Amy Tries Again

What Does English Sound Like? – or – I Haven’t Read The Hobbit Yet
March 27, 2011, 7:34 PM
Filed under: Miscellanea

Yeah, shut up.  I started The Hobbit yesterday, and I’m doing the chapter-a-day-before-bed thing so as not to get Tolkien fatigue.  If I get hooked, I may increase the frequency of my doses.

Now!  I have been musing on a theme lately, and this being the internet, I thought it best that I climb on my soapbox and rant about said theme. I dig languages.  Things like ‘study’ and ‘rote learning’ aren’t my strong suits, so I’m not exactly able to switch merrily between tongues.  I have a small patchwork smattering of parts of a few different languages learnt at various times over the years, and can kind of, sort of, make myself understood in one other language.  This semester, though, I’ve started again in something completely new: French.  I’m at absolute beginner level, of course, but I’m really enjoying it.  I love those moments when you realise that if something can be said this way, and another thing can be said that way, maybe a third thing could be adequately expressed by combining the two?  I love it when a few scant words leap out at you from formerly incomprehensible noises.  I love it when you read a word that definitely isn’t the same word in English – but is similar to an antiquated English word that once had the same meaning.  It all fits together like a puzzle.

Found at

I needed a picture.

If that wasn’t enough, another of my subjects this semester is Post-Colonial Theatre. As you’d expect, we’ve been learning about colonial perspectives versus indigenous perspectives, and, of course, language is a big part of that.  I’m not going to start waxing lyrical about imposing one’s language as a tool of oppression, but you get the general idea.  I find it fascinating.

Another thing I think I may perhaps have mentioned is that I love me some impro comedy.  (No, really?)  Particularly in our pub shows, we do lots of parody accents, and in between musing on what’s okay, what’s funny, and what’s racist, I trot out lots of the standard novelty accents.  For the record, I think I’m comfortable with broad parodies of cultures who happen to generally be basically the same colour as me.  I’m guilty of stupid Americans, horrible garlic-drenched French stereotypes, bouncing Scandinavian bimbos and scarily efficient Germans.  The idea of doing a Japanese or Indian accent, though – terrifying.  There’s offensive, and then there’s OH MY GOD SHE’S RACIST offensive.  I don’t know if my fear of going there is offensive in itself.

Anyway.  I do have a point of some sort.  I’ve wondered about this before, but it’s back with a vengeance: what the hell does English sound like?  For me, for the vast part of my life, it’s just been…well, neutral.  I know this isn’t actually the case.  Sometimes I get a little glimpse of it.  I imagine it’s like that little reset moment when you hear a commercial in broad Australian after being thoroughly immersed in an American TV show.

So yeah.  I just can’t hold in my mind what a broad caricature of English would sound like.  What’s our hurdy-gurdy-gurdy equivalent?  My brother showed me an Italian parody of what English sounds like, and it really confused and fascinated me.  I felt like I should understand the sounds, and was mystified and frustrated as to why I didn’t.  I don’t know if this is particularly well-done, or it’s just the novelty factor of hearing faux English, but it makes my brain melt.  The high levels of What. The. Fuck. present in this video just might have something to do with it, too.

Either way, I’m on the hunt now.  English as parodied from the outside is this week’s obsession.  If anyone knows of anything similar, send it in my direction.  It’ll buy me precious time before I have to admit that I’m quite enjoying The Hobbit.


2 Comments so far
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I asked a French person this, and they said “rororororor” very gutturally, a bit like Scooby-Doo. So that’s what English sounds like to a French person.

Comment by Cam

Adam Hills does a bit addressing exactly this on his ‘Live from the suburb’ DVD.

Comment by Perer

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