Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Do Most Foreigners Speak English In A Funny Way?

Setting
This is my Muslim neighbor: Mamadou. His wife just put to birth and The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has just given his kids back to him. Mamadou had an accident a month ago and the insurance company wants to subrogate and pay him. He showed me the forms the insurance company sent to him to fill out for his compensation. After reading them I told him they were not good terms. He told me he showed them to his lawyer. I asked him to call his lawyer and he did. I explained to the lawyer that those terms were not good because Mamadou will incur losses. The lawyer said he had not seen the letter and that, he advised Mamadou over phone. However, Mamadou and I could come in so he could look at the letter. So Mamadou came, picked me up and we drove first to the insurance company and then to the lawyer’s place. It is on our way to the various places that this conversation took place.

Phonological Analyses
Mamadou uses the theta or interdental alveolars /θ/ and /ð/ (the sounds written with th) as [t] or [d] which are common in Wolof. Listen to Mamadou pronounce /that/, he uses the /d/. To Mamadou every word with a /th/ at the beginning starts with a /d/ while he mutes the /th/ in the middle or the end like /months/ he says /m ns/ instead of /m nθs/.

Mamadou has a serious problem with cluster consonant when he pronounces Grady (Grady Hospital) and hundred. He pronounces the former as a three syllable word and the latter as a three syllable word. In the first word he adds an /a/ after the /g/ as /garady/ instead of /grei’di/ and in the second he adds an /e / after the /d/ and pronounces it as /hundered/ instead of /h ndred/ . In short, Mamadou has a lot of problems with syllabic structures.

Mamadou does not replace a long or short vowel with an unstressed vowel, like most native speakers do with the schwa, in an unstressed syllable. Mamadou like myself seems to put the stress just anywhere we think should have a stress and over pronounced the one with a stress. As you listen to the conversation, Mamadou uses the long /o/ sound which is /:/ like in /Moreland/ as a short /o/ as in /pot/ Then he puts the stress on the second syllable of Moreland rather than the first. Sometimes it would seem he is reducing the sound to a schwa. In Received Pronunciation, the /o/ sound when stressed like in pot / p t /, negroid / neigr d / , bond /b nd /, lot / l t /, slot / sl t /, plot /pl t / , lop / l p /, narcotic / na:k tik/, keeps its original orthorpedy of / / but will change to a schwa when the word is unstressed as in wagon /wæg n/ (stressed on first syllable), rubicon /ru:bik n/ (stressed on first syllable), purpose /p :p s/ (stressed on third syllable), recollect /rek lekt/(stressed on third syllable) recommend /rek mend/ (stressed on third syllable). It is often said that stress in English determines vowel quality but with most Africans it doesn’t. That is the reason why when you listen to most of them speak, most of the words with /an, in, on and un/ sound alike. In addition, he says “das is” instead of that is and College Park instead of College Park “das good” instead of that’s good.

Morphological and/or syntactic Analyses.

Mamadou has problems with tenses. He says, “Your heater is works”? He does not even use modal verbs or auxiliaries. Mamadou will definitely have problems with spelling though this is not a written exercise. However, one would generally spell as they speak. He fails to use the dummy too because in English, questions are asked by using negatives questions when only the full verb exists. For instance he wants to know if I have a heater in my house. He would have said, “Do you have a heater in your house”? Instead he says “your heater is works?

Then he introduces an article in front of proper nouns to show possessiveness. For example he says “do you know the Kadija lawyer”. It should have been “do you know Kadija’s lawyer”? The reason why Mamadou uses an article to introduce Kadija is because his original language is French and in French an article introduces a noun.

However, by using an article to introduce a proper noun one immediately knows that Ali has a limited education because even though they use and article to introduce a noun but not a proper noun. For example one could say in French “J’ai un ami” (I have a friend). One could say “je connais une Kadija ” (I know a certain Kadija ) suggesting uncertainty of the said Kadija they are talking about but aware of a given Kadija Ba that they know.

The silent consonant like /t/ in listen usually follows a short /i/ as in /pin/ but Mamadou is using it as a schaw. There is a repetitive phrase “mother fucker” that Mamadou uses all the time. It is almost like a ceasura to enable him pick up his breathe as he vents out his frustration.

Pragmatic Analyses
Mamadou does not use any pragmatic language. His language is just prosaic because he does neither understand nor speak English well.

Recommendations for instructional practice and assessment
Mamadou’s case cannot be remedied because he came to this country already as a grown adult. Therefore, he has been deprived from the early interventions: a stage at which phonological awareness training could easily take place. Secondly, he is not willing to learn and does not like the place. One must first like a place or at least be willing to learn to apprehend a foreign language. Meanwhile his kids having been immersed in mainstream classrooms have acquired English language reading and speaking skills that are similar or even better than some native English speakers.

However, one should realize that the purpose of language is being fulfilled since it serves Mamadou well and enables him to communicate and accomplish his transactions in the US. He does not need any accent reduction. Rather the native English speakers should make an effort to understand him since he makes an effort to understand them too.

Until then, each foreigner should learn English.

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk.



“Bonyfish beware because the same net that caught the jawless fish, caught the cartilaginous fish” (Hamilton Ayuk).
Beware earthly paradise seekers because there is a serpent in every paradise"(Hamilton Ayuk).

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