Funny Native Accents?
October 16, 2005 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Funny native accents?

Most languages seem to have a place with an acknowledged pure or best spoken form - Florence for Italian, Hanover for German, Salamanca for Castilian, Egypt for Arabic (true?), Tours for French (Quebecers try to make the purity case for their nasal twang- which I actually kind of like- though I have seen Montrealers shut right up when confronted by a real Frenchman. Odd.). Other candidates for these and other languages interest me.

My real question, however, is - what regions or dialects do native speakers of (fill in language here) find intrinsically funny? Also, why funny? Rube or Snob? The French mock the Belgians as bumpkins. Americans mock rural southerners and New Yorkers for similar reasons, but also Locust Valley Lockjaw for the unspeakably upscale. (No moralizing, please- I get it, it's wrong to judge people by the words they use and how they use them. This is purely a non-scientific inquiry. Though links to scientific inquiry would be appreciated. Or perhaps foreign films that illustrate these differences. All languages welcome, of course.)

As usual, thanks in advance.
posted by IndigoJones to Writing & Language (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Minnesota/Wisconsin "yoo betcha," accents are a hoot, as are South Boston "You're wikkit retahded," voices.
posted by jonmc at 11:39 AM on October 16, 2005

Also, "Vot's a mattah, boychik," Yiddisher accents are funny as well. I think in all three cases in just comes from the sonic oddity more than anything else.

Also, my mother was born in the Lombardi region of Italy. Since she came over very young (7), she's fluent in both languages but accent-free. My nonno and nonna not so much. My girlfreind said that when she met them she was stunned that they "spoke Italian with a French accent." They occasionaly sound amusing, too. Love 'em though I do. My NYC born father has shed most of his Queens accent except for the occasional "yooman," or "ouddamyway," but his younger siblings sound like extras from Taxi Driver. Occasionally funny, but it also gives them a touch of charm.
posted by jonmc at 11:47 AM on October 16, 2005

In Canada we make fun of the Newfies (Newfoundland-ers), although people from various parts of Newfoundland have distinctly various accents - from the person who just seems like a long-ago Scot/Irish expat, to my boss - who, for the first few months had to write instructions for the rest of us because we couldn't understand him. In the case of Newfies, though, the regional slang usually causes more understanding problems than any accent.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:47 AM on October 16, 2005

I believe Germans think Austrians in general have goofy accents, though paradoxically the Viennese accent specifically is supposed to be quite lovely.
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on October 16, 2005

The Bavarians have a funny accent in Germany (I'm told.)
posted by onalark at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2005

I think the widely accepted "comedy accents" in Britain are probably Birmingham, Liverpool, Geordie and the old rustic West Country voice (oo-arrrr vicrrrr, poynt o' Cydrrrrr.... that sort of number). Of course, inhabitants of those regions all think Londoners talk like ponces. Apart from cockneys, obviously. It's all very complicated.
posted by Decani at 12:00 PM on October 16, 2005

Everyone thinks everyone else's accent is funny.
posted by interrobang at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2005

Not so, interrobang. Some accents are funny, some are ugly.
posted by Aknaton at 12:18 PM on October 16, 2005

In Quebec, and in terms of Quebecois, it would be the Saguenay/Lac-St-Jean region.
posted by furtive at 12:33 PM on October 16, 2005

as far as i can tell (maybe signal will post to correct me if i'm wrong), accents in chile are not so much regional as class-based. obviously there's always a correlation between the two, but people here seem amazed that an english person can, with luck, identify the (major) home city of a compatriot.

south american spanish does vary from country to country though (strongly - i can hear the difference) (and, for all i know, might vary within other latin american countries regionally).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:35 PM on October 16, 2005

The Aberdonian (Scotland) accent is quite amusing.
posted by fire&wings at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2005

scody, in German TV the Viennesse is the accent of drug dealers, pimps and sometimes fashion designers; I have yet to meet someone who considers it lovely. It's not as universally despised or ridiculed as Saxon, but close.

Bavarian on the other hand is rather well known (as opposed to e.g. Palatinatian, or whatever it's called in English), but not (AFAIK) considered more funny than the other dialects (I might be a little biased, being a Bavarian living in non-Bavarian Germany).

The Swiss accent is also considered funny; and almost every German I know had to laugh when they first heard the Luxembourgian accent. A lot.
posted by erdferkel at 1:03 PM on October 16, 2005

New Orleans' Ninth Ward has an accent that gets described as "Brooklyn-ese gone south." One of my friends has the accent and everywhere we go, people find it absolutely astounding.
posted by honeydew at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2005

People from out of state randomly ask me if I've seen Fargo (I'm from southern Wisconsin). Yes, I have, and no, I've never been to North Dakota.
posted by sian at 1:27 PM on October 16, 2005

honeydew: You mean the Y'ats? As in, "Where y'at, dawlin?" That's my extended family right there. Yeah, ya rite! How's ya mama an 'em. Etc.

It ain't just a 9th Ward thing. A lot of people from Jefferson Parish sound the same way.
posted by brundlefly at 1:35 PM on October 16, 2005

Most Spaniards think that the Andalus accent is the equivalent of the bumpkin accent - they have the habit of dropping the ends off words (the ends, in Spanish, being all-important) and running who sentences together into one long word...

In terms of andrew cookes comment, re: Chilean accents - Peninsular Spanish is the opposite - there's not class-based accent, only regional variations...
posted by benzo8 at 1:40 PM on October 16, 2005

People in Tokyo (whos accent defines the standard for Japan) tend to sneer at the accent of people in Yokohama (which is sort of like people in Chicago sneering at the accent of people in Milwaukee), and really everyone else in Japan. People in Kyoto sneer at the accent of everyone else in Japan, since their city is older and more traditional, and therefore their accent must be more correct. People all over Japan shake their head in amazement at the "zuzu-ben" dialect spoken in the northern tip of Honshu.
posted by adamrice at 1:48 PM on October 16, 2005 just comes from the sonic oddity more than anything else.

Certainly true in part. Dutchmen find any attempts by non-natives speaking Dutch to be hilarious simply because they never hear it done.

On the other hand, tourist rich countries like, say, Italy, are sufficiently accustomed to foreigners' mangling pronunciation to let it slide. (Interestingly, when Italians dubbed Laurel & Hardy flicks, they affected an upper class British accent, which is really quite funny.)

But again, mostly I'm interested in native speaker to native speaker. Your girlfriend's likening Lombardian as Italian with a French accent is interesting. I've heard the same said of Ligurians (Genoa).

Back to movie examples- there is a scene in the nasty but funny French flick Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) where a character is conspiring to pretend he is someone he is not and suggests that he dumb it down a bit by going Belgian (and gives a fleeting little example of his schtick). Anything like that spring to mind?

(Also- do Egyptians speak the best Arabic? How about Chinese and Russian?)

Extremely good stuff so far, many thanks.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2005

For Germany, it's Swabia. Worse, Allgäuer Swabia.
If you're American, Swabia would be roughly equivalent to the rural Deep South, and Allgäu would be Appalachia.
posted by cali at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2005

Funny how it's often southern accents that are considered humorous/hicklike: America, France, Germany, Spain, Italy...

I've written to a Russian friend to ask about the equivalent there; I'll report back. Meanwhile, very interesting thread!
posted by languagehat at 3:25 PM on October 16, 2005

languagehat: True. England, of course, being something of an exception. There, northerners are generally regarded as the hicks.
posted by Decani at 3:30 PM on October 16, 2005

Most French Canadians disparage the regional accent spoken on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It is known as "Joual" which is how the locals pronounce the word for horse - "cheval".

I recall sitting atop a very tall granite outcrop on the South Shore, looking north toward Montreal, which I could see clearly in the distance. I was reading a photocopy of some pages from the diary of Samuel de Champlain which he had penned in the early 17th century on the very spot where I was sitting. That was in a time before dictionaries and standard spelling, and I was having a hard time making out what he was describing until I tried sounding out the words phonetically. To my utter amazement, it was perfect "joual"! I came to learn that in that part of the country, which was very rural, the ancient Norman French has changed very little over the intervening 4 centuries.

On another note, for many years I had dozens of friends who where were from Vietnam. I never learned to speak Vietnamese, but became quite attuned to hearing it spoken, to the point that I could accurately identify what region of the country most every Vietnamese speaker I met came from. What I noticed was that, akin to what Languagehat mentions, the purer form came from the North. By that I mean, the Northerners pronounce all the sounds in a word. As one moves south, they seem to progressively drop sounds, particularly from the ends of words, and draw their speech out, like a drawl. I attributed this tendency, as it occurs in many languages, to the slower pace of life in general as one moves from north to south.

As for British english, I have found that speakers from Edinburgh are the most precise, with the least affectation (to my ears). However, it seems that Elizabethan english sounds a lot like the West Country english of today, the version mentioned by Languagehat as being most derided by modern speakers.

Perhaps accent has much more to do with fashion than we would like to admit. Like clothing, those who sport an older version are mocked by those who are more "fashionable"
posted by RMALCOLM at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2005

I personally think "real dutch" or ABN sounds hilarious. I mean really fantastically funny. The dutchmen have these bizzare overused adjectives too, it seems as though everything in Holland is Hartstikke Leuk!

The Dutch language is sonically absurd. Flemish ("Belgian Dutch", if you must) is much more flowing and natural sounding to my ear, wheras ABN ("Civlized Dutch") could not be more comical if one tried.
posted by phrontist at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2005

What I noticed was that, akin to what Languagehat mentions, the purer form came from the North. By that I mean, the Northerners pronounce all the sounds in a word.

I was under the impression that Provencale French speakers still deign to actually pronounce the final letters in a word (!). I've heard some 15th century French songs in which the same is done.

I am not overfond of this property of spoken French.

Subquestion: what do French speakers think of Alsatian accents? It's the damnedest thing, listening to German spoken with all French words.
posted by Aknaton at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2005

To be fair though, many of the Belgian accents are a bit bizzare in their own way.

Dutch, I think, is unique in how many accents (where accent is defined as an immedeatly distinguishable set of colliquialisms) it has per speaker. Belgium, a country of around 10 million crammed into an area roughly that of Maryland, seems to have at least 50 or so.
posted by phrontist at 4:57 PM on October 16, 2005

I think people from Manchester have the funniest English accents.
posted by callmejay at 5:19 PM on October 16, 2005

Phrontist, greetings

Just from curiosity, what is your first language?

As an aside, I hear from Dutchmen that Afrikaans sounds like, I think their phrase was, baby talk. A more primitive grammar or something, I forget the exact details. Any thoughts on that?

RMALCOLM- Interesting! Now I have to look into Champlain's diary.

You could be right about Edinburgh's clarity- though of course Scots are notoriously good linguists, so if anyone can deliver good English, it would be a Geordie.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:33 PM on October 16, 2005

Brazilians love to talk to each other about /make fun of each other for regional accents. The most picked-on I know of is the generic non-coastal "interior" accent, where r's are much more similar to American English r's. Fecha a porrrta.
posted by dmo at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2005

A french ex-pat once told me that the Quebecois French accent was the basest country bumpkin.

There! Second-hand from a Minnesotan without a Minnesota accent.
posted by unixrat at 6:17 PM on October 16, 2005

The North-South divide noted by languagehat may have something to do with economics: larger/richer cities looking down on relatively poorer/more rural areas. In the Southern Hemisphere, I'd bet that it's often Southerners denigrating those from farther North, at least in the European-settled lands. And, of course, those reviled for broad/comic-sounding accents will often have their own scapegoats: Aussies laugh at Kiwi accents ("fush und chups").

I've heard that asking an English speaker from any country to say the phrase "Debbie does sex daily" will allow the linguistically sensitive to locate the speaker fairly accurately.

And if the Ninth Ward of N'Awlins qualifies as Brooklyn South, I nominate Cranston RI as Brooklyn North. It's uncanny!
posted by rob511 at 6:34 PM on October 16, 2005

My first langauge, by all reports, was Flemish. Though with the beginning of my formal education English has of course become my "dominant" language. I still speak and understand spoken Dutch well enough that I have very few problems in everyday conversation when I visit Dutch speaking countries. I can read Dutch fairly well, but it often takes me a while to recognize words in their written form. I can't write Dutch at all.
posted by phrontist at 7:10 PM on October 16, 2005

The Bavarians have a funny accent in Germany (I'm told.)

Remember that scene in the movie "Airplane" where the little old lady has to translate for the stewardess the "jive talk" spoken by the two African-American men? Well, according to the directors' commentary on the DVD, when one of them saw the film in Germany, dubbed entirely in German, people still cracked up laughing at that scene. Turns out they dubbed the "jive" in a Bavarian dialect and the joke held up.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:38 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've only seen one person so far mention swedish. The Swedish Chef cracks me up. Bork bork bork!

Also Inspector Clouseau - what kind of accent was that? I thought he was English, but it's kind of Frenchy, too. "Doos yoor doog by-at?"

Strong East Coast US accents can be pretty funny (at least to this native midwesterner). One of my former bosses was from "Lowng Eyelund" (though a co-worker claimed he sounded like he was actually from Hoboken) and we had hours of fun imitating him. The relatively few times I have caught Car Talk (Cah Tawk) on NPR, the guys' accents make half the show, especially since they make fun of them too.
posted by attercoppe at 9:08 PM on October 16, 2005

I grew up with a British accent, and adopted a Canadian one in the latter part of my life. Now...when I jokingly imitate an Aussie or Kiwi accent (they sound identical to me) the Kiwis tell me I sound like an Aussie with a cold, and the Aussies tell me I sound like a Kiwi with a cold! Go figure.
posted by randomstriker at 9:11 PM on October 16, 2005

if you ever get a chance to hear a Farsi speaker from Isfahan speak, do it. It's delightful, they sound like they're singing.

The Azari and Rashti accents are regularly mocked as idiotic. Azari people are like the Persian version of Poles in stupid-ethnic-group jokes.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:58 PM on October 16, 2005

In Sweden, the Danish-influenced Skåne accent spoken in the southwesternmost part of the country seems to be perceived as ugly or comical by many other Swedes.
posted by misteraitch at 12:16 AM on October 17, 2005

Scots are notoriously good linguists, so if anyone can deliver good English, it would be a Geordie.

Geordies come from Newcastle, which is in England.
posted by the cuban at 1:38 AM on October 17, 2005

For Brits:
The Birmingham accent is hilarious and makes you sound stupid, as does the West Country accent.

Liverpool accents signal either a dry wit (see John lennon) or lowgrade criminality.

Scottish accents say frugal and dour, whilst Northern accents suggest direct, no bullshit and reserved.

Welsh accents are hilariously bumpkin; Cockney accents are an indicator of someone with a money-making angle on anything.

BBC English is the mark of the upper classes and thus demonstrates snobbishness and interbreeding.
posted by Pericles at 4:03 AM on October 17, 2005

Geordies come from Newcastle

All these years I live in misapprehension!

Thank you, Cuban. You're quite right, of course. (Is Northumbrian considered comical?)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:33 AM on October 17, 2005

(I guess Pericles answers that one. Nice breakdown, that.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:35 AM on October 17, 2005

I nominate Cranston RI as Brooklyn North.

If you're talking about people who say "Cvanston," it's a whole different world of weirdness. And they say cabinet for 'milkshake'!

My Russian friend wasn't helpful. I'll try another one.
posted by languagehat at 6:13 AM on October 17, 2005

forgot: Glaswegian accent and Geordie accents immediately say perpetually drunk and a propensity to unprovoked and gratuitous violence.
posted by Pericles at 6:28 AM on October 17, 2005

Pericles, are you deliberately setting out to be as offensive as possible?
posted by ceri richard at 7:17 AM on October 17, 2005

I'll be more specific than pericles. The Dudley (pronounced duhd-lai), subset of the Birmingham accent never ceases to crack me up.
posted by viama at 8:22 AM on October 17, 2005

Pericles, are you deliberately setting out to be as offensive as possible?

Not at all; I grew up in Birmingham myself, of Geordie ancestry. But the question was asking about stereotyped responses to regional accents - and that's what I listed.

Are you deliberately trying to be as humourless as possible?
posted by Pericles at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2005

Actually in Italian the Florentine accent, when it's really thick, is considered one of the funniest (in a lovable way), also because of the association with popular comedians (Benigni being the most famous). Same for Neapolitan accent, and the Roman accent (and slang, very colourful and imaginative especially with insults) which is the indisputable winner in terms of comedy.

The funniest in not-so-likeable ways is probably Swiss Italian, although as target of unsympathetic mockery it's beaten by the one in the Südtirol region. It's the mix of Austrian German with Italian, not the most pleasant sounding match. There's also the association with the notion that people living in the northern mountains are thick, backward and racist. Plus in Südtirol they largely hate Italians and the feeling is mutual so it all adds up.
posted by funambulist at 11:23 AM on October 17, 2005

Pericles, my apologies. Despite reading the thread through I still missed the tone/context/everything. A second reading in more relaxed circumstances and I finally "get it".

It's only the third time ever that I've been snarky on the interweb (honest) and I feel terribly guilty (not to say stupid) that it was so very misplaced.

In partial defence can I say that I was getting very upset while reading this thread at the same time?
posted by ceri richard at 12:45 PM on October 17, 2005

Tuscan Italian has a weird c->h transposition that occurs with strange irregularity (e.g. "hoca-hola") that seems to amuse the more rigid-c speakers.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:04 PM on October 17, 2005

The are a lot of great accents in Russian for comedy. People love to mock the exagerated intonations of Moscow Russian, because it can sound theatrical to native speakers.

If you want to sound dumb, southern Russians replace /g/ with /h/, which makes them sound a little Ukrainian. Mikhail Horbachov was widely mocked. Siberians always fully pronounce /o/ where other Russians would shorten to an a.

But what Russian really love is mocking classes, bad grammar, pompous speech, illiterate pronunciation, and above all, argots (specialize vocabulary of social groups or professions.

Russian is a great language for humor.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:10 PM on October 17, 2005

Lawn Guyland and New Joisey are the funniest (I'm from Southern California). I find Southern accents charming. I don't see different accents as stupid or redneck or whatever, they're just different or, sometimes, annoying.

Americans also find Canadian accents a little humourous. "Oot and aboot" being a famous example. My brother-in-law (from Ontario) pronounces theatre "thee-ate-err" but my husband (also from Ontario) doesn't. I knew an American who pronounced it the same way but I can't remember where she's from. And, as I've previously mentioned, that flat "a" drives me nuts. It's "drahma", "Mahzda", "pahsta" NOT "draaama", "Maaazda", "paaasta"! Y'all sound like a bunch of sheep. Baaa!
posted by deborah at 7:34 PM on October 17, 2005

I never really thought of myself as having a Southern accent (being from the land of geographic misfits in Hampton Roads, Virginia), but a friend of mine from Wisconsin found it endlessly hilarious when I would say "movie," which apparently sounds like "moooovie". Needless to say, I had plenty of things to laugh at from her pronunciations as well.

Living in Appalachia now, I do find myself picking up that accent a bit. I don't mind it at all. The far southwestern Virginia accent of some people (all the people I've heard with it have been affluent, but I don't know that to be a direct correlation) can be quite amusing, though--a mix of a stereotypical gay man's speech and Southern dialect. See this political site that captures gubernatorial candidate (and SW Virginia native) Jerry Kilgore's voice for an example.
posted by monkeymcgee at 2:35 PM on October 18, 2005

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