Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speaking Differently

It's interesting how people's voices change when speaking a foreign language. You'd think my voice was my voice. But no; I have one voice in english and another in french. I can't hear the difference myself, but I'm sure you could.
I first noticed this phenomenon in my friend Iris. She lives in Paris, and between the two of us it's quite natural to speak english. Then she would speak french to another person, and it was like she had taken on a role. Her voice was definitely different, higher pitched. Not just the effect of making different sounds, or of paying more attention to the act of talking, or the simple fact of having an accent, but clearly a new voice. I'm not sure I'd have recognised her on the phone had she greeted me in french.
At first, I thought it was an affectation. This is me 'speaking french'. But no matter how fluent Iris is, and after 12 years of speaking french every day she's perfectly fluent, no matter how perfectly at ease she is in her second language, her voice changes to speak it.
And just now I heard the same thing with my french colleague speaking english, and it's true of almost all the bilingual people I know. It's not just an accent; it's a different tone and pitch and cadence. Interesting.


marc aurel said...

I used to be bi-lingual and convinced myself that I thought differently in each language. In French I was more likely to theoretise and philosophise. In English I was more prosaic and practical. Definitely in French I would use my body more and often leave the end of a sentence in the air, with a shrug or the rotation of my Gauloise holding hand. Now I have mainly lost the French, I miss that old self.

lakeviewer said...

I agree! My husband noticed that element when he heard me speak in Italian to a friend of mine. He speaks only English.

My hypothesis is that we put on an affectation when changing cultures, either becoming more or less formal.

virginia said...

yes, i sound very different when i speak french.