Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at leeds.ac.uk
Sun Jun 26 13:33:00 UTC 2005

Hal (and others) have made some interesting points. I do agree that intelligibility is multifactorial. I don't agree with all the recommendations made in Jenkins's book (for example she recommends that all learners should make a distinction between long and short vowels, yet many accents of English do not make such a distinction), but I do agree with her on stress. She feels that a lot of reduction (such as found to an extreme in RP) creates difficulties for comprehension in speakers of other accents, while a more syllable timed rhythm and full vowels doesn't create so many problems.  In those dialects that have a big difference between stressed and unstressed syllables, a stress shift will presumably cause more angst than it will in speakers who speak dialects with a small difference between stressed and unstressed syllables. 
And non-rhotic accents typically create more problems of comprehension for speakers of rhotic accents than vice versa (perhaps consonants are more salient than vowels).
I'm horrified at the idea that speech therapy is used to change accent -- this is a job for an elocutionist, not a speech therapist, surely, as Ron said. And, given the diversity of accents of English, should we be talking about 'non-standard accents'? I know that people do this but it makes no sense to think that (for example) Hal becomes non-standard when he goes to Washington State, or India, or wherever. I most certainly don't regard myself as having a 'non-standard accent', because I don't think there is/are (a) standard accents of English (tho I do think there are accents with more and less prestige, and I do thing there are standard ways of pronouncing individual words). I treat 'Standard English' perfomatively -- to me it's something we are required to do in certain contexts of usage and on which we accept correction. This doesn't (at least in the UK and I think not in the US either, judging from the accent range of public figures) happen with accent. We don't accept correction on how we pronounce the vowel of 'cat' or 'kate', for example, and we change to improve intelligibility in a situation where we get negative feedback., rather than because we are 'wrong'.

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