Thursday, August 25, 2005

Keep Your Accents, Pépés of the World!

"How would Pepe LePew be situated if he went to a speech therapist and ended up sounding like a regular skunk? Why, his dating opportunities would stink." --Reg Henry

I admit that I've tried my darndest to lose my foreign accent. I don't find Anglophone accents at all charming outside of our (now vast) English-speaking world. I can't stand Patricia, the character played by Jean Seberg in À bout de souffle, precisely because she has such an annoyingly stereotypical American accent. I remember sitting in the darkened classroom of my French Film class, cringing every time I heard a line in that hideously ugly accent.

Many of my fellow college classmates speak French the same way they speak English: they just substitute French words, but make no effort to use the correct stress patterns or idiomatic expressions. These people have a French degree on paper, but leave them alone for a week in Nice and they'd get laughed all the way home.

Of course, I'm biased, and will readily admit that I harbor a double standard. I don't think I'd ever argue that a Frenchman should try to lose his accent when speaking English. It's just too adorable. Don't get me wrong--I love British accents and love imitating parents are ready to disown both me and my aunt because we talk to each other in a cockney accent--I just hate it when no attempt is made at linguistic assimilation.

French people realize that I'm foreign; that is something that I'll never be able to change until they find a way to alter the fabric of the human brain and vocal cords. But most of them can't figure out where I'm from, which allows me to play a fun guessing game. Most Frenchmen guess that I'm from Italy, not a far stretch. But as soon as my best friend came to visit me, with her blonde hair and enormous, dazzingly-white smile, people started immediately and automatically switching to English when they saw us coming. I took it as an insult (of course), but it's just the other end of the stereotypical spectrum, I suppose.


Neil said...

You know, I never really thought about it, but Pepe LePew was probably the first interaction many of us had with anyone who was "French." All the Maurice Chevalier sterotypes about the French are ingrained into your mind from an early age -- that sexy, slightly snotty attitude that we continue to associate with "the French." I always liked Pepe.

Sangroncito said...

You've touched on yet another one of my pet peeves! I get so annoyed with English-speakers who don't make even the slightest attempt to improve their accents when speaking a foreign language. Nothing grates on my nerves more than the American who just can't or won't modify the "r" sound in Spanish words. Is it really that difficult to soften it just a bit?
I, too, know near fluent speakers who have the vocabulary and grammar down but who speak with a first semester accent. Can't they hear themselves??? I don't expect perfection from a non-native speaker (including myself, although I have to confess that my accent in both Spanish and Portuguese is very good--it's the actor in me!), but I do expect a little bit of effort. Ok, rant over!

Kerry said...

I love your blog, but I'm guilty of this too...

I'm not a very fluent French speaker and so I'm much more concerned with getting my point across than sounding authentic. I try to get it to sound as good as I can, but my 'r' is awful as is the rest of my accent; it reeks of American to my ears. It was surprising that when I studied in France, the fluent Canadians were constantly teased and asked to repeat themselves while the French seemed to understand me with much less trouble (go figure...)and were much nicer about the whole situation. I guess that I got pity points as I was an American and could actually speak a little.

Were they surprised with your French skills too once they found out where you were from? Everyone in Paris and Lyon couldn't believe that I wasn't English or Canadian thanks to my broken French.