What does ACCENT mean in American English?

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Fri Sep 14 17:48:03 UTC 2001

In a message dated 9/14/2001 12:17:44 PM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

<< >>"The only reason I am dropping the class is because of the teacher. I
>  >don't like her accent."
>  >
The only way I can take the above is the phonological one; I can't
imagine in being used anywhere I've lived to refer to the content,
focus, or direction of the course "she" teaches.


Think again, Larry, about what people do in actual conversations!

particular emphasis: _the accent is on participation_."

I don't have time to do a web search, but I'd guess one could find examples
of this pretty easily. I will grant you that general ACCENT is not used this
way without some explicitly defining context. However, as I'm sure Larry
knows (!), a snippet of conversation divorced from the rest of the
conversation may well divorce the snippet from the explicitly defining
context that was implicitly understood by the participants in the

I'd even go farther and suggest that, even if this sense of ACCENT had not
been explicitly defined by the parties in the conversation, the speaker could
well have assumed that it was implicit (if she believed that her friend would
not believe that mere pronunciation would drive her away from a class).

I'd even go farther than that and suggest that, given that the above
definition of ACCENT is common to native speakers of American English, the
speaker was at worst making a very low-level performance error such as is
frequently common in  actual conversation, i.e., using a word in one of its
"marked" senses in a context where it would be most likely to be construed in
its unmarked or default sense.

Finally, I'm not totally sure that for anyone other than a linguist ACCENT is
so strongly associated with 'pronunciation' as its default meaning.

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