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How would a Serbian character speak English?
Thread poster: Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:46
German to English
+ ...
Jan 11, 2007

I'm translating a teenage novel from German to English where one of the characters is Serbian.

In the German text she rolls her Rs, misses out articles and gets the word order wrong. I don't know whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of a Serbian woman speaking German, and I'm struggling to find a way of reproducing the effect in English. If anyone has any insights or advice, I'd be grateful! She needs to sound "foreign" but not too stereotyped.

Thanks, Rachel.


 

Melissa Stanfield  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 10:46
Italian to English
+ ...
Non-native pronunciations Jan 11, 2007

Wikipedia lists some 'typical' non-native pronunciations of English using phonetic descriptions. Hope these might help you!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-native_pronunciations_of_English#Bosnian.2C_Croatian.2C_and_Serbian

Good luck

Melissa

[Edited at 2007-01-11 11:14]


 

Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:46
German to English
+ ...
missing articles Jan 11, 2007

I can't say anything about pronunciation, but there was a Yugoslavian (perhaps Serbian -- that was 20 years ago) engineer in the company where I worked (in Canada), and among other things I regularly reviewed documents he wrote. He tended to omit articles (especially definite articles). When I asked him about this once, he said he found it difficult to know when to use articles in English because they aren't used in his native language.

As for non-standard grammatical usage, you could try looking at English translations on Serbian sites. People translating into languages other than their native language have a strong tendency to apply the grammar of their native language to the target language.

[Edited at 2007-01-11 11:24]


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 02:46
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
How about viewing Borat? Jan 11, 2007

Only for fun of course, but that's about the way they speak. And like Germans they cannot pronounce the 'th', for worth or worse. I hope not to offend anybody, especially many Russians speak excellent English these days.
You could try a word-for-word translation of the German text.

Cheers
Heinrich


 

Natasa Grubor  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:46
Member
English to Serbian
+ ...
How do I do that Jan 11, 2007

I will be glad to help you if you want me. I often see in movies or books that we speak so bad and have terrible accent. True that we often miss articles (no such stuff in Serbian) and roll r, but movies make it 10 times worse. If you are strongly into it, we could meet online and you can hear me speaking! Feel free to contact me via mail.

Nataša


 

Mira Stepanovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:46
English to Serbian
+ ...
My 2 cents Jan 11, 2007

Hello everyone,

I completely agree with everything written in Wikipedia on Serbian pronunciation of English. I also agree with Ken on omitting or misuse of articles. We do not have them so it takes a lot of effort to learn the difference between the definite and the indefinite article and especially the proper usage thereof. Some of us manage to learn, others never do. It is simply a matter of level of knowledge. But the lack of articles in everyday speech does not necessarily result in lack of understanding.

As for the rolling "r", we do not have it and it is considered to be a pronunciation defect if used in Serbian speech. In fact, some Serbians find it difficult to roll the "r" when speaking English. Therefore, they either choose not to roll it all, or to roll it too much everywhere, even where normally it would not be pronounced at all (e.g. hair - Br. pronunciation).

As for the grammatical usage - I believe that it would be difficult to truly reproduce the "English version" of the Serbian grammar without a good knowledge on the latter.

And Heinrich, most of us can and do pronounce both "th" sounds (thick, this) with ease, just the same as all other sounds in the English language. And since Serbian has a phonemic alphabet (two of them in fact, Latin and Cyrillic) and phonetic pronunciation, it is not that difficult at all. Some of us can speak English with a very, very slight foreign accent. Is not the way "we" speak, as you say, it is the way some Serbians with limited knowledge of English language speak, same as in case of all those who attempt to speak in any other foreign language. Sometimes it is even considered charming (remember the French accent in "French Kiss"?) but I guess that depends on the native language of the speakericon_smile.gif.

Mira

Forgive me Heinrich, no offense, but comparing Russian (East Slavic language) to Serbian (South Slavic) makes just as much sense as comparing English (West Germanic) to Swedish or Norwegian (North Germanic languages).



[Edited at 2007-01-11 14:10]

[Edited at 2007-01-11 14:13]

[Edited at 2007-01-11 15:10]


 

Ana Naglić  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 01:46
Member (2005)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Borat Jan 11, 2007

As a native speaker (born and raised in Belgrade) with a degree in English language and literarture, I can tell you this:
Yes, Borat is a great example! You may also watch any film with Rade Serbedzija (e.g. Snatch - see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0784884/ )
Here are also a few hints:
- strongly pronounced Rs and Ds etc. (think of Classical Latin pronunciation)
- missing articles
- avoiding "there is" sentence structure ("in New Orleans, there is house..." - house pronounced like German Haus, there is Der", is like in German Isar)
- If the character is not educated in German/English or is a "fresh" immigrant, all verbs in infinitive
- avoiding please ( "Would you please fill in this form" -> "Fill in this form")
- usage of v instead of w (where -> /ver/)
- not seeing the difference in pronunciation of "sheep" and "ship" and "beach" and "bitch", 'sheet' and... ehm.. its equivalent - I am not talking about linguists here.
- using "simple" words instead of idioms.
I also know a woman who moved to the US a while ago but is associating mostly with people from ex-Yugoslavia - she sometimes tells her kid "Come here, bre".

[Edited at 2007-01-11 15:30]

[Edited at 2007-01-11 15:30]


 

John E. Kelleher  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 00:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Seek out an Eastern European migrant Jan 11, 2007

There are thousands to choose from now in the UK. Especially from Poland, but also from other Slavic countries. In written format their accents would look the same. Hard h sounds, verbs not conjugated etc.

If your original character uses Serbian words you may need to seek out a native Serbian to ensure how they are transcribed from the Cyrillic into English, as transcriptions from Cyrillic to German may be different. Also check how many UK Universities have a Serbian department (I would guess not more than a handful). I'm sure the professors would be glad to help, or at least point you in the right direction.


 

Natasa Grubor  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:46
Member
English to Serbian
+ ...
Borat Jan 11, 2007

[quote]AnaNaglic wrote:

Yes, Borat is a great example! You may also watch any film with Rade Serbedzija (e.g. Snatch - see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0784884/ )

Rade Serbedzija played RRussian with stRRong RRussian accent in comedy Snatch, so he is, like Borat, just a comic character, not someone who should be taken as an example.

Anyway great movies worth to be seen for fun.


 

Mira Stepanovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:46
English to Serbian
+ ...
Exactly Nataša Jan 11, 2007

Good point. Russian accent (and I personally adore Russian as a very soft, melodic language) differs considerably from Serbian. In addition, I do not see how "Borat" could be an example since it is a character from Kazakhstan... Both movies fun though.

This might be a better example although a very old movie:

http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0086004/

Serbian actors, most dialogs in English...

Mira

[Edited at 2007-01-11 19:22]


 

Ana Naglić  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 01:46
Member (2005)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Don 't get offended Jan 11, 2007

Again, I did not speak about people whose command of a language is perfect and they speak with a slight accent.
But if something like this is needed for defining a character in a piece of fiction, and if this character is represented like someone whose command of English/German is not sound, then why not? Again, that is fiction, not a documentary. BTW, Borat is not about Kazahstan at all, he is much closer to the Western representation of Eastern Europe, but that is another story.
If you take an example of Croatian (Račan or Sanader) or Serbian (Karadžić) politicians speaking English, you get a strong Slavic accent. I think I might have some mp3 files.
This is not about whose command of English is about perfect.


 

Vojislav Krunic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:46
Member (2006)
English to Serbian
+ ...
Rachel, Jan 11, 2007

If the character does all that in the German original, then you have her stereotyped already. In that case you are not asking about “an accurate portrayal” of a typical speaker.

Of all the mistakes listed so far, I think the most stubborn problem with Serbian/Croatian native speakers is the omission/misuse of articles. But hey, what good is using them anyway?icon_smile.gif About the pronunciations of “th” (thing, that), we are not that bad at them, although they do sound a bit funny to beginners. One of those things hard to explain to, for example, some older expat teachers from Britain...

Movies are a dead end; they always stress the accent side of the issue, but do not reproduce grammar mistakes. Characters in movies keep their heavy foreign accents for life, but have a perfect grammar within days. This is particularly appalling when supposedly they come from the outer space...

Your problem here is how to put it on paper. No need to make it a linguistic research, surely there are ways to depict the character, based on the information you collected here and from other sources. Hopefully in the future there will be fewer examples of the Great-Eastern-Europe-Borat-Included Stereotype in art and in life.


 

Mira Stepanovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:46
English to Serbian
+ ...
Who, me :)? Jan 11, 2007

Ana, I am so sorry if I made you think that I was offended in any way but my arrows were never aimed at you. If you follow the thread in a chronological order, you will see that my post came before yours. Except for "Borat" and "Snatch" I absolutely agree with everything else and I find your examples very helpful. I really enjoyed reading your post, I even had a good laugh (sheet and ... ehm... its equivalent; bre - that one would be very difficult to explain to a non-Serbian, wouldn't it?). The only thing that you forgot to mention is that in addition to "please" we do not use "thank you" too oftenicon_smile.gif.

Mira

[Edited at 2007-01-11 20:09]


 

Mira Stepanovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 01:46
English to Serbian
+ ...
Sorry Jan 11, 2007

Just removing an extra posting that got repeated with a two hour delay. I have no idea where it came from, and I can't find a way to delete it.

Mira

[Edited at 2007-01-11 20:21]


 

Natasa Grubor  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 01:46
Member
English to Serbian
+ ...
Not offended as well Jan 11, 2007

Ana, because I am not sure who was addressed, I feel obliged to rrreassure you. I pointed out that Borrat and RRade were comic charracterrs because I was scarred that Rachel might take them as a? serrious rreprresentatives of Serrbian accent.
I love making fun of it, but lets help Rrachel to do the best job. Pleaseicon_smile.gif


 
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