2007 Morris, Katherine L by wfq74180


									                                  Morris, Katherine
American Attitudes Toward Six Varieties of English in the USA and
         Faculty Mentor: Wendy Baker, Department of Linguistics and English Language

Studying attitudes toward different varieties of English has helped researchers understand how
different language groups interact. When a listener judges a particular speaker based solely on
his or her variety of English, the listener is really making a judgment on the group the speaker
belongs to. Thus, a listener’s attitude toward a particular variety of English can indirectly reveal
the listener’s prejudices (good or bad) toward the group of people who speak that variety. For
this project, I conducted an attitudinal study that examined how Americans feel about different
varieties of British and American English.

Many researchers have examined how British listeners feel about British varieties of English.
Likewise, some researchers have focused on Americans’ attitudes toward American varieties of
English. However, less research has been done to ascertain how people from America or Britain
respond to each other’s varieties of English, and when these comparisons are done, usually only
one variety (whichever is considered the standard) is used. One exception to this is Hiraga,1 who
asked British listeners to judge both American (U.S.) and British regional varieties of English,
finding that while participants favored Received Pronunciation (the British standard) above all
American varieties, they favored the American standard (Network American) over regional
British varieties. They also tended to favor rural varieties (both the American and British) over
urban varieties.

This study replicates Hiraga’s approach, but does so using American (U.S.) college students to
determine if Americans have similar perceptions of American vs. British and rural vs. urban
varieties of English compared to Hiraga’s British participants. It was hypothesized that, as shown
in previous research, Americans would favor Received Pronunciation over other varieties, both
British and American. However, it was also hypothesized that, unlike Hiraga’s British
participants, American participants would rate urban varieties above rural varieties of American
English, but would not have similar prejudices for British varieties since Americans may not be
familiar with regional varieties of British English.

I chose three varieties of American English and British English—one variety representing the
standard (Network American; Received Pronunciation), a rural variety (Alabama; West
Yorkshire), and an urban variety (New York City; Birmingham) from both countries and

 Yuko, Hiraga. ―British Attitudes Towards Six Varieties of English in the USA and Britain.‖ World Englishes,
2005, vol. 24, No. 3, 289–308.
obtained speech samples of each. I played the speech samples for 46 American college students
and administered a survey asking participants to rate the varieties based on 10 traits of status
(―successful,‖ ―educated,‖ etc.) and solidarity (―friendly,‖ ―comforting,‖ etc.). Participants also
noted where they thought each speaker was from.

Results show that participants ranked Network American and Received Pronunciation (the
standard varieties) highest on status traits, but ranked Network American second lowest and
Received Pronunciation highest on solidarity traits. The American participants also rated
Alabama over all other varieties, other than Received Pronunciation, for solidarity traits.
Likewise, West Yorkshire was rated high for solidarity traits. Participants for the most part were
not able to accurately identify where the British speakers of the three samples were from.
However, participants gave responses indicating they understood that each British variety was
distinct from the others. (For more results, see Table 1.)

Table 1 Results
All                            Status                          Solidarity
Received Pronunciation         Received Pronunciation          Received Pronunciation
Network American               Birmingham                      Alabama
Birmingham                     Network American                West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire                 New York City                   Birmingham
New York City                  West Yorkshire                  Network American
Alabama                        Alabama                         New York City
*dotted lines indicate statistically significant differences

These results demonstrate that Americans were able to distinguish between and have opinions
about British regional varieties. Americans favored Received Pronunciation over all other
varieties for status and solidarity, suggesting it is considered more prestigious even than the
American standard. The results also show that for Americans the hierarchy of accent prestige is
somewhat different from the British hierarchy. In traits of status, Americans rate standard
accents highest, urban accents next, and rural accent lowest. In traits of solidarity, Americans
rate rural accents over standard and urban accents. This study also shows that doing cross-
national attitudinal studies is productive and can yield results that give researchers a more fine-
grained understanding of how the hierarchy of accent prestige patterns in a given country.

This research project has been one of my most rewarding academic experiences at Brigham
Young University. Not only was the research experience itself valuable, but I also have had the
opportunity to present the project at a couple conferences. The paper was accepted for to the
2007 Linguistic Association of the Southwest conference and for poster presentation at the 2007
New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference. 2 It has also been accepted to the 2008 American
Association of Applied Linguistics conference.

 My travel to these conferences was funded by grants from the Office of Research and Creative Activities, the
Honors Department, the College of Humanities, and the Department of Linguistics and English Language at
Brigham Young University. I would like to thank them for their assistance and also acknowledge my extraordinarily
dedicated mentor, Wendy Baker, for her expertise and tireless support.

To top