midterm project

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Ari Zweibaum

John Baugh is a Black American linguist who conducted a study in the San Francisco Bay area involving renting apartments. Baugh called apartment complexes and asked to rent a room using three different dialects of English: Standard American English (SAE), African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and Chicano English (ChE). He found that when he was using SAE, he achieved more success in being able to possibly rent the apartment. This study shows the social consequences that differences in dialect can lead to. A common misconception that people have when it comes to the English language is that some English speakers have more of an accent than others. This concept exists solely to discriminate against others and to put people who speak SAE in positions of power. The idea that some people have more of an accent than others is completely false because everybody’s accent is unique and it’s simply your own perception of someone else’s accent compared to your own. A 2016 study of children with a language development disorder compared children with no disorder in terms of recall ability. The study defined recall ability as how well these children could remember and repeat a sentence that has been said to them and with what accuracy. The study played 3 different types of sentences (sentences with one, two, and three functional categories) in Southern White English (SWE) and in AAVE. Interestingly, children with the disorder were able to recall the sentences spoken in AAVE with slightly higher accuracy than those spoken in SWE. In addition, the recall ability of the two dialects were nearly identical for children without the disorder (Oetting, J. B., McDonald, J. L., Seidel, C. M., & Hegarty, M., 2016). This observation is significant because it depicts the opposite of what would be expected based on the discriminatory trends toward those who generally speak AAVE. In fact, the recall

accuracy for both dialects in children without the disorder is proof that there is almost no difference in understanding and therefore an equal amount of “thickness” in accent. Because of this equal amount of “thickness” in accent, it can safely be assumed that one dialect of English in this example does not have more of an accent than the other. Within the linguistics community, the idea that all dialects of English are considered equal is well known and accepted. This concept is shown in a study done in 2021 that investigated what Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) students’ views on AAVE. In the study, researchers played 4 different clips for the SLP students: formal and informal SAE and formal and informal AAVE. The researchers wanted to know what the SLP students thought about AAVE as a dialect and what the students thought about the person who was speaking. They found that the SLP students all agreed that AAVE was a viable and equal dialect of English to SAE. However, the discrepancy that the researchers were interested in was that the SLP students had low ratings in “personal attributes” (Hendricks, A. E., Watson-Wales, M., & Reed, P. E., 2021). In other words, while the SLP students recognize that AAVE is an equal dialect of English and have high opinions of it, they still have an internal, implicit bias against speakers of AAVE. This internal bias is part of what drives this myth that some people have more of an accent than others. Fortunately, the understanding that AAVE along with other dialects of English are equal in value and viability is the foundation that is necessary to remove these internal biases and to destroy this misconception. In a study done in 2018, researchers gathered children and played sixty sentences in three different dialects of English including an American English speaker with a Midwest Dialect, a British English speaker, and a native Japanese speaker who learned English as a second language. The sixty sentences were played once with no other noise and again in a noisy

environment. The researchers kept track of the word identification accuracy. The study found that in quiet conditions, children could understand the American English speaker and the British English speaker without difficulty, and the Japanese-accented English speaker with some difficulty. However, in noisy conditions, while all three accuracies dropped, their ability to understand non-native English speakers was particularly low (Bent, T., & Holt, R. F., 2018). This study could be used as an argument to prove that non-native English speakers have more of an accent than native English speakers. However, this accent is a matter of perception and not reality. Native English speakers will tend to perceive a non-native English speaker to have more of an accent. This can be seen in a comparison between American English and British English. Someone who natively speaks British English will not recognize that other people who speak British English have a thick ‘British accent,’ while American English speakers will be quite perceptive of a British English speaker’s accent in comparison to their own. A common misconception about language is that some people have more of an accent than others. This myth is blatantly false and is seeded in racial discrimination and supported by studies that show a lack of understanding of different accents. The reason people think that someone has more of an accent than themselves is because of their perception of that person’s accent. I encourage you to learn more about this topic and help educate others about the effects of highlighting the differences in how we speak.

References • Bent, T., & Holt, R. F. (2018). Shhh… I Need Quiet! Children’s Understanding of American, British, and Japanese-accented English Speakers. Language & Speech, 61(4), 657–673. https://doi.org/10.1177/0023830918754598 – This paper holds evidence that could be used to argue that some English speakers DO have more of an accent than others. It talks about children having difficulty understanding foreign-accents with noise. • Oetting, J. B., McDonald, J. L., Seidel, C. M., & Hegarty, M. (2016). Sentence Recall by Children With SLI Across Two Nonmainstream Dialects of English. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 59(1), 183–194. https://doi.org/10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-15-0036 – This paper talks about the ability of children with SLI (Specific Language Impairment) to recall sentences correctly. Particularly of note is the results from the control (Typically Developing Children) because there is no inability for them to recall the sentence. In addition, children with SLI could better recall AAVE speakers than Southern White English (SWE) speakers • Hendricks, A. E., Watson-Wales, M., & Reed, P. E. (2021). Perceptions of African American English by Students in Speech-Language Pathology Programs. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(9), 1962–1972. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_AJSLP-20-00339 – This paper discusses how SLP (Speech-language pathologist) students view AAVE as a dialect despite the acceptance of it as an equal dialect of English

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