The Sweet Sounds of Language
Ever since I was a kid I had a passion for listening to people speaking other languages. I listened intently to the patterns and inflections of various speakers with the aim of hopefully imitating their accents. I thought if I imitated a Spaniard trying to speak English I’d increase my chance of actually speaking Spanish like a native speaker, should I ever aspire to that. I am a heterosexual male, but I have to confess even I am smitten by the sound of Antonio Banderas’ Spanish-accented voice, and wished I could sound so fetching when I spoke. I’d never shut up. I know for many, the imitation of accents is a sort of derision, but for me it has always been my way of paying tribute to something fascinating.
I love the sounds of the person’s native tongue that come out in their accented English. I admire people who have been able to pick up a second language, because most North Americans like me are too stupid or lazy to have done that. I also lament that I am the unlucky recipient of a decidedly English-speaking family with no chance of ever really becoming proficient in any of the beautiful languages I admire.
When compared to many other European languages, particularly the Latin-oriented ones, English is the ugliest, stupidest, most barbaric, cretin-like language among them. It is even more hideous than German, as anyone who has sung Opera in either language can attest. My limited familiarity with Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish lead me to believe that they too are in the same group of reject languages as English. To my ears, they sound like the pleas of a person speaking with their tongue stuck to a frozen metal pole in winter.
I remember as a kid watching Spanish movies and thinking, ‘that is one cool language.’ It oozes with sensuality and emotiveness, infusing many of its speakers with those qualities. Salma Hayek could be talking about the time she was lancing a boil off her dog’s rectum and I’d be springing some serious wood because the pus-filled anecdote was delivered on a bed of Spanish roses. Isabella Rossellini could be pontificating about braiding her armpit hair and I’d have to be restrained to keep from wanking to her Italian lilt. Sophie Marceau could be reading the instruction manual for a vacuum cleaner and I’d need a cold shower afterwards. The point is, when the sound waves of certain languages hit my ears they take the short cut past my brain and head straight for my man-glands .
Because of the Western propaganda-laden upbringing I had, hearing a Russian accent instantly conjures a sense of daunting in me and yet when I listen closely there’s a pure, guttural linguistic flow that brings the sounds together in it that I find appealing on so many levels. I grew up during the days of the Cold war where the ideal villain in any movie was a mean, ruthless Russian dude. So now, in every Russian male speaker I still hear the ominous, harrowing baritone of Swedish-born Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV.
RUSSIAN WAITER [in a thick Russian accent]: Welcome to Rasputin’s. I am Yuri. I serve you tonight. You want drink?
And in a half second I find myself fleeing under the table:
ME: You mean, like, before you WACK ME! Shit man, my wallet’s on the table, just don’t fucking kill me. Oh gaaaawd. Pleeeease. I didn’t do it, man! I fucking love Putin man. That Judo shit he does is the bomb.
Yet, even when he’s chagrined, Yuri doesn’t waste energy being insulted:
RUSSIAN WAITER: No. No. I don’t kill you. I bring you bread. [snapping his fingers] Ludmilla, khaleb dly etogo chelobeka! Please. Sir. Under table no good. Chair is better. Sit. Sit.
Even if the service is abysmal, the borscht is cold and the golubtsy sucks, I’m not screwing Yuri on the tip. You don’t piss on a Russian’s cabbage roll. That language sounds like it means business. They have this history of ruthless rotten, dictators, famines and tragedy. To heck with the Count of Monte Cristo, you want adventure and intrigue, pick up a Russian history book. Stalin was like a total redneck from Alabama, and yet because he was a Russian redneck (okay, Georgian to be exact) he wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of Ukrainians, counter-revolutionaries, Trotsky, and anyone else who disturbed his paranoid homicidal ideals. Yet there’s an implacable resistance to the cruelties of Russian existence that resonates in the language, that for all its coarseness still pleasantly captivates the ears non-native speakers like me.
To a French speaker or an Italian this is what English sounds like: ‘pu dup tu dukbagish du slou glat kand pi abglubba vabambe keeppa popr rag talk toopa’
We sound like cavemen after a root canal! It is one of the world’s greatest mysteries that this ugly language has become the language of international commerce. Then again, because the imperatives of commerce and the people who propagate it are philistine boors, it makes some sense that the language they use be void of any aesthetic virtue. However, the fact of making a person speaking a beautiful language like Italian speak caveman just so he can sell his wine to the fattest, most avaricious pigs on the planet seems unforgivably harsh, doesn’t it?
The Italians get to say things like “mio amore” or “la donna e mobile” or “una furtiva lagrima”. The french have “je t’aime” and “voulez vouz couchez avec moi.” That is like word porn to my hard crusted, consonant-laden English ears. Yet here we are, making people who speak dignified languages lower themselves to the lexicon of trolls and neanderthals to make a living. That’s a human rights violation.
Many North Americans have a view that the French are stuck up pricks who hate us because we are fat, craven, uncivilized barbarians who took the blandest, shittiest vegetable on the planet, sliced it up, cooked it in grease and called it a French fry. Then we propagated that perversion of a dish in the most vile of restaurants a Frenchman could imagine: McDonald’s. That’s a total insult and clearly the butt of the America-France hostility that continues to this day. I have no doubt that the French probably call dog shit ‘Yankee doodles’.
In reality, the French are irritated not because of our culinary atrocities like hot dogs and HP Sauce, but because whenever we speak to them in our language it feels like we’re taking an ice pick and shoving it up their ass:
FRENCHMAN: [at a French newsstand talking to a friend drinking wine, and eating a baguette] Ah oui oui, Jacques ma mariee est un bon lay. Excusez-moi. Je vous aidez?
NORTH AMERICAN: pa doo da get buga kee ta yamgled?
FRENCHMAN: Sacre merde! C’est trop laide, un langue terrible!
We brick-bat their ears and we get uppity when they reel in pain? Is it any wonder everyone in Europe hates us? We go around expecting everyone to speak English, when it’s us who should be climbing out of the linguistic gutter.
The only thing that sounds absolutely the best in English is rock music. Punk, grunge, heavy metal; all the angry angst-ridden genres, which is sort of in keeping with the language’s status as one of the most aurally insulting of them all. But when I see some French or Italian guy gyrating, throwing his fist in the air, grimacing, and trying to convey unabashed rage, it doesn’t ring true. It still sounds like he’s singing about seeing his first Picasso or the time he made love to a beautiful woman, even if he’s trying to sing about getting sodomized during a stint in the Pen.
I’d gladly trade the curse of sounding like a pillaging goon from the anus of the planet for the fate of speaking Italian, Spanish or French for the remainder of my life, even it meant that I was consigned to a repertoire of songs about bread, wine, cheese, bullfighting, and the pangs of being smitten at the sight of a beautiful woman. For now I’ll have to make do with cheap imitations of Puss in Boots from Shrek or Roberto Benigni.