The Influence of Variety Recognition on Non-Native Attitudes towards English Speech Varieties: A Japanese Case Study

Robert M McKenzie

The Language Centre, University of Glasgow


Despite the enormous amount of valuable research which has been undertaken in the field of psycholinguistics to understand the complex ways in which individuals perceive, process and encode spoken language, until recently, much of the knowledge gained has largely been ignored by sociolinguists (Clopper and Pisoni, 2005). For instance, sociolinguists and social psychologists conducting language attitude studies have traditionally tended to assume that informants who listen to and evaluate speech stimuli are able to identify with consistent accuracy the varieties of English in question. However, misidentification could reduce the validity of any results obtained, particularly when it involves the evaluations of non-native English speaking informants, who are likely to have had less exposure to varieties of English speech.

This talk details the findings of an in-depth quantitative study investigating the perceptions of 558 Japanese university students of six varieties of English speech. The results indicated that whilst evaluations of speakers of UK and US English were particularly positive in terms of status, a Japanese speaker of heavily-accented English was rated most favourably in terms of social attractiveness. Moreover, analysis of the data collected from an additional dialect recognition question demonstrated that accurate identification had a significant positive effect upon the perceived status of native varieties of English, suggesting a tendency amongst the informants to look to native speakers to provide ‘notions of correctness’. The results also imply that Japanese learners retain representations of varieties of English speech and draw upon this resource, whether consciously or unconsciously, in order to identify and evaluate (speakers of) these speech varieties.


Clopper, C.G. and D.B. Pisoni (2005) Perception of dialect variation. In 'Handbook of Speech Perception', edited by Pisoni, D.B. and R.E. Ramez. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.313-337.

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 2 / Attitude
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13