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Say what?

After years living in The Netherlands I am capable of recognizing some Dutch regional native accents. Dutchies from the south part of the country pronounce the letter -g very soft unlike their fellow countrymen from the north. My husband’s cousins have a thick Rotterdam accent because they live in that area. Just after 2 years in the elementary school my daughter G had began to pronounce words according to the local accent of the town where we reside.

Accent forms one of the elements of Sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics is the study of how language serves and is shaped by the social nature of human beings. Accent shows the origin and ethnicity of its speaker. In some cases it gives away the socio-economic status, the social class and the influence of the mother tongue (read as first language). It is interesting how people attach these identifications with accent easily.

Famous Dutch model Doutzen Kroes speaks Dutch with Fries accent. Fries (read as Frees not Fries as in French Fries) is besides Dutch, the official language in Friesland province where Doutzen originally comes from. This language is totally different from Dutch although they are both Indo German languages. Fries is Doutzen’s native language. She speaks it proudly and is ambassador of the language. However some Dutchies from other regions find Doutzen less attractive when they hear her speaking Dutch with Fries accent. They attach this perception with the fact that Fries comes from Friesland/Frisia, a region in North Netherlands. It is the countryside which is parallel to farmers, small towns even little villages where the cows stand in the grass fields.  To them this country life doesn’t correspondent with Doutzen the modern, glamour International model.

Today in England you still can see/hear the social class difference by listening to the accent, blue-collar vs white-collar, working class vs upper class. For certain professions it is clearly required to get rid off the accent and change it with standard one. The standard Dutch accent is called ABN (Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands), freely translated as General Civilised Dutch. For English in England this is called BBC English accent, referring to the nation’s  biggest media channel.

My own experience
I was born and raised in Jakarta with its standard accent for bahasa Indonesia. When vacationing in my father’s hometown Yogyakarta in Central – Java my father would effortlessly change his accent to Javanese when we visited his family. Although I barely speak Javanese, when I meet my Javanese family I automatically switch to Javanese accent using bahasa Indonesia. I don’t know why I do this, it goes as it goes. Apparently using Javanese accent gives me the feeling that I belong to my Javanese family.

In my early career in The Netherlands (somewhere in 1997) I felt disturbed by my thick Indonesian accent when I spoke Dutch. I got remarks from my clients about it. Worrying about miscommunication I asked my manager at that time for some support. She sent me to an accent coach. My accent coach succeeded convincing me that it was not bad to speak with an accent as long as I articulated properly. During my training I learnt how to speak again (see image below). I trained how to widely open my mouth. I trained how to pronounce the letters sch, f, g, v, z as they were supposed to sound in Dutch. For example many Dutch speaking people pronounce f instead of v or s instead of z. After 4 sessions I was finished. I was happy with the result. I mean that from that time when I spoke Dutch, my clients understood me better.


Nowadays if I want to, I am able to speak ABN Dutch. I only need to pay good attention to every single vowel and consonant in words I use. It is however really tiring for me at the end of the day. No matter how good my Dutch proficiency is, this stays a second language for me. During the public speaking class  in 2007  my professor told me the same message: it is not a problem having an accent as long as the articulation and intonation is good.  He also added that adopting a foreign accent is possible but very hard to reach and maintain. According to my colleagues I still have a light accent. They understand me completely, so do my clients, my family and friends. I have accepted and embraced my accent as it is part of my ethnicity. It identifies me as an Indonesian living in The Netherlands. Funnily my Indonesian friends who live here find that when I speak in English I have a thick Dutch accent. And you know what? this doesn’t bother me at all.

Articulation image is taken from John Well’s phonetic.


27 thoughts on “Say what?

  1. Ahhh, accent. Here in Denmark, the natives are considered “lazy” to hear / understand the words spoken by foreign tongue. It’s easier to say “Hvad siger du?” (What do you say?) than trying to understand what the other wants to say.

    It’s a tricky language with words pronounced far different than it’s written unlike their lingo cousins Swedish and Norwegian.

    In fact, Norwegians continuously make fun of Danish language, as example shown in this comedy video http://www.nrk.no/video/ut_i_var_hage_kamelasa/FB308072C9865540/

    In theory, Scandinavians should be able to understand each other, but Danes are always the odd one out as they can’t understand what Norwegians and Swedish people speak. Lazy ear disease, I say.

    As for foreigners, it depends on how thick accent your mother tongue is. I have seen Americans speaking Danish with such thick American accent even after 30 years here and the same goes to Thai people. I’m a bit more of chameleon here – I do the same like you do that I could switch my accent when I’m long enough in that region or with someone speaking that accent. One week with my British friend enabled me to imitate her London accent, the same goes with Danish.

    Most Danes think that we should abolish our accents entirely, a mission impossible, to be able to speak Danish fluently

    It’s a joke really since Danes can’t understand each other anyway, as suggested by the Norwegian video

    • Yes, totally agree with your comment. Some natives with their regional accent who mutter are also really really hard to understand. Sometimes when I talk to one, I keep asking him what he really means. Despite this I need to dose my ‘What do you really mean’ questions carefully otherwise he would conclude that I don’t speak and understand the language well. This can be rather frustrating.

      Comparing the language skill of Indonesian migrants to others in The Netherlands, our Indonesian accent is ok because of the proper pronounciation of the latin alphabet. The tongue of Indonesian migrants is supple to learn new language, pronounciation wise, unlie that of Thai (no r consonant), Japanese (no l consonant) and others.

      Ah, I believe Nordic languages are entertwined to each other like Dutch with German and Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese but apparently not. I wonder if I could understand Danish when I visit the country someday as Nordic languages have the same root as Indo German languages. I recognize some similar words to Dutch whenever you share articles in Danish though 🙂

  2. So funny I just thought about it yesterday to write about this topic but of course less elaborate than this :p My colleagues told me that I have funny accent. It was not disturbing but it was quite funny, they said that I spoke bekakt Nederlands (posh Dutch language). This was contributed by my German and English that time…Sometimes when I switch English-Dutch for one full day at the end of the day, I will speak Dutch at home with my hubby with flat Indische accent…because I am just tired to pay attention :D. Btw, I still cannot notice the accents of Dutch language, except accents from Brabant and Limburg. I think Doutzen speaks normal Dutch hihihi!

    • Hmm…great minds think alike here. Now I am curious about your bekakt accent Oppie 🙂 It is tiring indeed to switch languages with its accent and pronounciation no matter how excellent your proficiency is. I guess our brains need to reboot then.
      Strangely my voice sounds higher when I speak Dutch my G once remarked.

      About recognizing the local accents, it came out of my eternal curiousity about languages and things related to it. Fries accent sounds sharper than ABN. You’d recognize it also.

  3. Mbak waktu jd help desk officer di tax office for expatriate and foreign entities, yg paling menyesakkan kalo ketemu orang Australia. Bahasa Inggris mereka menurutku susah ditangkap. Kalo yg dari Eropa selain Inggris ( ya eyalah ) juga banyak yg pengucapan Inggrisnya bener bener perlu usaha buat menangkapnya, kadang sampe aku minta dituliskan. Dosen bhs inggris di kampus dulu pernah bilang kalau pengucapan org sumatra dan indonesia timur dlm berbahasa inggris lebih mudah dimengerti daripada org Jawa. Jadi pengen baca soal ini eh btw dialek sama dengan aksen nggak ya

    • Aku juga musti denger betul kalo ngobrol sama orang Australia, Irlandia & Skotlandia. Dialek beda dengan aksen tapi berhubungan satu sama lain. Dialek itu sempalan bahasa tertentu dengan kata, sintaksis dan tata bahasa sendiri. Dialek juga memiliki aksen tertentu. Aksen itu istilah untuk menggambarkan fonetis satu bahasa/dialek. Orang sering ketuker/menyamakan dialek dan aksen. Contoh dialek: dialek Cina Mandarin, Hokkien & Kanton. Rumpunnya bahasa Cina tapi dari ketiga dialek itu ada perbedaan kosa kata, pengucapan & sintaksis. Contoh dialek juga: dialek Jawa Tegal, Solo & Surabaya dengan rumpunnya bahasa Jawa. Aksen orang sering jadi identifikasi dialek yang ia pakai. Ini mungkin yang buat bingung.

      Gimana dirumpun bahasa Batak Ndang? Ada dialek atau bahasa lainnya?

      • Aku masih belum ngeh, Mbak Yo. Kalau bahsa batak yang bermacam-macam itu yang paling aku ingat irama bahasanya yang beda, jadi kayak orang Karo seperti nyanyi dan mengalun, orang Batak Toba cepat dan tajam, orang mandailing mendayu, gitu gitu sih. AKu tiap baca jurnalmu jadi pengen baca baca banyak hal deh kayak ada link sana sini

  4. Madam, from our brief encounter years I didn’t notice any accent at all. As a matter of fact judging by your Dutch I could and can hardly believe you’ve not been born and bred in an ABN environment :)..

    • Dear Sir, Thanks for your kind compliment. Sometimes I find myself prounouncing some vowels/consonants wrongly like the notorious sch in Dutch if I don’t pay good attention to my pronounciation. Desondanks ben ik blij dat ik mijn lichte accent nu niet meer erg vind. Dan kan ik me richten op de boodschap in plaats van op mijn intonatie.

  5. Jadi inget, waktu aku di Meksiko dan jarang berbahasa Inggris, sekalinya berbahasa Inggris ada yg bilang gini : “You speak English with Mexican accent” 😀 😀 . Ngomong2 aksen, pernah punya guru bhs Spanyol di Jakarta yg aksennya Jawa-nya gak ilang pdhl dia sempat 5 tahun tinggal di negara berbahasa Spanyol. Jadilah dia ngomong bhs Spanyol dengan aksen Jawa. 😀 😀

    • Sama Wul. Salah satu pendetaku disini, orang Belanda. Dia lulusan sastra Jawa dan lama tinggal di Salatiga. Bahasa Jawa & aksen Jawanya halus sekali, kalo tutup mata denger dia ngomong ngga akan nyangka dia itu orang Belanda asli.

  6. Menyoal aksen, temen kantorku ada yang ketakutan kalau diajak ngobrol sama suami, soalnya dia nggak paham satu kata pun. Aksennya orang Irlandia emang kayak kumur-kumur. Untungnya aku sudah mulai paham apa yang mereka omongkan, walapun tetep ada kejadian nyuruh suami ngulang ngomong tiga sampai empat kali. English please!!

    • Bisa Non. Aksen anak kecil yang belajar bahasa asing bisa berubah otomatis. Aksen orang dewasa belajar bahasa asing bisa berubah kalo orangnya konsekwen dan ngga cape pake aksen asing itu. Kalo aku sih cape Non, musti merhatiin terus apakah pronounce aku menurut aksen aslinya. Cuma yang aku liat di orang dewasa jarang yang bisa kedengerannya alami, kebanyakan sih jadi lebay pake aksen asing walaupun pengucapan bagus 🙂 Ini pendapat aku pribadi ya.

  7. Before living in CAnada, I’ve never heard Canadian French accent. The first time I heard Canadian French, i was having a hard time understanding cuz of rhe accent. Well, my aunt who is French has been living in Montreal for over 40 years but until today, sometimes she still can’t understand some slank or thick Canadian French accent.

    • I don’t understand Canadian French accent nor Swiss French accent. It is hard to try to listen carefully to it but do not understand it.

      Where does your aunt come from in France?

      • Yeap, my aunt is French, born and raised there but moved to Montreal after getting married to avoid any millitary obigation (for my uncle) at the time. I have heard Swiss French also and it is hard to understand 🙂

        Yang gua bingung sekarang banyak sekali kata2 indonesia yang diambil dari bahasa asing dan di eja nya pake bahasa indo, kadang bingung gua bacanya juga:)

        I lived in Australia for sometime before and I could distinguish Australian, American or British accend, but since I moved up here, it is hard to tell which is Aussie o British:)

        • Iya. Gw sejak tinggal disini sering bingung ngobrol sama temen-temen di Indonesia. Kadang ada yang pake slang USA contohnya preggers untuk pregnant, kadang ada yang pake slang Oz. Tergantung mereka dulu kuliah dimana 🙂 C’est trés ennuyeux à lire les mots anglais que sont mal écrits là. Terus kalo kita koreksi, mereka yang bilang kita salah.

        • Hehehehe, je suis absolument d’accord avec vous!!! Kan pasti setiap kata ingeris ada terjemahan bahasa indonesianya? Bener ga ya?
          Gw klo ngomong ama tmeen indo ga suka pake slank english sama sekali, malah mikir apa kata indonya karna ga mau dibilang sok etc…Tapi malah kebalikan yg tinggal disana pake slank bhs ingeris kebanyakan. :):):)
          Belom lagi issue yg orng indo ngomong pake bahasa ingeris ke anak2nya walupun mereka sendiri ga pernah tinggal ato sekolah di negara yang berbahasa ingeris:):) Peut-etre que vous pouvez ecrire a ce sujet dans votre blog??

  8. Pingback: Tips belajar bahasa asing | Chez Lorraine

  9. Pingback: Jangan malu belajar bahasa Inggris | Chez Lorraine

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