Date: Sat, 12 Mar 1994 08:53:34 CST From: "Donald M. Lance" Subject: Conscious Learning of Accent Tim Frazer posted an implicit question yesterday or the day before, and I responded with something that was unclear and in fact nonsense. So, a clarification. I do not make the I/E distinction before nasals in English in running speech and can't do it convincingly in conscious speech, at least not convincing to me. But when I speak Spanish, I automatically produce combinations that are very similar to English [En] and not at all like English [In] or [en]. Of course Spanish does not have i/I or e/E, so I can't be making an I/E distinction in Spanish. The point I should have made is that in my early teens I "trained my articulators" to produce in Spanish a sound combination that is similar to one I cannot do in English. When I speak Spanish, I switch to an alternate phonology, one that I had to learn with some degree of consciousness because I did so after age 8, primarily after age 10 when I was working with Mexican nationals who came across to work on our farm. I vaguely remember consciously working on my phonology as Herman or one of our regulars corrected me. So I developed an alternate phonology through conscious effort, but with natural input in natural conversations (not classroom exercises) on natural topics. How is this related to Tim Frazer's comment about consciously changing one's accent? Here at the University of Missouri most of the undergraduates are from the metropolitan areas, but a substantial number frome from rural areas. At some point I ask if any change accents when they come to the university. The rural Missourians all say a resounding "Yes" and the St. Louisans are dumbfounded by the question. And the Ozarkians DO change their accents; I can hear it. Not all of them are successful in getting the I/E distinction before nasals but they get the other features very well, particularly the collapse of ah/aw into a sound that is more like my ah than my aw. But this one is rampant throughout the U.S. in younger generations. These are individual phonemic matters; accent is more subtle, having to do with timing; degree and nature of breaking; vowel raising/lowering/retracting/ fronting. The Ozarkers do make these subtle changes. I don't have much contact with students in Agriculture, Business. or Engineering, but I suspect that they make less effort to change than the Arts & Sciences students do. My students also tell of changing accent when they go home (like the Yali from Sparta in the video "American Tongues"). This, I'd say, is "consciously changing accent" to some degree. Biloquiality, with conscious effort at some age. Maybe others will want to expand on this complex topic. Natural-sounding biloquiality may be hard to accomplish. Tim seems to be suggesting that it's impossible. DMLance