learning to speak "standard"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 28 21:02:35 UTC 2008

The poor guy! He must feel the way I feel about "ackin uh nigguh" in
front of white folk! If I wasn't sitting here, comfortably invisible
at home, I would never be able to be relaxed and my real self on the
board. If I were with y'all in the flesh, I couldn't  act any way but
"standard," except *perhaps* with Larry and the two Geoffs, whom I've
known for years, but haven't seen in years.

Unfortunately, I have nothing to offer beyond what arnold has
suggested. Years ago, I knew a speech therapist who had gone into
linguistics. She met my roommate and, as soon as it was discreetly
possible, she told me that he had a lateral lisp, familiar to all as
the distinctive feature of the speech of Daffy Duck. I was much
impressed, since I hadn't, and still haven't, heard anything
Daffy-like in my friend's speech. So, either (some) speech therapists
are really very good or she was just jiving me.

In my case, I had plenty of clues at a very early age that I didn't
talk "proper" and was lucky enough to be able to do something about
it. So, not only do I not sound like a black East Texan, I *can't*
sound like one, having avoided that style of speech all of my life. I
can give examples, but I can't conversate.

Because there are so few black Catholics, only about 700,000 in the
'Forties, *all* of my teachers have been white, so that, even in my
all-black grade school, I had the example of my teachers to follow.
But I never understood the point that Sister Claire Marie was trying
to make WRT "Ten" versus "tin." She may as well have been trying to
make us distinguish between "leak" and "leek."

A difference that makes no difference is no difference.


On 2/28/08, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: learning to speak "standard"
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Feb 28, 2008, at 7:30 AM, Ron Butters wrote, in response to:
>  In a message dated 2/27/08 10:53:07 PM, hwgray at GMAIL.COM writes:
>  > The claim that mastering standard English as a teenager is a struggle
>  > is the one that's unreal. All that's necessary is the motivation and
>  > the opportunity,
> RB:
>  > Motivation is a tricky thing, as we know from the earliest
>  > sociolinguistic
>  > studies (as well as from experience). Among adolescents, the choice
>  > can mean
>  > that one opts for being (or is psychologically driven to being) a
>  > "lame" in the
>  > classical Labovian sense. And there are things that are below the
>  > level of
> > consciousness, too...
>  [anecdotes follow]
>  let me throw sexual orientation into the mix.  i've been corresponding
>  with a college student who describes himself as tortured by his gay
>  voice (so he's certainly motivated to learn to "talk straight"), and
>  who asked about speech therapists in his area, or even (omigod)
>  surgery.  i explained that there was almost surely no anatomical
>  source for his speech style, and that perhaps -- big perhaps --
>  therapists who dealt with "accent reduction" might be helpful.  (i
>  also forwarded to him a piece by ben munson, at umn, on pathology vs.
>  social indexing, written for speech-language-pathology folks rather
>  than for the general public.)
>  does anyone here know anything about accent reduction programs?  are
>  they, or at least some of them, effective in teaching speakers of
>  english as a foreign language to reduce their foreign accents, or in
>  teaching native speakers to code-switch?
>  arnold, who knows almost nothing about this world
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
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