Monday, April 6, 2009

On accents

It drives me batty when people imitate what they percieve to be an American accent in Spanish. If they did it well, or reliably, or if they actually sounded like what Americans sound like when they speak Spanish, or if I myself had a strong accent in Spanish, perhaps I would take to it more kindly, think it cute. Instead I've got my blood cells jumping up and down in a jumpity motion we call boiling.

It was the worst when the Chilean English teachers at the institute where I worked used to do it. They, at least, were more capable, being language professionals and bilingual to boot, but I still found it off the mark. I also found it rude.

I was a great imitator of accents until I started teaching ESL. I used to bring my ex to tears of laughter by imitating my Hindi teacher who would leave me long, berating voicemails on my phone at work telling me that my homework quality was poor or reminding me that I hadn't done it (this following how poor the previous one had been). She was from the Punjab, which borders Pakistan and had a lot to say about Partition (when Pakistan and India divided), sometimes even when yelling into the phone about my homework.

So there we'd be, in stitches, me rolling my rs and ls back into my mouth and talking about my terrible handwriting in Devenagari (the script used for Hindi and a bunch of other languages) was. When I started teaching ESL to adult students from all over the world, I thought for sure I'd get some good language-imitation practice.

But I found it unfunny. Sure, I could imitate Krasimira, but how good was my Bulgarian, or Daljit, but how good was my Punjabi, or Enkshargal, but my Mongolian? nonexistent. It seemed in poor taste to imitate, and so I didn't. Not because I'm morally superior, but because I don't like to do things that make me uncomfortable. My particular subculture (Jewish, female, neoyorquina, thirty-cough) doesn't prize making fun of people after the age of eight, and even then it's looked down upon.

So back to Chile. When faced with a person who imitates the gringo accent in Spanish, I wonder two things: 1. Why don't you do that when you speak English, it would give you the prettiest accent in my native language that I ever did hear? and 2. What would happen if I gave you a tongue-lashing in near accentless Chilean Spanish? If I avoid all the words with rs and ds, I could really do a great job.

Which is why I will never (again) date someone named Rodrigo. Or say the word adolorida (in pain) or refrigerador unless it's absolutely necessary. Which if you think about it, is pretty unlikely.

But at this point I've picked up the somewhat Chilean (goodness knows it's not from New York) habit of smiling and nodding in the face of adversity, and trying not to be rude outright, even if the other party is being malcriado (poorly-raised, like a miscreant). So when faced with the accent imitators, I simply ignore it.

And den I seet and tallk to frence abouditt.

And that always makes me feel better.


Sara said...

I've only once heard some a** try to imitate my accent, which he did poorly. What I get more often is people who ask me to repeat words over and over and over. Usually words with l's and r's until I'm red in the face and near screaming. Either they really can't understand that I want a cortado doble or they just find it amusing to draw attention to my foreignness.

Eileen said...

In my experience, they're not so much imitating me as playing Swedish Chef (do you remember that skit from the muppets, or do you know what I'm talking about?), pretending to have a weird fake accent. It annoys me as a gringa, but it's not usually aimed at me, I don't think.

I have a very strong trilled r, having pretty much only a rr, not an r, and when mixed with a d, well, it's ugly. t's not much better. But really, it's just not nice, regardless of what I sound like. When I first moved here I would challenge people to change into English if they didn't want to listen to my accent. And nobody ever took me up on it. I'm less bitter now, but go cortado doble! Big coffee at all costs. :)

Thanks for commenting

Bystander said...

Yes, it is rude. Very.
Would they care to discuss apostrophes? Or what my son calls the "Oh, ****, here comes an S." problem?

Eileen said...

@bystander. That's hilarous about the apostrophes. Ss are very scared, and they need little handles to hold on to. That's what's going on. Or so I hope.

Emily said...

My boyfriend's name is Rodolfo. I used to say it to myself over and over again practicing because although I can roll my r's just fine, that r + d combination is brutal! Luckily I can now get away with calling him "mi amor" the majority of the time :)

And I do not EVER refer to the refrigerador, it is always the refri.

cachandochile said...

I have a few Chilean friends who enjoy immitating me or laughing when I say something wrong. It was very strange to get used to. I cannot imagine doing that to a foreigner in the States, but Dorothy's not in Kansas anymore, so I've turned it around and discovered that it's a great way to LEARN... Since they only laugh when I've said something out of whack, I (just like a child) figure out what I'm NOT supposed to say!
Then, on the other hand, if it starts to bug me, I suggest we switch to English... shuts them up pretty quickly!

Eileen said...

@cachandochile, yes, I've offered to do the language switcheroo a couple of times, always got a panicked, blank stare and a "no, that's ok," as a response. Score one for the trynaspeakanotherlanguagehere people.

thanks for commenting