Similarity between L1 regional variation and L2 deviation, and its implications for the language learner

Rias van den Doel

Utrecht University, Netherlands, The


Pronunciation training for non-native learners of English has until recently been based firmly on the standard models of RP (Received Pronunciation, also termed Standard Southern British English) and GA (General American, also termed ‘Network American’). It is noteworthy that certain frequent non-native deviations from these standard models may actually be within the range of acceptability for other national, regional or local varieties of English. One such is the substitution of the dental fricatives /θ ð/ by dental or alveolar stops, which is characteristic not only of L2 varieties, but also of a number of native Englishes, for example Irish English and Caribbean English. This phenomenon has inspired the proposition that dental fricatives should no longer be regarded as mandatory for non-native learners – since such non-native variation can be regarded as equivalent to acceptable regional variation (see Jenkins 2000).

A recent (2006) study examined 20 pronunciation errors commonly produced by Dutch-speaking learners of English which happen to have close equivalents in regionally distinctive native Englishes. The L2 errors were then embedded in otherwise non-deviant English and subsequently presented to a large number (545) of native-speaker judges drawn from all over the English-speaking world. It was expected that judges would evaluate errors more leniently if these happened to be similar to features of their own accents, but surprisingly this is not in fact what transpired. Instead, there were instances where such an effect was not found, or even where the reverse was the case – possibly as a result of the strong stigmatisation of certain pronunciation phenomena within the judges’ own linguistic communities.

These findings will be enlarged upon in this paper, and it will be proposed that:

– L1 stigmatisation has a potential effect on the assessments of L2 speech by native speakers;

– non-native learners should be circumspect in imitating regional pronunciation features which deviate markedly from standard models.

This research also indicates severe limitations to Jenkins’s (2000: 27) suggestion that L2 variation is “on a par” with native-speaker regional variation.


Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language: new models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Session: Paper session
Variation 8 / Change
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 15