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Perceiving Identity through Accent

Attitudes towards Non-Native Speakers and their Accents in English


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 3 The Structure of Non-Native English Accents: Definitions, Norms and the Myth of the ‘Neu


tral’ Accent The previous chapter discussed the social side of attitudes towards accents in English and discussed the role of accents in identity construction. This chapter will look at accents from a SLA and ELF-perspective; thus, the overall focus will be on NNS-accents in English and concepts connected to NS-accents in English, such as ‘RP’ and ‘standard English’, will be dis- cussed. These and related terms are important in SLA and ELF-research because the concepts they describe inf luence English language teaching on a global scale and shape the perception of accents in NNS of English. Some terms and notions, such as ‘accent’ and ‘standard English’, have thus far been used without further explanation although especially in the case of the term ‘standard English’ it is by no means clear what exactly it stands for. This chapter provides more detailed information on the sociolin- guistic dimension of accents. Moreover, features of NNS-accents in English and issues concerning the perception of accents in a second language will be discussed and related to identity construction in a foreign language. 3.1. What is Accent? In linguistics, accents are generally defined according to pronunciation, in contrast to dialects, which also include vocabulary, grammar and idiom as distinguishing elements (Hughes, Trudgill and Watt 2005: 2). Accent 42 Chapter 3 is generally viewed as a ‘way of speaking that indicates a person’s place of origin and/or social class’ (McArthur 1992: 9). However, this definition of accent does not fully apply to NNS-accents. Through a NNS’s accent...

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