By now, I suspect many readers have watched Liverpudlian footballer Joey Barton‘s recent interview about his French debut. I have little to say about his accent, other than to remind everyone that this native Englishman has spent but a few months in France:
Although most headlines have cited the man’s “French accent,” the interview’s strangest aspect is not the accent, per se, but rather grammatical “errors” typical of ESL learners, such as Barton’s notable failure to conjugate verbs like “say,” “make,” and “speak.” I’ll leave it up to you to decide why.
There are many legitimate situations, it should be said, in which living in a foreign country can impact one’s speech. However, I’ve found such influences more modest than in Barton’s case. For instance, I’ve noted a subtle French influence on Johnny Depp‘s English (he lived in France for many years):
(I also considered embedding a recent Halle Berry interview here, in whose lect I’d noticed a slight Gallic twinge; she is engaged to French actor Olivier Martinez and has announced intentions to move to France. But on second consideration, I think the jury’s out on that one. Feel free to look up clips and decide for yourself.)
I’ve experienced this phenomenon personally as well. I once had a coworker who spent a long sojourn in Cuba. On her first months back in the States, her accent betrayed a slight Spanish rhythm. Within a short period, however, her speech returned to that of a native English-speaker.
My impression is that such effects are most noticeable when the language in question has strikingly different prosodic patterns from English’s. Such is the case with French (which lacks lexical stress) and Spanish (which is syllable-timed.) When speaking a romance language, I find myself retraining my brain to produce syllables in a very different way than my English-speaking mind is accustomed to. Such efforts no doubt have an impact on one’s own language over a prolonged period.
Still, I remain confused by the extremity of Barton’s new idiolect. Is this truly how he talks?