On Accents and Perceived Fluency
25 May 2007
I’ve known for a while that for the highest perceived fluency, a foreigner should aim for a Beijing accent. That’s what Dashan did, and I’ve witnessed many times that a Beijing accent just impresses Chinese people more (especially outside of Beijing). It never had any appeal for me, though.
What I have noticed, though, is that as one’s accent improves, it can move through various levels of perceived fluency, seemingly imitating some of Greater China’s regional accents. I’ve actually heard Chinese people make some of these comments, and I cobbled together this rough guide to what the various comments mean.
|When they say you sound like a…||they mean that…|
|your Chinese is bad.|
|your Chinese is bad (but they tried just a little to be polite).|
|your Chinese is functional, but your tones are a mess.|
|your Chinese is a bit better than a 新疆人’s.|
|your Chinese is a bit better than a 山东人’s.|
(Hong Kong person)
|your Chinese is pretty good, but sounds a little funny.|
|your Chinese is good, but some consonants are non-standard.|
|your Chinese not only sounds like a 南方人’s, but also a girl’s. (This is not so bad if you happen to be a girl.)|
|your Chinese is good, but not quite up to 北京人 levels.|
|your Chinese is really amazing.|
These impressions are sure to vary somewhat from region to region (and yes, they are unfair, subjective generalizations). Anything I missed?