Two islands — a short story about pronunciation

Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Saturday, August 16, 2003, 09:37 GMT
Long ago I wrote a short story about pronunciation in which I intended to express a moral - a lesson for all those who only care about "being able to communicate" rather than thinking about "good pronunciation".

My questions are:

(1) Is the meaning of the story clear?
Does everybody understand what it is that I tried to convey?

(2) Do the native speakers have any trace of sympathy for my point of view? Do they sometimes have problems understanding foreigners and try to hide it for reasons of courtesy?
Tremmert   Saturday, August 16, 2003, 19:21 GMT
Moral: very clear. In fact maybe a bit too clear...
Ryan   Saturday, August 16, 2003, 20:06 GMT
Well, it's all about power. Why do all of you people want to learn English anyways? If your countries were more powerful than my country, you would make us learn your language. The fact is, years of hegemony by both Great Britain and the US have lead English to becoming a "universal language."

If other countries switch to English as an official language, they will develop regional accents whether they want to or not. We Americans don't have any control over how people talk and I don't think most reasonable Americans really think everyone should talk like an American, although understandability is somewhat important.

Since the USA is such a multicultural country already, we are not so picky about accents as Michal seems to suggest. We already have African-American English, Latino English and Asian English in our countries, as well as New York English, Southern English and other regional Englishes. If you learn how to talk and another American can understand you, you are a good enough speaker from our opinion. We are not so narrow-minded as you assume so I think some of you guys should just lighten up a little.

Clark   Saturday, August 16, 2003, 23:00 GMT
Ryan wrote, "...they will develop regional accents whether they want to or not."

I could not agree more. This has even happened in America. Listen to the Italian Americans speak English. They may not speak a word of Italian, but their English has a distinctive Italian sound to it.

And of course, no post from Clark about language is complete without something about the PA Germans ;-)

In Pennsylvania, there are some people who do not speak a word of PA German, but their English language is so heavily influenced by the German language, it is so hard to understand them. Here is an example of their English:

In Pehn-sil-Vayn-YA, Dehr ar sun PEE-pul dat doo naht shpeek ay vurd ahf Daitsh, but dehr ENG-lisch laynk-VAch iss so HEHF-ilee in-FLU-ens'd by da Daitsh laynk-VAch, it iss so hart to unter-SHTant dehm.
Ryan   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 06:24 GMT
That sounds almost like how some people from Pittsburgh talk. Did a lot of Pennsylvania Germans move from rural areas to the Pittsburgh area at some point? That city definitely has a unique way of talking. Bill Cowher, the Pittsburgh Steeler's coach, is funny to listen to.

Michal Ryszard Wojcik   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 20:22 GMT
I was also making a second point in my story - something that has nothing to do with Americans or any other English natives.

If you live in Poland and take an English course together with other Poles, then you all learn together the same distortion of English. The result is mutual understandability among Polish learners of English. This may lead to the impression that you can speak English so that others understand you.

But, you only speak English so that other Poles understand you, and not necessarily English speakers from other countries.
Ryan   Sunday, August 17, 2003, 21:21 GMT
Well, I suppose you have a point. Either you need to be taught by a native speaker, or by someone else who was taught by a native speaker. My point is that there is not one "right" accent. Most Americans are not going to be "annoyed" by a foreign accent as long as it is understandable. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He might become governor and he still has a very strong German accent.

Understandability is always the most important thing, but perfection of an American or British accent seems a little silly to me.

language police   Tuesday, August 19, 2003, 07:46 GMT
I wonder why Michal has to be so against accents when he himself speaks with a distinctive but understandable one.