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Zee Accent

Sep
20
2006

Do you zink dat zee very French accent in English, she is amusing? Well, yes, I did too, until I became zee Inspector Clouseau of Spain.
Peter Sellers played Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies with heavily French-accented English as part of his humor. That French-ee akzent is a pretty standard amusing shtick, funny and even charming to native English-speakers´ ears.
And likewise in Spanish, in Spain at least, English-accented Spanish is a good joke. Which I knew before, but I´m more sensitive to it these days. Because I’ll be talking about something pretty darn dull like, say, mortgages, and I’ll see a smile creep across someone´s face. Sometimes they’ll try to suppress it, but it’s still clear to me. And I have nothing against spreading a little humor in people’s lives, but there are times it would be nice to be surer of a chance at being taken seriously.
Perhaps I´m a little sensitive, but every so often it’s obvious that I’ve got the stock joke accent. Like when a store clerk asked me to repeat the word ”newspaper” – ”periodico” – because she thought my pronunciation was so hilarious. So OK, the letter r is not my strong point; sometimes it has to be rolled, and forget it, but even the shorter ‘r’ is different from the English pronunciation and beyond my tongue’s abilities. And my vowels could be a little cleaner. And, you know, the rhythm´s off. But can I help it if I was born in an English-speaking household?
When I first learned Spanish, after I had been trying to mimic proper pronunciation for a while and saw it was not coming, I tried a speech therapist. But after a few sessions it was clear I was never going to sound like a native, and I preferred to spend the money elsewhere, like a café.
Because look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Henry Kissinger. They did OK, accents and all. Of course, I can’t think of any notable public figures in Spain with major non-native accents like mine. And there are differences between the U.S. and European common perception of what traits a citizen has, including accent, but we are all amused by a good one.
It’s just, does it have to be mine?

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:25 AM | Permalink

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