A while back we talked about what English sounds like to those who don’t speak it. Martha shares an evocative excerpt from Richard Rodriguez’s memoir Hunger of Memory, where he describes the “high nasal notes of middle-class American speech.” This is part of a complete episode.

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2 Responses

  1. RobertB says:

    Google-Translate does a good job of sounding out that distinctive sound of English. German is a lot more throaty, as well the Scandinavian sounds. The Asian ones are very throaty.
    In noisy environments, such as manufacturing shops filled with deafening noises of machinery, English speakers tend to be heard better than any others, riding their voices nicely above everything else, and some will even instinctively or on purpose tighten up a bit to sound even more shrill.

  2. As a native Russian speaker I can tell how it sounds to us. The first thing that comes to my mind, and I think to the mind of most of Russians is that “R” sound. We don’t pronounce it like that and thus it really stands out for hearing among any other noises. I remember as schoolchildren we pronounced various words with accenting the “r” sound and it was very funny for us and that’s what we imagined American English was. The second, the depth of that level out of which the sound comes from seems to be deeper. Well, i think Russian speech sounds like it comes into being from mouth while the English one comes from throat. The sounds seem to be more narrow, constrained, more controlled.  

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