How would you describe the dialect and accent of the languages which you can speak?

By: | Post date: July 21, 2016 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Language, Personal

Ooh! Ooh! All the good people are here!

(And if not, they will be, dammit.)

The languages I speak or have spoken with some degree of spontaneity:

English, Greek, French, German, Italian, Latin, Esperanto, Lojban, Klingon

*deep breath*

English

Australian English, probably General vanilla. Nothing particularly “ethnic” about my accent (the “woggy” accent of my youth, which had strongly centralised vowels). Some Americanisms in my vocabulary, but no more I suspect than most of my contemporaries; I don’t think my infancy addiction to Sesame Street, or my three years living in Orange County had an impact. Americanisms do come out when I talk to Americans though.

A tiny bit of interference from Greek: “shut the phone”, “shut the lights”, and the propensity to spout proverbial Greek folk wisdom at inappropriate moments. (“Silk boxers require adroit arses.”)

(It sounds better in the original.)

Greek

My accent has been impacted from living most of my life outside of Greece: my dentals move to alveolars, and when I’m tired I no longer trill my r’s. I don’t have great command of slang, and I find it challenging to tell a story in Greek entertainingly (i.e. fluency in narrative strategies).

My vocabulary is eclectic in the opposite direction from Dimitra Triantafyllidou, as she has noted—it’s on the hyperdemoticist side. I delight in obsolete loanwords (guverno for government < Italian (Venetian?) governo; lakirdi for conversation < Turkish lâkırdı); and I’m probably the only Greek speaker left who prefers englezos over anglos for English. Paradoxically, that actually shows you how bookish my Greek is—the demotic comes from literature.

My pronunciation, I’m convinced, is influenced by my father’s Cypriot: my nasals are a bit overlong. But my father does not speak dialect (apart from the odd explosion of θκιάολε μαύρε!), and any dialect influence I have is from my mother’s Cretan. I can fake Cretan dialect just convincingly enough that my relatives get concerned (“you, a scholar, talking like a peasant!”); but actual substrate influence is limited. Maybe a bit of intonation, occasional Rj > R (I thought δεκαρά was slang for δεκαριά “ten-odd”; it’s dialect. The lexicographer who picked me up on it thought this adorable.)

French

A little bit of Southern French from my high school French teacher—pronouncing final e’s. But mostly, I’m afraid, Pepe le Pew. My vowels are more often than not wrong, in the way that ’Allo ’Allo alludes to.

German

Like most of my foreign languages (other than Klingon and French), my German sounds Greek. I can try and remember to speak crisply and teutonically, or I can try and remember my vocabulary and putting the verb at the end; I can’t do both.

When I was attempting a particularly convoluted sentence one day, my German interlocutor interrupted me with:

Ein Kebab bitte! Viel Sauce!

Ever since, I’ve described my German to others as Kebabverkäuferlich. Kebab-sellerish.

You won’t be surprised to hear that when I was in Vienna, my best conversations in German were with cab drivers. We shared that kebab substrate.

Italian

I never actually learned Italian; I just reconstructed it from Latin and Esperanto. But I did hang out with Italian lecturers, and I got more of the intonation than I did in German. I actually modelled myself after the guy I was research assistant for—who is Slovene–Croat and L2 Italian. He’s fluent, but his accent was a little blunted, which I found less intimidating to imitate.

I don’t double consonants (because Greek), and any alternation of long and short vowels are probably accidental. But I was confident enough with my Italian, that I did get asked in Desenzano del Garda whether I was from Friuli. (They assumed I was from the next county rather than the next country.)

Latin

Greek. No long vowels at all. Closer to classical than church Latin, modulo /v/, but… yeah, less said the better.

Esperanto

Greek. Hilariously, Greek and Spanish are meant to be the model accents for Esperanto, because Esperanto is not meant to have long and short vowels; but the older reference grammar deplored Greek accents as sound like machine gun fire.

Come to think of it, yes, that’s what my Esperanto sounds like too.

Lojban

Eh, Greek with sibilants? Lojban is a hard language to speak fluently, because you have to think in nested parentheses; but in between the rat-tat-tat accent and the rushing through the bits between nested parentheses, I think I was hard for anyone else to follow.

Klingon

My Klingon does not sound Greek. With phonemes like <q, Q, D, S, tlh> /qʰ, qχ, ɖ, ʂ, tɬ/, it really couldn’t.

My Klingon sounds New Zealandish.

The vowels of Klingon are described by their author… impressionalistically. He’s writing for Trekkies, after all, not professional linguists. The author emphasised how lax the <I> is, and that it’s not an /i/. (That’s why it’s capitalised: to show that it’s not the same as <i>.)

I… took the laxing a bit too seriously. It was intended to be /ɪ/, I ended up producing /ɨ/. When I first spoke Klingon to other Klingonists, they were sure I was saying /ɛ/.

Apart from that, my gutturals are probably on the lenis side. It’s still meant to be a language, not performance art.

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