Home > Random > Joey Barton puts on an… um… accent?

Joey Barton puts on an… um… accent?

Last week, footballer Joey Barton, who plays for Marseilles, gave an interview for the French media. The results were… surprising, to say the least. Barton grew up in Merseyside, so he has a noticeable Liverpudlian accent, as is clear in this interview. In terms of specific features, he has fricated plosives in words like Newcastle and get, monophongisation of /ai/ in time , fronted /u/ in afternoon, T-R conversion in lot of and so on, all of which are very salient Liverpudlian features.

In August 2012, Barton was loaned by Queens Park Rangers to Marseille for the season, and so he moved to France for the year. Part of this would undoubtedly involve him learning French in order to be able to speak with other players, staff, management, as well as the day-to-day stuff that comes up with living in any new country. Of course, living in any new country involves acquiring, to some extent, the accent associated with that country, and this is usually observable in a native English speaker moving to another English-speaking country, or for a non-native English speaker moving to a country where English is the first language (I’ve written previously about Tim Visser acquiring something of a Scottish accent during his time playing with Edinburgh). If you’ve ever spent some time in a new country, you’ll have most likely ended up sounding a little bit like the locals after a few months. Usually  vocabulary items are acquired first, since these are normally the easiest feature to acquire in a new setting, but occasionally, speakers will also pick up phonological and grammatical features as well. I sometimes adopt an ‘American’ accent in certain situations in Pittsburgh, normally ordering something over the phone (pizza, taxis etc), since the lack of fidelity in telecommunications means it’s just easier for me to do a bad American accent than to try and struggle through a communicative impasse with my Scottish accent.

But what’s more unusual is for a native English speaker to move to a country where English is not the first language and acquire a non-native English accent. For example, Steve McClaren has apparently been speaking in a Dutch accent while he manages FC Twente (although personally, beyond a few words, he sounds very much English to me), but Barton’s interview knocks McClaren’s attempts at accent impersonation out of the water in that he addresses the media by speaking English but in a French accent.

Barton defended his decision by saying that ‘iI is very difficult to do a press conference in Scouse for a room full of French journalists. The alternative is to speak like an ‘Allo Allo!’ character. It’s simply a case of you had to be there.” I’m not sure that’s the only choice, mainly because he could have gone for a more Southern British Standard English accent than his native Scouse accent, so it’s confusing to me why he opted for a stereotypical French accent. What’s intriguing though is that in the process of adopting this French accent, Barton duplicates a number of errors we would normally associate with someone who is not a native English speaker (or at least to my ears, some of his constructions sound rather clumsy/awkward):

  1. All everybody speak about is this one tackle
  2. It causes a red card for him…
  3. Nobody talk about the shot that…
  4. They are so competitive to win a game.
  5. Maybe after I stop to play it gives me a good education...
  6. We have a very blinkered approach to the football

This is perhaps nit-picking a little bit, and I get that Barton’s main intention is to be better understood by adopting something of a French accent, but I have to say that I’m still really surprised that this his is first strategy’. Maybe it is also a genuine attempt to ingratiate himself with the French media, and apparently, there has been less commentary of his accent in the French media than there has been in the British, so perhaps it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

– The Social Linguist

  1. festeringhillock
    December 7, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Bit late to comment, but I think my first point was that I was guessing that he would mainly be speaking to his teammates and coaches in English, but that they would be speaking in French-accented English, hence this is just an example of accomodation. Having said that, it looks like he explicitly chose this accent over a more standard English accent, so that explanation may not be quite right. Barton is also a controversial figure and, although this is a little unfair, kind of models himself as a anti-elitist, working class philosopher (his twitter stream is littered with philosophical quotations). Speaking in a standard accent may, in his view, be a greater sin than what he chose to do.

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