Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said

Ronald Kephart rkephart at unf.edu
Sat Jun 25 01:55:44 UTC 2005

At 4:36 PM -0400 6/24/05, Harold F. Schiffman wrote:

>...I think we need to develop tests that focus on both objective 
>issues (e.g. released final consonants) and subjective ones (racism, 
>xenophobia, whatever) and see what might come from this.

Hal, this turns the topic around a bit, but your excellent post 
reminded me of an incident here a few years back. I gave a talk in an 
anthropology class at the local community college. I talked about 
language, linguistic variation, and so on. One student in the class 
was a young man from West Africa- I forget the country.

A few weeks afterwards, I ran into this student on my own campus. He 
ran up saying he was so happy to find me. I asked why. He said he 
hoped I could recommend a good speech therapist for him. I asked why 
he thought he needed a speech therapist. He replied that his English 
teacher at the community college told him he needed to see one, 
because she had a hard time understanding him!  I told him that I 
didn't think he needed speech therapy, because he was perfectly 
understandable to me; his worried look evaporated.

Of course I know some may disagree, arguing that people who have 
strongly marked accents might benefit from speech therapy, but I in 
principle I am opposed unless there's a real pathology involved.

The one factor I can think of uniting my example with the thread 
topic is the power differential: American students with a foreign 
teacher; American teacher with foreign student. I wonder if this 
differential doesn't predispose the participants toward some kind of 
lopsided mutual intelligibility.


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