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Thread: What does English sound like?

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    Stay chooned in for more! Clint's Avatar
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    What does English sound like?

    I was reading about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis because I've got far too much free time on my hands, and I was thinking. Before you say 'Uh oh, there was his first mistake" answer me. What does English sound like to someone who can't speak it?

    When I hear German or French or Spanish or an Asian language (can't differentiate between them at this point!) I can clearly say "Well that sounds like French/German/Spanish/Whatever" because it's got a "musical" quality since I don't attach meanings to the sound. For example if you hear a song in Spanish without knowing Spanish, it sounds one way, but once you know Spanish it's different. Is anyone following me? It's like the foreign words are being produced from an instrument rather than a person, and are music not lyrics. So, being only fluent in English, is it pretty or ugly or fast or slow or deep or high or what? Is it beautiful or silly or technical? For example, when I hear Spanish, I think it's sexy and fast. French is romantic but not sexy, Italian is "warm" and rich and German, to me at least, sounds angry (sorry!)


    Wikipedia's words are better than my own, and it says "Put simply, the hypothesis argues that the nature of a particular language influences the habitual thought of its speakers. Different patterns of language yield different patterns of thought. This idea challenges the possibility of representing the world perfectly with language, because it acknowledges that the mechanisms of any language condition the thoughts of its community of speakers. The hypothesis emerged in many formulations, some weak and some strong. " What do you guys think? Does speaking a language make you think a certain way? If so, how would you say English speakers (not just Americans) or French or Germans or the Japanese behave? Any correlation to their language?

    While we're at it, what does English text LOOK like? What do words look like? I'm looking at Arabic right now for example, and to me it looks more like.... I don't know what. A single image.

    I guess what I'm asking is you know how people who don't know a language will make something up? Like fake-french or fake-chinese. What would say, a chinese-person (or any one who doesn't speak English) say in fake-English? Just so I'm clear I don't mean things in the context of accents, say southern or northern or Minnesota. I also mean generally, since all language differs from person to person. What does American english sound like compared to Australian or British or New Zealand or even Singaporean English?

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    I've thought about similar things. I always wonder if different countries have stereotype english words/sounds that they say to imitate the english language that they don't know.

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    Doing it wrong until I do it right. xvart's Avatar
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    I'm guessing Clint had too many tabs open when he created this thread and posted in the wrong forum. I'm moving this to the general discussion forum unless there is something I'm missing.

    Anyways, I think that everything affects a person and the way they behave; including language. If anything, English (at least American English) influences the way people behave and communicate via alternate forms of word based communication (i.e. text messaging, "IM-speak," etc.). Of course, I've never participated in Japanese text messaging so that could be universal!

    Maybe if everyone had continued to speak the legendary Babel language it would be universal.

    xvart.
    "The tragedy of life is not that every man loses; but that he almost wins."

    "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

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    swords's Avatar
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    I know what you mean by musical quality of some languages, I think of that often because I work with 98% non-white americans, asians, africans, russians. I read at break time while they all talk in their languages and it becomes a blurr of up and down sound.

    However, when my Somali pal Ali at work is on his cell phone, music is the last thing I think of. I always ask him who won the argument when he hangs up!
    He always laughs and just says he was excited to be speaking to his friend/wife/etc.

    I can ask at work how english sounds to their ears. My own guess is to them it sounds slow, dry and unemotional.

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    Stay chooned in for more! Clint's Avatar
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    OOps! Thanks for moving it!

    I was reading last night (apparently lots of other people have asked this!) and the general consensus is that it sounds like we are always going rurr rurr rurr/rarr rarr rarr and that we hiss likes snakes because we use to many S's (in fact, look at how many S's I used in this post alone!) Someone said it was a glamorous language, one person said it was like geese at a cocktail party and someone said it was like barking dogs. Other people said it sounded like we sing the language. I also wonder if people's opinions of the sound of English are influenced by the media they see.

    It was said somewhere that only a native born speaker can ever truly master it, and that it's very difficult to learn.

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    Moderator Alexis's Avatar
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    Accents Americans hear all the time that are not truly representative of how most English people actually speak:

    1.) The queen or the royal family
    2.) Bad cockney accents (see **** Van Dyck)
    3.) Bad northern accents (see Daphne from Frasier)
    4) Any English or Scottish accent in The Simpsons

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    wicked good plants! Presto's Avatar
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    A girl I work with used to live in France, and she asked them to speak French with an American accent (ze flip of vhen ve talk like zees). They imitated a thick southern drawl.
    -Emily

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    Anthropology talk yea.

    JLAP: Sapir-Whorf is some interesting reading. As for what English would "sound like" you have to take into consideration what the native language of the listener is. For instance when you hear German you say it sounds angry (I agree), but you have to take into consideration the fact that you are structuring your interpitation through your own thoughts. You must also consider the fact that all language is arbitrary, as it has no intrisic meaning until you are taught to assign meaning to a sound or sounds. That said, you hear "angry" sounds because your mind does not like to let things just float in space with no meaning so you assign one to it. Its the same thing as when you hear someone speaking gibberish using English phonemes you try to make sense of it. Therefore English will sound differnt to people of differnt language groups.

    As for influnce of the media although it will skew the picture of how a language sounds it will also contribute to it since language is dynamic(ie loan words, pronunciation, etc). For instance I know several English people who understand everything I say including most of my slang as I am from the Midwest and this is the accent they use or try to use on most american TV. However if they start talking in English slang I am confused as to why the still use torches and not flash lights and why this girl lorrie can move so much furniture.

    As for differnt scripts they are arbitrary also just like language hence the reason you dont see anything when you look at Arabic writing since you were never taught to recongnize the differnt symbols. Someone who learned arabic but never learned english would have similar thoughts though the connected letters in arabic does make it look like one long picture.

    Now if you really want to mess with your mind sit down and think about this. Sapir-Whorf says that all thought is structured by your language and all thinking is done "in language". All language is arbitrary as it has no instrinsic meaning. This doesnt seem to messed up until you actully sit down and think about what it means for all thought, which tends to make your head hurt so like a good anthropologist you go and get a beer cause its all arbitrary and meaningless anyways so you might as well have a good time.
    "We're terrible animals. I think that the Earth's immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should." - Kurt Vonnegut

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