Morris, Katherine American Attitudes Toward Six Varieties of English in the USA and Britain Faculty Mentor: Wendy Baker, Department of Linguistics and English Language Project Introduction 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. Background 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. Methodology 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 1 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 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 Conclusion 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. Presentations 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. 2 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.
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