I’ve lived in this city for about two months now and one thing that I’ve been noticing lately is the mixture of Vietnamese accents from around the country that mingle together here. For example, my friend’s girlfriend is from the south-central region, and I work with a girl who has traces of a northern accent. Once when I was in a talkative mood I started talking to a cab driver only to realize that he had a thick northern accent.
These varied accents sound slightly strange to me. I consider myself a southern boy and am proud of my southern drawl in Vietnamese; blending vowel sounds and no hard consonant sounds at all. With the extreme central accents, the tones are all off and sound weird to me. With extreme northern accents, people sound like they’re choking to death.
One day when I was very motivated, I drafted a pronunciation guide for Southern Vietnamese because you can’t find it in any book and I wanted people to know that southern Vietnamese is different from what you learn when you study Vietnamese in another country. The slightly crazy thing is that even some people down in the southern Mekong Delta region will say that their Vietnamese is “wrong” because it doesn’t sound like the people choking to death. How can it be “wrong” if millions of people speak the same way and have been for years?
At my favorite hangouts in Long Xuyen, the Vietnamese flows like a lullaby – the tones roll up and down like waves and there’s not a harsh sound to be heard.
There are still plenty of situations when I converse with southern-accented folks, but down in the Delta that melodious accent is thick and ever present – it envelops you and seeps into your bones.