Language Accents and Insecurities has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today it’s going to be a bit of a ramble, I warn you ahead of time. Some semi-political opinions, but I want to talk about what is the best accent to have, the best form of a language to have. This comes up a lot. It comes up a lot with regard to French, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Beijing Mandarin versus other forms of Mandarin, 00:30.5 si bien as opposed to the more standard NHK Japanese and I’m sure it’s true in a whole bunch of other languages that I don’t speak or don’t speak very well.


The reason I’m talking about it is because I follow this organization called the Canadian Parents for French. I follow them because I’m interested in French education in Canada. I think it’s important. I shouldn’t say that it’s important, but I like the fact that Canada is bilingual. It isn’t true that more and more Canadians speak French, but I would like to see more and more Canadians speak French and I think they can do so without the government spending six-seven hundred million dollars a year on futile, bloated government programs. So I’m in favor of that.


Anyway, I get this questionnaire about language insecurity. There’s some kind of a Canadian strategy for language insecurity and there’s a whole bunch of questions in this questionnaire about whether I feel insecure using my French in my family, my place of work, my this, that and the other. So then I look up language insecurity on Google and it turns out that it has to do with people who feel insecure about the way they speak a language. It may be because they’re insecure about their usage, grammar. It may be insecurity over their accent. It could be any number of things that make people feel insecure in using their language. One of the reports I read says that language should be a safe space and all this stuff. To me all of this is quite silly.


In the case of a language we learn that’s not our native language, actually, we have a fair amount of freedom to choose the accent that we like the best. I find myself that if I’m in Latin America, even though I’m used to speaking Spanish from Spain with 02:33.6, Barcelona, down there I’ll sometimes drop that because I just feel a bit self-conscious. Sometimes if I’m speaking very quickly the ‘fa’ will be there and if not I might just drop it. I was in Brazil and it’s more 02:58.9 for city. Now when I go to Portugal I’ll probably drop that a little bit. When I lived in France if I was in southern France for any length of time I would sound more like a person from southern France. If I go to Quebec pretty soon I start to sound more like a Quebecois. We’re more flexible. In our native language it’s more hardwired and therefore we tend to stay with the accent that we grew up with.


Also, there are people who speak very grammatically incorrect English. My wife and I traveled with this couple and it was I would have went, I would have came, which are grammatically incorrect. I don’t think they feel insecure, they just speak that way. It’s a bit like if you are fat or you have white hair and you want to change it, you dye it or diet to look thinner. If that makes you feel better, go for it. If you don’t like the way you speak by doing a lot of reading and listening and focusing on it you could change it or you simply say that’s who I am and that’s good enough.


This Parents for French in Canada is massively subsidized by the federal government. If you have an independent group Parents for French pooling their funds and doing good stuff, that’s great. Once they start going to the government for funding I lose interest in them. If they’re going to be part of a national strategy to combat linguistic insecurity that totally ticks me off because there is no perfect world. There is no perfection and every attempt to impose perfection ends up basically limiting people’s freedom or limiting their need to take responsibility for themselves.


Is there a perfect form of Chinese? If you want to sound like people from Beijing you just listen to a lot of people from Beijing. If you are living in Taiwan, and I know lots of people who learnt their Chinese in Taiwan, they will (A) be influenced by what they hear around them and (B) they will probably be less self-conscious speaking with a Taiwanese accent and it’s possible they can flip back and forth. If they’re on the mainland they might feel self-conscious with a Taiwanese accent and they can either live with that or change it.


There is no situation where you’re always going to feel secure. No government organization is going to make you feel more secure. You make certain decisions. I think insofar as the best form of a language to learn you have less choice if you grew up somewhere and you speak that way. You grew up in London or you grew up in Australia that’s how you speak, period. You’re not likely to change it. You probably feel quite comfortable and proud speaking that way, that’s who you are. If you don’t like having that persona you can change it.


If we’re learning another language then we pick the one that works for us. I don’t think there’s any objectively more prestigious way of speaking a language. If you are working and living in Quebec you’re going to learn Quebecois French. If you are working and living in Scotland I don’t know if the real Scottish brogue is more prestigious than the Queen’s English. Whatever it is, you choose the one to imitate and you do it. You don’t need some group to look into the causes of linguistic insecurity sending out this questionnaire, which they obviously got government funding for, asking a bunch of stupid questions.


The bigger thing is I think a lot of people, say Anglophones who don’t speak French very well, feel insecure because when they speak French say in the workplace they don’t really speak the language well. They don’t really understand what people are saying. They have trouble expressing themselves. They’re going to feel insecure. There’s only one solution for that and that is to improve your French in that case.


Most of these situations are very much in our control and don’t require government funding, government programs and all the rest of it. I think it’s just a matter of choosing whatever form of the language accent you consider to be the most useful.


Say you’re playing basketball and most of your teammates are Afro-American and you’re a foreign player from Poland. You may find that the most prestigious form of English is that English that’s spoken by a lot of your teammates, if, in fact, they do speak Ebonics and stuff like that. However, by the same token an African American who grew up in an area where they spoke the sort of Ebonics may find that a more standard form, the more widespread form of English within the United States might be more advantageous in terms of academic opportunity or professional opportunity and then that person will make the decision either to stay with what they grew up with, if, in fact, they grew up with more of an Ebonics-type English or they may move closer to the sort of standard form while maintaining some inflections that reflect who they are. Typically, that’s what we see on television when they have African-American commentators or experts expounding on different subjects.


All of this is to say to do whatever you think is right, take the responsibility on yourself and don’t expect governments or government-funded organizations to impose solutions.


Thank you for listening, bye for now.


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