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Migrants bring country accent to the big city

Update: December, 19/2012 - 08:48

by Trung Hieu

I was quite annoyed a few days ago to find my four-year old daughter pronouncing Vietnamese words incorrectly by confusing the consonants N and L (often considered the worst sign of a lisp). No big deal in itself, but the problem is that in the past she could say those words perfectly.

I asked my wife the reason and she explained that our daughter had been influenced by children in the neighbourhood, whose babysitters come from other provinces.

Recently in the media and online forums, many Hanoians have expressed concern that the original city accent is disappearing because it has been diluted by immigrants from other provinces.

A woman living in Hoan Kiem District says her family employed a domestic helper from a rural district in Thai Binh Province and the helper struggled with several words.

"At first, my husband and I just smiled discretely when we heard her accent. But after a while, I found my son imitating her and lisping too many words.

"The situation became serious for my husband and I, so we had to tell the helper to stop living with us. Then we focused on correcting our child's pronunciation, which after a great deal of patience, was eventually rectified.

Many of his classmates are faced with the same problem."

A clear and crisp Hanoian accent will probably disappear in the future because of the impacts from those hired to work in Ha Noi.

This is a worry of Dr. Le Thi Bich Hong, deputy director of the Culture and Arts Department under the Central Committee for Propaganda Education.

"Anyone who has ever known Ha Noi, been attached to Ha Noi and loves the city, would know the indigenous Hanoian voice creates a distinctive first impression.

"I can always recognise an original Hanoian through their voice. But these days, the standard Hanoian voice is becoming rarer and rarer," she says.

According to Hong, this is due to the capital's expansion as people from other provinces flock to work and live in Ha Noi, increasing the city's population significantly. The resulting cocktail of voices has led to a mix up of traditional Ha Noi voices.

But in addition, she believes the original Hanoian accent will probably disappear completely in the future because of home assistants.

Today, many provincial outsiders work as home helpers and babysitters for Ha Noi families. In many cases, the children have more contact with them than they do with their parents.

She added: "Therefore, the children, especially those who are practising speech, will be greatly influenced by the language and accents of these helpers."

But some experts say the helpers are only play a small part.

Duong Thu Trang, a literature teacher from Dong Da District, says: "Do not blame the helpers, because their influence on the voice is only temporary."

"Many children in families with helpers are affected by their accent, this is quite a common problem," she says. "However, these effects are not deep enough to effect their voice over a lifetime. The children are not confined to home assistants only, they're still contact with their parents, family members and the large Ha Noi community.

"I met a lot of pupils who lisped, perhaps because some of their family lisped and also due to influence from home helpers. However, as they studied in a class where pupils did not lisp, they were gradually able to fix their pronunciation.

"On the contrary, there are youths with a standard accent whose speech patterns change after they join universities and society, through meeting and interacting with other immigrants," she adds.

Besides the fear of losing their Ha Noi accent, the changes in lifestyle brought about by Ha Noi newcomers has also left people perturbed.

Dr Le Thi Bich Hong says many people living in Ha Noi now use fewer polite gestures and smiles, instead using vulgar speech.

She claims this is especially true among young people.

"Many youths are ready to kneel in front of their idols, but don't know how to say thank you or sorry," she laments.

The original Hanoian voice has been officially deemed as Viet Nam's standard accent, because it consists of all Vietnamese tones, whereas accents from other regions in Viet Nam cannot meet this criteria.

Of course when a child lisps, this causes annoyance for their parents. But I think that along with efforts to maintain the accent, keeping the Hanoian culture is even more important. — VNS

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