Skip to main content

Accuracy and acceptability of second-dialect performance on American television


This article analyses a case of second-dialect performance as an idealised instance of second-dialect acquisition, without mitigating factors such as access, analytical ability and motivation. It focuses on the Australian English and American English speech of three young Australian actors. An acoustic analysis of their short-vowel systems shows that they can successfully adapt to perform in an American English accent, but that their second-dialect system is less stable and more variable than their native system.

A foreign-accent rating experiment on the actors’ American English with American English judges shows that the actors on average are thought to sound slightly less American than the native American English-speaker controls. The discrepancy between the acoustic accuracy and listener acceptability may be explained by judges attending to different features from those included in the acoustic study.

This study of second-dialect performance shows what is maximally possible in second-dialect acquisition. Given the difference between the two measures of success, studies of second-dialect acquisition would benefit from including subjective measures in addition to acoustic accuracy.

Hide All
Beal, Joan C. 2009. ‘You're not from New York City, you're from Rotherham’: Dialect and identity in British indie music. Journal of English Linguistics 37 (3), 223–40.
Bell, Allan. 1992. Hit and miss: Referee design in the dialects of New Zealand television advertisements. Language & Communication 12 (3–4), 327–40.
Bell, Allan & Gibson, Andy. 2011. Staging language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15 (5), 555–72.
Bigham, Douglas S. 2010. Mechanisms of accommodation among emerging adults in a university setting. Journal of English Linguistics 38 (3), 193210.
Boersma, Paul & Weenink, David. 2012. Praat: Doing phonetics by computer (version 5.3.04).
Bucholtz, Mary. 2003. Sociolinguistic nostalgia and the authentication of identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7 (3), 398416.
Bucholtz, Mary. 2011. Race and the re-embodied voice in Hollywood film. Language & Communication, 31, 255–65.
Chambers, J. K. 1992. Dialect acquisition. Language 68 (4), 673705.
Clopper, Cynthia G., Pisoni, David B. & de Jong, Kenneth. 2005. Acoustic characteristics of the vowel systems of six regional varieties of American English. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 118 (3), 1661–76.
Coupland, Nikolas. 1984. Accommodation at work: Some phonological data and their implications. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 46, 4970.
Coupland, Nikolas. 2001. Dialect stylization in radio talk. Language in Society 30 (3), 345–75.
Coupland, Nikolas. 2009. The mediated performance of vernaculars. Journal of English Linguistics 37 (3), 284300.
Coupland, Nikolas. 2011. Voice, place and genre in popular song performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15 (5), 573602.
Cox, Felicity. 2006. The acoustic characteristics of /hVd/ vowels in the speech of some Australian teenagers. Australian Journal of Linguistics 26 (2), 147–79.
Cox, Felicity & Palethorpe, Sallyanne. 2008. Reversal of short front vowel raising in Australian English. Interspeech 2008, 342–5.
De Decker, Paul & Nycz, Jennifer. 2011. For the record: Which digital media can be used for sociophonetic analysis? University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 17 (2), 51–9.
Dörnyei, Zoltán. 2009. The psychology of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Where do ethnolects stop? International Journal of Bilingualism 12 (1–2), 2542.
Foreman, Annik. 2000. A longitudinal study of Americans in Australia. In Allen, Keith & Henderson, John (eds.), Proceedings of ALS2k, the 2000 Conference of the Australian Linguistics Society.
Hagiwara, Robert. 1997. Dialect variation and formant frequency: The American English vowels revisited. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 102 (1), 655–8.
Hayes-Harb, Rachel & Hacking, Jane. 2015. Beyond rating data: What do listeners believe underlies their accentedness judgments? Journal of Second Language Pronunciation 1 (1), 4364.
Hillenbrand, James, Getty, Laura A., Clark, Michael J. & Wheeler, Kimberlee. 1995. Acoustic characteristics of American English vowels. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 97 (5), 3099–111.
Hodson, Jane. 2014. Dialect in film and literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ivars, Ann-Marie. 1994. Bidialectism and identity. In Nordberg, Bengt (ed.), The sociolinguistics of urbanization: The case of the Nordic countries, 203–22. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Kerswill, Paul. 1994. Dialects converging: Rural speech in urban Norway. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Labov, William. 2007. Transmission and diffusion. Language 83, 344–87.
Larsen-Freeman, Diane. 1997. Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics 18 (2), 141–65.
Le Page, R. B. & Tabouret-Keller, Andrée. 1985. Acts of identity: Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Levon, Erez. 2006. Hearing ‘gay’: Prosody, interpretation, and the affective judgments of men's speech. American Speech 81 (1), 5678.
Nycz, Jennifer. 2013a. Changing words or changing rules? Second dialect acquisition and phonological representation. Journal of Pragmatics, 52, 4962.
Nycz, Jennifer. 2013b. New contrast acquisition: Methodological issues and theoretical implications. English Language and Linguistics 17 (2), 325–57.
Nycz, Jennifer. 2015. Second dialect acquisition: A sociophonetic perspective. Language and Linguistics Compass 9 (11), 469–82.
Nycz, Jennifer. 2016. Awareness and acquisition of new dialect features. In Babel, Anna (ed.), Awareness and control in sociolinguistic research, 6279. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Omdal, Helge. 1994. From the valley to the city: Language modification and language attitudes. In Nordberg, Bengt (ed.), The sociolinguistics of urbanization: The case of the Nordic countries, 116–48. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Payne, Arvilla C. 1976. The acquisition of the phonological system of a second dialect. PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania.
Payne, Arvilla C. 1980. Factors controlling the acquisition of the Philadelphia dialect by out-of-state children. In Labov, William (ed.), Locating language in time and space, 143–78. New York: Academic Press.
Plichta, Bartłomiej & Preston, Dennis R.. 2005. The /ay/s have it: The perception of /ay/ as a North-South stereotype in United States English. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 37 (1), 107–30.
Podesva, Robert J. 2011. The California vowel shift and gay identity. American Speech 86 (1), 3251.
Schmid, Monika S. & Hopp, Holger. 2014. Comparing foreign accent in L1 attrition and L2 acquisition: Range and rater effects. Language Testing 31 (3), 367–88.
Schmid, Monika S., Gilbers, Steven & Nota, Amber. 2014. Ultimate attainment in late second language acquisition: Phonetic and grammatical challenges in advanced Dutch-English bilingualism. Second Language Research 30 (2), 129–57.
Siegel, Jeff. 2010. Second dialect acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Simpson, Paul. 1999. Language, culture and identity: With (another) look at accents in pop and rock singing. Multilingua 18 (4), 343–67.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. & Molfenter, Sonja. 2007. How'd you get that accent? Acquiring a second dialect of the same language. Language in Society 36 (5), 649–75.
Thomas, Erik R. & Carter, Phillip M.. 2006. Prosodic rhythm and African American English. English World-Wide 27 (3), 331–55.
Trudgill, Peter. 1983. Acts of conflicting identity: The sociolinguistics of British pop-song pronunciation. In On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives, 141–60. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 11
Total number of PDF views: 61 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 233 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 29th August 2017 - 21st March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.