Accent variation and attitudes


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Presentation given at the Sociolinguistic Symposium 18 in Southampton, September 2010.

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  • The reasons for our interest in studying attitudes towards NNS accents are quite obvious. Attitudes are indicators of social identity and reveal group memberships, they are also crucial in constructing stereotypes and therefore have a possible influence on behaviour.
  • Only few studies exist which deal with NNS of a language and their results are somewhat contradictory.
  • Ingroup and outgroup accents of English are rated on traits representing the solidarity dimension and the status dimension. In this way we hope to find out what types of accents the listeners identify with and what types of accents are considered to be most prestigious. The traits are rated on a 7-point scale.
  • Just to clarify the design: We have 3 groups of listeners: native speakers of Greek, native speakers of German and native speakers of Southern British English. German and Greek NNS of English rate ingroup and outgroup accents of English on traits representing the solidarity dimension and the status dimension. These listeners are all graduate students at the University of Cambridge. In a questionnaire, the participants stated that they generally use English more with other NNS than with NS of English and are generally familiar with Lingua Franca-communication. These 3 listener groups rate all 6 accents, which are a Greek accent of English with a stronger L1 influence, a Greek accent of English with a weaker L1 influence, a German accent of English with a stronger L1 influence, a German accent of English with a weaker L1 influence (both types of accent within one language are spoken by the same person, that means the German accents are spoken by one German speaker and the Greek accents by one Greek speaker), a Southern British English accent (which sounds fairly similar to what is generally called Received Pronunciation or Queen‘s English) and a Scottish accent of English include another well-known NS accent from the British Isles. The stimuli used for the perception task in our study are short sentences. These were selected so as to control for variation within the NNS accents by including certain sounds which were expected to be more prone to variation in the accent with a stronger L1 influence and to be produced more constantly in the accent with less L1 influence. So listeners rate ingroup and outgroup accents of English.
  • Ratings are from 1 = very friendly, etc to 7 = not friendly, etc. Scale only goes to 5 because the average ratings stopped at 4.5 Southern English accent got highest ratings for “status”-traits: In line with previous studies. Influence of education and environment on the ratings. Scottish accent got fairly high ratings for “solidarity”-traits: In line with previous studies. Similar ratings to most NNS accents on “status”-traits.
  • No differences in responses between listener groups. No clear identification with own NNS accents nor with NNS accents in general. We furthermore expected that the levels of accentedness in the Greek and German accents could have an effect on the ratings. The results indicate that the level of accentedness is especially significant for the Greek accents. The Greek accent with a weaker influence from the L1 was rated significantly more friendly than the German accents – and more striking – it was rated to sound significantly more educated and intelligent than all the other German and Greek accents in this study. Thus, the Greek accent with less L1 influence was rated significantly higher on the status dimension than the Greek accent with a stronger L1 influence. It seems that the differences in the levels of accentedness were perceived much stronger for the Greek accents than for the German accents. This could be because the overall perceived sound similarity between Greek and English might be greater than the perceived sound similarity between German and English as two Germanic languages (cf. Bradlow, Clopper & Smiljanic 2007). Therefore, it could be assumed that there is just more possibility for perceivable phonetic variation between weak and strong Greek accents of English than between weak and strong German accents of English. Interestingly, these types of differences made the biggest difference for the status traits and to this extent not for the solidarity traits. Thus, the type of variation seems to be related more to a prestigious accent rather than an accent listeners would identify with.
  • In the first experiment, certain sentences/speech samples were rated significantly lower than others across all traits.
  • No comments on variation in post-vocalic /l/ and final devoicing. According to literature and public perception of accents we expected more remarks on: German variation of /  / and /  /
  • No comments on variation in post-vocalic /l/. According to literature and public perception of accents we expected more remarks on: Greek variation of /h/
  • ... Results are especially significant for the trait ‚intelligent‘, which is why we‘ll focus on this one.
  • German realisations of /r/, /  /, /  /, /d  /, /l/-[  ], final devoicing in /z/ and final devoicing in /d  / which all received significant negative ratings. For the Greek accents, the realisations of /  /, /l/-[  ] and variation in final /d  / all caused negative ratings whereas the Greek /  /, /  / and word-final /z/ – which did not vary much from the SBrE versions – prompted positive ratings.
  • Accent variation and attitudes

    1. 1. How to sound intelligent? Accent variation and attitudes towards non-native speakers of English Bettina Beinhoff Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics (RCEAL)
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>The role of attitudes and identity in non-native speaker (NNS) accents of English </li></ul><ul><li>Attitudes towards native speaker (NS) and NNS accents of English </li></ul><ul><li>Perception and evaluation of phonetic variation in NNS accents </li></ul>
    3. 3. Attitudes and identity in NNS accents of English <ul><li>Attitudes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Indicators of social identity (group membership) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Evaluative in nature </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are instrumental in constructing stereotypes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Possible influence on behaviour </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Identity and language – the NNS perspective <ul><li>Global English/English as a Lingua Franca: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Majority of interlocutors have to establish identity through an L2. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Expression of the own social identity in verbal communication possible through regional (NNS) accents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Restrictions to accent adjustment. </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Attitudes towards NNS accents <ul><li>Previous studies on NNS attitudes towards NNS accents: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Japanese NNS of English identify with an accent of English that clearly reveals their first language (McKenzie 2008 ). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NNS of English from various L1 backgrounds show ambivalent attitudes towards their own NNS accents (Jenkins 2007 ). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In ELT contexts NNS accents are generally regarded to be deficient by NNS of English (e.g. Dalton-Puffer, Kaltenboek and Smit 1997). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NNS of English may consider their own L1 to be their source of identification rather than their accent of English (Derwing 2003). </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. Experiment 1: Research questions <ul><li>Which of these previous statements apply to our listener groups? </li></ul><ul><li>Do NNS of English identify with an accent of English from their own L1 background? </li></ul><ul><li>Are all NS accents more prestigious than NNS accents? </li></ul>
    7. 7. Design of Experiment 1 <ul><li>Ingroup and outgroup accents of English are rated on: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Solidarity dimension (identity) represented by traits: friendly, honest, reliable, sincere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Status dimension (prestige) represented by traits: educated, intelligent </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Traits are rated on a 7-point scale. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Design of Experiment 1 <ul><li>Listeners: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Greek </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>German </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Southern English </li></ul></ul><ul><li>3 groups of listeners rate 6 different accents. All listeners rate all accents. </li></ul><ul><li>Stimuli: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Greek accent with distinct L1 influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Greek accent with less L1 influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>German accent with distinct L1 influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>German accent with less L1 influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Southern British English accent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scottish accent </li></ul></ul>
    9. 9. <ul><li>In addition, some sentences received significantly low ratings across all traits. </li></ul>
    10. 10. Results for NNS accents <ul><li>No differences in responses between listener groups. </li></ul><ul><li>No clear identification with own NNS accents nor with NNS accents in general. </li></ul><ul><li>Listeners seemed to be more concerned with status than with issues of identity. </li></ul><ul><li>Differences in the ratings higher for Greek accents than for German accents. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Possibly due to greater perceived similarity of English & German (Bradlow, Clopper & Smiljanic 2007). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Type of variation in Greek accent with less L1 influence related to prestigious accent? </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. Experiment 2: Research questions <ul><li>What caused the negative ratings for some sentences? </li></ul><ul><li>What features make a NNS accent sound foreign? </li></ul><ul><li>Accent features mentioned in previous research & influence of English language teaching and public perception of NNS accents. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Experiment 2: Variation in NNS accents <ul><li>What was it that influenced accent ratings across traits? </li></ul><ul><li>Speech stimuli: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sentences from Experiment 1 (negative ratings). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>All four NNS accents, no NS accents. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Participants from previous experiment. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Please tell me where the speaker sounds particularly ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’ to you”. </li></ul>
    13. 15. Experiment 3 <ul><li>Research questions: </li></ul><ul><li>Does variation in certain sounds influence how the accent is perceived? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If so, which sounds are most influential? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Which traits will be mostly effected? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What types of sounds function as social markers and how? </li></ul>
    14. 17. Experiment 3: Results <ul><li>General attitudes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No significant differences between listener-groups. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Friendly: no significant results for variation within accents. Lack of intonation? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reliable & Intelligent: very similar to first experiment (1. SBrE accent, 2. German, 3. Greek). Influence of variation. </li></ul></ul>
    15. 20. More results <ul><li>Variation in consonants can indeed influence attitudes towards the speaker . </li></ul><ul><li>NNS accents were judged by NS norms. </li></ul><ul><li>SBrE accent: expected norm. </li></ul><ul><li>Some sounds that were not mentioned in Experiment 2 were significant in Experiment 3 (e.g. final devoicing). </li></ul>
    16. 21. How to sound intelligent? <ul><li>Get as close as possible to the expected norm. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How do we know what the expected norm is? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is the expected norm attainable? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do we really want to speak this way? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What about sounding friendly, sociable, honest or trustworthy? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Make people pay attention to WHAT you say rather than how you say it. </li></ul>
    17. 22. Thank you! Presentation available on SlideShare Bettina Beinhoff Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics (RCEAL) University of Cambridge
    18. 23. References <ul><li>Ajzen, I. & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behavior . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. </li></ul><ul><li>Ajzen, I. (1988). Attitudes, Personality, and Behavior . Milton Keynes: Open University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Bohner, G. & Wanke, M. (2002). Attitudes and Attitude Change . Hove: Psychology Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Bradlow, A., Clopper, C. & Smiljanic, R. (2007) A perceptual space similarity space for languages. Proceedings of ICPhS XVI Saarbrü cken , 1373-1376. </li></ul><ul><li>Coupland, N. & Bishop, H. (2007) Ideologised values for British accents. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11/1, 74-93. </li></ul><ul><li>Dalton-Puffer, C., Kaltenboek, G. & Smit, U. (1997). Learner attitudes and L2 pronunciation in Austria. World Englishes 16/1, 115-128. </li></ul><ul><li>Derwing, T.M. (2003) What do ESL students say about their accents? Canadian Modern Language Review  59/4, 547-566. </li></ul><ul><li>Eagly, A.H. & Chaiken, S. (1993). The Psychology of Attitudes . Fort Worth et al.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. </li></ul><ul><li>Giles, H. (1970). Evaluative reactions to accents. Educational Review 22, 211-227. </li></ul>
    19. 24. References <ul><li>Hiraga, Y. (2005) British attitudes towards six varieties of English in the USA and Britain. World Englishes 24/3, 289-308. </li></ul><ul><li>Jenkins, J. (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Jenkins, J. (2007) English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity . Oxford: Oxford University Press. </li></ul><ul><li>Lambert, W.E., Gardner, R.C., Olton, R. & Tunstall, K. (1968). A study of the roles of attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. In: Fishman, J. (ed.), Readings in the Sociology of Language . New York et al.: Mouton Publishers, 473-491. </li></ul><ul><li>Magen, H.S. (1998) The perception of foreign-accented speech. Journal of Phonetics 26, 381-400. </li></ul><ul><li>McKenzie, R. (2008) Social factors and non-native attitudes towards varieties of spoken English: a Japanese case study. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 18/1, 63-88. </li></ul><ul><li>Scales, J., Wennerstrom, A., Richards, D. & Wu, S. (2006). Language learners’ perceptions of accent. TESOL Quarterly 40/4, 715-738. </li></ul><ul><li>Setter, J. & Jenkins, J. (2005) Pronunciation. Language Teaching 38, 1-17. </li></ul><ul><li>Tajfel, H. (1978) Social categorization, social identity and social comparison. In: Tajfel, H. (ed.) Differentiation between Groups . London et al.: Academic Press, 61-76. </li></ul><ul><li>Turner, J.C. (1987) Rediscovering the Social Group – A Self-Categorization Theory . Oxford: Blackwell. </li></ul>