Evaluating standard English accents

While I was struggling to access this blog I used Facebook to let you know about the excellent chapter on attitudes to L2 accents by Stephanie Lindemann, Jason Litzenberg, and Nicholas Subtirelu (from Social dynamics in second language accent (2013, Levis & Moyer, eds). I quoted the authors …

“We argue that while negative attitudes to L2 pronunciation are common and in fact can be observed in many scholars’ insistence on a nativelike accent – a ‘standard’ accent, no less (e.g. Quirk, 1990) – a closer look at the research shows that such attitudes are not necessarily responses to nativelike phonological features per se, but are intimately connected to attitudes toward various social groups. Thus, we argue that negative attitudes toward L2 pronunciation should not be taken as a reason for greater focus on pronunciation teaching, or for insisting on first-language (L1) models, but rather as a reason to address the negative attitudes themselves.”

… and suggested that if there are serious consequences for discriminating against somebody because of their religion or the colour of their skin, then there should be equally serious consequences if the discrimination stems from their accent. One FB friend agreed but wondered how we could demonstrate that accent was being discriminated against, which is a fair point, but as I’m not a lawyer, I can’t really answer. Presumably, though, that’s what lawyers are paid to do.

But the business of thinking about attitudes to accents reminded me of a New Zealand website where listeners attitudes to four different native-speaker accents of English are given. To quote from the website itself (http://www.otago.ac.nz/anthropology/Linguistic/Accents.html), Evaluating English Accents WorldWide is

the first extensive project to investigate current attitudes and evaluations of the various “standard” accents of English over a wide area of the world. We attempt to ascertain and analyse the current status and attributes associated with middle-of-the-road American (Inland Northern), English (Near-RP), and general Australian and New Zealand accents.

The results make fascinating reading as listeners from all over the world, native and non-native speakers, evaluate male and female versions of the four accents on traits such as status, power or solidarity. Go to http://www.otago.ac.nz/anthropology/Linguistic/Results/Swed.html and have a look for yourself. Here, by way of a taster, is what the Swedes thought. Shame really. I really like the New Zealand accent.

Evaluating English Accents Worldwide

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