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Perceiving Identity through Accent

Attitudes towards Non-Native Speakers and their Accents in English

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Bettina Beinhoff

Given the increasing use of English worldwide and in intercultural communication, there is a growing interest in attitudes towards non-native speaker accents in English. Research on attitudes towards non-native English accents is therefore important because of concerns about positive and negative discrimination between people who speak with different accents. This book reveals exactly what types of accent variations trigger positive and negative attitudes towards the speaker.
The author argues that certain types of variation in the pronunciation of English can have a significant effect on how listeners identify an accent and explores how this variation affects the development of certain attitudes towards the speaker. Specific sounds that are difficult for many learners to acquire (e.g. the initial sounds in ‘this’ or ‘June’) are examined in terms of attitudes towards speakers’ pronunciation, including an original comparison of two different kinds of non-native accents (German and Greek). The results of the study provide a basis for further research in second language acquisition and applied linguistics as well as practical information for language instructors at all levels of English education.

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Chapter 1 Introduction

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The title of this book Perceiving Identity through Accent: Attitudes towards Non-Native Speakers and their Accents in English presupposes that there is a relation between an individual’s accent and identity. Indeed, we seem to find evidence for this relationship in everyday observations, for example when people employ regional accents to emphasize their regional iden- tity. This may happen consciously, for example when politicians use more regional features when addressing their local constituencies while showing no trace of these features when speaking in parliament. It can also happen unconsciously, for example people tend to use more regional features when talking to friends or relatives whereas they would use less regional features whilst at work. Indeed, accents and the relationship between accents and identity seem to be very important. The relationship seems to be straightforward for native speakers of a language, but what about non-native speakers? How much, if at all, would a foreign or non-native speaker accent of English contribute to the speaker’s identity? And would the speaker’s own attitudes towards his or her accent of English dif fer from the attitudes of the interlocutors? This book is mostly concerned with non-native speakers (NNS) of English and their attitudes towards NNS-accents in English; it also hopes to shed some light on whether NNS-accents can be important factors in establishing speakers’ identities. The major aim of the studies presented in this book is to find out whether certain types of variation in the pro- nunciation of English can have a significant ef...

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