Your French Accent Makes You Sound Pretentious.

Your French Accent Makes You Sound Pretentious
 

Just kidding, it doesn’t.

Unfortunately a lot of people seem to think that a foreign accent makes you sound elitist or pompous.

For what ever reason there is a certain stereotype surrounding the speaking of foreign languages – particularly the French language- that causes monolinguals (I use that term to represent the population that is generally disinterested or even adverse to language learning) to be consumed with animosity.
Is it possible that centuries old social castes are still impacting the perception of the French language among English speaking countries, or perhaps more recent history can offer reasons for our seeming disdain of something as silly as an accent?

Historically French was the language of the medieval English nobility, the language of the educated; the movers and the shakers and the kings. The peasant folk on the other hand were left speaking Old English or another native Celtic or Germanic language.



  

Signs of this disparity can still be seen today in English – many of our longer, more eloquent words (including the word eloquent) are of French origin while shorter, more vulgar words (many choice four letter words, for instance) can be attributed to the languages of the commoners.

My French is horrible. I can read basic articles without too much difficulty but if you ask me to speak it I know barely enough to survive – and awkwardly at that – but one thing I’ve always excelled at in my language learning projects has been pronunciation.

Or at least I think so.

Any time I read anything in French out loud, or pronounce a French word – or any other language I’ve studied for that matter – I attempt to pronounce it properly.

And yes, some people will make fun of you if your French comes out sounding, well, French.

When our friends or someone else we know asks us to say or read something or recite a word of foreign origins it becomes a lose/lose situation in which we are criticized for either not really speaking the language, or are labeled as sounding pretentious for saying it the way it’s supposed to be said.

What so many critical monolinguals seem to be failing to recognize is that accents and pronunciation with a foreign language go hand in hand. While there may be different accents of a given language, “saying it the way the French do” is part of saying it properly! So what gives? Why do we have such a problem with foreign languages that we have to hear them pronounced using exclusively familiar phonemes? Are we intimidated by our own inability to recreate these sounds?

Pronouncing foreign words using your own native language’s phonemes makes them sound utterly ridiculous.

But that’s not a problem for those who find your French accent pretentious, your Spanish fake or your Russian, Japanese or Arabic accents silly. They often seem more concerned with defending their monolingualism from your bilingualism in the only way that someone without real ammunition can – by hurling insults and creating stereotypes.

It doesn’t help that many anglophone attitudes towards France, Quebec, and the people who live there are often laced with equally ridiculous stereotypes that only serve to promote the idea that the language – and everything from berets to bleu cheese are also pretentious.

Unfortunately, other than telling them off, there isn’t an awful lot you can do except try to explain to such individuals how language works.

But most often it’s probably just best to save your breath and forget it.

Is this a phenomenon that you’ve noticed as well? I imagine similar issues arise in non-anglophone regions in regard to other languages.

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  • أمريكي الأصل

    As a tri-lingual (And I cringe when I say that because I HATE arrogance, but just so it’s clear that what I’m about to say isn’t because of an anti-multilingual bias).

    In English, pronouncing a loan word in the language of origin is (1) impractical, (2) pretentious, and (3) super-pretentious.

    (1) Impractical:

    Considering the amount of foreign loanwords that English is comprised of it would be impractical to pronounce every loanword in the accent of the langue d’origine.
    You should say “Husband” with an old Norse accent, or “Iraq” like “El-3iraaQ,” or “rodeo” like “RO-Deh-Oh,” or “Alqaeda” like “Al-Qaa3idah” or “France” like “Fghaa(n)s”

    You’re therefore limited to ONLY THE PRONUNCIATION PATTERNS you’re familiar with, so you can’t even take this pseudo-intellectual ideal to its logical end. These pronunciation habits are merely to (1) show the world how “cultured” you are, or (2) to clear up ambiguity with another word similarly pronounced.

    Also, it’s wrong. In English pronunciation for those words is STANDARDIZED. Iraq can be either “AAi-Rak” or “EErak” (both of which are far off from the Arabic, so the conception that one is more correct is uneducated). I don’t get mad when an Arab says “Amreeka” instead of America.

    (2) it’s pretentious

    There are only a couple reasons you would do this, knowing it’s impractical now.

    1. You want to save face (or even impress) the bilingual or “academic” community.
    2. You consciously want to show off in front of monolinguals or others.
    3. You’ve created some pretentious, self-righteous reasoning that says it’s the “correct” way to pronounce these words.
    4. You are a native of that language and you naturally say it like that.
    5. You want to clearly say a name that could be mistaken for another phonetic combination in the host lang. (I will say “Ahmed” with emphasis on the H because “AAmad” is a very vague phonetic combo in English, but “Muhammad” with the standard English pronunciation, because it can’t be mistaken for anything.
    6. You feel more educated.

  • Hello,

    I think all of the points you make are valid. I was however trying to indicate that this phenomenon seems to happen even when speaking a foreign language – not simply when speaking loan words.

    I’m by no means fluent in, or even especially conversational beyond the most basic interactions – with French, but if I’m reading a French phrase – in French – I think I should pronounce it ‘properly’ and now with an Americanized pronunciation.

    If we’re talking about loan words – you’re right. If we were to speak every loanword in the English language (which is an absurd number, as you say) the way it would have been spoken in its parent language, our tongues would shrivel up into the backs of our throats and we’d suffocate.

    Okay, too dramatic, but you get my point.

    That would be a bit pretentious, not to mention awkward.

    Thanks for a really great comment!

  • أمريكي الأصل

    Oh, I must have misunderstood.

    I do believe mastering the accent IN the correct language is very important and many times necessary (especially when the language is smaller and the people arent used to hearing it spoken as an L2, unlike English, where so many people have learned it that we’re used to hearing foreign accents.)

    I thought you meant pronouncing French loans IN English as the host language. I believe it’s most appropriate to pronounce them with an American accent. I actually will IMMEDIATELY develop a negative perception of someone where they to do that, let’s say… at a French restaurant, or pronouncing French names, or loan words.