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SmashTheState's avatar

What does English sound like to non-English speakers?

Asked by SmashTheState (9635 points ) February 15th, 2011

Among the English-speaking population, we often characterize other languages as having a distinctive, stereotyped sound. Swedish, for example, sounds like the Swedish Chef with his “BORK BORK BORK!” Likewise, the sound ”ching chong” is used (often in a racist manner) to characterize the sound of Chinese languages to English speakers.

Is anyone here a non-English speaker? Can you tell me what sound is used to characterize or stereotype English-speakers in your culture or language?

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23 Answers

everephebe's avatar

There is always this

thorninmud's avatar

My French acquaintances often say that it sounds like someone speaking while chewing gum. I think it’s all of our diphthongs that sound strange to them. Their vowels are much crisper; ours twist and bend.

shadiaz's avatar

well…English is my second language, and Spanish is my first. For some Spanish speakers, not all, I am not generalizing…English is such a boring language, no offense. For “te amo” “te quiero” “te adoro”, for example, English has just ONE word, I love you….it is not romantic at all, it is the easiest language to learn, whereas for those who English is their native language, learning a foreign language is sooo dificult (I was a foreign language instructor). But…I love English because, at least is one of the most spoken languages around the world…that is why many foreigners learn to speak it, with an accent of course, which I find beautiful and interesting….but is funny because, for example in Puerto Rico, which is a US territory and there are a lot of Americans, we also make fun of “gringos” (Americans) when they try to speak Spanish, very funny…so I guess this happens everywhere, in every country you go….

LuckyGuy's avatar

I know this is stereotyping but on Japanese comedy TV when they spoof Americans they make a wide smile, chew gum and make sounds like ‘Yeah yeah yeah’ – With a Texas accent.
(They’re not far from the truth.)

tedibear's avatar

@shadiaz English has more than one word for the “love” that you used in your examples. I love you, I want you, I adore you are the ones that you used. I realize that as a language instructor you know this, but I’m wondering why you would use that example? And for the record, I love how all of the romance languages sound. :D

submariner's avatar

I’ve heard that to Chinese ears, English sounds like the hissing of snakes.

@shadiaz you should tell those Spanish speakers that they simply haven’t mastered the nuances of English. That’s ok, most native speakers don’t either. In the US, educators worry about girls who lose interest in math, but don’t care as much about boys who can’t express themselves.

I like you. I’m fond of you. I care about you. I desire you. I want you. I’m hot for you. You turn me on. I’m in love with you. I adore you. I cherish you. I’m crazy about you. I worship the ground you walk on. I love you. etc.

A French-English dictionary will tell you that the French verb “aimer” means both “to like” and “to love”, which to an English speaker seems to blur an important distinction, but the French don’t seem to have any trouble expressing romantic thoughts. It’s a bad workman who blames his tools.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

With all our “Y’all” and “All right” and “Hey” and “Yeah”, it’s entirely possible that we sound like the Charlie Brown adults.

Blackberry's avatar

Lol….this thread is funny. I actually do chew gum with a wide smile and say “Yeah…yeah…”. No Texan accent, though.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I know that the American accent sounds to Brits like we’re all retarded (by which I mean that we sound stereotypically retarded, not at all recognizing the realities and nuances of actually being mentally challenged, so don’t yell at the word).

SmashTheState's avatar

@papayalily “I love Americans, but not when they try to talk French. What a blessing it is that they never try to talk English.” — H.H. “Saki” Munro

submariner's avatar

Feh, what do the Brits know about English? They regularly get schooled in their own language by their Celtic neighbors. The greatest novelist in the English language was an Irishman, and the greatest philosopher was a Scot. Had the Celtic peoples not still been speaking their national languages in the 16th century, Shakespeare probably would have been eclipsed by a Welshman in drama (as he eventually was in poetry, come to think of it).
~
~
~
~
(James Joyce, David Hume, Dylan Thomas)

Actually, I can think of Americans who surpass all of the above, IMO, but for the sake of argument I’ll go along with the generally accepted critical consensus.

iamthemob's avatar

@submariner – let’s not forget that the greatest “witticist” was Irish (Oscar Wilde). ;-)

mammal's avatar

i don’t think America gets enough credit for reinventing the English language,

DancingMind's avatar

@everephebe: Gah! That video messed with my mind. I knew they weren’t saying anything but I could feel my brain keep trying to make sense of what they were saying, because it was all “well it sounds like English!” Like that two-syllable phrase ish thing they repeated kept switching from ‘all right’ to ‘all rise’ to ‘all right’...

This is so interesting I’ve wondered this for forever, myself, but never thought of asking it. GQ!!

bob_'s avatar

English doesn’t really have a sound to me. The particular regional accents do, but let’s not get stereotypical.

mammal's avatar

A Cuban girl i knew, thought that English sounded like `what, what what…’ in quick succession and in an upper class British accent, that was wonderfully amusing. But Love is such a transcendentally warm word, even if the rest of the Language isn’t renowned for it’s euphonic qualities. @everephebe i will have to post that video on facebook.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@everephebe : Thank you for posting that video. You beat me to it.

jaytkay's avatar

I don’t get the chewing gum imagery. Can anyone describe it differently?

DominicX's avatar

Here’s a video of a guy faking many languages who is looking for a video of someone faking English:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C5EZmyJ9ik&feature=related

I’ve always wondered this as well, since there are sound characteristics in other languages that can be stereotyped to form an “imitation” of it. For example, if you know that Mandarin Chinese is made up of simple blendless syllable sounds that end in a vowel, n, or ng, it becomes easy to fake it. With Russian, you can use many consonant blends and palatalized sounds and insert common stereotypical Russian syllables like “kov”, “vich”, “nik”, “slav”, “naya”, “nie”, etc. I’ve always wondered if there are any common sounds or syllables that people associate with English, but since English is all I speak, I really don’t know.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

English isn’t my first language but it never sounded like anything to me. It was easy to learn, though.

chocolatechip's avatar

@everephebe That was actually a really good impression. It actually sounded like English, in the sense that it had all the right phonemes and such. Really cool.

everephebe's avatar

@chocolatechip
When I first stumbled upon it, I thought something was wrong with my brain because I couldn’t understand any of the words. It’s quite good isn’t it?

I’ve looked for others like it, but this is the best fake english I’ve ever heard.

faye's avatar

I have no answer but I love that video. I found it didn’t bother me at all that I couldn’t make out any words. Early heavy metal, screaming rock? This had a great beat and great dancing.

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