Friday, January 06, 2006

South Mouth

Isn't it funny how, in so many countries, when you get to the southern part, people start drawling their words? I know this is true in the southeastern part of Bangladesh, where my parents are from. In Chittagong, people drawl their words, and syllables seem to run together. (Think "y'all".) It's difficult for those used to northern, proper Bengali (the version spoken in Dhaka or Calcutta) to understand.

This accent/drawl phenomenon clearly holds in the U.S., and apparently in Japan (where people speak a "funny" version of Japanese in Osaka, and where the Japanese in southern Kyushu sounds a bit drawled), and China (where Cantonese certainly sounds more drawled and casual than Mandarin). I think Mrs. Octopus told me this is also the case in Vietnam. I don't know about other places. Does this sort of thing happen in France, Germany, Italy, Ethiopia, or Iran? Maybe people just get tired in the heat and can't be bothered with enunciating every last syllable?

Maybe the whole north/south thing is a red herring, and it's mostly about being far from the metropolitan center in the region. For example, London -- home of proper English -- is relatively south in England. It is interesting how accents from different regions in a country come to represent different levels of class and sophistication: "In Germany the Prussians were considered the ruling class, he said, and the eastern German accent was associated with education and style. Then came communism. Today, said Kretzschmar, the East German accent is associated with poverty and backwardness." Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And then, of course, there are the issues of accents developed among various minority groups (black english, Spanglish, etc.), and the hierarchy of foreign accents (English, French, or German vs. Indian, Chinese, or Mexican). In America, it seems certain foreign accents carry a cachet of sophistication and erudition (the old world accents) versus the stigma of backwardness (others).

I'm holding onto my Connecticut accent as long as I can out here in L.A. before I succumb to saying "dude" and "like, totally" like all the time.


chanchow said...

This is definitely the case in Vietnam. The accent is drawly, perhaps "lazy," as you go further South. For example, Hanoi is the home to the "standard" Vietnamese accent(the kind that they teach foreigners) and there they would say "zai." Whereas in the South, you would say "yai." The "zee" sound turns into a "yee." The south, however, is where Vietnam's largest and most prosperous city, which is interesting... Central Vietnam also has its own unique accents (particularly Hue).

About the California accent, I think it is more about slang than about drawling. If you manage to avoid peppering your speech with "like," "dude," and "can I just tell you," then you should be fine.

ivanomartin said...

I actually heard "bro" a lot more than "dude."

Anonymous said...

It is the case in Germany, particularly if you add Austria and the Germanophone parts of Switzerland to the mix. As you progress southward, the language gets more drawled and unintelligible to the standard German speaker not initiated to the local accent. The AJT quote re: East German accent has nothing to do with a drawl. The most recognizable East German accent (often associated with all of East Germany) is actually from Thuringia (coincidentally the southern part of East Germany) and is more guttural with a stiff upper lip than standard German, but it's not really a drawl, i.e. words are not contracted and vowels are not permuted as unrecognizably as further south.

Also in France, southern Provencal vs. standard French. Italy has a chronic North-South dichotomy (with some parts of the North always ready to secede) and Southern Italians speaking with much more elnogated vowels than Northern Italians.

Much of this has to do with sociolect really and the distribution of more "cultured" urban centers in the north vs. more rural south.