Saturday, July 26, 2008

on accents and having one

last night, we went out together with some people from my husband's old department. we went on a dinner cruise on the saga fjord, which cruises from roskilde on the roskilde fjord. the wife of one of my husband's former employees had a heavy accent.

ASIDE:  quick explanation. my husband was, until recently, a department manager in a large danish company. his dept. was responsible for internal distribution of all post and packages and such within this company--which has many locations in denmark and around the world. last year, he had the guts to suggest that because what his dept. did wasn't core business, it should be outsourced to someone whose core business it was. he was, in the end, the only one of 47 people who were without a job. all of the others were either guaranteed a transfer to the outsourcing company or another job within the original company. this was a VERY gutsy move and one that not many people would do. we think he's cool for having such guts. evidentally, the company does too because he has been offered another, more exciting job now. we hope he's not going to be sent around as the dark lord of outsourcing, but, this is clearly the stuff of a whole 'nother posting and as usual, i digress...

back to the point of my story...for a small country (it's about the size of wisconsin) and a minor language (only 5 million danes), denmark has a lot of accents. my danish being what it is, i can HEAR the accent, but not necessarily place it. sometimes i hear accents (bornholm comes to mind), where i think, "hey, if they're allowed to speak danish, i should be too." and i, of course, am allowed, but you know what i mean.

the accent i have in danish, and i DO have an accent, luckily, isn't necessarily pegged as an american accent. this is good, because i've heard heavy american accents in danish and they are not good. i think because of my studying russian, people tend to think i'm some kind of eastern european from my accent in danish. that's ok with me.

anyway, this woman had a serious accent and although i could get the gist of what she said, it wasn't necessarily easy (for me). turned out she was from somewhere in jutland--which is the bit of denmark that's attached to germany (as opposed to the big island--sjælland--that i live on). they have a number of pronounced accents over there.

and this, combined with iris' comment on my reference to an "iowa accent," got me thinking about accents... 

tom brokaw, longtime NBC evening news anchor, is from a town not far from where i grew up, in the same county even. thus, we always claimed, mostly because of him, not to have an accent. we spoke (in our ears and our opinion) neutral, american english (not realizing, in our naivete, that his original accent had surely been beaten out of tom by a combination of accent coaches and a desire to flee from his roots). 

now, when i go back, i realize how WRONG that was. there is a heavy accent there. it manifests itself in words like: package--packeege, garbage--garbeege, tuesday--tuesdee.  as in, "if the packeege comes on tuesdee, don't throw it in the garbeege." and phrases like "ya darn tootin'," which isn't just something coen brothers made up for fargo. people really SAY that.

the simple fact is, we ALL have an accent. some are more intelligible than others. some sound better than others. there's something charming about a french accent and something distinctly uncharming about a danish one. some accents make you sound smarter and some dumber. some make you seem exotic and some make you seem like a hillbilly. but, we ALL have an accent. and it's ok. we should. it's part of what makes us who we are.

9 comments:

marymurtz said...

My friend Susan, who has lived her entire life on Long Island (pronouncing it Lon Guyland) made fun of my Nebraska accent. In the same phone conversation, she stopped and said to her son: "William...do NOT spit at the pizza mayun...it makes mommy vayry crewoss." ("Do not spit at the pizza man. It makes mommy very cross.")

Around here, we feel like we don't have accents, but I know that's not true. Even if we have a flatter pronunciation, the colloquialisms identify us: "pop" instead of "soda," and my mother calls a sofa a davenport. My husband's family is from Oklahoma, and I love listening to the phrasing, cadence and colloquialisms from there.

Iris said...

Ah, I was just giving you a hard time yesterday. I love accents. Ooh, I just love listening to my friend from Ecuador speak English. She pronounces "yes" as "jess". It's so cute. Or when she says "Chic-ago", emphasis on the "chic". We worked together at a tax office where she would help translate for our Spanish speaking clients. I can understand and read Spanish for the most part but I can't speak it. Wendy used to be able to tell me where in South America a person was from based on their pronunciation. I always thought it was a neat trick but I suppose when you think about it, it's the same trick as being able to tell when someone in the US is from the South or, as with Mary's friend, from New York.

I've lived in Iowa for most of my life and never thought twice about the way I talk until we moved to Virginia. I was razzed a time or two about different things but we lived there long enough for me to become "native". Or at least that's what I was told when we moved back to Iowa and everyone said I now talk like a "Southerner". lol.

I know Madonna gets a lot of flack when a British accent started slipping into her vocabulary but I think it's understandable. People just absorb where they live. It's natural.

polona said...

strange things, these accents...
slovenia has, in just over 20,000 sq. kilometres so many dialects that it is likely people from one region won't understand those from another (ok, not the same thing but not far from it either)...

Jaime said...

I've always wished I could turn into someone else, with a different accent, living somewhere far away, just for a little while so that I could hear what my accent sounds like. I guess I will never know....unless I move away for a really long time or something. Does that work? Did you hear your own accent after you had been away from your own country for a while?

hele said...

I find the way accent attractiveness are linked to history and perception very interesting. For example, in South Africa Afrikaans people are seen as less cultured at best and as racists at worst. Therefore, Afrikaans accents are often seen as unattractive. In a similar way American accents are becoming more unpopular. In South Africa French people are seen as sexy and culturally aware and therefore french accents are seen as very attractive.

Barb said...

What an interesting post.

An accent depends on which side of the listening fence you are on.

I have a dear friend who lives in Tennessee. She has the most delightful southern belle accent.

Yet when I go to visit her, her family and friends always comment on my accent ... please I am Canadian, there's no accent (aye?)

enchantedartist said...

This is very true! I too,am Canadian, and I remember being a kid moving from B.C. to Alberta, and getting teased about my 'accent'. Come on now...

There aren't any accents here, but I will admit to the extreme overuse of ending sentences with 'eh' (I don't even think that's a real word. :)

tangobaby said...

People from San Francisco have an accent?! Nuh-huh. What do we sound like?!

I love listening to other people's accents. I just happen to think I'm the only person who speaks "normally."

lol!

smith kaich jones said...

Well, I'm Texan & you'd think WE all sound alike, but so not true. Here in NE Texas, we're very Southern, but that's not true in the rest of the state. My favorite Texas accent is from the Odessa/Midland area - Tommy Lee Jones has that accent. We once had an employee who was from Uruguay & I just cracked up when I met her daughter - looked like a gorgeous young Sophia Loren, but could NOT have sounded more hillbilly/East Texas. And that goes to Hele's point re: how accents are perceived. Accents are very deceiving.

:) Debi