attitudes toward native English varieties

Miriam E Ebsworth mee1 at
Thu Apr 7 16:49:53 UTC 2005

Hi all,

I can't resist joining the conversation. As a native of Brooklyn New
York from a working class background who happens to be married to a
native of Wales who had a Welsh speaking father and English mother and
who moved back and forth between the Welsh/English border multiple
times, I feel qualified to respond.

A native Yiddish speaker (I don't think I ever moved beyond a
not-yet-ready-for-prime-time childhood version), I grew up speaking a
working class New York variety of English with ethnic flavor.
This caused me to fail the speech test at Brooklyn College- all I had to
do was read a paragraph in English! On to remedial speech I went.

My husband's accent growing up was never Welsh enough or English enough
depending on which side of the border he moved to. (And then there's his
Welsh which is in similar shape to my Yiddish....)

Anyway, as an adult I moved "overseas" across the Hudson River to New
Jersey, where I live just beyond the NY Metropolitan area dialect
boundary- it's a whole different world out here, believe me.

So certainly there are American perceptions of standard and non-standard
accents, all of which come with lexical, pragmatic, and in some cases
major syntactic and rhetorical differences. But attitudes in the US are
hardly monolithic. There are regional standards which are somewhat
diffuse but which have clear representative speakers, individuals who
are bi- or multi-dialectal, and the usual acrolect to basilect continuum.

Along with this are attitudes that privilege Network English over all
else (educated mid-western), and emotional responses associated with
difference varieties that are well documented in research and the media.
We have impresions about speakers with foreign accents (of the
interlanguage kind) and think French accents are cultured and sexy.
There are others that evoke different responses. In the academy, the
challenge of understanding very smart non-native teaching assistants
does indeed combine issues of language, culture and pedagogy.

Americans also have feelings about non-authentic standard accents (I
have long ago given up trying to acquire one), and associate local
standard and non-standard accented English with different qualities
depending on the speaker, hearer, and local vs. global community norms.
Along with many others, I have done several data-based matched-guise
studies on attitudes towards some American English varieties that are
consistent with this impression.

To complicate matters further there's the issue of the many NIVE's of
English speakers living in the NY area. Attitudes differ greatly among
speakers and listeners. And many young people worldwide appear to be
enthralled with the Hip Hop culture.

The major difference I've experienced on either side of the pond- both
sides have serious attitudes associated with the accents of various
native and non-native English speakers (to say nothing of foreign
accents) is that social class boundaries in the US appear a bit more
permeable- up to a point.

Your thoughts?

Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth, Ph.D.
Director of Doctoral Programs in Multilingual Multicultural Studies
New York University

----- Original Message -----
From: Anthea Fraser Gupta <A.F.Gupta at>
Date: Thursday, April 7, 2005 10:56 am
Subject: RE: foreign instructors

> > On the question about ordinary Americans talking about their
> > accents--yes, stigmatized accents (New York, southern) are
> > discussed, mocked, ridiculed. Others not so much...  But the
> > idea that Brits are more tolerant is new to me--we get the
> > impression that there's a lot more fussing out class
> > accents--like the fact that Mrs. Thatcher was hated (?) for
> > her "fake" Oxbridge accent, which she hadn't acquired rightfully.
> Well, Mrs T was loved by some and hated by some. There was a lot of
> mockery for her accent which was indeed seen as fake genteel (I don't
> think it was perceived as Oxbridge).
> I think it's complicated in the UK and, my IMPRESSION (how would one
> demonstrate this scientifically?) is that it's less monolithic than
> theUS.
> Posh accents (like the queen's) get made fun of a lot (in cartoons the
> queen is usually portrayed as saying 'ay' and 'may' not 'I' and
> 'my' and
> 'het' not 'hat'). In studies of stereotypes people consistently
> dislikeBirmingham accents, think London accents make people sound
> dishonest,and think people from Newcastle are warm (etc.).  There
> is a tremendous
> amount of fussing about accents and people are placed very
> precisely in
> social and geographical space: people who speak like what they are not
> are problematised. But because people do come from different social
> andgeographical spaces not everyone shares the same prejudicial
> systems, so
> everyone gets to look down on someone else.
> I just have this feeling there's a single attitude system in the US
> andmultiple ones in the UK.
> Anthea
> *     *     *     *     *
> Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
> School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
> <>
> NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at
> *     *     *     *     *

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