Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perceived distance between or difference in accents

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Stick that in Google and you get over 9,700,000 hits. There is apparently some interest in that question. My dissertation (1979) on perceived social distance paralleled recently published research on perceived emotional distance inherent in personal relationships. What Frost of Columbia University and colleagues found in looking at "millions" of entries on blogs, according to Science Daily, was that it was not especially relevant whether an individual perceived themselves to be particularly close or distant from some other person or entity but whether that distance was seen as close to or far from what they considered "ideal", for whatever reason.

In my research it appeared that to be a good language learner (at least in the earlier stages of acculturation) it was not all that important how close or distant you perceived yourself to be from the L2 culture--as long as you saw yourself as about the same distance from your L1 culture. In other words, the ideal model of the more successful learners seemed to be a kind of equi-distance. Whether very close or quite "far" did not appear to be a factor.

So, what does that mean for our work in accent and pronunciation? Something like this: The targets learners have in their heads for the L2 sounds may not be the key factor at all--assuming that they have them. How they feel about that distance, however, is another matter. Do you have an adequate system for engaging either or both? The key notion is that you probably can't do the latter without the former being relatively well established.

One of the major innovations of haptic-integrated clinical pronunciation as realized in the AH-EPS system is the use of not just sound or color or key words or an IPA vowel chart for establishing L2 pronunciation targets, but, in addition, well-established locations in the visual field anchored by touch. Those locations, alone, assist learners in managing the effect and affect of the "distance" between L1 and L2 sound targets. Keep in touch. 

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