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Review of  Social Dynamics in Second Language Accent

Reviewer: Rachel Kraut
Book Title: Social Dynamics in Second Language Accent
Book Author: John M. Levis Alene Moyer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.460

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Review's Editor: Anthony Aristar


Social Dynamics in Second Language Accent (2014) is an edited volume compiled by editors John M. Levis and Alene Moyer which seeks to explore the largely uncharted field of how social factors influence phonological acquisition in a second language. The editors aim to present the latest evidence across a variety of methodological approaches from a number of experts in the field of second language (L2) phonology to detail key research questions such as:

“What can learners’ own views of accent tell us about why their pronunciation differs from native norms?

Can accent be easily defined by specific segmental parameters or is it primarily a question of suprasegmental fluency?

What is the social impact of accentedness? Do listener perceptions and attitudes toward pronunciation affect learners socially, with implications for long-term outcomes in phonology? (p. 1)”

The book is divided into five parts which are summarized individually below: Part I -- The Nature of Accent, Part II -- The Learner’s Approach to Pronunciation in Social Context, Part III -- The Teacher’s Approach to Accent, Part IV - The Social Impact of Accent, and Part V -- Conclusions.


The first part of the book is comprised of contributions from field experts Alene Moyer, Rachel Hayes-Harb, Jette G. Hansen Edwards, Lucy Pickering and Amanda Baker. In “The Social Nature of L2 Pronunciation,” Moyer begins by providing a definition of “accent” to pave the way for the rest of the chapter which discusses a number of existing issues in the literature. In short, she reviews some of the more prominent studies pertaining to the effects of accent and age of the learner, attitudes, identify and agency in L2 pronunciation, and the reception of L2 pronunciation. The literature review she provides in this chapter lays the foundation for the more in-depth discussions that follow in subsequent chapters.

To further develop the reader’s understanding of the nature of the accent, Hayes-Harb presents a chapter, entitled “Acoustic-Phonetic Parameters in the Perception of Accent,” which covers the literature on speech-related factors in the perception of foreign-accented speech. In particular, the research she reviews centers on “the acoustic-phonetic properties of speech and subjective listener judgments of accentedness” (p. 31) to illustrate how the concepts of intelligibility and comprehensibility, as defined by Munro and Derwing (1995: 251), may be influenced by task type and specific features of speech. Broadly, Hayes-Harb’s review of the relevant research covers segmental and nonsegmental contributions to accentedness, as well as methodological issues in accentedness research.

Focusing on the constraints that impact developmental sequences in second language phonological acquisition, Hansen Edwards brings to light a less investigated research area: the impact of language-external factors on L2 phonological development. Much of the existing research on developmental constraints focuses on language-internal factors such as first language (L1) transfer. In her chapter, “Developmental Sequences and Constraints in Second Language Phonological Acquisition: Balancing Language-internal and Language-external Factors,” the author provides a concise review of the evidence resulting from influential studies (e.g. Bayley, 1996; Abrahamsson, 1999) of language-internal factors followed by more recent work to highlight the influence of language-external factors on L2 phonological development such as “peer network groups, social identity, and ethnic group affiliation” (p. 58). To conclude the chapter, Hansen Edwards calls for a model of L2 phonology that properly accounts for the impact of both language-internal and language-external factors on development.

Pickering and Baker wrap up Part I of the book with “Suprasegmental Measures of Accentedness.” The authors begin by providing the reader with historical context as to why work in the social veins of this area, despite its recognized importance by many, is scant. Namely, the literature covering the impact of social factors on suprasegmental features of speech is quite lacking in comparison to other areas of L2 phonological research due to the influence of many language teaching methods around the 1960s and 70s which placed emphasis on accuracy and perfection in L2 pronunciation (e.g. the Audio Lingual Method). It was not until later in the 1970s and 80s that a radical shift toward discourse analysis (Hymes, 1972) allowed investigation and teaching of prosody to become “less marginalized” (p. 76).

Following the chapter sections creating historical context are a series of brief reviews of many suprasegmental components of accentedness in the L2 including pitch, stress, pause, and rate measures. Next, Pickering and Baker discuss some more recent work which has sought to shed light on the roles of social factors, including listener familiarity, native speaker (NS) status, various sociopolitical factors, and identity, on the perception and production of L2 prosody. This chapter comes to a close with suggestions for the direction of future work.


Part II of the book shifts its attention to information about L2 pronunciation in social contexts that has been gleaned from learner insights and choices. In “Understanding the Impact of Social Factors on L2 Pronunciation: Insights from Learners,” Kimberly LeVelle and John Levis present studies that have sought out the metalinguistic perspectives of L2 learners in regards to their own L2 pronunciation and accent. Positioning themselves in a different direction from many existing sociolinguistic studies pertaining to L2 pronunciation, the authors review the relevant work about how social factors, such as peer group influence and the development of personal relationships, may positively influence acquisition. Additionally, L2 learner perspectives about the impact of social participation in the target community, accent stigma and shame, as well as imagined communities and identities. The vast majority of the studies discussed are case studies making use of the sociolinguistic interview to obtain learner data. A proposal of a sociolinguistic core for English learners and teachers, in particular those living in Inner Circle countries, is outlined near the end of the chapter in hopes of giving a starting point for a learning and teaching paradigm which prioritizes social factors in L2 pronunciation.

In the subsequent chapter, “L2 Accent Choices and Language Contact,” Erik R. Thomas builds on the notion of the importance of the learner’s point of view by writing about the sociolinguistic side of L2 contact. Before he gives a thorough example from a case study, the author discusses the ways in which quantitative sociolinguistic research and other areas of language study differ in their approaches. More specifically, Thomas states that while most “studies of language contact are primarily top-down and theory-driven...quantitative sociolinguistics, conversely, is primarily a bottom-up, data-driven field” (p.120). Presenting this distinction early in the chapter is important for the review of research that follows. Arguably, the longest sections of the chapter detail case studies of Mexican American English (MAE) and the social factors that affect the linguistic choices of its speakers. Thomas chose to use work over this particular variety of English to illustrate the influence of social context on L2 pronunciation because it is spoken by the most well-studied language contact population in the United States. The effect of historical conflicts between Anglos and Mexican Americans in the studies reviewed demonstrated that Mexican Americans, in some cases, do not acquire some of the phonological features used by the Anglos they live near (e.g. weakening of specific diphthongs) for reasons of solidarity. In other words, decades of discrimination have left many Mexican Americans “with no motivation to identify with the Anglos in their speech patterns” (p.138).

Concluding Part II, Cecelia Cutler’s chapter titled “Accentedness, ‘Passing,’ and Crossing” continues the discussion of L2 learner choice in phonological acquisition and production. Firstly, Cutler briefly covers several examples from the existing literature which show that L2 learners are often quite aware of the social meanings that a certain speech sound may carry in a given context. For example, Bailey (2000a, 2000b, 2001) interviewed groups of Dominican immigrants in Rhode Island to find that they often displayed their proficiency in Spanish so as not to be labeled African American or Black in order to avoid certain social stigmas. Continuing on, Cutler further explains how L2 speakers use this knowledge of social-linguistic relationships to draw on certain linguistic features, either in the L1 or L2, to suit their communicative aims. To this end, the author defines the terms “linguistic styling,” “language crossing,” and “passing” coupled with examples from recent case studies to demonstrate the many ways in which L2 speakers can selectively use, or not use, specific linguistic features in order to target membership in specific social groups, avoid the stigmas of accent stereotyping, or to project a personal identity. A brief section covering possible pedagogical implications of accentedness, “passing,” and crossing brings the section to an end by emphasizing the importance for language educators to recognize their students’ individual goals for L2 communication and the roles that identify and other social factors may have on pronunciation.


Stephanie Lindemann, Jason Litzenberg and Nicholas Subtirelu explore the role of L1 norms and attitudes in teaching L2 pronunciation in their chapter called “Problematizing the Dependence on L1 Norms in Pronunciation Teaching: Attitudes Toward Second-language Accents.” At the opening of the chapter, the authors call for a shift away from the importance of L1 norms in teaching pronunciation due to the wealth of data suggesting negative attitudes towards foreign-accented speech (which is subsequently discussed). Moreover, they argue that accent stigma is not a reason for an increased focus on the teaching of pronunciation, but rather signals a need to address the negative attitudes head-on.

In reviewing the decades of literature investigating attitudes toward foreign-accented speech, the authors provide explanations of the typical task types and experimental designs used in the research. Namely, matched guise and verbal guise paradigms, two of the most common experimental designs in language attitude research, are expounded along with some of the significant findings from this line of work including the notion that native listeners often perceive an L2 accent in speech samples where one does not actually exist. Moving past the traditional use of native listeners for accent judgments, Lindemnn et al. review studies from the newly growing area of English L2 speaker attitudes toward L2 English yielding various interesting results such as the “overwhelming support of native-like accents for learners living in the Expanding and Inner Circles” (p. 179). The authors add to their thorough discussion findings from work on attitudes toward L2 varieties other than English as well as the influence of non-language factors, such as (perceived) nationality and ethnicity, on accent judgments. Like Cutler, implications for pronunciation pedagogy in addition to directions for further research lie at the end of the chapter.

Debra Hardison turns her attention almost exclusively to the L2 pronunciation teacher in chapter 9, “Phonological Literacy in L2 Learning and Teacher Training.” She lays the groundwork for this section on the teacher’s phonological literacy education by presenting data from Derwing (2008) and a study conducted by the author to illustrate the lack of a standard in the TESOL field for L2 teacher training in phonology. While some TESOL teachers report having been prepared to teach L2 English pronunciation through a course or other professional development, many still have low confidence levels in their ability to use this knowledge to help their students’ phonological development. What follows could be likened to a handbook for L2 phonology teachers in that Hardison provides detailed sections about different aspects of phonology that every pronunciation teacher should know, including segmental, suprasegmental and socio-affective aspects of speech. In her pedagogical implications section, the author prescribes general suggestions for ways teachers can approach the gaps in their learners’, as well as their own, L2 phonological literacy through the use of technology.

Well-known experts in the field of L2 phonology, Tracey M. Derwing and Murray J. Munro, author the closing chapter of this section, “Training Native Speakers to Listen to L2 Speech.” With the “primary emphasis on changing the speech of language learners (p. 219)” in teaching L2 pronunciation, Derwing and Munro point out that comparatively little has been done to develop the skills of listeners to better comprehend and attend to foreign-accented speech. The authors break down the existing work on this topic into factors found to have an effect on the perception of learner speech (e.g. familiarity with accents, attitudinal influences, and accent salience) and the different methodologies used to conduct studies with listeners of L2 pronunciation, such as familiarization, awareness-raising, contact with L2 speakers, and laboratory training. After discussing the evidence, Derwing and Munro give practical ways in which human resources departments, government agencies, and international businesses and other venues with multicultural and multilingual employees and clientele can improve their understanding of L2 accented speech.

Part IV

Comprised of just two chapters, Part IV of the book is authored by Okim Kang, Donald Rubin and Gai Harrison. The former pair discusses linguistic stereotyping and individual background factors in judgments on L2 oral performance while Harrison writes about L2 accent in the workplace. In “Listener Expectations, Reverse Linguistic Stereotyping, and Individual Background Factors in Social Judgments and Oral Performance Assessment,” Kang and Rubin explain studies of reverse linguistic stereotyping as experiments which manipulate a visual (usually a photo of a person assumed to be the speaker) associated with a single speech sample, usually recorded by a native speaker of English. Because the speech sample played to different participant groups is exactly the same, any different in oral performance assessment is due to linguistic stereotypes associated with the image shown. Studies involving reverse linguistic stereotyping have been conducted to shed light on a number of everyday situations including possible linguistic stereotyping at universities, healthcare institutions, and businesses. Further exploring what factors may be in play during such oral performance assessments, Kang and Rubin briefly describe relevant work on individual background differences in listener ratings, explicating the influence of such factors as listeners’ formal training in linguistics, previous cross-cultural exposure, and social attractiveness.

In “Accent and ‘Othering’ in the Workplace,” Harrison frames the motivation for so many people to learn English as a second or foreign language: workplace skills. According to Graddol, (2006:15) “English has been identified as a ‘near universal skill’ for the workplace” due to the projection for job-growth in the communication sector across the globe. Reiterating information present in previous chapters, the literature on accent perception in the workplace and how accent plays into L2 identity is discussed. Although many of the same points are touched upon (e.g. manipulating accent to serve a certain social purpose, accent stigma, and negative evaluation), different studies and sources are reviewed in comparison to prior chapters. Harrison introduces the concept of language and accent as cultural capital in the later part of this section to explicate the ways in which L2 accent indexes authority or social standing and determines access to resources. Finally, the author concludes by speaking out against standard language ideology, and as many of the authors have, sheds light on its implications for language pedagogy.

Part V

Part 5, aptly titled “Conclusions,” is written by the editors, John M. Levis and Alene Moyer. Their final chapter, “Future Directions in the Research and Teaching of L2 Pronunciation,” aggregates and summarizes several themes that permeate the preceding chapters including the issues of identity in second language acquisition (SLA), the importance of incorporating insights from learners, and a need for including the social aspects of L2 pronunciation in research and teaching. Next, future directions for theoretical work, methodology, and pedagogical implications are discussed in the contexts of the results and significant findings highlighted by the contributing authors. In closing, the editors hope that this volume “marks the beginning of a decisive turn connecting social factors and L2 pronunciation (p. 288).”


Social Dynamics in Second Language Accent (2014) is a great resource for L2 pronunciation teachers and SLA researchers alike. In many ways, the editors achieve the goal of marking the beginning of connecting social factors to L2 pronunciation. Firstly, the breadth of topics covered in the volume is impressive. The field of L2 pronunciation is well-explored and spans several decades, resulting in copious numbers of studies for review. The editors and contributing authors gleaned much from the significant findings and influential studies in the existing wealth of literature on L2 pronunciation, covering topics from acoustic-phonetic aspects of L2 pronunciation to sociolinguistic studies of accent and L2 identity to examination of teacher training and attitudes. Although studies investigating the social side of L2 pronunciation are fewer, enough were reviewed for readers to develop an understanding of what is currently known and what is left to be explored. Through their accessibly written reviews and analyses, it is easy for any reader to realize the importance of expanding our knowledge and teaching practices to incorporate what we know about the influence of social factors on L2 pronunciation.

However, as with any publication, this volume is not without limitations, a few of which are pointed out by the editors in the final chapter. Areas of research including social factors involved in global lingua franca and world English contexts were scarcely mentioned in the volume and could make for an intriguing addition. When one takes into consideration the results of studies such as Timmis (2002) which shows differences in support for native-like accent among learners across Inner and Outer Circle countries, it is clear that the influence of social factors in L2 pronunciation is quite different from region to region and deserves further exploration.

Moreover, although the authors take care to review different sources, many of the topics and key points overlap or are unnecessarily repeated across chapters. For example, the matched guise technique, often used in studies of language attitude, is defined in the introduction, and chapters 8, and 11. Readers may notice a similar phenomenon with the repetition of the definitions for “intelligibility” and “comprehensibility” in chapters 1, 2, 10, and 12. Many key points, such as the negative stigmas often associated an L2 accent, are emphasized in multiple places as well. While these concepts may be unfamiliar to readers not regularly engaged in the literature on L2 pronunciation, a functional understanding can be had without so much overlap.


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Bailey, B. (2000b). Language and negotiation of ethnic/racial identity among Dominican Americans. Language in Society, 29, 555-582.

Bailey, B. (2001). Dominican-American ethnic/racial identities and United States social categories. International Migration Review, 35(3), 677-708.

Bayley, R. (1996). Competing constraints on variation in the speech of adult Chinese learners of English. In R. Bayley and D.R. Preston (Eds.), Second language acquisition and linguistic variation, 98-120. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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Graddol, D. (2006). English next: Why global English may mean the end of “English as a Foreign Language.” London: British Council.

Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. In J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (Eds.), Sociolinguistics, (pp. 269-285). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Moyer, A., and Levis, J. M. (2014). Social Dynamics in Second Language Accent. Boston: De Gruyter.

Munro, M.J. and Derwing, T.M. (1995). Processing time, accent ad comprehensibility in the perception of native and foreign-accented speech. Language and Speech, 38(3), 289-306.

Timmis, I. (2002). Native-speaker norms and International English: a classroom view. ELT Journal, 56(3), 240-249.
Rachel Kraut is currently a PhD student in the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching program and a lecturer at the Center for English as a Second Language at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include the acquisition of English morphology, L2 reading strategies, and L2 lexical storage and access which she investigates using psycholinguistic methods. Additional research interests outside of psycholinguistics include perception of foreign-accented speech, dynamics of L2 accent, and ESL methodology.