Theoretical position of the author
Points of critique
English with an Accent (short EWA; 2012) is Rosina Lippi-Green’s updated and expanded second edition of the 1997 version on standard language ideologies and the perception of accents. Over eleven years she has enlarged the associated online biography with more than 800 sources, from newspaper articles to government documents (p.xxii). As a result, “pretty much every sentence in EWA had to be rewritten, every source checked, reevaluated, replaced or brought up to date, and every conclusion challenged” (p.xxii). Each chapter is indeed extensively enriched by multiple well researched and emphasizing sources, suggestions for further reading, and discussion questions for the classroom.
One of the strengths of this new edition is definitely the profound and deep research of sources and Lippi-Green’s engagement therewith. Questioning the readers’ well-kept beliefs about language seems to be one of the author’s intentions. She shows that no matter what education one has received, which age, gender or race an individual belongs to, no one is free from standard language ideology (SLI). Lippi-Green’s careful study of numerous samples of interviews, advertisement, popular culture and media round up to a very understandable and reliable piece of work. It even creates the effect of linguistic awareness in daily non-linguistic life as language is being deconstructed to its simplest forms and, subsequently, its reconstruction explained in meticulous detail. That way, linguistic elements that trigger discrimination against speakers, who deviate from SLI, are dismantled and this gives the reader a chance for personal reflection.
The book’s insights on language discrimination and social repercussions are vividly described. That results in a captivating but also pensive reading experience. Interestingly, the author addresses scholars as well as non-linguist laypersons and asks them to be objective about language in order to have them distinguish between the general beliefs about language and linguistic facts. She argues that the beliefs people have accepted as truth about accent and language emphasize and justify social inequalities (p.xx).
Chapters 1 – 6
For reasons of facilitation this review will summarize chapters according to their broad fields of topic and not one by one. The beginning chapters (1-6) can be condensed as an act of deconstructing the conceptual layers that underlie the dissemination of language myths and the power of standard language ideologies. Taking her time do so, Lippi-Green provokes a thorough engagement of the readers into the issues and, additionally, draws on their personal experiences with language by blending in examples of American pop culture (i.e., p.17). The author calls the first chapter “the Linguistic facts of life” and sums up five facts being relevant to the book’s claim: all spoken language changes over time; all spoken languages are equal in terms of linguistic potential; grammaticality and communicative effectiveness are distinct and independent issues; written language and spoken language are fundamentally different; variation is intrinsic to all spoken language, and is mostly symbolic (adapted from pp.6-7). Instead of dispelling language myths for the general readership, EWA examines these myths in the focus of social inequality.
The following chapter “Language in motion” takes up the final myth regarding regional variation, which was discussed beforehand, and will be an essential parameter throughout the book. With a focus on the subsequent chapters, Lippi-Green also introduces relevant cases of variation in the United States in detail. This includes the presence or absence of (r) in syllable codas; the Northern Cities Chain Shift; lexical variation and discourse markers; weak and strong verbs (p.27). With this chapter, the author introduces the coactions of social and linguistic factors and reasons that American dialects do not necessarily die out but are constantly in motion. Furthermore, she establishes that “variation is an intrinsic and functional feature of the spoken language” (p.40) and discusses why varieties are labeled according to their differences to each other (i.e., substandard) and what the corresponding consequences thereof are. Moreover, this chapter gives an example of the monograph’s accessibility to readers without a linguistics background. Lippi-Green achieves this by giving helpful support such as spelling out the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), incorporating findings of pioneering studies (i.e., Labov, 1962), or taking the reader on appealing imaginary analogies (p.48).
Taking up the book’s title, Lippi-Green then delves into “The myth of non-accent” (chapter 3). She starts out by explaining the function of myth and how it can be used to influence people’s behavior. According to those findings, the author reasons why a “standard language” is a myth. In this chapter, she establishes the basic notion thereof because, in the following, she moves into the discussion of the conceptual heart of the book: Standard Language Ideology (SLI). Chapter three positively scintillates with the analogy of a Sound House (p.48) which describes how our accents develop while, at the same time, considering the adoption of new ones or the abandon of old ones. Lippi-Green builds those metaphors up in a chronological way covering moments in a time span from birth up to adulthood. By means of architectural images, a fictive protagonist’s accent development and potential “renovations” on her Sound House, or in other words phonology, are described. All those changes are made in order to assimilate or discern her Sound House from the ones people around her have built. The author underlines that accents in every language will naturally change over time and that myth and ideology in these changes are powerful features.
The following chapter (“The standard language myth”) aims at answering the question who has language authority by exploring the role of lexicographers and the decision of which “standard” enters dictionaries. Lippi-Green continues her discussion of language myths by disassembling the belief of the existence of a standard variety of language and is, therewith, showing who could misuse this belief and who benefits from it. The author warns that, if a “standard” were established by an elite group, “there [would be] nothing objective about this practice” (p.58). Dictionaries are widely consulted as authority over daily questions about language. Therefore, deciding to analyze the effect and consequences of dictionaries is an appealing move by the author. That is how she successfully directs attention toward the propagation of SLI.
Lippi-Green’s conceptual core work begins after the preparatory stages in chapter five, which looks into the process of “Language subordination” (p.66), and more precisely, how discrimination of people works through SLI. Certainly, standard language ideologies have been well established ever since and, thus, many have fallen for following it. However, the author also examines how language subordination works and proposes the analytical tool of “The language subordination model” (p.70) to present how standard language ideologies are distributed and, more importantly, why people consent to the stigmatized social position SLIs impose on them. Several processes are included by the model: language is mystified; authority is claimed; misinformation is generated; targeted languages are trivialized; conformers are held up as positive examples; non-conformers are vilified or marginalized; explicit promises are made; threats are made (p.70). In varying detail, Lippi-Green comes back to those processes and gives examples in the course of the book. In general, social implications of why people are asked to speak a certain language or with a certain accent are discussed in this chapter.
Although the functioning and reason of language subordination is not researched in its entirety yet, the author provides a possible approach thereof: “The educational system: fixing the message in stone” (chapter 6) claims that SLI is at first introduced and enforced in schools, no matter how well-trained or -intentioned the teachers are. The author successfully points out the gap between policy and practice in schools by arguing that although the policies which recognize linguistic diversity have been long established over 40 years ago, little has been done yet to implement these.
The following chapters will be summarized in this review as Lippi-Green gives examples of the concept of language subordination which is set out above and, hence, strengthens its credibility, reliability, and authenticity. Her examples show how SLIs affected and still affects speakers of different languages and varieties of English in the U.S. negatively. While discussing this, the English speakers with their language background (i.e., ch. 7, 9, 14, 15, 17) and home regions (i.e., ch. 7, 8, 11, 12) stay in the foreground. For each of the cases she discusses how SLI has a direct impact on belonging, may it be real or imagined, and portrays the availability of opportunity in the American context. To give an example, chapter 11 deals with speakers in “The Southern Trough” (p.217) and talks about the linguistic perceptions of and by them. The author is interested in topics such as accent reduction, identity, resistance, and the trivialization of southern varieties of English and their speakers. Linking into other chapters of this book (i.e., ch. 9, 12), Lippi-Green points out a crucial aspect in SLI: if one wants be successful in America, it is commonly assumed that there is no way around assimilating one’s speech through accent reduction. In a similar manner, the chapter “The real trouble with Black language” (p.182) emphasizes that AAVE (African American Vernacular English) has historically developed around the question of who has the right to be an authentic American. What is more, this chapter sketches the main facts about AAVE grammar, corresponding controversies around this variety and conflicting viewpoints towards it coming from African American as well as Anglo American communities. Additionally, the later chapter 16 (“Case Study 1: moral panic in Oakland”) puts the Oakland Ebonics Controversy from the 1990’s in the spotlight and contributes an even closer look at some immediate consequences of SLI in the African American community. Further examples of ethnic minorities’ in the United States and their varieties of English are provided in the newly added chapters 14/15 of this second edition (see back of book). Those two chapters focus on Latinos and Asian Americans portraying simultaneously the experiences made by them as minorities as well as the attitudes of SLI defenders toward them.