A comparison of attitudes towards the English accent of Afrikaners living in America
Van der Schyf, Sophia Louise
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In South Africa, a reported lack of confidence in Afrikaans is coupled with negative attitudes towards the phonological patterns that are characteristic of the English pronunciation of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. This lack of confidence perpetuates prevailing linguistic constraints at a time when proficiency in English has become increasingly important and thus requires a closer look at attitudes towards different varieties of an English accent. The main objective of the present study was to gain new insights into language attitudes through a comparative analysis that took worldwide trends into account. This comparison was done to facilitate a more objective assessment of existing linguistic constraints in South Africa. This study compares how language attitudes of three different sociolinguistic groups, viz. South Africans with Afrikaans as their native language, South Africans with English as their native language and Americans, differ or correspond in reaction to the same set of English speech samples. The speech samples were recorded readings by South Africans with Afrikaans as their native language. Some of these contained varying degrees of an assimilated American accent. Attitudes were inferred indirectly from ratings of the recorded speech samples on various personality, status and accent-based traits according to a bipolar scale of 1-7, as well as directly by means of open questionnaires where respondents were invited to voice their opinions on several related issues. The results of this study suggest the Americans to be the most tolerant group (overall mean score: 4.75), followed by the Afrikaans-speaking South Africans (overall mean score: 4.61) and the English-speaking South Africans being decidedly more critical (overall mean score: 3.54), where a rating of 4.00 would indicate an attitude of indifference. By removing the English accents from the subjectivity of a South African context and assessing attitudes against the relative neutrality of an American background, the narrow focus on an intense sociolinguistic situation in South Africa could be widened to a global perspective - to view attitudes towards accent in the New South Africa against an international background. Quantitative data, supported by qualitative findings, indicated that much stronger negative attitudes towards the English accent of Afrikaners prevailed amongst English-speaking South Africans than was evident in the other two groups. The data also indicated that although an American accent was overtly rejected, a clearly discernable covert endorsement of an American accent existed. This reaction seems to be in line with the unprecedented spread of Americanisms across the globe, which can partly be ascribed to the United States' world-wide domination of the mass media, the computer and entertainment industry, and lately also the internet. The conclusion can be drawn from the results of this study that an adherence to external norms, which perpetuates exclusive language environments and tend to feed linguistic constraints, should be rejected in favour of national or regional authenticity as a higher priority than "near-British-English". This conclusion is specifically significant in view of the relatively high ratings given to the accents by the American respondents as the objective international evaluators. Insights of this kind, gained by comparative studies, can be applied to overcome constraining sociolinguistic attitudes to reach the goal of making English accessible to all South Africans.
- Humanities