LINGUIST List 21.3342

Thu Aug 19 2010

Diss: Applied Ling/Socioling: Beinhoff: 'Attitudes of Non-Native ...'

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        1.    Bettina Beinhoff, Attitudes of Non-Native Speakers Towards Foreign Accents of English

Message 1: Attitudes of Non-Native Speakers Towards Foreign Accents of English
Date: 19-Aug-2010
From: Bettina Beinhoff <>
Subject: Attitudes of Non-Native Speakers Towards Foreign Accents of English
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Institution: University of Cambridge Program: Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2009

Author: Bettina Beinhoff

Dissertation Title: Attitudes of Non-Native Speakers Towards Foreign Accents of English

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director(s): Brechtje Post Henriette Hendriks

Dissertation Abstract:

The major aims of this thesis were to find out whether certain types of variation in the pronunciation of English can have a significant effect on if and how listeners identify with an accent, and whether this variation affects the development of certain attitudes towards the speaker.

This thesis is based on a highly interdisciplinary study. Its theoretical background is set within the overall framework of Social Identity Theory and self-categorization; in addition, it is strongly linked to attitude research. All theoretical discussions in this thesis focus on non-native speaker (NNS) language use and reveal significant gaps in the study of language attitudes and identity as previous studies mostly concentrated on native speakers (NS). Most research on NNS' identities and attitudes have been done in the field of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) which is a strong point of reference for this thesis. Additionally, aspects of Second Language Acquisition are taken into account as well to explain variation in the production and perception of accents by NNS.

There have been concerns about positive and negative discrimination between people who speak with different accents. This thesis is one of the first studies to examine attitudes towards NNS accents of English which could lead to discrimination and it is the first study to compare two different kinds of NNS accents of English (German and Greek).

Using consonantal variation in Greek and German accents of English with varying degrees of influence from the first language as a testing ground, I investigated: 1) What the general attitudes towards NNS accents of English are 2) whether NNS of English identify with a 'foreign' accent of English from their own first language background and 3) what types of consonantal variation could influence attitudes towards NNS of English.

In the first part of this study, attitudes towards German and Greek NNS accents of English were compared to attitudes towards a Southern British accent which was very similar to Received Pronunciation (RP) and a Scottish NS accent of English. The results indicate that our listeners (who were German and Greek NNS of English and English NS) tend to assign high prestige to an RP-like accent. In general, the findings suggest that NNS listeners do not consider their own NNS accent of English to reflect their identity and issues of status and prestige seem to be of more importance to them than aspects of solidarity with their own speaker group.

The second part of this study investigated why some of the speech stimuli received significantly unfavourable ratings in the previous experiment. The results reveal that variation in the realisation of /r/ (as in the initial sound in 'run') and variation in sibilants (e.g. the initial consonants in 'sit', 'zoo', 'ship', 'jelly') influence the perception of the speaker more than other consonantal variation. Further apparent variation such as final devoicing and non-velarised /l/ in word-final and post-vocalic positions (e.g. the realisation of /l/ in 'call' as opposed to 'like') did not appear to be influential factors.

In a final experiment, the aim was to find out whether the consonant features that were isolated in the previous part of the study can influence attitudes. Overall, consonantal variations were more positively rated the more similar they were to RP variants, indicating that the RP accent was the mental model that NNS accents were compared to. Further results suggest that similar to the first experiment, accent variation influences the perceived prestige of the speakers more than it affects social traits. Additionally, the results show that variation in consonants is important beyond the intelligibility of accents since they directly influence the perception of the speaker.

Page Updated: 19-Aug-2010