A Conjecture on Accent in a Second Language
In: Z. Lengyel, J. Navracsics, and O. Simon (Eds.) 1997. Applied Linguistic Studies in Central Europe, vol 1. Department of Applied Linguistics, University of Veszprem, Hungary. (available at sdkrashen.com)
The hypothesis: We do not use our best accents because we feel silly.
The"output filter": a block that keeps us from doing our best, from "performing our competence."
1. Variability: Our accents in second languages vary, depending on how we feel. We are influenced by the situation, especially whether we feel we are being evaluated.
2. Our ability to imitate other dialects of our first language, as well as foreign accents. Given sufficient input, we can all do these things to at least some extent. But we do not, because we would feel uncomfortable doing so. The output filter holds us back.
We can imitate foreign accents in our first language. Obviously, we do not do this in ordinary conversation. It would, we feel, be perceived as rude.
There are domains in which the use of these accents is permitted, in plays and jokes, for example. Even in these situations, however, their use is sensitive. In plays, dialects must be rendered very accurately, and in jokes their use can be demeaning.
Our ability, yet reluctance to use accents and dialects again shows that we do not perform our competence fully and that there are powerful affective forces holding us back.
3. The alcohol study. Guiora, Beit-Hallahmi, Brannon, Dull, and Scovel (1972): Accent in a foreign language was best after subjects drank 1.5 ounces of bourbon. It was less accurate with both less and more than this amount of alcohol. There was, in other words, an optimal point of inebriation.
4. Stevick’s example. In a Swahili class Stevick he taught at the Foreign Service Institute there were three students. One was at a significantly higher level than the others. When the top student had to drop the class, the number two student suddenly showed a dramatic improvement. My conjecture is that his output filter lowered, freed from the inhibiting influence of the better student.
What is language for?
2. Mark you as a member of social group – accent: When we identify with the members of a group, we talk the way they do. Accent tells the hearer who you are, where you are from, in some cases your social class, and in other cases your values.
(Beebe, 1985): We do not always imitate the speech we hear the most. Children usually talk the way their peers talk, not the way their parents or teachers talk.
Conjecture: Accent is acquired rapidly but is not performed, because we do not feel like members of the group that uses it.
Implications: Accent improvement programs? No evidence they work.
Krashen, S. 2013. The effect of direct instruction on pronunciation: Only evident when conditions for Monitor use are met? GiST: Education and Learning Research Journal 7: 271-275. (avilable at sdkrashen.com).
Most second language acquirers have acquired a great deal of the phonological system: But we demand perfection.
Beebe, L. 1985. Input: Choosing the right stuff. In Gass, S. and Madden. C. (Eds.) Input in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Newbury House. pp. 404-414.
Guiora, A., Beit-Hallahmi, B., Brannon, R., Dull, C. and Scovel, T. 1972. The effects of experimentally induced changes in ego status on pronunciation ability in a second language. Comprehensive Psychiatry 13: 421-428.
Smith, F. 1988. Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Stevick, E. 1980. Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways. New York: Newbury House.