Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lazy students? It's their "pronunciation literacy's" @ fault!

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
Interesting piece by Howard of National Geographic News citing Harrison, “Literacy makes you lazy; we don’t memorize 10,000-line epic poems any more," David Harrison, the director of research for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, told an audience at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado this past weekend." His point, in part, is that literacy in English is achieved more and more by being able to speak fluently and access information when necessary--not by keeping all that stored in the brain--or being able to produce or reproduce "it" with inordinate (or extreme) accuracy, etc. Fair enough. He doesn't really unpack that statement much, especially in terms of the functions of memorizing poetry, which generally demand extraordinary attention to the expressive dimensions of language. (If it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, perhaps 10,000 lines of poetry is enough to make you an honorary native speaker as well?) From that perspective, from the standpoint of the English learner, he may have a point. The emphasis on comprehensible input and output, along with the  high priority on communicative, intelligible interaction has unquestionably produced a new ideal or model of the successful learner's pronunciation that, almost by necessity must ignore attention to the finer nuances of L2 expressive speech. In fact--and I'll come back to this later--for many theorists today it is as if some level of the expressive system of the L1 must remain firmly in place, surviving principally as "accent" and higher forms of pragmatic competence, to ensure that the L1 identity of the learner is not washed out or assimilated in the process, what we might call "Lazy faire pronunciation literacy." 

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