Tuesday, December 06, 2011

yes, i have an accent

vintage


like most people speaking a foreign language, i speak danish with an accent. danish has three extra letters - æ ø å - which have been designed to make it nearly impossible for a non-native to sound like a native. when combined with some letters like a soft d (which sounds like an L in my ears), danes can produce shades of sounds that my ear is simply incapable of discerning from one another - sod sød sy ud øl - i could go on, but seeing them on the page doesn't have the same effect as hearing them. the differences are subtle and often, to my ear, more a difference in pitch than pronunciation. and i don't always catch the nuance of which word was meant in the course of a normal conversation (for years, when husband's girls were small, i thought they were asking for beer (øl) in the car, when really they were asking to get out (ud)).

but i go blithely along, speaking danish in my own unique accent, which i'm told is a hard-to-place combination of native english speaker/slav, which probably has to do with my years of studying russian. and i was quite content with this. until recently.

there's someone who i'm around several times a week who has begun mocking my accent. to my face. which is awkward in meetings or when you're standing there, trying to talk to the vet. every time i contributed to the conversation at a meeting last evening, this person answered me in a mimicking funny accent.  i'm not sure if it's a socially awkward attempt at amusing or if it's genuinely mean, but i'm definitely not finding it all that funny. he also oddly repeats words to me in swedish if i didn't catch what he said. i can't even begin to guess what that's about.

if you think about it, EVERYONE has an accent. no one is accent-free. my mom always claims that the area i grew up in south dakota is accent-free because tom brokaw grew up there and he "doesn't have an accent." i always thought that it was because his fargo-like original accent (because the accent where i grew up is pretty much identical to the one in the coen brothers film) had been beaten out of him so he could be a news anchor.

but let's face it, our speech, no matter the language, is colored by regionalisms and ticks and odd pronunciations. and yes, it's fun to make fun of accents and regionalistic tics - it's what makes fargo such a hilarious film or the canadian eh at the end of many sentences that bob and doug mackenzie effectively exploited for comic effect. but comedy has its place and if you're going to mock someone (which i love to do, don't get me wrong), you have to know them well and you have to have earned the right to mock them. you have to know where the line is and not constantly find yourself on the wrong side of it. because if you don't, it borders on something like that seems a lot like racism.

i was telling a friend about this whole situation and she was the one suggesting it was a bit racist. i'll admit i balk at that word, but it is something like racism. if i were indian and he were mocking me in an indian accent, it would be more obvious. but can it really be racism when a person of the same race mocks your accent? perhaps it's a racism born of xenophobia, but a belittling experience in much the same way as more obvious racist acts. whatever else it is, it's definitely unpleasant.

i guess i ultimately feel that i could take the mocking of my accent if the person doing it had earned the right to do it - by knowing me well enough and by being someone i respect and who i felt respected me. i fear that's what's missing here.


16 comments:

Bill said...

I wonder, would this guy mock you if you were male? Probably not.

Helen said...

Hmnn that's not particularly nice for you, if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Maybe ask him directly why he chooses to mock your accent. I think I would (and I'm not always that outspoken) but as I am getting older I am realising that if something bothers me I need to speak up. That in itself may be enough to stop him.

For what it's worth I adore accents and I bet others like your's too.

Bill said...

Yeah, I too would ask him why he's being repulsive.. Something simple like, "Hey dumbass, why are you being such a dumbass? That's spelled d-u-m-b-a-s-s, got it?"

Dave King said...

It's probably not much help or consolation to you to be told what you must already know: that to mock an accent is a sure sign of ignorance. As you say, everybody has one, and there's no easy answer. In fact, it seems to me there are only the two alternatives: either face him with his behaviour or ignore it.

julochka said...

i did actually write an email to the guy, telling him how i feel about his mocking. he has yet to answer. will keep you posted...

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Julie

I totally agree with David. If I were you, I would just ignore the guy. You can never change people(trust me I know).

Also, I love Bill's comment!!

You did the right thing by sending him an e-mail.

Have a great day

Best
Tracy :)

Charissa Steyn said...

i love accents!! they are all so beautiful!

--maria said...

Keep us posted with that email. This makes me want to hop on a plane with your sister to Denmark and show this guy who's boss!!!!!!! :)

Sammi said...

did you get a response from the e-mail? it is not very funny. my argument when i get mocked is that i at least attempt to speak whatever language, and aren't forcing them to speak my native tongue. i hope you find out why he has been doing it soon x

julochka said...

it's been almost 24 hours and i still have no answer to my email. maybe because i wrote it in english....

heidikins said...

Goodness, I really hope that a) he responds with an apology and if that's too much to ask that b) he stops mocking you. This is the kind of thing that makes my blood boil. We all have accents, all of us, but they only really become apparent when we do the big, scary thing of moving to somewhere with a DIFFERENT accent, or learning and then conversing in a DIFFERENT language, or both.

xox

julochka said...

i have to report that i am fuming even more...he hasn't even had the courtesy to acknowledge my email to him. not cool.

Pam said...

I would get this guy off to the side and tell him he is hurtful.

His mocking tone may be a sick way of getting your attention. Or, he actually thinks he's being humorous. In any case, you need to confront him and be truthful about how you feel.

If he continues, then ignore him to the point of him being invisible. He sounds very immature.

M said...

julochka - you've got your answer. He's chosen NOT to respond. While it nay be more satisfying to receive an apology, you may be looking for blood from a stone. If he is that insensitive/unaware (whatever your diagnois is), he will not be sensitive enough to craft an artful, vulnerable response. In your position, I might expect that he will NEVER mention your email, and that the accent-mocking will never happen again.

While I might have got up the courage to tell him in person, you may have done the best thing by doing it in writing. You will have allowed him to save face -rather than getting all defensive and attempting to explain himself.

You did the right thing. It is not your job to re-train people, although it is important to set people straight w.r.t. their hurtful (unintentional or intentional) behaviour.

bottom line: don't expect anything, but a repreive from the mocking. well done.
michelle/madison

julochka said...

a little update.... yesterday i ran into the jerk that mocks my accent....he didn't say a word, didn't acknowledge my email, but as michelle wisely said, he also didn't mock me, tho' he did try to tease me in an over-familiar way when he first saw me. seriously dude, we're not friends.

M said...

well - a little social psychology goes a long way...

well done!
m in madison