Une voix aussi traînarde.

France Culture has a set of old recordings that have been nicely cleaned up; I present for your listening pleasure Archive exceptionnelle : écoutez l’accent parisien en 1912. In 1912 the linguist Ferdinand Brunot, studying the speech of workmen, recorded Louis Ligabue, an upholsterer in the 14th arrondissement, talking about the neighborhood and then about his voice when it was played back to him: “C’est très drôle, il me semble même que c’est extraordinaire que j’aie une voix si traînarde, jamais je ne l’aurais cru !” [It’s really funny, it even seems to me that it’s extraordinary that I have such a drawling voice, I would never have believed it!] There’s a transcript, and the audio is accompanied by period views of Paris. His voice makes me think of Jean Gabin (though I’m sure their accents would seem quite different to a Parisian). And if you scroll down, you’ll find links to recordings of Émile Durkheim in 1913 and Tolstoy talking about God in 1909. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. When I was young, my voice (Lake Wobegonian , as in the movie “Fargo”) seemed strange to many people I met , but their voices (generic American TV accent) didn’t seem strange to. me. But I have never liked the recorded sound of my voice.

  2. To my ignorant ear, Tolstoy’s accent is quite good (i.e. not recognizably Russian). He uses n alveolar trill (unlike the upholsterer and his interviewer), but I suppose that was a lot more common back then, at least outside Paris.

    I’m eagerly awaiting marie-lucie’s and Etienne’s impressions…

  3. John Emerson: I never liked my recorded voice either, but I don’t know if it was an artefact of the recording equipment or something else. I imagine young people these days are used to it. I have not had my voice recorded (of which record I have possession of) since about forty years ago.

  4. A link to a link took me to an intriguing new book, Nicholas Hammond’s The Powers of Sound and Song in Early Modern Paris:

    The long and spectacular reign of Louis XIV of France is typically described in overwhelmingly visual terms. In this book, Nicholas Hammond takes a sonic approach to this remarkable age, opening our ears to the myriad ways in which sound revealed the complex acoustic dimensions of class, politics, and sexuality in seventeenth-century Paris.

    The discovery in the French archives of a four-line song from 1661 launched Hammond’s research into the lives of the two men referenced therein—Jacques Chausson and Guillaume de Guitaut. In retracing the lives of these two men (one sentenced to death by burning and the other appointed to the Ordre du Saint-Esprit), Hammond makes astonishing discoveries about each man and the ways in which their lives intersected, all in the context of the sounds and songs heard in the court of Louis XIV and on the streets and bridges of Paris. Hammond’s study shows how members of the elite and lower classes in Paris crossed paths in unexpected ways and, moreover, how noise in the ancien régime was central to questions of crime and punishment: street singing was considered a crime in itself, and yet street singers flourished, circulating information about crimes that others may have committed, while political and religious authorities wielded the powerful sounds of sermons and public executions to provide moral commentaries, to control crime, and to inflict punishment.

  5. one sentenced to death by burning

    I just learned that Beethoven’s ancestress Josyne van Beethoven was burned at the stake as a witch in Brussels in 1595.

  6. V: A little like me. My voice was and maybe still is sort of provincial or rustic, but I also sound condescending.

    I realize now that a number of times in my life people who first met me took me less seriously because of my bumpkin accent, which has usually been accompanied by nondescript dress.

  7. David Eddyshaw says
  8. John Emerson referred to a post that I deleted where I said that my accent was a strange combination of rustic and upper-class (in Bulgarian).

  9. It all looks a bit speculative

    Pah, Wikipedia. I’m going by Paul Griffiths’ TLS review of Jan Caeyers’ Beethoven: A Life:

    Probably the first Beethoven biographer to hail from the Beethoven family’s original Flanders, Caeyers is also the first to trace the composer’s line back to Josyne van Beethoven, burned at the stake as a witch in Brussels in 1595. Her example, Caeyers proposes, gave the Beethovens “a deep-seated and healthy distrust of society in general” and “a source of strength”. Of course, Caeyers is thinking backwards here (there seems no evidence that the composer knew of Josyne’s fate), trying to account for the powerful self-certainty Beethoven displayed from his early manhood.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Someone who was quite certainly descended from a woman accused of witchcraft was Johannes Kepler:


    Happily, her son was successful in defending her, though the whole episode must nevertheless have been horrifying for both of them.

  11. In my case, it’s more that I have upper-class speech patterns, but with “bumpkin” pronunciation. Imagine an upper-class Gasgewigian?

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    I was going to say that it sounds not unlike my own rhotic but otherwise more-or-less RP. I don’t think Scots would happily describe it as “bumpkin” pronunciation, though. It’s the English wot can’t talk propah.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    Edinburgh – well, it’s practically in England …

  14. I’m slowly backing out, not making any fast movements.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    [My comments in re Edinburgh relate to a post deleted by V. I am prepared to accept that Edinburgh is, in fact, in Scotland. As they say in Glasgow, Kama da Wane ba Wane ba.]

  16. Oh, I’m not deleting that.

  17. Scotland qua England…

  18. Scotland qua’ed England good at Wembley in 1967.

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    Yr Alban am byth! (as we say in the Hen Ogledd.)

  20. Now, from what I’m reading, voix traînarde means that you lengthen final syllables; but I don’t hear it in this person’s speech. He speaks in a more leisurely pace than the interviewer, that’s all. I’m guessing the interviewer is speaking fast because he’s particularly aware of the limited time of the recording.

  21. If I was being recorded, I’d have a different accent from everyday life.

    But I, too, hate the sound of my own voice recorded, regardless of the accent.

  22. Bathrobe: Would you shift you accent if you knew you were being recorded?

  23. Stupid question, isn’t it. It would sound even weirder.

  24. “rustic and upper-class” – reminded me a title “Cavalleria rusticana”.

  25. dravsi: you know what, I won’t even acknowledge you even posting here anymore.

  26. Your posts are completely devoid of meaning, and are parroting Russian propaganda.

  27. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I mean, there’s a lot of England in Edinburgh, but that’s hardly *our* fault.

    I’m not sure there’s such a thing as Scottish bumpkin, really – our fault line in that sense is teuchter and not-teuchter.

  28. Yeah, but I was trying to make an analogy, and I thought upper-class Glaswegians made a good analogy — actually quite a good one. Glasgow upper-class people make a good analogy for what I was trying to convey about how I sound in Bulgarian as it relates to Britain and English.

  29. Trond Engen says

    @V: I have no idea what you’re on about. To me, drasvi reads as very independent and thoroughly liberal. I’m happy for those Russians who still post here and worried for those who don’t. It would be a poorer community without them.

  30. Trond Engen says

    V: Glasgow upper-class people make a good analogy for what I was trying to convey about how I sound in Bulgarian as it relates to Britain and English.

    I think there’s more than one phenomena here. One is the “provincial upper class”, blending local features and standard in a different way than the perceived national upper class accent. Another is code-switching between colloquial and upper class features, which can happen in both directions — governed by subtle rules which itself are essential parts of the register. A third is idiolect, formed by family history, relocations and exposure to different forms of language.

  31. @V: I have no idea what you’re on about. To me, drasvi reads as very independent and thoroughly liberal. I’m happy for those Russians who still post here and worried for those who don’t. It would be a poorer community without them.

    Strongly seconded. Please stop saying stuff like that; you’re projecting something in your own head that has nothing to do with drasvi, and you just sound weird.

  32. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    What surprised me about the recording is how _little_ Parisian speech has changed since 1912. One would notice much greater changes in Marseilles, I suspect. Newcasters’ accents from the 1950s sound very different from today, but I think that was deliberately created for greater clarity (like BBC English tin he same period).

  33. V, are you sure there isn’t a bit of say/mention confusion? And why are you remonstrating in this thread? I don’t think “Cavalleria rusticana” is Russian propaganda.

  34. Trond Engen: I picked Gasgewigian as an example of the first, but mine is more of a mix between the first and the third, more of the first.

    D.O. : “are you sure there isn’t a bit of say/mention confusion?” — no, that’s not at all what I meant, but I already said I will drop it. “I don’t think “Cavalleria rusticana” is Russian propaganda.” where did that come from? dravsi used the phrase completely neutrally.

  35. where did that come from?

    Doubtless from the fact that you keep ranting about drasvi for no reason apparent to the rest of us.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    where did that come from?

    It comes from the fact that your assertion that drasvi’s posts are “completely devoid of meaning” immediately followed drasvi’s perfectly apposite quip about “Cavalleria rusticana.” The matter is not mysterious.

    As one who frequently writes posts entirely devoid of meaning myself, I feel some personal stake in this …

  37. Stu Clayton says
  38. David Eddyshaw says

    I have personally not given birth to any children (I outsourced the matter.) That may explain a lot.

  39. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Can someone tell me who or what deleted the comment about feeling gaslighted, before I start feeling that way myself? 🙁

  40. A Muscovite turns on her favorite propaganda programme one morning only to hear: “Kusaasi statives, part 25/2…”

    The translation program in my browser believes that DE is a woman: “Я лично не родила детей (я передала дело на аутсорсинг.) Это может многое объяснить.”. It should be не рожала then (perfective here would mean initiated but not completed [yet] process and would combine well with “the children” (do articles have anythign to do with aspects?)), but anyway.

  41. Stu Clayton says

    my browser believes that DE is a woman

    It’s that word “outsource”. You can’t outsource something that you can’t yourself insource, so the translation program naturally assumes a woman is speaking. If David had written: “I did not attempt to appropriate that which is culturally of woman”, less confusion would have resulted. Now we have articles and aspects on our plate as well.

  42. I agree with Athel Cornish-Bowden: there is little to nothing about this speaker’s accent which differs sharply from the accent to be heard in parts of Paris today. And I also agree that French accents in many (most?) cities outside Paris must have changed far more profoundly over the past hundred years (indeed, the one time I was in Marseilles my impression was that the accent of the oldest and of the youngest living generations differed from one another quite sharply, far more to my ear than this speaker’s accent differs from present-day Parisian accents).

  43. Jen in Edinburgh :

    > Can someone tell me who or what deleted the comment about feeling gaslighted, before I start feeling that way myself? 🙁

    I told languagehat I felt like I was being gaslighted by him for criticizing dravsi for _maybe_ parroting Russian propaganda. I had already stated that they seem to have stopped that (if they were doing it in the first place), and I have no further remarks.

  44. John Emerson says

    “Bumpkin” is a red herring. I am the only professed bumpkin here. I did compare myself to V in certain respects, but I was not saying that V was a bumpkin like me, or that anyone in Scotland is a bumpkin either.

    I didn’t even t confess to being a bumpkin, but only said that some people seem to have thought that I sounded like one.

  45. John Emerson: I deleted the comment, because I though it too antagonistic, but then Stu brought it up. I don’t know if anyone but Steve can delete comments here, other than the poster within 15 minutes.

  46. No, I am the Onlie Deleter once the editing clock has counted down to zero.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    my browser believes that DE is a woman

    It’s these primitive languages like English and Russian that force you to specifiy your precise role in the bringing about of progeny. More advanced languages allow for greater abstraction, reflecting the superior cognitive powers of the speakers, e.g. Kusaal du’a “bear/beget.”

    drasvi’s browser can evidently do implicatures (which is quite impressive, really) but not irony.
    I think there’s a Firefox plugin for irony, though.

  48. There is a simpler explanation: родила is a more common translation for “have given birth” than родил.

    The concept of “cultural appropriation” is a mystery for me, maybe the toy model of gender will help me to understand it. What I like about gender is that it is fun (tuatological, but…). But has the time come for pitting feminists (or people of gender) and gender-curious people against each other?

  49. marie-lucie says

    lle tapissier de Paris

    He was indeed from Paris, an artisan from the Rive Droite (right bank of the Seine River) although now with his shop on the Rive Gauche (a more intellectual location). He mentions the (relatively) higher class of a lot of his customers (though not Very High Classs) who comment on his “drawlling voice”: I would not have used the word “traînarde” , a feature which he attributes to his own voice, while it must refer to the vowel lengthening which is or was quite typical of Parisian working class speech, especially on the more businesslike Rive Droite. As often happens with one’s own dialect, one does not notice specific features in one’s own speech, although ithey become noticeable in a recording.

    Hearing this form of speech reminded me strongly of what I heard as a child in my father’s family. They (not high class people) ilved on the Left Bank, and spoke accordingly, but his brother worked his whole life in the offices of a factory on the Right Bank, on the edge of Paris. Every day he took the Métro along with the other factory workers, crossing the whole city ttwice. Perhaps unconsciously, he acquired their speech (which was very much like the upholsterer)(s) and spoke like them the rest of his life.

  50. marie-lucie : my mental map of Paris just got turned upside-down (or, rather, sideways) 😀 I didn’t realize the Seine went through Paris in that direction. I had the impression the Seine went, more or less, south-north. Next thing you tell me Boulogne-Billancourt is in the east of Paris. EDIT: It’s weird because I was just thinking about Parisian topography two days ago in the morning, trying to recollect some from when I visited, and I could swear Shakespeare and Company was on the right, rather than the left bank. Just checked — it’s gauche! Delightful.

  51. January First-of-May says

    I’m happy for those Russians who still post here and worried for those who don’t.

    I wonder if I was counted among the former or the latter.

    (I hadn’t been active here very much lately, for reasons mostly unrelated to the current unpleasantness down south; and I’m only adding the “mostly” because one of those reasons was that there was a lot of discussion on the specifics of the aforementioned unpleasantness, which I felt extremely unqualified to comment on.
    Another, bigger, reason was that a lot of my free time was taken up by preparations surrounding my brother’s participation in this year’s Russian language contest, in which he ultimately reached – and placed fairly well in – the national stage, but not without a lot of confusion on the way.)

  52. It’s great to see you here again, and congratulations to your brother!

  53. marie-lucie says

    Etienne,: I think that the major difference between the amount of speech changes between Paris and Marseille come from the fact that Marseille French is based on the then-local Occitan speech, while Paris French has evolved on the same spot for centuries. Many Southern French people, most of whom no longer speak Occitan (a language which is more like Catalan than French) , try to sound standard, meaning approximately like educated Parisians, but of course there is no opposite tendency. This is true (although probably less striking) in any area with a strong traditional form of French speech.

  54. m.-l., have you ever noticed differences in the speech of different parts of Paris?

  55. marie-lucie says

    V: When in Paris you need a map of Paris! No Parisian will try to direct you using North-South and East-West as coordinates : that would only work on a very small area, because the river, which defined the area for centuries, curves through the city, which was further defined over most of its history by rows of ramparts which circled it, and which were regularly torn down and rebuilt over a wider area, their former locations becoming streets. To cross from one bank to the other of course necessitated bridges, which , like the now defunct ramparts, were added as the city grew.

    Of course Shakespeare and Company had to be on the Left Bank! close to a bridge over the Seine, across from Notre-Dame, which is on the island where the Parisii (the local Gaulish tribe) had built a settlement before the Romans invaded.

  56. marie-lucie says

    Y: speech in different parts of Paris?

    I might if I lived there, but I have been in anglophone Canada most of my life, and in the pandemic I have not been able to travel to Paris. When I have been there in previous years to see family members, I have mostly noticed changes in the speech of different ages. But I rarely take notes!

  57. marie-lucie : Of course I had a map of Paris, but a métro map, and I had a semi-local to guide me around 🙂

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