What Does English Sound Like?

Before I learned to speak and understand French, it sounded like a lot of “bluh bluh BLUH!” and “dzje may bluh!”. Ask my brother to say Hoegaarden and it comes out Hogembogem (we’ve made this a thing now). Ask Dad to speak some Spanish and he’ll probably say something like “Aiii taco?” Rosie O’Donnell got a lot of flack a few years for impersonating Chinese people while discussing actor Danny Devito’s drunken appearance on her show. She said, and I quote, “The fact is that it’s news all over the world That you know, you can imagine in China it’s like: ‘Ching chong…ching chong. Danny DeVio, ching chong, ching chong, chong, Drunk. The View. Ching chong”.

While this did upset Chinese people and understandably so, to the untrained non-Mandarin/Cantonese ear, Chinese can sound a bit like that. Chinese tones are important, and so when people imitate Chinese they tend to drag out their vowels, and then throw in lots of “sh” and “ch” sounds. To me, German and Arabic, with all their glottal-ness, sound chronically angry. My friend Kimberly used to have a Moroccan landlord who spoke little French. When there was a problem, her son would come round to help translate. Kim would stand there while the son relayed what Kim said back to his mother, and the landlady and her son would stand there going back and forth in high-flung Arabic, and Kim would get worried. Were they arguing? Was the landlady pissed? But then the son would turn back to her and smile, and say “Ca va”. Everything was fine.

My old roommate Alisia, from Italy, was watching Family Guy with her friends when this scene came on:

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Her friend turned to her and said with a confuzzled look on his face, “Is that really what we sound like?” Yes. 😉

In Brussels, people seem to be fascinated with English. It’s the language of America, and love it or hate it, you can’t avoid us or our language. I have found that when I’m out in public, at a café or on a bus, with another English speaker, people’s ears perk up or they straight up start a conversation with me about where I come from and what they like about English. It’s made me wonder, though—what do I sound like to someone who doesn’t understand?! Many foreigners have told me the difference between American and British English is pretty clear (I agree), and that American English is pretty nasally and sort of mushed together. This is probably true. But this is why I was THRILLED to find this interesting take on the same query in this video. Kind of random concept, but I think it must do a decent job at answering this baffling question. Talented actors too!

 

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
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2 Responses to What Does English Sound Like?

  1. Pingback: Honorary Anglophones: Blanquita de Bruselas | Language and other musings

  2. Pingback: Don’t You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro | Language and other musings

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