LINGUIST List 3.576

Wed 15 Jul 1992

Disc: Accents in the Classroom

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Barbara.Abbott", 3.566 Accents in the Classroom
  2. John Cowan, Re: 3.563 Summary: Accents in Classroom
  3. David Powers, Re: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom

Message 1: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom

Date: Tue, 14 Jul 92 11:39 EDT
From: "Barbara.Abbott" <>
Subject: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom

I believe Marianna di Paolo did some work in Utah a few years ago in
response to complaints about TA's with foreign accents, and found that
the problem was actually not comprehensibility but prejudice. I don't
know how she determined that, but it would be good if someone in that
area came up with a good way to do it.
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Message 2: Re: 3.563 Summary: Accents in Classroom

Date: Tue, 14 Jul 92 13:03:59 EDRe: 3.563 Summary: Accents in Classroom
From: John Cowan <>
Subject: Re: 3.563 Summary: Accents in Classroom

Victor Raskin quotes:

> On the other hand, I ran into some reported cases of children who
> preserved the accents of their immigrant parents, but these were
> unusual cases of socially isolated children. For example, in the
> clinical literature I found a case of an 8 year old who immigrated at
> 3, and still had "his father's accent". As he was psychoanalyzed (!)
> he lost his accent, spoke like his peers, and became able to mimic the
> accent at will. Buxbaum, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18, 279-289
> (1949)."

This seems to perhaps point to the related phenomenon of the person "with
no native language". I know of no formal studies of this kind of person,
but I can mention several examples. Henry Kissinger speaks (as everybody
knows) with a thick German accent, but he himself claims to speak German
with an American accent as well. This was also true of my mother (Marianne
Cowan), who immigrated from Germany to the U.S. at age 12, and spoke American
indistinguishably from a native except for minor differences in phonology --
most noticeable on the telephone or from a tape recording. Her German,
although both native and fluent, showed mildly American phonology!

On a more local level, my wife is also an "immigrant" -- from North Carolina
to New York City. NYC natives tag her as a Southerner, whereas her relatives
insist that she talks just like a Yankee.

--		...!uunet!cbmvax!snark!cowan
		e'osai ko sarji la lojban.
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Message 3: Re: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom

Date: Wed, 15 Jul 92 10:35:25 MERe: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom
From: David Powers <>
Subject: Re: 3.566 Accents in the Classroom

> From:
> Subject: 3.562 Accents: LINGUIST in the news
> Am I the only one who believes that kids can quite easily
> pick up the pronunciations of individual lexical items,
> especially learned words, from adults rather than from
> peers?

I believe this to be true - pronunciation of individual lexical items
will be learnt from adults as much as peers, particularly words
which may not be so frequently used by children at play.

However, mispronunciation of isolated words is quite different from
the systematic mispronunciation which we call accent.

But to give anecdotal evidence from my own experience, in relation
to Alexis' suggestion. As an avid reader from the age of two, I
encountered many words for the first time in books, and invented
my own pronunciation for some of them. Two case in point are
'misled' (which I took as being a past tense of a verb rhyming with
'thistle') and 'contents' (which I pronounced like the adjective
conTENT). In the latter case my father succeeded, with very great
difficulty, in training me out of the pronunciation. The former
error I still make - my awareness of the problem means that I
sometimes realize I have made the error and correct. Note that as
the past tense of the correct synonym of my 'misle', 'mislead',
I do use the correct pronunciation of 'misled'. However, in the
case of 'contents', I would always talk about a 'table of
conTENTS', etc.

Such mispronunciation/misreadings/misparsings COULD easily be
picked up from a non-native speaking teacher.

As a second point re the general discussion, my wife is here in
Germany an English teacher in an Inlingua language school - the
Inlingua charter, and method (Mother-tongue Direct Method),
requires the schools to employ native speakers of the language
concerned ONLY as teachers in those courses. As Australian
passport holders, we are bottom rung in terms of being able to get
jobs in Germany - only after any EEC citizens who would be capable
of doing it. But with the Inlingua qualification, this requirement
reduced to being only British and Irish citizens having

But in the application of this rule, accent is but one aspect -
mastery of the grammar is virtually impossible for a non-native
speaker. Even trained teachers of a language with years of
experience and years of living in the countries concerned don't
master all points of grammar and idiom, however could they get
in regard to accent.

Again we see this in our own (lack of mastery) of German and French.

But of course children have advantages over adults which make such
stringencies less necessary. Nonetheless I tend to be somewhat
sympathetic towards the petition.

And as for discrimination, I can't take any of the interesting jobs
I have seen in the US, because US citizenship is required.

All nationalism is discrimination!

David Powers
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