Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pronunciation more than communication?

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
In yet another study for your "Well . . . duh . . . straw man" file, (Summarized by Science Daily) Trofimovich of Concordia University and Isaacs of the University of Bristol report on a study based on what they term 'comprehensibility': "Understanding accents: Effective communication is about more than simply pronunciation." That question has been the subject of research for decades. That it should be "news" in the popular science press still should not be surprising. Comprehensibility is partially defined, at least in the summary, as simply " . . . linked to vocabulary and grammar." But to what extent is pronunciation just "accent", what is potentially problematic for the listener? The socio-political strategy of educating the public to learn to attend less to accent in some contexts is absolutely valid. But equating or trying to parse the two terms in that manner is a mistake, in a couple of senses. First, as any Linguistics 100 student knows, pronunciation is at least a morpho-phonemic (grammar + phonology) problem. A mispronounced segmental can cause a grammatical ending to "disappear." Conversely, a syntactic breakdown may impact very directly the intonation of the constituent structure. In addition, calling attention to grammar may bring with it even more inherent bias. Second, and more importantly for our work, pronunciation is, indeed, more than just interpersonal communication in how it is experienced by the speaker and the effect that just the act of speaking has on the speaker. For example, resonant, rich, (haptic-integrated) strong pronunciation can have a very positive effect in itself, on both the speaker's state of mind and sense of identity, "intra-personal" communication of a sort, the essence of embodiment.--which in term affects one's attitude toward one's accent. A "pronounced" difference, to be sure.

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