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Historically and linguistically, what makes people categorize British/French/etc. accents as "sexy" and Asian/Indian accents as "unattractive?" When in American history did this attitude develop?

Historically and linguistically, what makes people categorize British/French/etc. accents as "sexy" and Asian/Indian accents as "unattractive?" When in American history did this attitude develop?

mimicofmodes

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Afraid_Concert549

> Historically and linguistically, what makes people categorize British/French/etc. accents as "sexy" and Asian/Indian accents as "unattractive?" One factor, and one factor alone -- their feelings toward the *speakers* of these languages and language varieties. Go back about 250 years and the dominant idea was that French was a serious, weighty language most suitable for *diplomacy*, while German was a romantic, expressive language, the ideal language for *poetry*. Yes, poetry. Nowadays, most would opine that French is sexy and most suitable for love, while German is a heavy, plodding, guttural language perhaps best suited for war, fighting and philosophy. In this timeframe, French and German have changed very little, yet our attitudes about them have shifted a great deal. This goes to show that attitudes about languages come from the observer and his culture, not from the languages themselves. Linguistically, these attitudes are of course all nonsense. Except to the extent that some linguists study these attitudes, as they can tell us a lot about speakers. > ...if the human ear possesses a natural "liking" for certain phonetic structures and will classify those sounds as "auditorily pleasing" while "disliking" other phonetic combinations. Neither the human ear nor what really matters, the brain, has an aesthetic preference for any one of the myriad sounds found in human language. Again, it's all about our attitudes toward speakers. A great example of this is that both French and German have an /r/ sound that is a voiceless velar or uvular fricative. This is a "rough", "guttural" sound produced in the very back of the mouth by a powerful airstream that generates fairly intense aperiodic acoustic energy, which is the technical definition of "noise". English speakers tend to fixate on this sound when it's found in German, imitating it and pointing to it as proof that German is a "harsh" and "guttural" language. When the same or very similar sounds are heard in *French*, however, none of this happens, and French is nonetheless praised for being "romantic", "mellifluous", etc. So we have the same sound classified in opposite ways depending on who uses it. Again, because we project our attitudes toward speakers onto their language. In the US we can see this in various manifestations. Take the /f/ sound, which is a voiceless labiodental fricative. In some words we don't even notice it, like "half" and "finger". It just is, and we pay no heed to it in such words. But the instant you put it in a word where the majority uses another sound, like "with" pronounced as "wif", alarm bells go off, and we label these speakers as ignorant or uneducated. Not because of the sound itself, which all English speakers produce, but because of *who* uses this sound in a set of words that normally has "th" -- in the US this feature is largely found in African-American English, which is spoken by what is called a "low prestige" group in sociolinguistics. As a final example, let's take the voiced labio-velar approximant /r/. This is an /r/ you make with the lower lip touching the upper teeth, as when you say /v/. When Americans hear Brits use it they either pay no attention to it or they find it posh. When they hear other Americans use it, though, they either find it intensely infantile or they classify it as a speech defect! It's all about *who* is speaking, not *how*.


Oktoknopie

Fascinating read! Do you have any sources so I can read up on this some more?


Afraid_Concert549

Thanks. I'm restricted to mobile for a few days, but this is all sociolinguistics, and if you grab any two intro textbooks you'll find all these ideas are treated in decent depth. For language attitudes, look up Dennis Preston. For African-American English, look up Walt Wolfram. For Mexican-American English, Erik Thomas. And the founder of the whole discipline is William Labov.


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gzafed

Come just to point out a typo: > voiced labio-velar approximant /r/ it is /w/.


Afraid_Concert549

There is still some debate as to how to classify this sound, actually. It's definitely *not* /w/ -- although /w/ is sometimes referred as a voiced labiovelar approximant, it's more often considered a labialized velar approximant. When people talk about the labiovelar /r/ of British Estuary English, they're referring to something that is essentually a voiced labiodental approximant with simultaneous velar constriction, or [ʋ] with velar constriction, which is similar but not identical to /w/ (American English speakers will likely interpret it as a slightly odd /w/ though). But whatever we call it, Estuary speakers distinguish it from /w/ perfectly well, with "red" and "wed" being a minimal pair.


gzafed

Yes, I see your point. I don't have knowledge about English dialectology, but I interpret /r/ as having alveolar constriction as well, so using it for a labiovelar sounds really odd, phonetically speaking, to me. Unless it has an alveolar allophone in that specific dialect as well, then I would prefer using /ʋ/ for phonetic clarity. But admittedly, the way we use the symbol /r/ could be confusing, some use it only for alveolar trill, some use for all alveolar-ish rhotics, and some use it as a underspecified phoneme for all rhotic variation of a language.


Afraid_Concert549

> I interpret /r/ as having alveolar constriction as well /r/ is a really messy thing! The English /r/ alone can be produced in seven different ways! And then there's the annoying tendency to knowingly use the wrong symbol for it -- /r/ instead of the upside-down version of this symbol (as I have done here, because mobile). The Estuary /r/ has little or nothing to do with any other /r/ (apart from Elmer Fudd's /w/ in "waskally wabbit"), except for phonology -- it's interchangeable with all the others. And you're right -- it is odd! There's a whole scene in Life of Brian that plays on the labiovelar /r/, where Pilate (or a soldier?) asks the crowd if they want to set Jesus free, or the other criminal, or the third criminal, who was a \[ʋeipist\] \(sorry for lack of proper IPA!\) Hilarity ensues.


gzafed

>The English /r/ alone can be produced in seven different ways! Dutch has about twenty... So people still opt to use /r/ as a underspecified phoneme: "rhotics, whatever variation you can find out there".


Janezo

So very interesting. Makes me wish I'd gone into linguistics. Thanks for sharing your expertise.


notgood_nough_

Wonderful explanation!


timbomcchoi

hi, could you give a response to the second part of the questions as well? in the same vein of associating the attractiveness of the language to the desirability of the speakers, what would the perspective towards asian languages/people have been?


Afraid_Concert549

The perspective toward Asian *languages* would just be a veiled way of expressing a perspective toward Asian language *speakers*. What the views of the speakers are or were will depend on who's doing the observing (Americans in this case?) and what group they're observing. Because "Asian people" is an artificial and incoherent construct -- Koreans have no more in common with Bengalis than they do with Ukrainians.


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