Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Haptic Highlights at TESOL 2015 - 2 (Macdonald on Pronunciation and Identity)

Probably the highlight of the conference for me, personally, at least theoretically, was a presentation by Macdonald of Victoria University/Melbourne, based on his 2015 paper, “The tutor never asked me questions”: Pronunciation and student positioning at university, (See full citation below.)

Quoting from the abstract: " . . . puts forward a model for understanding pronunciation and its role in speaker identity formulation. Theory underpinning this model is based on sociolinguistic work on speaker identities as formulated through spoken interactions (Bucholtz and Hall, 2005)".

What Macdonald's framework provides is an intriguing approach to bringing together constructs from a number of fields of study related to pronunciation, including drama, music, voice training, sociolinguistics, paralanguage--and, of course, embodiment. The key is to begin from the perspective
of learner identity as a point of departure, focusing on three of the five components of Bucholtz and Hall (2005): Positionality,
 partialness (the other two being, emergence, and indexicality).

Macdonald's striking conclusion in his TESOL 2015 paper, Pronunciation and Speaker Identity, cuts both ways. First, pronunciation, itself, probably does not contribute as much variance to L2 identity as is currently believed. Second, that a wide range of variables related to speaking production and social context must be taken into account to understand L2 identity formation and the relative role of pronunciation or accent in the process.  

And finally, the real impact of L2 pronunciation development at any point in time can ONLY be understood in the context of the identity of the individual learner, not in relative isolation. Will unpack the implications of Macdonald's perspective for haptic pronunciation work in subsequent posts.

Full Citations:
Bucholtz, M. and Hall, K. (2005). Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 585-614.
Macdonald, S. (2015). "The tutor never asked me questions”: Pronunciation and student positioning at university, Journal of Academic Language Learning 9(2), 31-41. 


Angelina Van Dyke said...

Thank you for the references - MacDonald gives us something to think about! I would definitely have to disagree with Bucholtz and Hall's framework from the get-go: their analysis of identity is based in linguistic interaction, where identity is the product rather than the source of linguistic and other semiotic practices, and therefore is a social and cultural rather than primarily internal psychological phenomenon. This does not square up with neurology, the king of the sciences, since social interaction is happening in people's minds. Music-making is similar - you can embody it in a tactile sense, but your mind is what gives the signals to your body to play.

Bill Acton said...

Excellent point. The pedagogical (or political) point, however, remains that your point of departure in instruction does necessarily have to be in (or with) the brain or the psychological construct of the individual's identity. In interaction we can watch and at least guide the various "meanings" in ways that we still cannot in the hardwiring of the neural network. The brain is still a very problematic metaphor . . .

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