David Crystal on English Pronunciation: An interview at IATEFL, Manchester 2015

“English language is like a garden of flowers with each accent being a distinct flower.” What a profound statement made by David Crystal in an interview during the IATEFL Manchester conference! While English teachers around the world are obsessed with the ‘correct’ and ‘accepted’ pronunciation of English, David’s dispassionate observation comes as a welcome relief and prompts us to look at the pronunciation of English from a global perspective. With the help of a number of examples, David pointed out how the English language and its pronunciation have been changing over the years. David’s interview should be an eye opener for the teachers of English who make a fuss about the purity of the ‘native’ pronunciation of English.
Accents are varied throughout the English speaking world and people should be proud of their accents, David remarked during the interview. So long as you are clear and intelligible, retain your identity. Mixed accent is the norm and we should aim at an ‘Educated Understandable accent’, not the so called Received Pronunciation. The hallowed RP of the past has changed. Citing the way the word ‘cool’ is pronounced, David pointed out that the manner of articulation of this word has changed over the years. We don’t pronounce it with a rounded lip any more, we pronounce it with lips spread. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it is the question of how it is pronounced today. Again, referring to the wide variation of accents of English words, David pointed out how a simple three syllable word ‘POTATO’ is pronounced in various ways across the globe. Some stress it on the first, some on the second and some on the third. Though David put forward his arguments in a very informal manner, the logic of his argument is beyond any dispute. He is a keen observer of the language and is a realist, not an Utopian. His arguments are based on facts and figures.
How should English teacher respond to the changing pronunciation of English? The young interviewer asked him. Quick came the reply. Follow the young people and try to be net savvy. The young people are the transmitters of the language and we should honour the language used by them. Not only the young people, even the kids have a role in language transmission. If you distance yourself from the kids, you distance yourself from the living language and your language becomes obsolete.
David eulogized the role played by the internet in sustaining the language. Don’t dismiss the new technology, respect it, David remarked. He stated that for the people of his generation, books were central and the screen was marginal, for the young people today, the screen is central and books are marginal. Therefore, English teachers should be aware of what is going on in social media, they should make use of the resources of the net and the creativity of the young people.
Are you ready, my dear English teachers? Hope, David’s talk will change your mind set and you will look at English pronunciation from a realistic global perspective.
PS. During the interview David also talked about ‘Shakespeare including practical tips for teachers on how to engage learners with Shakespeare and how they can improve their understanding of the great works’. But in this blog post, I have confined myself to the second part of the interview when he talked ‘about how language and pronunciation is changing and how teachers can keep up to date and evaluate what they focus on in class when teaching pronunciation’
Watch the recording on IATEFL Manchester Online http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/…/…/interview-david-crystal ‪#‎IATEFL

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