Zhaba Zhournal
Monday, June 28, 2004 
It's French, b!tch 
(Before anyone takes offense at the entry title, it's from the Daily Show's fictional spinoff, "The Colbert Report"; the voiceover pronounces it "Colbare Repore," and Stephen Colbert fixes the camera with one of those arched-eyebrow stares and says "It's French, b!tch." We now continue with our regularly-scheduled entry.)

On a Food Channel show, a French-Canadian chef pronounced "jalapeño" as "zhelapenno," accent on the first syllable—I actually only knew what he was saying because he was holding a jalapeño pepper at the time.

Somewhat along the same line, about a month ago on one of the South Philly crosstown buses, I was sitting in front of two women who were speaking a language I absolutely couldn't recognize. I usually have a good ear for languages, even the ones I don't actually understand; I can pinpoint the Romance ones, identify the Slavic ones as Slavic (and narrow them down to "Ukrainian," "Czech," or "not Ukrainian or Czech"), and pick Chinese out from other Asian languages by the rising and falling intonations. Usually, in South Philly, the non-English languages you hear are Spanish, Italian, and Chinese, with some Russian or Polish and Vietnamese every now and then. And these two women weren't speaking any of them. Some of the individual syllables and short words felt like I should know them, but I couldn't put them together. I finally figured out, after the women briefly switched to English, that they were from the Caribbean, and the language they'd been speaking was a Caribbean dialect of French. It just didn't sound like French: none of the intonations or inflections you hear in the European or Quebeçois varieties.

It's odd how much of a language depends, not only on the words and phonetic pronunciation, but the way that pronunciation comes out. I know a flat-affect schizophrenic who has, literally, no intonation when he speaks, and it's surprisingly hard to understand him. And a British actor who does spot-on American English pronunciation will still sound a bit off if they don't get the spaces between and around the words exactly right. (Same with American actors doing British English, but I don't catch that as well as a native Brit would.) Listen, if you don't have anything better to do, to the difference between Gwyneth Paltrow's British-ish accents in 1996's "Emma" and 1998's "Shakespeare in Love"; and, if you can find it, the neglected BBC version of "Emma," with the actually British Kate Beckinsale. (I think Gwyneth's character in 2002's "Possession" is British, too [they did change the main male character from British to American, the bastards], but I plan to watch that movie shortly after the Demi Moore "Scarlet Letter," which will be never.)

[ at 12:24 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

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