A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Please Call Stella

Anyone who's interested in accents should check this out. It's a linguistics project from a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, collecting recordings of people reading the same short paragraph, but with different naturalized accents.

I've always found this kind of stuff interesting a) because putting on an Irish or East Indian accent is always an amusing pastime for me and b) living in Korea for this past year(ish) makes me really notice my own accent when speaking English. Being from the South Shore of Nova Scotia I run my words together a lot. "Going to the store" kicks aside nice art-tic-u-la-tion, and becomes, in my mouth "gointutha store." We usually don't notice our own dialects until we're faced with having to correct someone else's.

Back at J-school I got repeatedly nailed in radio performance training for saying "ta" instead of "to." I'm very conscious about trying to speak clearly now when teaching, because I can't even imagine how hard it is for them to follow me much of the time.

I slam my words together and they draw them out by adding extra vowels. "Damage-e, change-e, strange-e" things like that. There are some students who speak good English with an incredibly thick Korean accent, and some of the younger ones, who, if they go to study in North America won't wind up with an accent at all. Well... that's not true either is it? They'll unconsciously sponge up any number of subtle dialects. One of the presenters on the English Channel Arirang has very significant traces of a South African accent. Others pronounce words with a unmistakable British or Aussie lilt, but don't have a full blown "accent."

I just think it's so interesting. A friend of mine from university did recruiting for another school before she did the program at King's. She spent some time in... Denmark or Finland... one of the Nordic countries. Anyway she said that many of the people she met there all spoke English with a different dialect because they had all studied abroad in different countries.

The speech site is pretty comprehensive, and there are many obvious distinct accents in North America alone (Quebecois, Kentucky etc. no Newfoundland sadly...) but check out the quadrangle— each of the coasts. Nova Scotia to Florida to California to Vancouver. It's interesting the differences you notice. The Maritimer has the same run-together tendencies as me, and the guy from B.C. has an incredibly pronounced "s."

I could waste all day on this site.

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