WB Column: Accents

Awrite! Hou’s aw wi ye? Can A gie ye a haund?

It’s quite remarkable that when you study English you get taught about grammar, literature, philosophy even, but nothing about pronunciation. We do have phonology, but that is mostly theoretical and only in Received Pronunciation. We learn how to pronounce sounds and phonemes, but don’t actually practice it, there is no oral exam.

We firmly believe that there should be a possibility to both practice oral skills and different types of accents. Wouldn’t we all like to show off our well-polished Scottish or Australian accents? We understand that this might not be suitable for the obligated curriculum, but it would definitely be so much fun as an elective. Take the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen for instance, they already have a similar course to train their students’ oral communication skills.

It would not only be fun but also very useful to be able to speak different accents, because it would broaden the fields of research in other courses. There are books that read as though written in an accent. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh for example, is written in Scottish English, or The Color Purple by Alice Walker, which is written in African American Vernacular English, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner in a Southern American dialect. One can of course understand these books when you speak RP, but knowing the accents and where they come from enriches the experience of reading so much more.

Another reason to learn all sorts of accents, is because it is toe-curlingly awkward when you’re having a conversation with a native speaker and you don’t understand them, to tell them that you study English at University. We’ve had many occasions when we had to embarrassingly admit to this.

Basically, we’re secretly hoping a UvA staff member will read this column and get it done. From our most beloved source WikiHow. We’d like to share with you this golden gift of learning how to speak like a Geordie: http://www.wikihow.com/Talk-Like-a-Geordie . Enjoy rebelling against the system and learning your first non-standard accent on your own! Cheers!

Ines Severino & Yentl Dudink

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