Above all, Flemings of course speak Flemish English. This very noticeable English accent, unmistakably common to northern Belgians, makes many an English language-loving tourist cringe his teeth while talking to a local. But of course there are British and American features in there as well, and flandersnews.be wanted to know how they weigh out.
54 people aged 16 to 23, and 54 people aged 50 to 77 were asked to speak English and read English text. The text contained all sorts of English words that have a different pronunciation in British and American English, like fast, draw, home, hot, park, city, tune, tomato, etc. The conversations were recorded, and afterwards, these ‘token words’ were isolated and checked for pronunciation.
As it turned out, there was a slight but statistically significant difference between the younger and the older people surveyed. In 62% of all cases, youngsters preferred to pronounce the token words in the American way. So, for example, most young Flemings would pronounce tomato as “to-may-do”. Meanwhile, older people liked to pronounce token words the British way in 58% of recorded cases. This means a small majority of them favours “to-mah-to” as the pronunciation for tomato.
The older the Fleming, the more British his English
A second test involved word pairs. Both the Flemish youngsters and the adults received a sheet with homophone (same-sounding) and rhyme word pairs. They had to select which of the pairs where actually homophones and rhyme words, and which were not.
The tricky part was that all of them were legitimate pairs, but some only worked in British English, while others only worked in American English. For example: caught and court sound the same in British, but not in American English, while leisure and seizure rhyme in American, but not in British English.
Again, it turned out that younger people identified more American-only pairs as legitimate pairs. Meanwhile, older people did the same with British-only pairs.
Check the second article to learn how the surveyed Flemings perceived the accents. Is American English a cooler accent? Does British English sound more intelligent? Find out in part two below.