Friday, December 7, 2012

Disgusting mispronunciation

Clip art: Clker
If there is one unassailable tenet of contemporary language and pronunciation teaching, it is that risk taking and the inevitable miscues and errors which occur are very good things. Furthermore, only mistakes interfering with "intelligibility" should be attended to, the others left relatively untouched. What "minor" differences between the L1 and L2 remain are at least not the responsibility of instruction and to many theorists are near "illegal" to either point to or even react to. In other words, pronunciation errors are for the most part a strong positive, and learners and society at large should not see or experience them as negative--unless you are still for some reason interested in actually changing or correcting them, one of the implications of research by Sherman and colleagues of the Kennedy School of Government, summarized by Science Daily.

Clip art: Clker
In that study, it was found that subjects who were higher in the personality trait of sensitivity to "disgust" were by nature better able to perceive degrees of difference in objects positioned in the light~dark spectrum. (Light~dark being associated in most cultures with pure and impure.) The effect was not apparent with other personality traits such as sensitivity to fear, etc. In other words, to detect an error or difference requires an appropriate degree of affective or emotional indexing. I think it is safe to at least speculate that the opposite effect "works" as well: encourage love of errors (or suppress negative reaction to them) and learners ability to attend to them or monitor them erodes correspondingly.

Not to sound like a "purist" here, but could it be that some of the current, renewed interest in pronunciation teaching, especially segmental (vowel and consonant) change, is but an unintended consequence of the profession's often uncritical attitude toward "error-ing"?  Disgusting . . . 

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