madpen's journal

A Borrowed Voice

I have made good friends with my neighbor, a 19-year-old Uzbek who will do his undergraduate here at Southwest University after he’s done a year of Chinese language preparation. In addition to learning Chinese, he is trying to adopt an American accent for his English from me – in exchange he has been teaching me some Russian (his second language) and I have been trying to reproduce the Turkic/Slavic accent that twists his English. This past weekend I got to try it out for an evening.

On Saturday night I went to a foreigner bar in downtown Chongqing with my Siberian friend and adopted the thick accent – rolling Rs, dropping particles etc. The two of us told everyone in the bar we were from Uzbekistan (Uzbeks can run the whole spectrum of skin tones and facial features). They all bought the act wholesale – we talked to several Russian girls, a couple of Chinese, some French people, a bunch of Americans, and a Canadian. Most interesting was each group’s reaction to us – it was fascinating to see how easily my accent changed the way people treated me. For this exercise I was wearing something very nondescript – cargo shorts and a plain tee shirt – something almost anyone might wear. I was not wearing the traditional Uzbek cap in the picture below, though.

The Russian girls treated us almost like fellow countrymen until they started speaking Russian to me (a lot of Uzbeks speak Russian) – they quickly talked past the few Russian words I know – after which they almost collapsed in fits of laughter. The Chinese seemed sort of nonplussed when we talked to them – they didn’t treat us much differently than the rest. They seemed a little suspicious that I did not have much of an accent at all when I spoke Chinese (speaking Chinese with a Russian accent is way over my head at this point). The French, upon hearing how we spoke English, turned the other cheek, almost in disgust, and didn’t want much more to do with us. We tried several times to talk to them with no avail. The Americans were interested in Uzbekistan so we told them about the cities of Tashkent (the capital) and Samarkand and the country’s rich history. Their interest was appreciated, but they seemed to treat us almost like children the whole time. The Canadian (Quebec) fellow, who I had revealed my identity to earlier in the night, was highly entertained.

Anything too surprising? Not really, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. До свидания!

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2 comments on “A Borrowed Voice

  1. Stubbornly thinks you are blonde
    October 25, 2011

    Just read this–that is hilarious!! I wish id been a fly on that wall. You are quite ballsy to do that, but then again youve always had a way with languages. Youll have to speak to me in an Uzbek accent next time were on the phone for sure!

  2. Scott Bressler
    November 7, 2011

    Haha, amazing, nicely done!

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This entry was posted on September 18, 2011 by in Journal and tagged , , , , .
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