segments with alternates to approximate prosody patterns. That *may* result in the sound of a language, without actually being recognizable to the speaker of that language.

It's the sound equivalent of creating a Scrabble set for a language, albeit, way more complex.

Has anybody been bored enough to try this!?!? Please show me where!
posted by iamkimiam at 7:30 AM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


You're also asking two questions here...
1. What does SAE sound like (objectively)
2. What do speakers of other languages hear English like?

The answer to #2 is going to be different for speakers of different languages. People will hear remember some sounds as being more distinctive, or indicative of a language, if the sound does not occur in their language (very likely to be English r, l and the flat a sounds) and they may filter out the common sounds (shwa, ooo, eee sound), and possibly not notice if that sound occurs significantly more or less in English than in their language.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2007


a few years ago, i asked a korean exchange student what english sounded like to koreans (not specifying any dialect, but we were in canada, so parts of america sound similar- at least on tv), she made a high-pitched, breathy, girly-sounding "sha-shi-sha-she-sha".
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:13 AM on February 12, 2007


As an aside, 'rhubarb' is a common crowd noise on the American stage, and if you pay attention you'll occasionally hear it in movies too. It's intended to make a few actors on stage sound like a murmuring crowd rather than to stand in for English, although that may be splitting hairs.

Related to this is a form of English-sounding gibberish used for deliberately comedic effect: You can hear John Cleese discuss and demonstrate it starting around 8:40 in the audio file recorded for NPR's Fresh Air. Probably not funny at all to anybody besides native English speakers.
posted by ardgedee at 10:00 AM on February 12, 2007


Alright, let me get it right this time. Thanks to my insomnia and mangling of code, my previous contribution made no sense. Anyhow, the video I linked to is the subbed version of the anime Azumanga Daioh, episode three. Around 4:45 is where the American pops up and you hear a mix of English and Japanese English gibberish ("pera, pera"). It end around 5:55. Anyhow, I linked to that particular clip because it was the only one I could think off the top of my head. Also in the Korean dubbed version it uses the Korean English gibberish of "shwala shwala." I'm not exactly sure why this is, I've just heard it since I was little as stand in for "English goes here." But I think it's because the sh, w and l sounds make for the what Koreans call, the "rolling tongue" sounds of English.

As for when people want to sound like they know they're speaking English -- usually for comedic effect -- people do things like smile and say in an exagerrated manner, "Mm-hmm" "oh yeessss" "oh my God!" Basically, colloquial phrases that don't mean much. Interestingly enough, badly spoken English is many times a source of comedy even though it is country where you study English throughout your academic career yet still can barely speak at a conversational level. I guess it's a national schadenfreude type of thing.
posted by kkokkodalk at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2007


just the other day I was discussing how great it would be to have a multi lingual website where people from all over could post audio clips of themselves aping other peoples languages. Maybe thats one for the Projects page.
posted by subtle_squid at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reading this question, I keep thinking of those Peanuts cartoons where the teacher's voice can be heard but not understood. Maybe that would be a useful example?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:19 PM on February 12, 2007


I recall hearing someone tell me that to the Japanese we sound like we are saying something like

"waa sheewa sheewashee wa sheewa"

funny
posted by mistsandrain at 1:44 PM on February 12, 2007


Anyhow, the video I linked to is the subbed version of the anime Azumanga Daioh, episode three. Around 4:45 is where the American pops up and you hear a mix of English and Japanese English gibberish ("pera, pera").

"Pera pera" just means "fluent" in Japanese, so the actual words they're using in the scene aren't important -- it's just meant to imply that the English teacher can speak English smoothly. However, the way they are saying it (over-the-top emphasis on random syllables, drawn out words, continual up-and-down intonation, lots of seemingly meaningless pauses) is how English sounds to Japanese people. The sound of spoken Japanese is very flat and even when compared to English, without much variation in intonation and the spoken length of syllables. The voice acting in Azumanga Daioh is already supposed to be hilariously exaggerated; note how much more they put on emphasis for the "speaking English" segment!

I recall hearing someone tell me that to the Japanese we sound like we are saying something like
"waa sheewa sheewashee wa sheewa"


I think this is probably meant to make fun of overuse of the personal pronoun "watashi wa", which is a hallmark of English speakers who speak Japanese as a second language. The Japanese doesn't use pronouns much, so English speakers who start every sentence with "I" in Japanese sound bizarre.
posted by vorfeed at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2007


I know that when I've left America for a while & come back, what gets me the most is the way we pronounce Rs and the way we slur the end of one word into the beginning of another. Our Rs are very hard... as in HaRRRRd (especially compared to the british who pronounce it like "Hahd").

Since people from a lot of other countries learn the Queen's English and not the American version, this really stands out to them. A lot of American impressions make a point to over harden and overenunciate the R... where the r sounds almost like "ARRRRR". It's almost abrasive to the ear to a lot of other cultures.

Like someone said above, we sound different to everyone though... to people in Thailand & such, our hard Ks are really rough on the ears because their K sounds are pronounced further in the back of the throat & softer, not on the back of the tongue & sharp like we do. There is no letter P in the Arabic language so that sounds weird to them.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:13 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


In Korea the generic English babble is "shwala shwala."

If you're still reading this, I've never heard that, and I'm curious as to how that would be represented in hangeul. The closest I can think of might be '솰라솰라'. Is that how people would write it? 'Sh' doesn't really seem to me to be a phoneme that appears much in Korean other than when 'ㅅ' precedes 'ㅣ'...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:46 AM on February 13, 2007


Hey, Stav. Quite honestly it's something I've said or heard without thinking about it much so the only example I can place it is with the dubbed Azumanga ep because it was fairly recent. Unfortunately, that holds the same for writing. I agree with your spelling though. It's not a straightforward "sh" sound like in English, but whenever I've heard it said it ends up sounding more like an "sh" sound than a straight "s" sound. Probably because the person saying it would overdo it. Anyhow, this made me curious and a quick Google search later it seems like others use that spelling also.
posted by kkokkodalk at 6:25 PM on February 14, 2007


Thanks, and 새해복 많이 받으세요!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:40 PM on February 14, 2007


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