Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1. English vs. English vs. German

There are all those different English accents. British and American as the major ones and a huge variety of others such as South African, Australian or Indian. And while it’s always mostly the same language, you can often tell where people come from by their accent. In particular I expect BBC news to come in a British accent and CNN news to come in an American accent. Which left me surprised when hearing a British English report on CNN during dinner (apparently some shots fired at NASA with them not really knowing anything but reporting anyway).

But things became even weirder when they switched to business news and had a report about that Siemens guy leaving his job. There, it immediately seemed that the speaker wasn’t naturally speaking an American accent but made an effort to do so. And when he managed to correctly pronounce the German names, it was clear that he was actually German.

That sounded strange. Despite everything being spoken without hesitation or breaks or a German accent as Hollywood loves it, the correctly pronounced German words just sounded like stumbling blocks in the flow of the sentence. While I’m all for pronouncing things properly, I wonder whether it isn’t more enjoyable for the listener to keep everything in a single mode of pronunciation.

2. German vs. French vs. English

Later there was a documentary about Google on arte. I was curious about that as they are certainly able to make interesting documentaries. Even though it was unlikely they’d tell anything not known anyway. The documentary mostly consisted of interviews with people knowing the trade, journalists, Stanford people and French librarians. And they managed to both highlight the potential and the quality of Google’s services as well as the potential dangers they impose. All that with little film clips that had a suspicious YouTube taste to them in between.

Amusing things included several videos with people singing about the merits of Google, cooking with Google, a real life Pac Man video, screenshots with Safari in French, the good old Error Reaktions clip, discussion of click fraud (the concept of which I still find a bit absurd), mentioning Burroughs and Kerouac in a build up for a Steve Ballmer clip, ‘protestant American capitalism’, the reason why the ‘l’ in Google is green, YouTube, mentioning that Google focuses on users rather than analysts (I’d say the tech press today could learn a bit there…), highlighting that Google puts algorithms above people, the China issue, the fact that news are becoming a commodity, the book scanning issue, the privacy issues that the Google empire brings with it.

All that was quite entertainingly done. But the language issues were quite interesting in there. Not only is arte a Franco-German TV channel (with more [good] stuff coming from France as it seems), so most of their programming is bilingual to begin with (you get two sound channels if you have the right receiver). But in this documentary most of the interviews were in English, making this a bit of a mess. Their solution for that was to put the films with the interviewees in little windows that moved in some ‘futuristic’ structure on screen. While I’m not a huge fan of that per se, it gave you a little more distance to the person speaking, thus making the intermediate step with the voice-over translation being added seem more natural.

April 21, 2007, 2:27

Comments

Comment by Patrick: User icon

As a Dutch person living in an english speaking part of the world I find nothing more unnatural than hearing dutch, german or french words being mangled by an American or Australian accent. I prefer it when loaned words from other languages are pronounced properly as they are pronounced in the original language.

April 21, 2007, 3:19

Comment by ssp: User icon

In principle I agree with you. That’s why I was surprised that someone doing what should be the ‘right’ thing sounded so strange.

April 21, 2007, 10:57

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Patrick — while I agree that the “proper” thing to do in such a situation is to pronounce the loan word “properly”, I agree with Sven that it, well, sounds funny sometimes. NPR, which is the major public radio broadcaster in the US, usually makes the effort, particularly with their commentators who are fluent Spanish speakers, to use the correct pronunciation of included words in their reports, but it just sounds so funny in practice that even the regular comedy programs that air on the network on weekends poke fun at the practice — it really sounds funny when a news reporter with typical colorless news reader accent (national news reporters tend to work pretty hard to suppress their regional accents) goes into full r-rolling formal Spanish for a single word then instantly drops back into their typical Newsreader English patter.

April 24, 2007, 16:03

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