German/French/Spanish: how bad do regional accents get.

I work in a call centre in England, taking incoming calls from a variety of different clients. I am amazed that in such a small country, where everybody theoretically speaks the same language, so many people have managed to twist English into something almost incomprehensible, Whether it be Liverpool, Newcastle, Oldham, Belfast, Glasgow etc. there are so many different mangled versions of the English language.

Of course the majority of the denizens of these cities speak clearly, and there is nothing wrong with an accent, when it is just local flavour. What gets me is the not insignificant minority who have turned accents into incomprehensible gibberish.

I’m just curious, in other languages in similarly sized countries, do local accents actually reach the ridiculous level of someone talking to you in the “same” language and you not understanding a single fucking word?

German dialects. At this point they’re not even accents anymore, but use different prefixes or suffixes, different idiomatic phrases, and yes, different pronunciation of common words. Across Germany “nein” (“no”) is said everything from “nein” to “nuu” to “nay.” Even within political boundaries, such as the region of Bavaria, or Bayern, you’ve got a couple different dialects, because modern political boundaries often don’t take into account linguistic groups that came about hundreds of years ago and have been influenced by their relative isolation or influxes of other language groups into the geographic region.

Short answer, “Yes.”

U.S. prairiespeak here. I like to think that except for a certain flatness we get it pretty close to the dictionary.

The wide variety of local accents in America delights and also sometimes confuses me. A waitress in GA once asked me if I’d like cream in my coffee and it sounded to my ear like, “Yaunt crime?” Don’t know if I’d understand much better today than then. Perhaps.

Despite knowing her for almost two years I struggle to comprehend a friend who grew up in England. Don’t know what kind of an accent she has. It sounds quite refined but is tricky to my ear. I asked her once and she didn’t answer. Only looked mildly offended.

And don’t get me started on the Yucatecans and their Spanmayaish.

Yep. In Spain, France, Italy and Germany you’re going to find the same thing, maybe “worse”. Some even consider Catalan, for instance, as a different language than Castilian. But that’s bound up in politics as much as linguistics.

This is ridiculously false. Catalan is indisputably a different language from Castilian. It has nothing to do with politics. Very few if any people would dispute that Spanish and Portuguese are different languages, but these two have much more in common than Spanish and Catalan.

Catalan is actually in a different subfamily from Castilian/Spanish, and is more closely related to Occitan and similar languages than it is to the Iberian Romance languages such as Castilian/Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish dialects can be pretty divergent. Panamanian, Cuba, and Puerto Rican are some of the most difficult to understand. They’re fast, drop letters or parts of words, and highly colloquial. Argentinian Spanish is pretty different as well.

Interesting. Thanks

That’s the kind of thing I’d expect though. A wide geographical and political gap creating differences.

In Germany, I find this sometimes to be the case with elderly speakers from rural parts of Bavaria, Austria or especially the Italian region of South Tyrol (which is officially bilingual, German and Italian).

I saw a documentary the other day about an old man who lives a solitary live in a remote valley in the Alps mountains. Although this man nominally spoke German, I could not understand a single word he said. Fortunately, the documentary had subtitles.

The same is true, but to a lesser extent, with regards to the dialects of Northern Germany.

As a side note, being a non-native speaker of English, I find it really hard to understand some of the dialects in the UK (like in Liverpool or especially Scottish English). I have no problems with the American varieties of English.

In fact, the “dialects” of what we think of as the “languages” of French, German, and Spanish are more different than the dialects of English. The reference I’m going to be using for this post is Ethnologue. It’s a good but not perfect source on the languages of the world. In particular, it tends to be more of a splitter than a lumper. That is, it tends to divide the varieties of language in the world into separate languages a little more than some linguists would, so things that some people think of as just dialects are listed as being different languages in Ethnologue.

Here’s what it says on the varieties of English:

In other words, the only two separate languages of what we think of as English are Scots, spoken in parts of Scotland, and English, spoken in all the rest of the English-speaking world.

Here’s what it says on the varieties of French:

In other words, it thinks the varieties of French spoken around the world are different enough to be broken into five different languages, one of which is the language we think of as French.

Here’s what it says about the varieties of German:

In other words, there are two groups of languages. One is the group of nineteen High German varieties. The other is the group of ten Low German varieties. It considers these to be different enough that there are nineteen German “languages.”

Here’s what it says on the varieties of Spanish:

In other words, it considers that there are four different languages among the varieties of Spanish.

And there are varieties of languages spoken in France, Germany, and Spain that are sometimes thought of as being French, German, or Spanish but which are even further from what we think of as those languages.

So the differences between what we think of as dialects of French, German, and Spanish are clearly bigger than the differences between what we think of as dialects of English. Is this enough to convince you that this is an incredibly difficult issue? What you want to call a dialect and what you want to call a separate language is a hopelessly complex matter.

According to one definition, a language is a dialect with an army. :wink:

Trinidad&Tobago are two tiny islands with a little under one and half million people combined, Tobago is tiny by any standard. Tobago accents are almost incomprehensible to Trinidadians and are pretty much jibberish to a foreigner despite supposedly being english.

Tobago accent examples:

“you hava punchy?”:confused:…“you hang up on she”

“gimmy toe wheel” :confused:…“give me a towel”

A co-worker speaks Swiss-German. She worked for a couple of years in the Netherlands. She would go across the border into Koln Germany, and reported that the German they spoke was almost as foreign-sounding as Dutch.

And Netherlands is a tiny country, but my Dutch colleagues can easily identify the folks who grew up in the North and East by their accents.

Swiss German is really a whole different language - I don’t stand a chance to even understand what anybody speaking Swiss is talking about. However, all Swiss people I’ve met have an internal switch to turn on their “German”, which still sounds like a very heavy dialect, but is comprehensible to most German speakers. For a long time, I thought that was Swiss German, until I heard some Swiss people speaking amongst themselves. :eek:

Instead of:

> It considers these to be different enough that there are nineteen
> German “languages.”

what I should have written was:

> It considers these to be different enough to say that there are twenty-nine
> different German “languages” among these two groups.

Israel is too small and too new for there to be regional accents; however, classical Ashkenazic Hebrew, while grammatically identical to modern Hebrew, is utterly incomprehensible to most Israelis.

Pakistan has a huge number of regional accents of Urdu (the national) and English (the official) language, as well as accent divided by social class. In addition the various regional languages (both the main regional language and the other minor regional languages) each have their distinctive accents.
Main reason I think we stuck with English after the British left.

How many countries have accents varying by social class. The UK does and so does S Asia and parts of the mid east. The US did at one time. Canada? Australia? The Kiwis? South Africa (what the hell is Kepler Wessels accent anyway?) or any European nations.

In Spanish it can happen, yes. It may not even be people from different regions/accent families who have problems with each other: I had a coworker from Cádiz whom nobody could understand half the time, including people from Seville and Málaga (both in the same family, Seville is next door to Cádiz).

But normally someone who has that kind of accent and can’t soften it “for love nor money” is unlikely to be hired for a job where he’s expected to spend a lot of time on the phone with people from different areas.

Note that very often the differences aren’t so much in pronunciation (which has only a relatively small amount of large groups) as in vocabulary and grammar, and in general people know which expressions are “local” and which are more widely used. For example, Argentinians use voseo (vos as the second person singular) and nobody else does but, since anybody with an elementary level education or a telly knows this, it’s not a barrier; OTOH, a choni (from the English word Johnny) speaking choni can only be understood by other chonis, but they can all speak “normal Spanish” when they want to (and it’s not a regional accent, it’s class-linked slang).

Regional accents in the US seem to be on the decline. My children don’t have the Western PA accent even though they’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m currently near Charleston, SC and I’m stunned by how many young people (say, under 25) have no discernable accent; or, more accurately, have the “news anchor” mid-Ohio (I think) accent. The ones I’ve spoken to claim to have never lived outside of the greater Charleston area.
Middle-aged to senior types still sound like they just walked off the Gone With The Wind set!:slight_smile:

Nope. As older accents fade, newer ones emerge. Perhaps this process is slowed by telecommunication, but it isn’t stopped.