What makes an accent "good" or "bad"?

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Lacey Wade, a postdoc in the Penn Linguistics Department, is featured in the most recent episode of Big Ideas for Strange Times:

Some antique LLOG posts on similar topics:
"Lazy mouths vs. lazy minds", 11/26/2003
"The beauty of Brummie", 7/28/2004
"Those sleepy, slurry southerners", 11/27/2006


  1. Laura Morland said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:08 pm

    Nice recapitulation for a general audience!

    I clicked on it, however, because I'm fresh from an online conversation with a Frenchwoman who apparently was terrorized during her school years by English teachers who taught her that anything less than a "perfect accent" in English was shameful. (Bear in mind that nearly all French teachers of English are French-born, and therefore are more likely than not to have an accent themselves!)

    From what I've been able to pick up during my time here, thousands of French students have been similarly misinformed, which may account for the fact that the French rank dead last among Europeans who are (or deem themselves) capable of communicating in a second language.

    Most French people are incredulous (or at least disbelieving) when told that, in contradiction to what they were taught in school, their accent is considered "charming" and even "sexy" in English. I and others in the online conversation endeavored to reassure the Frenchwoman in question that *all* Romance-language accents sound charming in English, and French most of all!

    On the other hand, many Asian accents do *not* sound charming in English — at least not to me — perhaps a phonetician could easily explain why I feel that way.

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:19 pm

    At school (in the United Kindom), I experienced exactly the same attitude but in reverse — my French teachers (i.e., teachers of French) were determined that their charges should not speak French "with the accent of the Old Kent Road". And I admire and commend them for that. We learned to produce nasals by holding mirrors under our noses, we learned to differentiate between the four vowel sounds in un bon vin blanc, we learned that there is no /ɪ/ phoneme in French, and we learned many other things that helped us to speak French properly. What was wrong with that ?

  3. Misha Schutt said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:27 pm

    I’ve often found a thick French accent very incomprehensible in English, and I have the feeling this is because the two languages are diatrically opposite in many aspects of articulation, so that the “same” sound can have a very different auditory impression.
    Some years ago I met a Frenchman whose English pronunciation was excellent, and very comprehensible. I complimented him on this, and he told me that teachers of English in France don’t generally emphasize the fact that English has a strong tonic accent, so the phrase rhythms are quite different. Once he understood this, and set about learning where the stress fell in English words, his accent improved tremendously.

  4. Misha Schutt said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:28 pm

    diametrically opposite

  5. john burke said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:36 pm

    @Philip Taylor: "And French, she [the nun] spak full, faire and fetysly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For French of Parys was to hire unknowe." Chaucer: Canterbury Tales (The Prologue).

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 4:49 pm

    You remind me, John, of something that Roger Ascham said of Elizabeth I:

    [Elizabeth] was a precocious and gifted pupil, though while acclaiming her excellence in most respects, Ascham was more guarded regarding her spoken Greek, saying that she spoke the language 'frequently, willingly and moderately well'.

  7. Joe Fineman said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 6:12 pm

    My father, who spent a year in France in the 1920s, used to recall with amusement that Paris telephone operators would not make his connection until he had pronounced "neuf" to their satisfaction.

  8. Bathrobe said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 6:42 pm

    The only people likely to listen to and be convinced by this are those who already know and believe what she is saying. Her delivery is so helpful and earnest that anyone who casually comes across this video will turn off after the first 20 seconds.

    Greater attention to what ordinary people are interested in (themselves… and how the world is) delivered with more pizazz would be far more effective.

  9. Adygio said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 9:01 pm

    All in all, there is not such as bad or good accents. I believe more in dialects.. There are folks in west and east London that do not understand each other, the same is valid for different regions in Germany.

  10. John Shutt said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 9:11 pm

    She indicates people "often" classify accents as "good" or "bad". Do people often do that? I don't think I do, but have no reason to think I'm typical. The only people I recall claiming that people look down on certain accents (as opposed to simply having trouble understanding some accents) were news anchors who seemed to be simply repeating folk wisdom.

  11. Shannon said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 9:22 pm

    Since French accents are being discussed here too about "having an accent", and stigmatizing standard vs. non-standard accents, I wonder to what extent people distinguish between native/L1 and non-native speakers' accents and if that makes a difference in whether an accent is stigmatized or seen as valid.

    Most people use the term "accent" to refer to both. As long as it is marked as foreign/not local/not of the ingroup and differs from the standard.

    On the one hand, most people would agree that it's a worthwhile goal to get non-native speakers closer to native pronunciation as part of proper language learning (e.g. someone whose L1 is not English and has a French or Chinese accent learning to pronounce standard American English phonemes while conversing with English-speakers in the US), and mispronounciations are thus judged as "errors". That's different from most of the examples discussed in the video — where it's one native English speaker's stigmatized pronounciations (say, Southern US English, regional British Englishes) being judged as errors and one other native form being judged as correct (e.g. standard American English, Received Pronounciation in the UK).

    Yet philosophically is there a difference between them? I know (or at least feel like) the descriptivist consensus seems to be native speakers cannot pronounce their language wrong by default, but what about non-native learners of English (where the accent results from processes like say L1 interference — is that more invalid than non-standard dialects where as the speaker in the video says are just as consistent, complex and correct as any standard?). And some language change indeed seems to come from either non-native speakers influencing each other or influencing native speakers (e.g. pidgins, creoles etc.) but people will still judge non-native pronounciations and native ones alike as "wrong" or "errors" not just natural language change.

    On the other hand it seems like both non-native and native accents alike can be either stigmatized or not so nativeness and stigmatization can be separate issues (French accented English is a non-native accent and is not very stigmatized and often even romanticized vs. other non-native accents say Southern US English which is stigmatized despite being totally a native English dialect).

  12. Terry K. said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    There's a difference between teaching students to speak a language properly, as you describe, and saying that anything less than a perfect accent is shameful, as Laura Morland describes. Teachers ought to respect that their students are learners.


    I think, in English, whether a foreign language accent (non-native speaker) is equal to a dialect-related accent depends on the type of non-native accent. There seems to be a standard British-ESL accent that many speakers from various parts of the world speak, which I think doesn't precisely match a native speaker accent (perhaps someone British can comment). There's a certain way Spanish speaking Lain Americans tend to sound speaking English. Those I would consider similar to regional accents. But, speaking poorly because one just hasn't learned the sounds of English is a thing, and different. Though I suppose those can blur and overlap.

  13. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 1:10 am

    I'm somewhat surprised to hear that French tuition of English stresses the importance of a perfect accent. My experience has been that Frenchmen speaking English tend to have thicker accents than, say, Germans, Spaniards or Italians, and I've been attributing this to what I've been told elsewhere, namely that French language classes stress grammar and vocabulary over phonology.

  14. philip said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 2:05 am

    @Philip Taylor. There is a distinction to be made between pronouncing words correctly and speaking french 'sans accent'. As an irishman, I have no need to adopt a regional accent when speaking Irish to make myself comprehensibe to native speakers, but I do hve a responsibility to pronounce the words correctly (and not mangle the language as soe other learner-speakers do).

    Also, the whole French accent being charming in English works the other way too – when living in fFance, I received several comments of that natue about the way I spoke French, ie they loked foreign people to have a somewhat foreign accent when speaking French. Conversely, I met some French university lecturers who spoke English 'sans accent' – well, actually, usually with a genuine American accent. I found that they lost some o their personality when speaing English as a result of this.

  15. Laura Morland said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 3:34 am

    @ Terry K. — Thanks for making the point so that I didn't need to. Causing students to be so terrified of making a mistake that they are reluctant to speak up in class is a terrible way to teach a living language. And that anxiety remains with those students for life. A number of my French friends state that they are able to read English, but cannot speak it. (And they never do in front of me.)

    @philip the Irishman — I naturally agree with your statement, "There is a distinction to be made between pronouncing words correctly and speaking French 'sans accent'." I've been living in Paris, off and on, since 1998, and for quite a while now the only person who asks me to repeat myself is a 90-year-old friend who is hard of hearing. One can therefore conclude that I am pronouncing words "correctly." On the other hand, as soon as I open my mouth before a stranger, I get the question. "Vous venez d'où ? Je détecte un petit accent."

    Given that it's physically impossible but all but the *extremely* gifted to speak perfectly an L2 learned after puberty, I'm not ashamed of my accent… and I recognize that it's a part of my personality here, a trait your French university lecturers who speak English "too well" have lost, as you state. I do continue working to improve my grammar and to enlarge my vocabulary — that's a lifelong défi (or "challenge," as the French now like to say).

    A personal comment: my first (late) husband, Brendan O Hehir, was unfortunately brought from Ireland to the U.S. at the age of 12. I used to tell him that if he hadn't lost his Irish accent, I would have found it impossible to get angry at him — for most Americans, the Irish accent(s) are just too charming!

    A final note: I spoke with a Southern American accent until I moved to California at the age of 20… I was still young enough (just barely) to be able to drop it. As a teenager visiting friends in New York City, I'd found myself pegged as a "Southern belle," and the implication was that I was uneducated or unintelligent, or both.

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 5:31 am

    John Shutt — "Do people often [classify accents as 'good' or 'bad'] ? ".

    In my (British) experience, most certainly. A south London ("Sarf London") accent is almost invariably mocked, not only by those who live in the Home Counties (excluding Essex, which is now so badly affected by the emergence of Estuary English that the Essex accent has all but disappeared) but even by those who live in London itself but who have managed to escape the worst of its phonological influences and pressures. If recounting an anecdote involving a conversation with someone with a South London accent, the accent will often not only be imitated but even intensified in the re-telling, quite clearly indicating the disdain with which such an accent is viewed.

  17. Keith said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 6:03 am

    From time to time there is a survey conducted in the UK that asks respondents to rank regional accents in terms of trustworthiness and intelligence.

    I listen over the Intarwebs to a BBC local radio station from my home city in Yorkshire, which explains why I heard a broadcast celebrating the fact that a Yorkshire accent was perceived as being honest and trustworthy. I've been trying to find links to the survey result but without success…

    I seem to remember that accents from Birmingham and the West Midlands were perceived as relatively neutral, those of the South West as being unintelligent and those of London and the South East as being untrustworthy.

    In the UK, popular culture and especially television reinforce stereotypes linking particular accents to character traits: Del and Rodney are dodgy market traders dealing in hookey goods, the West Country accent is depicted as being that of "carrot crunchers" who can just about "droive a traactor".

    I've been living in France for the most part since 1995, aside from seven years in the US (though still speaking French during that time). To amuse myself, I sprinkle into my speech Belgisms/Nordisms (e.g. a head of chicory is a "chicon", not an "endive", a floorcloth is a "wassingue", not a "serpillère") and Quebecisms (e.g. the corner shop is a "dépanneur", not a "p'tit arabe"), and my French interlocutors either notice them and ask if I'm from Belgium or Canada, or they don't and ask if I'm perhaps German, Norwegian or Irish… rarely do they imagine that I'm English.

    For me, differences of lexicon are part of dialect or topolect, while differences of pronunciation are part of accent. National television and radio (and before that, the centralising and "normalising" tradition of French education (cf. thread on "normal school" and "école normal" here on LL)) have had an enormous effect on regional pronunciations.

    I think I've rambled enough for this afternoon.

  18. Robert T McQuaid said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 7:11 am

    I classify accents not by status, but by understandability.

    I have spent time on the internet listening to radio broadcasts originating in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia.

    For me, Canada and the US are the most familiar and understandable. British is the hardest to understand. The record here is speech on video by Price Charles that I could not understand at all since it lacked subtitles. Australian speech is quite different, but rarely misunderstood. My only misunderstanding of Australian came in a discussion of wildlife management where I could not distinguish kill or cull.

  19. Twill said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 7:11 am

    @Shannon Not a bad point. The difference really is what the native speaker of a non-standard variety and the non-native speaker are *targeting*. A Scottish English speaker is not someone simply speaking GenAm very poorly, even if an American interlocutor unfamiliar with their dialect might be filtering their speech through that system. But if that person actually tried to mimic GenAm and failed to reproduce it well, it would be accurate to say that they have a bad (American) accent. The non-native speaker is always going to judged by how well they reproduce their target accent, and it is only unfair when people do not recognize e.g. that an Indian speaker might be targeting Indian English.

  20. JJM said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 9:44 am

    Interesting. Any judgment on accent is entirely subjective of course. We might well rationalize our distaste for someone's accent with clever arguments but it fundamentally boils down to just not liking it.

    I have a very minor quibble with Lacy: she perpetuates the old spelling-based r-dropping myth. Any Bostonian who pronounces car as kah isn't dropping an r; for them, there is simply no r-sound in car at all.

  21. ALM said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 10:03 am

    In addition to the oddness of equating intervocalic r with consonant cluster r, did I hear Ms Tamminga mispronounce "diphthongized"?

  22. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 10:06 am

    Within the extant catalogue of books on tape, there is a fiction anthology by Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author, read in English. The reader of the stories, a New Jerseyite of Jewish extraction (Shapiro), reads them in a more-or-less "standard" Northeastern American English accent; something like what used to be called "Mid-Atlantic", almost reminiscent of the speech style typical of American actors of the 1930's through the early 1960's, the closing thing we come to Received Pronunciation this side of the pond.

    But when he gets to the story, "Man on Pink Corner" — set in a brothel in a Buenos Aires barrio — the whole tale is told in an _extremely exaggerated_ South American Spanish accent (I can't distinguish Spanish accents, but it ain't Castilian!). Until I looked up the reader online, I was convinced that he must have been a native-born Hispanophone; it really did sound "authentic", as best as I was able to discern.

    But I'm wondering — why the "code-switching"? My best guess is that the story, in the original Spanish, must have been written in a less prestigious, "earthier" register, and that this was a creative way of signaling this in the audio book English translation.

  23. ALM said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 10:28 am

    Sorry! It's Ms Wade!

  24. Rose Eneri said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 12:15 pm

    I'd like to comment on some interesting aspects of Dr. Wade's own idiolect.

    I notice consistent use of creaky voice throughout. A good example appears at 1.06 "good and bad accents."

    0.18 – "Thuh aspects," as opposed to "thee" before a vowel-initial word.

    At 5.22 – I hear "gander" for gender – I have never heard this before.

    Consistent palatalization of /s/ before/tr/.
    0.20 – shtrong
    2.31 – mainshtream
    2.56 – unshtressed
    2.59 – shtressed

    Weak palatalization of /s/ before /t/ in final position when the following word begins with a voiced alveolar consonant.
    1.07 – firsh need
    2.24 – jush dropping

  25. Terry K. said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 12:35 pm

    @Rose Eneri

    Small issue, but do you mean "jander" for "gender"? That is, a different vowel, but the normal J (soft g) sound? (I can't listen now to see how I hear it.)

  26. Andrej Bjelaković said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 1:05 pm

    @Rose Eneri

    I suspect that her TRAP vowel before a /n/, in the imaginary word 'jander', would be closer and more dipthongized. She can lower her DRESS, as she does, and not make it a homophone of TRAP, as this particular pre-nasal alophone of TRAP would be quite different.

    In other words:
    ˈdʒɛndɚ ~ ˈdʒæ̈ndɚ = DRESS, gender
    ˈdʒeˑᵊndɚ = TRAP, jander

    This kind of DRESS lowering can be heard from many younger speakers. Of course, this is part of the California vowel shift, but nowadays it can be heard from speaker who are not from California (I have the impression originally Californian features have spread like wildfire in the past 20-30 years).

  27. Julian said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 3:22 pm

    I'm always amazed by how subtle accent things can be and how highly tuned we are to notice them.
    Overhead outside the child care centre: 'Joseph!'
    The whole utterance took about half a second. It was instantly obvious from the vowels that the woman was not an English native speaker.

  28. Shannon said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 4:34 pm

    @Terry K.

    "Those I would consider similar to regional accents. But, speaking poorly because one just hasn't learned the sounds of English is a thing, and different. Though I suppose those can blur and overlap."

    How to draw a fine line when they blur and overlap seems to me like an open question. Indeed one of the major counterarguments, as shown in the video, to regional/stigmatized accents being "poor English" is that they are consistent and rule-based, thus correct by their "own" rules. Yet what if failure to reproduce native-like sounds results in consistent, rule-based speech (e.g. interference from L1, consistent mispronounciations) too? What if many people consistently mispronounce things, when does it become enough of a standard/speech community to be its own standard, rather than a "sloppy imitation" of another standard? I mean the mechanisms of language change are often processes labelled "sloppy" or lazy by laypeople like clipping or shortening, saying "bye" instead of "goodbye", which came from "God be with you", or simplifying consonant clusters because it's easier to pronounce. Eventually these become new standards.

    I understand the descriptivist dislike of the trope of "there is only one correct standard", and the counter reaction that there is no right or wrong way of speaking, only different variants. Maybe there is nuance between a one and true platonic ideal of correctness vs. "anything goes", but pragmatically how does one judge?

    Perhaps people play it by ear. Maybe it's like fashion. Wearing a T-shirt and sneakers isn't an incorrect version of dressy formal wear, just a different fashion. But accidentally ripping your clothes when you trip and fall, or stain them when you spill coffee on them, making them look different, isn't a fashion statement, it's really a "mistake". But if enough people like the look of accidentally ripped clothing that they deliberately copy it, then maybe it really does become a fashion.

    @ Twill

    That's a sensible way to look at it — does language use strive to copy or target another standard or is it a standard in and of itself? But that still leaves the examples where imperfect attempts to target another standard might result in new standards. For example, don't some legitimate dialects actually originate from attempts to target an established standard (e.g. many elements of Indian English may have one point have originated from non-native English speakers in India trying to emulate Victorian-era British English but with added interference/transference of Indian features, until after a while these elements too became worthy of copying)? Similarly, Chicano English has Spanish-like elements that might have came from non-proficient Mexican-American English speakers once but are now people's actual native dialect of English. Or creoles with their own rules, generations ago originating from non-native speaker's pidgins where such non-native speakers try as best they can to target each others' native pronounciations and rules to have passable communication.

    I guess maybe the standard is some threshold of a "speech community" where the error is accepted as not an error but OK for communication purposes. An individual's idiolect or idiosyncratic mispronounciations will only become correct and someone's standard if at least some other or some other number of speakers (who knows if there even is a threshold) pick it up as a norm while talking among themselves, copying that mistake (of course there's the added complication of many people independently converging on the same "mispronounciations").

  29. Arthur Baker said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 6:45 pm

    @Rose Eneri: the creaky voice was the dominant feature to catch my attention, and it irritated me so much that I missed part of her message.

  30. BobW said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 7:09 pm

    I used to work for a Japanese multinational in California. Sometimes a person from the home office in Japan would come by, and speak in English to us. It was perfectly understandable to me, but no one else in the shop could get much out of it. They would come to me later for a synopsis.
    I have no idea why I was able to understand.

  31. Julian said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

    Aptitude for learning a foreign language and aptitude for speaking it with a 'good' (native speaker like) accent seem to be pretty much independent variables. You meet people, for example people who migrated in their teens, who have native speaker fluency in their L2, but with a permanent strong accent. And vice versa.
    I guess the accent involves different parts of the brain from the basic language, perhaps parts to do with aural discrimination and proprioceptive sense and fine motor skills in the mouth parts.

  32. David C. said,

    November 18, 2020 @ 11:31 pm

    It's an interesting phenomenon that there is some level of stigma towards native English speakers who learn the accent of another English-speaking region. This contrasts with the expectations of non-native speakers, who would surely be applauded for making an effort to learn the prosody and the sounds of the language well, even if a slight accent is detectable.

    The people who adopt a new accent can be seen as somehow "faking it", not true to themselves, or rejecting their origins. There's a clip of Trevor Noah, from the Daily Show, doing a standup comedy bit talking about being urged not to "lose" his accent. Actress Gillian Anderson is also known for being bi-dialectal, switching between American and English accents depending on context.

    The stigma is puzzling to me, since there is so much mobility now, and it is well-attested that many people in Britain often choose to learn a more "neutral" accent when they move to a new city (especially London) for study or for work.

    It's all rather fascinating for me, since at the workplace I encountered three different approaches from British colleagues on whether to adopt an American accent. One person decided to maintain his native accent and takes joy in emphasizing the differences between American and British English ("the company ARE…"). One spoke a hybrid by rhoticizing his vowels and told me he lost his ability to speak in his native accent. And another was indistinguishable from a local, unless one listens carefully and hears odd choices of vocabulary here and there.

  33. Leo said,

    November 19, 2020 @ 6:40 am

    I wonder if languages vary in the ability of their native speakers to understand unfamiliar varieties. Native English speakers are continually exposed to strongly accented English from both L1 and L2 sources. But there must be some languages whose speakers rarely hear them produced in anything but their own native accent.

  34. Maurice Waite said,

    November 19, 2020 @ 8:08 pm

    A language-teacher trainer at my university (who taught me Italian and German) said that it is a mistake to acquire a perfect accent in a foreign language since if you make a grammatical mistake you will be thought either ignorant or mad.

  35. Shannon said,

    November 19, 2020 @ 9:35 pm

    @ Maurice Waite

    "said that it is a mistake to acquire a perfect accent in a foreign language since if you make a grammatical mistake you will be thought either ignorant or mad."

    Is it even that common to have a L2 speaker be able to pass accent-wise as a native, but still show many signs of non-native grammar mistakes, very noticeably above and beyond the performance errors of a native speaker?

    I feel like the reverse is far more common to encounter — non-native speakers with the grammar down so well, it might as well be indistinguishable from a native, with only the accent marking them out as someone who didn't learn it as their first language.

  36. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 20, 2020 @ 1:26 am


    FWIW, my wife, who has some reason to know, insists that Frenchmen are far better at understanding foreign-accented French than Swedes are at understanding foreign-accented Swedish.

    But this may of course have something to do with the particular features of the foreign accent. One thing that still causes her trouble in Swedish is properly distinguishing long and short vowels, which distinction doesn't apply in French.

  37. Rob said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 2:51 am

    Then again, accent can be influenced by one's audience.
    I was born and brought up in colonial Central Africa (Zambia). I quickly learned to speak in a different accent when at school – using many Afrikaans words, for example, with the accent that would be understood (and not "stand out" as posh). But that was frowned on at home, so I switched to "correct" English there.
    To this day I will unconsciously switch accents in the presence of a fellow from central and southern Africa

  38. cliff arroyo said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 6:40 am

    "languages vary in the ability of their native speakers to understand unfamiliar varieties"

    I'm sure this is almost entirely exposure, in the early 1990s Polish people rarely heard anything but native standard Polish and the remnants of local dialects and even a small foreign accent could bring understanding to a screeching halt… but in the intervening years migration from Vietnam, some non-native speakers in the Sejm, some non-native celebrities, modest movements to revive non-standard dialects and migration from Ukraine have…. broadened what's considered understandable.

  39. Philip Taylor said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 7:38 am

    I still recall, with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment, the memory of joining a train at Warszawa Centralna bound for Brodnica some 20+ years ago, greeting my fellow travellers with Dzień dobry, państwu !, and then sitting there for four and a half hours pretending that I understood what they were saying to me …

  40. Shannon said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 2:28 pm

    @cliff arroyo

    That's an interesting idea — I wonder if increasing understanding and/or social tolerance of non-native speakers goes hand-in-hand with increasing tolerance of native local/regional dialects broadly speaking in other contexts.

    In many cases, though not always, more "cosmopolitan" locales might have not only migrants from other countries, or other language-speaking regions but other transplants that increase general linguistic diversity, right?

  41. cliff arroyo said,

    November 21, 2020 @ 4:35 pm

    Some years ago I was in a conversation once about how it is that Czech speakers can understand a lot more Polish than the reverse….

    At the time Czech speakers were still used to hearing lots of Slovak (not the case so much anymore I think) and regional dialects of Czech and a significant difference between casual spoken and formal (and written) Czech.
    Polish people at that time mostly were mostly only used to hearing Polish with little dialect variation and much less difference between casual and formal language (in terms of morphology and syntax).
    So I do think that the more varied the input that people get the more extreme (esp non-native) variation they can understand….
    Of course there are other factors going on as well…

  42. Lillie Dremeaux said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 1:17 pm

    @JJM, re: "I have a very minor quibble with Lacy: she perpetuates the old spelling-based r-dropping myth": Yes, I noticed that, too. The term makes it sound as if the speakers are, in fact, leaving something out that "should" be there.

    How best to reframe the concept of r-"dropping" or r-"deletion"? We could call it simply "lack of r." (As a side note, I think it's funny that lack of final r's in New York English is mocked, but to an American the same feature sounds "classy" in British English.)

  43. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 4:36 pm

    @ Lillie Dremeaux: The technical term is non-rhoticity. But even that refers to the R. I don't think it's a problem though. Historically, there HAS been loss of R.

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