março 21st, 2012

"When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents?"

There are many, many evolving regional British and American accents, so the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are gross oversimplifications. What a lot of Americans think of as the typical “British accent” is what’s called standardized Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as Public School English or BBC English. What most people think of as an “American accent,” or most Americans think of as “no accent,” is the General American (GenAm) accent, sometimes called a ”newscaster accent” or “Network English.” Because this is a blog post and not a book, we’ll focus on these two general sounds for now and leave the regional accents for another time.

Revolutionary War reenactment

English colonists established their first permanent settlement in the New World at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, sounding very much like their countrymen back home. By the time we had recordings of both Americans and Brits some three centuries later (the first audio recording of a human voice was made in 1860), the sounds of English as spoken in the Old World and New World were very different. We’re looking at a silent gap of some 300 years, so we can’t say exactly when Americans first started to sound noticeably different from the British. As for the “why,” though, one big factor in the divergence of the accents is rhotacism.

The General American accent is rhotic and speakers pronounce the r in words such as hard. The BBC-type British accent is non-rhotic, and speakers don’t pronounce the r, leaving hard sounding more like hahd. Before and during the American Revolution, the English, both in England and in the colonies, mostly spoke with a rhotic accent. We don’t know much more about said accent, though. Various claims about the accents of the Appalachian Mountains, the Outer Banks, the Tidewater region and Virginia’s Tangier Island sounding like an uncorrupted Elizabethan-era English accent have been busted as myths by linguists.

Talk This Way

Around the turn of the 18th century, not long after the revolution, non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper and upper-middle classes. It was a signifier of class and status. This posh accent was standardized as Received Pronunciation and taught widely by pronunciation tutors to people who wanted to learn to speak fashionably. Because the Received Pronunciation accent was regionally “neutral” and easy to understand, it spread across England and the empire through the armed forces, the civil service and, later, the BBC. Across the pond, many former colonists also adopted and imitated Received Pronunciation to show off their status.

This happened especially in the port cities that still had close trading ties with England — Boston, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. From the Southeastern coast, the RP sound spread through much of the South along with plantation culture and wealth. After industrialization and the Civil War and well into the 20th century, political and economic power largely passed from the port cities and cotton regions to the manufacturing hubs of the Mid Atlantic and Midwest — New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, etc. The British elite had much less cultural and linguistic influence in these places, which were mostly populated by the Scots-Irish and other settlers from Northern Britain, and rhotic English was still spoken there.

As industrialists in these cities became the self-made economic and political elites of the Industrial Era, Received Pronunciation lost its status and fizzled out in the U.S. The prevalent accent in the Rust Belt, though, got dubbed General American and spread across the states just as RP had in Britain. Of course, with the speed that language changes, a General American accent is now hard to find in much of this region, with New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago developing their own unique accents, and GenAm now considered generally confined to a small section of the Midwest.

As mentioned above, there are regional exceptions to both these general American and British sounds. Some of the accents of southeastern England, plus the accents of Scotland and Ireland, are rhotic. Some areas of the American Southeast, plus Boston, are non-rhotic.


janeiro 8th, 2012

"Instruction videos teaching more than English on YouTube"

One of the more overlooked corners of the YouTube community, it turns out, is also one of the more genuinely useful ones. Because if you’ve forgotten the video giant’s international reach, here’s a reminder of it: There’s a surprisingly large number of people creating videos to tackle the challenge of learning English as a second language. Searching for channels with the keyword “ESL” pulls up over 3,600 results, the vast majority of which are devoted to English-as-a-second-language instruction. Videos on topics ranging from basic pronunciation to vocabulary have accumulated hundreds of thousands of views, with popular channels like Quality English Lessons Online accumulating millions. Because the materials are available openly, that means there’s potential for unexpected repurposing of these lessons. One example is the story of Dave Valiulis, a technical writer and Ph.D who suffered a stroke in 2008 and has since been dealing with the effects of aphasia and apraxia, which damaged his ability to access words and manipulate his mouth to speak clearly. After completing two years of professional speech therapy, Valiulis “graduated” and was left to improve his ability to talk on his own. Initially he went looking for things related to aphasia and apraxia, with little success — but when he discovered the amount of ESL material out there, he found his options widen dramatically. “I thought, ‘Of course — this is what I need! After all, English to a person with aphasia and apraxia is like a second language,’” Valiulis wrote via email. The channel he found most useful was Rachel’s English, which currently has over 6,500 subscribers and 2.1 million views. Rachel’s videos break down the basics of American English in a number of ways, including the exact techniques behind pronouncing letters, with specific notes about tongue placement and throat movement — which is something that those with apraxia struggle to remember.

And while Rachel does not list any formal speech therapy training in her official bio, she does make note of her musical training in multiple languages; that musical training is what Valiulis found most helpful about her videos. “Rachel’s videos are unique in that she stresses the overall rhythm and flow — the musicality — of English,” Valiulis said. “This is very helpful to me and to the person with aphasia. That’s because music mostly comes from the right side of the brain — which is the undamaged side in most aphasics.” The ESL courses aren’t a perfect solution for aphasics, according to Valiulis: “There are plenty of topics the aren’t relevant to me in typical ESL lessons (like grammar) and there are some things I need that are not covered in ELS (like word retrieval and improving my talking speed). But there is plenty of overlap — at least with Rachel’s videos — to keep me busy!” I spoke briefly with Valiulis on the phone, and his speech was reminiscent of someone with an extreme stutter, but he spoke clearly and wasn’t hard to understand. The effects of his training are working. So the videos are doing what they’re supposed to: Help people learn to communicate better. Which is, ultimately, the point.


Categorias: English, Posts, inglês, learning

janeiro 8th, 2012

"Using Feelings And Senses To Learn Foreign Languages"

Did you know that the most common and erroneous way that a lot of us try to learn foreign language vocabulary, phrases and expressions is by repetition of the foreign language word/s and the translation in our native language? If somebody reads a vocabulary list in French and wants to learn the word livre for example, they’ll say or think “book…. livre…. book….” and hope it sticks. Likewise, if you were trying to learn “where is the hotel?” in Turkish, you’d probably try to remember it by repeating “where is the hotel? otel nerede?” and then hope that between that and actually using the expression you remember how to say it. I’ve done this so many times before in a lot of languages and it’s always been a highly inefficient method and often a waste of time.

Click on the link below to read the rest of this article.