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Gringa with an Accent

I have been enjoying the Code Switch blog on NPR thanks to a recommendation from a friend. 

They have expanded the idea of code switching from the traditional linguistics definition of going back in forth between languages (like I talked about here) to more broadly include any type of shifting between cultures.

In a post entitled Six Moments of Code-Switching In Popular Culture, they had a video from SNL of English speakers waaaaaaay over-pronouncing the Spanish names of Mexican foods. I was amused and totally convicted.

Here’s my thing, though. Living with a Spanish-speaker, it has become increasingly difficult for me to pronounce words, such as Guatemala, in the “American” way. GOO-AH-TAY-MALL-AH.

Instead, I find myself repeating the way Billy says it – more like WAH-TE-MAH-LA. (This should probably be a video post… sorry!) Ella says it like this, too, and corrects people in public

I recently had the embarrassing experience of another American asking me my daughter’s name. I pronounced “Gabriella” exactly as I hear it all the time… out of Billy’s mouth. Yeah… they couldn’t understand me! 

How awkward when I had to cough and mumble “GAB-REE-ELLA” with no hint of rolling the r’s or l’s. No. What is happening to me? But seriously, it just sounds a little weird to me in “English.”

We had the opposite experience ordering at a Taco Bell in Guatemala City. (At some point I’ll blog more about my not-so-secret shame of eating at American chain restaurants when I travel.)

I wanted a Double Decker taco. I mean… it’s pretty much amazing. A traditional (yes, I mean traditional in a “Taco Bell-sets-the-standard” kind of way) crunchy taco smeared with refried beans and wrapped in flour tortilla. Who could ask for more? (Well, me… I could probably eat two or three easily.)

Given the geography, I was ordering in Spanish, but I switched back to my “American accent” when I requested the “Double Decker taco.” The guy didn’t understand me ordering, so Billy took over, still switching to “English” (I guess?) when saying “Double Decker taco."

After much confusion, the cashier finally replied “oooooh, un taco Doo-bleh Dek-her. Si!”

We have never called it a Double Decker taco again!

Do you find yourself switching accents (or “code switching”) in ways that may be amusing to others?

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12 comments

  1. Oh Sarah, I love this. And was nodding along at all your examples. My recent one- called Pricemart to see if they had one of those chairs- ya know the Rocker Glider ones- as I explained it the guy on the other line said...oh, una "ro-ker gliii- derrr" (emphasis on the rolled r and long vowels) yes, that's it! Haha :)

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    1. LOL. That's so awesome. I love everyone "borrowing" words and then pronouncing them differently. It's quite amusing! :)

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  2. This is so true! And also why we tried to choose names for our kids that basically sound the same in English and Portuguese. And when we order McDonalds here we speak Portuguese and pronounce the English words with a Portuguese accent - quite funny for me as my Portuguese isn't that great. :)

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    1. Sometimes it's just easier to use the accent, right? :) Weirdly, we thought we were naming our child something that sounded the same... but over time, we've realized the pronunciation is "just enough" different to make it feel like two names occasionally. :)

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  3. I have the same problem at Taco Bell here!

    I once got "scolded" for this at work because I was telling our board members something about one of our preschool classes, called "Nursery" but I pronounced it with a Spanish accent (new-sery) since I was speaking in Spanish, but she stopped me and said, "Isn't it pronounced "nurse-ry?"

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    1. Hahaha! It's always great to have folks ready to help you speak English. :) Great story - thanks for sharing!

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  4. I love reading your blog & especially love the cross-cultural love story. : )
    So, I've never heard this explained so well. My grandmother is Mexican & we do the switch for "enchilada," "tortilla," and so many other food words.
    ...and now I'm just a little bit hungry!
    --Emily

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    1. Thanks so much for reading, Emily! I love your examples and the reality that talking about all this food just makes me want to eat! :)

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  5. we do this all the time. there are a bunch of danish words that my english speaking friends and i throw into the conversation, complete with danish accent. it's very funny for outsiders, but we barely notice it!

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    1. It's amazing how quickly we can get comfortable jumping back and forth! Thanks for commenting, Fiona!

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  6. Oh my goodness, I love this! (And #1 and #4 on that NPR link are so funny!) My husband and I always laugh about listening to the news or something in Spanish, and then just randomly hearing an English word (but with a sort of Spanish accent) thrown in. And we definitely throw Spanish words into English conversation because there are just some words or concepts that don't translate as well.

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  7. I know. It's so funny when those pop up! My favorite right now is when Ella asks Billy how to say something in Spanish and he just repeats her English word with a Spanish accent. ha! That's what she does now when she's trying to speak Spanish but doesn't know a word. Improvisation! :)

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