Pronunciations Problem Areas

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Malaysian Journal of ELT Research Vol. 2, March 2006

Pronunciation Issues In Non-Native Contexts: A Malaysian Case Study

Joanne Rajadurai
Universiti Teknologi MARA

Abstract While the spread of English has given prominence to the role of intelligibility, it has also raised questions about the intelligibility and phonology of new varieties of English. This paper asserts the importance of pronunciation, but argues that traditional pronunciation models need to be critically re-examined. Proposing a shift in focus from the native speaker to the highly competent L2 speaker of English, it reports on a study undertaken in Malaysia and discusses ways in which proficient speakers of English modify their pronunciation patterns to attain greater intelligibility. It concludes by suggesting ways in which L2 research on intelligibility can reconfigure itself both ideologically and methodologically, and examines the significance of the findings with respect to aspects of pedagogy and ‘the lingua franca phonological core’.

Pronunciation Issues In Non-Native Contexts: A Malaysian Case Study

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THE SPREAD OF ENGLISH This paper has its roots in the spread of English in the world and its consequences. The growth of English as seen today is unparalleled in history, and has resulted in a new demographic distribution of the language, as well as in new uses and users. One direct consequence of this is that nearly a quarter of the world’s population or between 1.2 and 1.5 billion people have some level of fluency or competence in English, and this figure is growing steadily (Crystal, 2003). A second outcome is that non-native speakers of English, including ESL and EFL speakers, now outnumber native speakers. Although exact numbers are difficult to obtain as they depend on how speakers are categorised and what proficiency levels are taken into account, Crystal’s (2003) extrapolations put the number of ESL and EFL speakers at 300-500 million and 500-1000 million respectively, in comparison to 320-380 million native speakers. This spread of English also means that changes to the language are inevitable. This is the basic premise in Widdowson’s (1997, p. 140) portrayal of English as a virtual language that is “variously actualized” as it spreads, resulting in “adaptation and nonconformity”. Adaptation suggests appropriation and pluralism, whilst nonconformity implies discarding compliance with Inner Circle1 norms. Hence, there is growing consensus that in international and especially, intranational uses of English in the Outer Circle, native norms are not only unrealistic, but inappropriate and often alienating. These advances have also been accompanied by calls to sever the ties to the traditional bases of English in ‘colonial lands’, to resist linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992; Canagarajah, 1999), to liberate the language, and to ‘dehegemonize’ it (Parakrama, 1995) to acculturate the language and to reclaim the local (Kachru, 1992; Canagarajah, 2005). Such propositions further champion the nativisation 2 of English, and its development without reference to Inner Circle norms.

The Phonology Of Non-Native Varieties Of English In tandem with the growth of English, new varieties of English have sprung up and developed all over the globe. It should be noted that although these new Englishes differ from the traditional varieties in a number of ways, the difference is most conspicuous in the area of phonology, which maintains distinctive features even in the educated sub-

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Kachru (1985) represents the spread of English in the world in terms of three concentric circles: the Inner, Outer and Expanding Circles. The Inner Circle comprises the traditional bases of English, and includes Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The Outer Circle is made up of countries where English has a long history of institutionalised functions and is used intranationally. They include countries like Malaysia, Singapore, India,...
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