Eastern Kentucky accent and UK accents

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Fri Dec 6 16:41:04 UTC 2002

But recall my comments on the difficulty of acquiring a second
dialect/accent past adolescence, for which there is considerable research
evidence.  However, that said, some accommodation may be made, certainly in
lexicon, somewhat less in grammar (as in giving up "needs washed" in favor
of "needs to be washed" or "needs washing"--not at all easy for native
users of the first form), and maybe to at least a "comprehensible" degree
in pronunciation (as Spencer suggested).

Hiring practices are a toughie.  Our ESL program refused, until just a few
years ago, to hire anyone but native American English speakers of a
"general" Northern/Midwestern accent--no Brits need apply!  The first
outsider they hired was a Malaysian English speaker with a long history of
EFL teaching and a semi-British English accent; the next two were actual
Brits (one RP-ish and the other resolutely not); another was a Scotsman who
reluctantly used SBE in the classroom but protested its "forced" spread
around the world; and now it has hired a Bulgarian guy whose English is
closer to AmEng than BritEng but who clearly has a NNS accent.  And in
between, it has finally hired several Southern and South Midland
Americans.  But one TA commented just the other day that the Southern
Alabama TA last year "changed" her speech for the sake of her ESL
students--not at all true, in my hearing, but testimony to the power of the
prescriptivist myth that even twists listeners' perceptions of their own
colleagues' speech!

On attitudes:  One of the British teachers in our ESL program did a
subjective reaction test (using taped voices but no other identifiers) of
ESL students for my Sociolinguistics class and found that "very
comprehensible" was the key factor; it happened to correlate positively
with another Brit voice, but written comments said "she talked slow,"
"repeated and rephrased often," "used varied intonation patterns,"
etc.  "Pleasant," "cultivated," "highly educated-sounding," etc. ranged all
over the various voices.  She interpreted this as common sense; training in
HOW to talk with new listeners (whether NNSs or others unfamiliar with the
local or national speech) is the critical factor.  My grad students
jokingly call me Road Runner because of my fast Minnesota speech, but I
know how to adjust when I have non-natives in the class!  I'd suggest the
same approach to Stephani and others.

Frank, perhaps you could forward this to Patrick Hanks, who's obviously had
experience in this area too.  (But the Everly Brothers?!)

Beverly Olson Flanigan
Associate Professor of Linguistics
Ohio University
Athens, OH  45701

At 07:37 AM 12/6/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>The following from Patrick Hanks is forwarded to the ADS-L at his request:
>As a Brit, I have no idea what an Eastern Kentucky accent sounds like. (Is
>it like the Everly Brothers? if so, that's a prestige accent where I come
>from.)   Anyway, British English is rich in accent differences, so my
>comments may be of interest.
>I think there are two quite different notions buried in Stephani's protest:
>"norm" and "correctness". The question is, was Stephani's professor
>criticizing her accent on pragmatic grounds of deviation from widely
>accepted norms (i.e. was he trying to help her with job-hunting in places
>where Kentucky English is not understood or recognized) or was he just
>being a pointless pedant trying to impose his own notion of correctness on
>her Eastern Kentucky speech?  The distinction is crucial.
>What he might have added was, "....if you want to teach English outside
>Eastern Kentucky."
>Here's a relevant cautionary tale:
>A couple of decades ago, in Sweden, I learned more about English-language
>teaching techniques from Jim, a Scottish colleague, than from anyone else
>I've ever met.  His knowledge of pedagogical techniques was profoundly
>illuminating, and he shared his expertise generously. He spoke a rich and
>expressive form of Glaswegian English.  Unfortunately, his Glaswegian
>accent was so strong that the course participants (including businessmen,
>diplomats, and members of the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments) could
>hardly understand a word he said. Cruelly, he got fired, while I, with my
>southern British English accent, got all the credit for what he had taught
>me, because my accent conformed to what the students had been led to
>expect.  Stephani, do you want to end up like Jim, or can you bear to learn
>"code switching"? Many Brits have one code of English for the home and
>another for the workplace.  After all, if you applied for a job in Germany,
>you might be expected to be competent in German, and this would in no way
>be an attack on your heritage as a speaker of Eastern Kentucky English.
>I mentioned the "Jim" experience (which troubled me) to John Spencer,
>Professor of English at Leeds University (now Emeritus). He had an
>interesting comment.  He said that he encouraged his students, who were
>from West and South Africa, Austria, Eastern Europe, etc., etc. to develop
>an accent that would combine local identifiability with international
>comprehensibility. Ha! Easier said than done!  Anyway, John Spencer
>actively discouraged "parrots" from sounding like Old Etonians.  You see, a
>student with a good ear can sometimes produce perfect RP or General
>American (it often happens), parrot-fashion, and this too can be a
>disadvantage, because it generates false expections. The interlocutor is
>led to expect that such a student's English comprehension will be as good
>as their spoken English production.  So then the poor parrot gets lost, and
>cannot bring themself to admit their comprehension failure.
>[I hope you all enjoyed "themself:" in that last sentence  -- it is highly
>relevant to "notions of correctness".]
>In short, I think that, on the limited evidence before us, Stephani writes
>so punchily that I doubt she will ever be short of a job for long -- though
>it may not be an English teaching job, or at any rate not in parts of the
>English-speaking world that are far distant from Eastern Kentucky, like New
>York or Nigeria. If she expects New Yorkers and Nigerians to adjust to a
>highly distinctive regional norm, she's on a hiding to nothing.  (Is "a
>hiding to nothing" a British regionalism? Oh,
>I'm. sorry....)
>Code switching is an acquired skill. 500 years ago people like Erasmus did
>it regularly between Dutch and medieval Latin; there's nothing bad about
>asking Stephani to join those who can do it between General American
>English and Eastern Kentucky English.  It's not a matter of asking her to
>give up something; it's a matter of proposing to her that she should
>acquire an additional communicative code for outside Easten Kentucky.
>Patrick Hanks
>Editor, Dictionary of American Family Names (forthcoming);
>Lecturer, Department of Computer Science, Brandeis University;
>Visiting Professor, Department of Informatics, Masaryk University, Brno,
>Czech Republic;
>Formerly Chief Editor, Oxford Current English Dictionaries;
>Formerly Chief Editor, English Dictionaries, HarperCollins Publishers;
>Formerly Visiting Scientist, AT&T Bell Laboratories;
>Formerly Research Fellow, University of Birmingham, England;
>Formerly Teacher of English for International Purposes, Furudals Bruk
>Kurscentrum, Sweden;
>Formerly British Council Course Organizer, In-Service Teacher Training,
>Universities of Lodz and Katowice, Poland;
>etc., etc.
>[I thought it might be good to throw in a few of my credentials here,
>although the current ones are least relevant]

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