petite anglaise

December 23, 2004

chameleon

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 12:19 pm

Listening to the Tadpole chattering away this morning it occurred to me that she has developed a Yorkshire accent. Short ‘a’ sounds (bath, glasses), nice Yorkshire ‘u’ sounds (mummy) and little phrases (‘come ‘ere!’) that wouldn’t be out of place in The Last of the Summer Wine. I hadn’t realised I was unconsciously teaching my daughter Northern English.

As far as accents go, I’ve always been a bit of a linguistic chameleon. It’s not an affectation. I don’t deliberately adopt a plummy ‘Received Pronunciation’ (BBC English) voice to speak to VIP clients on the phone, or a very broad Leeds accent when I see my ‘bioparents’. I just can’t seem to help myself. Whether I intend to or not, I mimic the accent of the person I’m having a conversation with.

I have a very clear memory of answering the phone as a child to a caller from my father’s company head office in Dundee. In the space of a two minute conversation I became Scottish. I felt rather awkward and embarassed at the thought the lady might think I was mocking her accent. However, if you asked me to ‘do a Scottish accent’ right now, it would be abysmal.

Apparently this is a well-documented phenomenon called ‘unconscious mimicry’. Most people do this to some extent, and it has implications far beyond accent alone: one person will often adopt the same sentence structure, intonation and vocabulary as another. A form of linguistic empathy or solidarity. While all children are natural mimics, as this is how they learn, most adults lose this ability as they grow older, which is one of the reasons why it makes sense for children to learn foreign languages from an early age. Evidently some adults do retain a greater faculty for mimicry than others. Whether they like it or not.

The upside of this unconscious habit of mine is that my French accent is near perfect. It is probably a Parisian accent, if such a thing exists in this cosmopolitan city, although I’m generally poor at recognising regional French accents apart from the very obvious North/South vowel differences. I do frequently get mistaken for a native, which is something I never cease to feel childishly gleeful about.

The downside is that when speaking English with Mr Frog, I adopt a faint, but tragic French accent. It makes me cringe, but it is beyond my control. Not only do I mimic the Frog’s (very charming) English accent, but I also reproduce his grammatical errors. Now that’s what I call solidarity.

So I suppose I should be thankful that this is not how I’m naturally inclined to speak to the Tadpole, given that she is as near to a linguistic clean slate as you can get, and at a very impressionable age.

I can definitely live with her being bilingual in French and Yorkshire. And I have a sneaking feeling my family back home will be delighted.


Tomorrow I shall be hurtling towards the Jura in a TGV, away from computers, broadband internet connections and civilisation in general. I’ll be back in Gay Paree briefly on Monday to let off some steam about the EVIL’s and will continue blogging from the UK for the rest of that week.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

And thank you to Versac for his oh so charming link to me yesterday.

17 Comments

  1. Top Bloke does unconscious mimicry, sometimes with hilarious results. I do the associated giggling and guffawing. Most entertaining.

    And a very merry Christmas to you too!

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — December 23, 2004 @ 12:33 pm

  2. Joyeux Noel and Mrry Crimbo Petite.

    Have a good ‘un

    x

    Comment by PPQ — December 23, 2004 @ 12:43 pm

  3. I do quite the same thing. While my “native” accent is more of a country/southern USA accent, I’ve learned the “network English” so much more appropriate to my line of work. I automatically adjust to different accents when speaking with different dialects, including adopting rounder a’s and o’s when speaking with UK friends/clients. My coworkers tease me endlessly when they hear me revert back to my native accent, which I do when talking about my family or my hometown.

    I hope you, Mr. Frog and the tadpole have a wonderful holiday.

    Comment by Singlemom — December 23, 2004 @ 1:36 pm

  4. Some friends of mine live in Kent. They are both from a very middle classs ‘home counties’ background. Their three old daughter’s childminder is from the Elephant and Castle, hence she now speaks like a real cockney. After the initial shock my friends now love her accent.

    I am from Hampshire but speak with a very slight Sheffield accent. I lived there for years and my boyfriend is from there.

    Anyway, have a lovely Christmas everyone.

    Comment by Stressqueen — December 23, 2004 @ 1:39 pm

  5. I always get concerned that people think I’m mocking them too. I love that you’re speaking English with a French accent!

    Comment by srah — December 23, 2004 @ 2:04 pm

  6. Je lis votre blog depuis quelques mois maintenant, mais n’ai jamais pris le temps de laisser un message. Je profite donc de cette période de fêtes pour vous féliciter à propos de vos extraordinaires chroniques, dont la lecture quotidienne est toujours un régal.

    Joyeux noël, et bon courages avec vos EVIL
    :wink:

    Comment by Frédéric — December 23, 2004 @ 2:08 pm

  7. I keep my French accent while speaking English. But lately, people told me that it’s fading away in favor of a “Home Counties” sound.
    Gosh! I must spend too much time with natives from Sussex and Surrey!

    Comment by Chninkel — December 23, 2004 @ 2:25 pm

  8. on est voisins ?!
    marrant ce plan des blogs ?!
    :oops: :roll: :mrgreen:

    Comment by nico — December 23, 2004 @ 2:55 pm

  9. Happy Christmas, petite!

    Comment by Ruth — December 23, 2004 @ 5:12 pm

  10. same thing…get a weird french syntax and accent when speaking to dacnar, unfortunately, my accent is far from perfect. What’s even weirder is how my sense of humour changes from culture to culture…I’m all teasing and sexy in french, and then crass and bitchy in english. weird.

    Comment by nardac — December 23, 2004 @ 7:29 pm

  11. ah yes, and I think the dual personality/sense of humour thing will deserve a whole post of it’s own someday

    Comment by petite — December 23, 2004 @ 7:43 pm

  12. Mimicry is great for learning a language properly, but it can be embarrasing, specially when all of a sudden, it looks like you are taking the piss out of someone’s accent, when having a conversation with a scottish, american, etc. It happens to me often too.
    CAL

    Comment by cal — December 24, 2004 @ 3:26 am

  13. Yep, guilty as well. It came in very handy back when I was studying acting. I get it from my dad, who split time between New Jersey and North Carolina growing up. Yes, just imagine going between The Sopranos and The Andy Griffith Show!

    Comment by ViVi — December 24, 2004 @ 8:19 am

  14. Dear Petite:
    Being on Christmas Eve, work is quite slow here and I enjoy reading the archives of your blog. Very nice and funny indeed. I take this opportunity to answer one of your questions back in August: Why is the French traffic control org called “Bison Futé” (ie. the smart buffalo) ? This comes from the expression “Itinéraire Bis” (alternative route), one of the roles of the group being indeed to advise vacationers on taking the best “itinéraires bis” in summer traffic. Hence the -not so good- play on word (it is part of the family legend since my uncle allegedly found this with some friends while working for the ministry of Transportation back in the ’70s.) Anyway worth mentioning one of the rare times the French administration was trying to be funny…
    Merry Xmas !

    Comment by kolia — December 24, 2004 @ 10:59 am

  15. I find the same thing happens to me. I spend a lot of time with internationals and I constantly find myself jumping from one accent to the next though either out of politeness or out of embarrassment no-one mentions to me that I do it. But I am aware that I do. I keep having to hold back a sly grin as I realise that I am doing it.

    Joyeux Noel

    Comment by moomin — December 24, 2004 @ 2:53 pm

  16. I don’t feel that the picture quite captures me at my best angle ;)
    All the best of the season to you Petite and thanks for the pleasure you have given us, your regular readers.

    Comment by Chameleon — December 24, 2004 @ 6:19 pm

  17. Merry Christmas to you and your family. :smile:

    Comment by Adrian — December 24, 2004 @ 8:27 pm


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