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Review of  Issues of Accents in English

Reviewer: Solveigh Wherrity Granath
Book Title: Issues of Accents in English
Book Author: Ewa Waniek-Klimczak
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.1355

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EDITOR: Waniek-Klimczak, Ewa
TITLE: Issues in Accents of English
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2008

Solveig Granath, Department of English, Karlstad University, Sweden

Issues in Accents of English will be of particular interest to applied
linguists. The rise of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), together with the fact
that native speakers of English no longer constitute the majority of English
speakers in the world, has made speaker accent in the ESL/EFL language classroom
a controversial question. What accent should serve as a reference accent? Is it
even desirable to have a reference accent in this age of Global English? The
most radical suggestion to date was made by Jenkins (2000), who proposed
simplified pronunciation standards for International English, known as the
Lingua Franca Core (LFC). Ideally, having a simplified accent that all speakers
of English might accommodate to would greatly enhance intelligibility in
intercultural communication. Yet studies of ELF pronunciation today indicate
that a number of regional ELF dialects are developing, with the result that the
ELF of Europe may become very different from the ELF of East Asia (see Svartvik
& Leech 2006:235). The issues raised in the present book are thus important, and
research in this area is definitely called for.

The book takes a comprehensive approach to native and non-native accents of
English, and according to the editor's preface, ''its main focus is not on
differences, but similarities caused by the central feature of accents:
variability'' (p. vii). The volume is divided into three parts whose topics are:
I. Production and perception, II. Reference accents, and III. Pronunciation
teaching. Each part contains 6-8 papers.

Part One, 'Production and perception', consists of eight papers which have in
common that they apply acoustic and auditory methods. Una Cunningham, in a paper
entitled ''Acoustic variability in the production of English vowels by native and
non-native speakers'', investigates the production of vowel phonemes in native
(Hiberno-English, RP, General American) and non-native (Swedish, Vietnamese)
speakers and concludes that the amount of variability is very individual for
speakers in both groups, but that non-native speakers show less variability the
more proficient they become. The second paper, by Adrian Leemann, ''Vowel quality
of Swiss EFL speakers'' also looks at foreign learners' pronunciation of vowels,
in this case native speakers of Swiss German dialects, and uses RP and General
American as reference accents for comparison. Informants were recorded and were
also asked to fill out a questionnaire to determine what their model for
pronunciation was. Leemann found significant differences between the Swiss
students and native speakers in all the vowel sounds studied, with Swiss
articulation being more extreme (more front/back/high/low) than the model
accents. He also found that informants who were exposed to articulatory training
became more native-like in their pronunciation of the target vowels. The third
paper, ''Poles apart: Polish students of English excel in casual speech
perception'' by Linda Shockey, is a study of informants' perception of one
sentence, spoken by a British woman in a highly reduced manner and presented in
a gated fashion (20 gates of 30 msec, with three seconds between each stimulus)
where informants were asked to write down what they heard after each stimulus.
There were four groups of informants: native speakers of English, Greek students
who had studied an average of three years in England, Polish students with a
similar background, and Polish students who lived in Poland. Not surprisingly,
native speakers scored the highest. They were followed by Polish students from
both sets, with Greek students scoring lower than the other three groups.
Shockey suggests that this might be explained by an abstract model of speech
perception with affinities to Motor Theory: the reason that Poles are better
than Greeks at understanding reduced sound sequences is because they have
complex syllable structures in their own language, and are able to predict what
simplifications can be expected, whereas Greek students lack this ability due to
Greek's simpler syllable structure.

The fourth paper, ''Cross-linguistic priming on vowel duration and delayed
plosion in Polish-English bilinguals'' by Arkadiusz Rojczyk, starts out from the
assumption that the sound systems of the two languages spoken by bilinguals may
be activated at the same time and lead to L2 having an impact on pronunciation
in L1. Two experiments were designed, the first of which aimed to see whether
the vowel duration contrast found in English words with final voiced and
voiceless stops would be transferred to Polish, where length does not vary to
the same extent, and the second which tested whether delayed plosion for
same-place stops in two consecutive words in English (as in lam/p/ /p/ost) would
be transferred to Polish (in English, the first of these stops is unreleased,
whereas Polish releases the first stop in same-place stop sequences). Results
pointed in different directions, with one of the experimental situations
(priming by English words ending in voiced stops) showing statistically
significant results for an influence of the L2 prime on pronunciation in L1,
while the other priming situations appeared to have no such impact. The fifth
paper in Part One, ''Stress-dependent syllable duration variability in Polish
learners' and native British English pronunciation'' by Andrzej Porzuczek, treats
the problems that speakers of a syllable-timed language, in this case Polish,
have varying vowel duration in strongly stressed and unstressed syllables in
English, which is a stress-timed language. The results indicate that the
greatest discrepancies between Polish and English speakers occur in the weakest
and strongest syllables in the sentence. In both cases, the vowel duration of
Polish speakers (in msec) is longer than that of native British speakers of
English. The results show that there is a lot of individual variation in both
groups of speakers, however.

The sixth paper turns from segmental to suprasegmental issues. Monika
Zieba-Plebankiewicz's article, ''Peak alignment in L2 intonation'', starts out
from data which indicate that peak timing occurs earlier in Polish than in
English and that transfer of Polish peak timing patterns will lead to a
perceived foreign accent for Polish people when they speak English.
Zieba-Plebankiewicz therefore devised an experiment with the aim of determining
whether L2 peak alignment could be acquired. Two groups of 10 students were
included; one consisted of upper-intermediate learners and one of advanced
learners. Results show that both groups transferred L1 peak alignment into their
L2, although the advanced group performed closer to native speaker peak
alignment than the upper-intermediate group. The author suggests that this may
be due to the advanced students being more proficient when it comes to vowel
quality, as that may compensate for non-native-like peak alignment. The next
paper, David Levey's ''The changing face of Gibraltarian English: Th-fronting on
the Rock'' looks at accent from a completely different perspective. This chapter
presents findings from a large fieldwork study on the language of young people
in Gibraltar. As English is becoming the preferred language among the younger
generations (to the detriment of Spanish), it appears that th-fronting (i.e. the
replacing of dental fricatives with labio-dental fricatives, so that 'three' is
pronounced as 'free' etc.) occurs with surprising frequency among young
speakers, and more often among pre-adolescents than teenagers (results are based
on approximately 40 informants in each group). It appears that th-fronting is a
very recent phenomenon in Gibraltar. As it is not found among adult speakers of
English there, the issue is what the source of th-fronting may be. Levey
suggests that it is possible that it has spread from nonstandard British
varieties like Estuary English, either through direct contact (it may have been
picked up by youngsters when visiting Britain or be modeled on the speech of
British tourists in Gibraltar) or via satellite and cable television.
Interestingly, teachers were unaware of their students' th-fronting, and there
appeared to be no stigma attached to the pronunciation. The last paper in Part
One, ''Speech as a marker of social identity: Geordie English'' by Anna
Gralinska-Brawata is based on two radio interviews, one with former football
player Alan Shearer and one with the musician Sting, both of whom grew up in
Newcastle-upon-Tyne speaking with a Geordie accent. The speech of these two
celebrities is analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the author
concludes that their accents reflect their differing affinities with their
socio-cultural background: Alan Shearer, who identifies strongly with his
Tyneside origin, has many Geordie features in his accent; Sting, on the other
hand, who at an early stage wanted to distance himself from his cultural roots
and has made a conscious effort to do so in his speech, hardly retains any
traces at all of the Geordie sound patterns.

Part Two, called 'Reference accents', opens with a paper which discusses the
concept of the ''native speaker'': ''Looking for the ''real'' native speaker: The
perception of native and non-native English accents by non-native speakers of
English'' by Bettina Beinhoff. The chapter describes two experiments designed to
take a closer look at factors that might influence the perception of
''native-speakerness''. In the first experiment, listener groups rated five
accents on a 7-point scale as to how native-like they perceived them to be.
Recordings from three native speakers (Southern British English, General
American, Caribbean English) and two non-native speakers (Greek and German) were
used as speech stimuli. Here, one of the native speaker accents (Caribbean
English) received the lowest ratings, in fact lower than the two non-native
speaker accents. The author concludes that when we talk about the ''native
speaker'', what we have in mind is ''standard pronunciation'' (such as RP or
General American) rather than regional native speaker accents. In the second
experiment, the level of ''accentedness'' of non-native speakers of German and
Greek were rated by native and non-native speakers, together with stimuli from
speakers with a Scottish and a Southern British accent. Again, the Southern
British accent received higher ratings as to ''nativeness'' than the Scottish
accent, which supports the findings of the first experiment, i.e. that it is the
concept of standard English that serves as a model of nativeness for native as
well as non-native speakers. The next paper in this part, ''The blind spots of
Jenkins's Lingua Franca'' by Rias van den Doel, is a critical evaluation of
Jenkins (2000) and her suggested simplified English pronunciation which she
calls ''the Lingua Franca Core'' (LFC). Van den Doel points out that Jenkins does
not seem to recognize that there is a distinction between a native-like target
(unattainable for most learners) and a native-like model (which provides the
learners with a reference point) and that there is no empirical evidence on how
intelligibility is affected by the simplified pronunciation suggested by
Jenkins. He believes that learners may well want to keep the native speaker
model, and for want of a better term, van den Doel refers to this model as
''Native English as a Lingua Franca'' (NELF). The third paper in Part Two returns
to the topic of non-native speaker attitudes to regional varieties of English.
Erzsebet Balogh, in her paper ''Hungarian student language attitudes towards
speakers of regional American English Accent varieties'' presents results of an
investigation, modeled on Lambert (1967), in which 7 American and 75 Hungarian
students rated speakers of four regional American accents (from Georgia,
Wisconsin, Arkansas and Michigan, respectively) in terms of ten character traits
(intelligence, honesty etc.). Her results corroborated those of a previous study
by Alford & Strother (1990); i.e., non-native speakers rank regional accents
more positively than native speakers do.

Wlodzimierz Sobkowiak's paper ''British and American accents in LDOCE4 CD-ROM
pronunciation search'' is an examination of electronic tools that learners can
use to find out about pronunciation differences in American and British English.
More specifically, Sobkowiak looks at what information is easily available on
the web, and combines this with how learners can retrieve information from the
CD-ROM which accompanies the fourth edition of the _Longman Dictionary of
Contemporary English_ (LDOCE4). A Google query served as the starting point of
the study, and Wikipedia came up on top of the list. Sobkowiak used the section
on ''accent'' in the Wikipedia article to formulate queries that would yield
examples of words with differing pronunciation in the two varieties in e-LDOCE4.
Although a few of these yielded reliable results, in most cases a number of
erroneous hits turned up. The author concludes that dictionary makers are less
concerned with phonetics than with other aspects of lexicography and suggests
that learners would greatly benefit from a pedagogical dictionary where the
phonological interface was designed in a user-friendly way. In the fifth paper
in Part Two, ''Unreduced vowels and non-primary stress in British and American
English'' by Irina Sklema-Litwin the author compares two rule-based approaches to
non-primary stress, namely the generative and the metrical approach. She
evaluates these approaches by examining dialect variation when it comes to vowel
sounds in syllables with non-primary stress, as for instance in the last
syllable in _lexicon_, where the vowel is reduced in British English but not in
American English. Her conclusion is that both theories fail to account for cases
where vowel reduction does not take place. The final paper in this part, Tomasz
Ciszewski's ''The stem-suffix conflict? The sources of variability in -ate
formations'' analyzes potential sources of stress variability in RP and General
American for words ending in -ate. His database consists of 858 verbal, nominal
and adjective formations, taken from the CD-ROM version of the English
Pronouncing Dictionary. His results suggest that there is a relation between the
length (in syllables) of an -ate formation and the regularity of its stress
pattern. The second part of Ciszewski's paper is a theoretical discussion, where
the author compares and contrasts Optimality Theory and Government Phonology. He
finds that although both can be used to describe the attested stress patterns,
GP has the upper hand in that it is more unifying and the government relations
that hold between various metrical structures can be further extended to
syntactic structures.

Part Three, 'Pronunciation Teaching', consists of seven papers. Jolanta
Szpyra-Kozlowska provides a survey on work done in the area of phonodidactics in
Poland in her paper ''English pronunciation pedagogy in Poland - Achievements,
failures and future prospects''. Despite a lot of research in the area, the link
between research and pedagogical practice is still missing, and Szpyra-Kozlowska
is forced to conclude that pronunciation is a largely neglected area at all
levels of language education in Poland. Two studies, one from 2000 and one from
2007, reveal that the amount of time devoted to pronunciation in the classroom
decreased over time. Particularly striking was the decrease in the time devoted
to teaching phonetic transcription. The paper by Galina M. Vishnevskaya,
''Foreign accent: Phonetic and communication hazards'' is an investigation of
Russian and American university students' attitudes to foreign accents; results
show that Russian students react more negatively to accented speech than
American students, whereas both informant groups were more positive to speakers
with less heavy accents. The third paper, ''Short course focus on
intelligibility: What type of progress is possible?'' by Alice Henderson,
describes an exploratory study whose aim it is to determine what phonological
features to teach in a course for applied linguists (researchers) at a French
university to make it possible for them to participate more effectively in the
international research community. Five participants (two native speakers of
French, one of Bulgarian, one of Japanese and one of Greek) were recorded before
and after the course in two experimental modes, i.e. prepared speech and
spontaneous speech. The focus was on suprasegmentals (speech rate, pace and word
stress), and the results showed some improvement over time, but also that word
stress habits may be the most difficult to modify. Pace was another problem, as
non-native speech may be delivered at a rate too fast for even native speakers
to understand.

Marta Nowacka, in her paper ''How far is ''Hannover'' from ''hangover''?: Perception
of English consonants by Polish students of English departments'' attempts to
establish a rank order of difficulty in Polish students' comprehension and
auditory discrimination of nine consonant sounds. This was tested by means of a
minimal pair test, where words were presented in sentences that did not contain
any hints as to the meaning of the word. Sounds occurred in different word
positions (initial, medial, final) and in clusters. Results showed that
consonantal contrasts with dental fricatives were the most difficult, and that
minimal pairs which differ in voicing (e.g. /s, z/) or manner of articulation
(e.g. voiceless dental fricative vs. voiceless stop) appeared to be perceptively
easier than those where the place of articulation is the only distinguishing
feature. The fifth paper in Part III, Miroslaw Pawlak's ''Another look at the use
of pronunciation learning strategies: An advanced learner's perspective'',
presents parts of a large-scale research project whose aim is to identify,
describe, classify and evaluate the pronunciation learning strategies used by
advanced learners of English. Data were collected by means of questionnaires,
and the informants were 106 first year Polish university students of English. In
summary, it appeared that the majority of students to a great extent depended on
their teachers for practicing pronunciation; they displayed little learner
autonomy in this area.

Iwona Czyzak, Slawomir Stasiak and Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska take a closer look
at the 'Joseph Conrad phenomenon' (i.e. a special difficulty of acquiring L2
pronunciation despite good proficiency in other areas) in their paper ''English
pronunciation clinic - The case of low phonetic achievers''. Six Polish students
with extremely poor pronunciation were involved in their project. After an
introductory diagnostic part, in which students' background variables were
identified, they underwent one-to-one training sessions during a three-month
period in order to remedy the most persistent pronunciation errors. All students
improved their English pronunciation markedly in the course of the experiment,
which the authors conclude would have been impossible to achieve in an ordinary
classroom situation. Finally, ''English in NATO - NATO English?'' by Agnieszka
Bryla is a summary of a larger project on the English used in NATO. After a
brief overview of features of English used in NATO, which according to the
author makes it reasonable to claim that NATO English should be considered a
separate variety of English, Bryla goes on to examine how pronunciation is dealt
with in teaching materials and language exams. Her conclusion is that relatively
little time is devoted to pronunciation, and that despite the fact that RP is
used as a model of instruction, Polish soldiers tend to speak with a
recognizable foreign accent.

As noted in the introduction, the topic of the present book - issues relating to
accent in English - is an area where research is called for in the light of the
rapid spread of English as a global language in the past few decades.
Nevertheless, reading the articles in the present volume is made difficult by
the extremely sloppy editing. There are numerous spelling errors that one would
assume a spell-checker would have caught, e.g. _loose_ (instead of _lose_) in
several places, e.g. p. 121, _payed_ (instead of _paid_), p. 179; _voice-tamber_
(p. 244) instead of _timbre_; _occassions_, p. 348; _requierements_, p. 354,
_ineract_, p. 355, _motiviating_, _sodiers_, _cetification_ (all three in the
first paragraph on p. 356). Sometimes a spelling error has more serious
consequences for the meaning than those just mentioned, as when _dairy_
mistakenly comes out as _diary_: 'His family was never poor and his father's
steady job led to him owning a small diary in later yearsî, p. 113. In a couple
of places there are repeated words, e.g. 'contact occurs via two or three,
half-hour tutorials tutorialsî, p. 257, another thing that spell checkers
usually catch. Such typos, though annoying, are perhaps on the whole less
disturbing than mistakes in grammar and lexicon. Articles constitute a major
problem (probably due to the fact that many of the authors have a Slavic
language as their mother tongue), as do prepositions ('[a]n example _for_ thisî
rather than 'an example _of_ thisî, p. 151; 'we might be tempted to agree _upon_
using the term 'unstressedî, p. 187; 'British phoneticians have contributed a
lot _into_ the teaching of English intonation to ëoverseas students'î, p. 242;
'the results obtained _by_ the first six consonants in Task 1î (with _by_ rather
than _for_), p. 288). On the whole, the bad editing detracts from the overall
readability of the texts.

In a book on phonetics and phonology, it is of course imperative that phonetic
symbols and other diacritics are correctly rendered. It is inexplicable how in
the second paper (by Adrian Leemann) all phonetic symbols come out as strings of
digits, letters and punctuation marks in the text, so that a typical sentence
reads ''At a first glance it is obvious that the SE vowels 1W1.1w<1.1C<1. and
''1K1'' are farther away from the target vowel than the SE vowels
1k<1.1G1.151.1}1.1X1.'' (p. 24). It is sometimes possible to figure out what
sounds these strings represent by looking at the figures, where the phonetic
symbols are correctly rendered, but even so, the text is all but unreadable. In
Ciszewksi's paper on stress placement, stress markers are in the wrong place,
not just once but several times. For instance, on p. 198, two examples of
disyllabic nouns and adjectives with the main stress on -ate are rendered as
_'debate_ (RP) and _'ornate_ (General American).

Apart from the bad editing - and some of the articles admittedly suffer less
from this than others - the articles in the volume are of very uneven quality.
Some are carefully researched and present new insights, e.g. Levey's article
about what appears to be on-going pronunciation changes in the younger
generation in the Gibraltar, and Beinhoff's paper, which shows that the general
concept of ''native speaker'' actually includes only speakers of standard
varieties to the detriment of regional varieties. Van den Doel's criticism of
Jenkins (2000) raises issues which are important to discuss. Szpyra-Kozlowska's
survey of Polish research on pronunciation issues shows the value of
longitudinal studies for teaching pedagogy. Unfortunately, many of the other
papers appear to have been written in haste and to be in need of more work
before being accepted for publication. There is no mention in the introduction
of how the selection process was carried out, but it is clear that there should
have been a more stringent peer review.

Alford, Randall L. & Judith B. Strother (1990) Attitudes of native and nonnative
speakers toward selected regional accents of U.S. English. TESOL Quarterly
24(3), 479-495.

Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The phonology of English as an international language:
New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lambert, Wallace E. (1967) A social psychology of bilingualism. Journal of
Social Issues 23, 91-109.

Svartvik, Jan & Geoffrey Leech (2006) English: One tongue, many voices.
Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Solveig Granath is professor of English linguistics at Karlstad University, Sweden. Her research focus is on English syntax and applied linguistics.

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