French Linguistics–What’s it doing to me??

Surely, you remember the movie My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely well worth a look.

I’ve been recently dabbling in French linguistics since it’s one of my French graduate classes. We learned rather early on that although there exists a “standard” in a language which is difficult to define, one very naturally ends up judging someone else by their manner of speaking. In My Fair Lady the young woman Eliza Doolittle who has lived on the streets of London selling flowers doesn’t have the polished British accent that most of us think of when we think of someone being British. To make a long story short, she is taken in my Professor Higgins. Professor Higgins is a pioneer in the field of phonetics and essentially is able to pinpoint within a couple of miles where exactly people are from simply based on their speech. He takes on a challenge to teach Eliza how to speak properly. He puts forth the idea early in the movie that the moment someone opens their mouth and begins to speak is the moment when the other people around that person will make judgments on what kind of education or background this person is from.

It’s a rather interesting idea. Makes me wonder what people think of me when I talk. :/

For example, in this linguistics class there are a couple of Frenchmen who said that they really didn’t care for the southern accent because it sounds uneducated. I had to smirk because my family is from the deep south and the majority of my family out there have a bit of a twang in their speech that I find absolutely charming. Of course, I have to admit that some Yankee accents can grate on my nerves, so I’m just as guilty of this judgment. But, I know for a fact that although one may speak like a hick, they can still be very intelligent since I’ve known me some like this.

–Is it getting somewhat clear that I’m trying to avoid that French Linguistics take home exam? ‘Cause I kind of am…Anyway,–

I’m enjoying the class. It definitely helps with pronunciation. But, it is an interesting question of how we do judge people by their accents. Think of people that are speaking English as a second language. Isn’t it rather natural that we seem to judge them as either uneducated or not really trying? I’ve been in their shoes as an American studying in France and have a lot more understanding for struggling to speak another language.

So,the next time you’re standing in line at the store or the gas station or wherever, do have a little mercy on those struggling to speak English. Just sayin’… I would have appreciated a little more patience from that French cashier in France who yelled at me because of my struggling to speak the language. 😉 I can laugh about it now, but at the time I felt absolutely humiliated and embarrassed.

So, what’s French Linguistics doing to me? I’d say it’s creating another soap box to add to my collection on top of helping me to speak French a little better.

For now, I must return to that blasted exam…


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