How do you feel when a foreigner speaks in your local accent/dialect? Are you offended when a foreigner imitates your local accent?

By: | Post date: 2015-12-03 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Modern Greek

Intellectually, I want to love it.

Regrettably, being human, I freak out. Not much, just slightly, Uncanny valley-style.

Ross Daly for example is an Irishman who has lived in Crete for four decades, and a practitioner of Cretan folk music (among others). Having gone to the Cretan highlands to learn Cretan music, he speaks Greek like a Cretan highlander. And when he is interviewed on Greek TV, my reaction is… something… is… wrong here…

Like I say, intellectually, it is beyond awesome that an Irishman speaks better Cretan dialect than I can ever hope to. But the reptilian brain is tuned to using accent as an in-group marker, and it finds it jolting to see the clash between ostensive ingroup and outgroup characteristics.  Like Patrick Edwin Moran said: “orange” written in purple ink.

And yes, I have the same reaction when I see the kids of African immigrants speaking idiomatic Greek on TV. And no, I am not intellectually proud of that.

I was much cooler about the Japanese PhD student whose Australian English accent was impeccable, even though she learned English as an adult. Partly because it was obvious what was happening: her accent was identical to her PhD supervisor’s, down to the intonation. (It was, after all, a phonetics PhD.)

And partly because non-ethnic-Anglos speaking English is rather less unusual than non-ethnic-Greeks speaking Greek. I didn’t bat an eyelid at Albanians speaking Greek like natives, after all. They look Greek. 🙂

I’ve inflicted that Uncanny Valley reaction in reverse, so that’s karmic revenge for you. I was speaking to a gelati seller in Lake Gardo, in my cod Italian, only to be asked “have you come from Friuli?” She could work out that I wasn’t from around there—so she assumed I was from the next district along. (The one that doesn’t speak Italian. 🙂


  • John Cowan says:

    Marie-Lucie T, a Tsimshianist from France who is long resident in anglophone Nova Scotia, reports that she is always recognized as a foreigner by her accent but never identified as French. Why? Because she always gets the stress on the correct syllable in English.

    (Why she lives 3000 miles from her research subjects I do not know and have never had the temerity to ask.)

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