Saturday, 4 December 2010


I read chapter 1 of An Introduction to the Pronunciation of North American English by Jørgen Staun. What strikes me is the fact that the author not only tries to avoid the term 'General American' but also fights his corner on calling this pronunciation variety a dialect and not an accent. This is how the author tries to justify his decision:
The frequent concurrence of lexical and pronunciation boundaries explains in part why there is no single non-regional standard American English pronunciation in North America comparable with Received Pronunciation (RP) in English English,which is the standard non-regional pronunciation in England. The existence of a non-regional standard pronunciation like RP in England has lead [sic] to the notion of accent, which refers to a typical and specifiable pronunciation of a language which is characteristic of a geographical region or a social group. Such a standard non-regional pronunciation is justifiable in England because - so supporters of this concept argue - RP is characteristic of a social group and because other accents than RP can be used with the standard grammar and lexicon. The absence of such a variety in North America explains why the term dialect, rather than accent, is used [...].(25)
Accent is the way someone pronounces a language. Everybody therefore has an accent.
Dialect encompasses not only the way someone pronounces a language but also the grammatical forms, syntactical structures and the vocabulary that are used in discourse. As the book is explicitly aimed at "undergraduate university students"(11) this distinction should not be diluted, blurred or abolished.

Staun rejects the term 'General American' as "an actually existing reference dialect, because it ignores such regional distinctions as those established most recently by ANAE [= Atlas of North American English] [...]" (27). He proposes the term 'North American English Reference Dialect' (= NAERD) and delimits it both negatively and positively:
  • the Northern Cities Shift,
  • the Southern Vowel Shift and
  • the split of the TRAP vowel in the East
are restricting features.
  • The Low Back Merger,
  • the use of the TRAP vowel in bath, staff, etc.,
  • rhoticity,
  • dark l in lose, lust, etc.,
  • flapping of /t/ and /d/,
  • yod-deletion
and a few other features characterise NAERD positively.

There are a few typos and technical imprecisions:
  • "homogenous" should be "homogeneous" (20);
  • "North American Continent" -> "North American continent" (20);
  • Hans Kurath's LANE was not published "in 1943" but in three volumes between 1939 and 1943 (22);
  • LANE did not only report "both lexical differences and variation in pronunciation" but included grammatical differences as well (22);
  • "the existence [...] has lead to the notion [...] -> "has led" (25);
  • Kenyon & Knott's Pronouncing Dictionary was not published in 1953 but in 1944 (26);
  • credit: Eric Johannson
  • the flap is "found when unstressed t and d occur between vowels or between an r and a vowel [...]" (31); I wonder how /t,d/ can be unstressed;
  • the term "English English" (25) sounds awkward to me.


  1. Jack-of-all-trades5 December 2010 at 00:28

    "[...] explains in part what there is no single [...]"

    "What" should be read as "why", I suppose.

  2. Why would a book claiming to cover "North American" English have on its cover a map not of North America but the United States?

    Seems rather sloppy, as does the excerpt you quote.

  3. "Dialect encompasses not only the way someone pronounces a language but also the grammatical forms, syntactical structures and the vocabulary that are used in discourse."

    Kraut,syntactical structures ARE grammar!

  4. @Jack-of-all-trades: Thanks: I've corrected this. It was MY typo, not the author's.

  5. @Alex: You're right of course!

  6. An interesting extract. A good observation about the UK preference for making a distinction between dialect and accent. I used to think the US terminology was deficient is this respect till I got to thinking about the role of the RP construct in linguistics in the UK.

    These days I'm of the mind that the distinction you wish to make between 'dialect' and 'accent' is only representative of a certain group of UK linguists and not representative of other UK linguists (I've been moving in non-Labovian sociolinguistic circles recently and have found 'dialect' frequently used to mean all aspects of a variety) or US writers.

    That UK writers want to treat pronunciation separately, calling it 'accent', and not include it in the term 'dialect' tells us more about the sociolinguistic situation in the UK than about the 'facts' of language. I've never heard of anyone trying to divorce any other aspects of dialect (in the sense of 'variety') from the definition of 'dialect'. It would sound silly to say that vocabulary, morphology or syntax should be removed from the definition of 'dialect' and treated separately.

    I can only assume that pronunciation is treated this way in the UK because it has some special status there, or is though to have some special status there.