English Language Dialects
|Chapter I.||RP and a short history of the English language||3|
|II.||Brief history of the English language||5|
|Chapter II.||Kinds of variations within English||8|
|I.||Social varieties of English||9|
|II.||Variations in English due to age||11|
|III.||Regional variations within English||11|
|Chapter III.||Varieties of British English||14|
Wherever one goes to England, or elsewhere in Britain (see appendixes 1, 2, 3 and 4), there are very obvious differences between the ways in which people speak in different places. When the foreign learner of English first comes to the British Isles, he is usually surprised to discover how little he understands of the English he hears. For one thing, people seem to speak faster than he expected. For another, the English that most of them speak seems to be different in many ways from the English he has learned. While it is probably differences of pronunciation that will immediately strike him, the learner may also notice differences of grammar and vocabulary.
He may conclude that most of the English people that he hears cannot, or at least do not, speak English correctly. Another reaction on the part of the learner to his failure to understand what is said may be to think that perhaps what he learned in his own country was not ‘real’ English. Although the English he has learned is real enough, it will tend to be limited to a single variety of language. It will usually be the speech of a particular group of native speakers as it is spoken, slowly, and carefully, in rather formal situations. Understanding a number of varieties of English can play an important and practically useful part in the study of English as a foreign language. Whenever British English is taught, the accent presented as a model for the learner will almost always be Standard English (in reference to lexical grammatical usages). Its pronunciation is being known as ‘received pronunciation’ or ‘RP’. ‘Received’ here is to be understood in its nineteenth-century sense of ‘accepted in the best society’1. It is non rhotic, meaning that written r is pronounced only if it is followed by a vowel. Standard English is a direct descendant of the East Midland dialect with an admixture of Saxon elements that arose in London are in the 14th century and was used mainly by upper strata of the population.2 While British society has changed much since that time, RP has nevertheless remained the accent of those in the upper reaches of the social scale, as measured by education, income and profession, or title. It is essentially the accent of those educated at public schools. For RP, unlike prestige accents in other countries, it is not the accent of any region. It is quite impossible to say from his pronunciation where an RP speaker comes from.
It has been estimated that only about three pr cent of the English population speak RP. Why, then, is it the accent taught to the foreign learners? Its prestige has already been mentioned. No doubt learners want to learn, and teachers to teach, the ‘best’ accent, and for most British people, because they associate the accent with the high social status of its speakers, RP is the best and even most ‘beautiful’ accent. If asked to point out a readily available example of RP, it would probably be the speech of BBC newsreaders. Because of its use on radio and television, within Britain RP has become the most widely understood of all accents. 3…
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