University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia > How to sound intelligent: The sociophonetics of non-native speaker accents of English

How to sound intelligent: The sociophonetics of non-native speaker accents of English

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Whenever we hear a person speak with a particular accent we make assumptions on his/her regional and social background. This happens because language in general and accents in particular are considered to be reliable markers of group-membership and thus of a person’s social identity.

In this presentation, I will explain the connection between accents and identity as specified in the Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT is firmly established for native speakers (NS) of a language while research on non-native speaker (NNS) accents occurred only fairly recently.

Furthermore, I will focus on identity construction through NNS accents of English. English is the global lingua franca and as such it is increasingly used for communication among NNS of English who outnumber NS of English by far. In this lingua franca context, NNS of English need to establish their identity through the medium of their L2. Additionally, most NNS speak English with a ‘foreign’ accent which causes certain attitudes in speakers as well as listeners and can have profound social consequences.

The study presented in this colloquium looks at NNS attitudes towards ingroup and outgroup accents of English, with particular interest in the solidarity dimension (i.e. how much a person identifies with an accent) and status dimension (i.e. how much prestige is assigned to an accent). A further aim is to find out whether variation in specific sounds – especially consonants – directly influences the perception of NNS accents of English and makes them sound more ‘friendly’ or ‘intelligent’. The results will help us to discover whether there are links between certain attitudes and phonetic detail and thus to understand the impact of the phonetics/phonology and sociolinguistics interface in communications in English as a lingua franca.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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