The speech of an individual is a linguistic map of their identity and an indication of how they would like to be perceived. Migrants who come to Australia already possess the linguistic structures of their mother tongue, and these will affect the way they speak English, forming an ethnolect. Consequently, a person’s language is a clear indicator of their past ethnic origins, and the English they choose to speak will also indicate how they would like others to perceive them. This latter is true for everyone, as we all vary our language according to context.
Bill is a young Chinese student who has come to Australia two years ago from China to further his education. His lexical field is wide and varied, he is able to use complex syntactic structures and his accent and prosodic features show a good familiarity with standard Australian English. However, it is still possible to find linguistic features which demonstrates that he is from a Chinese background, that he is male, that he has travelled, can appreciate humour, and that he would like to be perceived as an educated person with further academic goals.
The phonological features of a person’s speech are the most obvious signposts to his or her origins or mother tongue. For example, Bill pronounces the ‘not’ in ‘not really’, ‘correct’, ‘just’ and ‘want’ by ending with a glottal stop (/ʔ/), rather than the voiceless consonant (/t/). This occurs as final consonants are much less frequent in Mandarin than in English and thus they are normally dropped or replaced by a glottal stop. This could give linguists a clue on his origins or mother tongue. Bill also values the Australian accent, but there are also traces of American English in his speech, notably his pronunciation of ‘currently’, with the sound ‘ker’ (American) rather than ‘kar’ (Australian). This shows the subtle ways that every experience can affect a person’s identity as Bill has stayed in America for a short period of time, making his English slightly...
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