International Intelligibility in EIL

| December 28, 2007
International Intelligibility in EIL

Keywords: English as an International Language, EIL pronunciation norms, Jenkins s EIL pronunciation model

Rias van den Doel
Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Bio Data
Rias van den Doel was educated at Utrecht University and Trinity College Dublin. Since 1992 he has taught EFL at the universities of Utrecht and Leiden. He is presently head of the language section of Utrecht University English department, where he runs courses in pronunciation training, intercultural communication and sociophonetics. His chief research interest is English linguistic diversity and its consequences for second language acquisition.

If EIL is to be regarded as an efficient medium for communicating information to all interlocutors from widely diverging language backgrounds, rather than as a means of emphasising speakers own linguistic identities, this should be reflected in EIL pronunciation norms. The need to preserve intelligibility is, of course, accepted even by those who see EIL fundamentally as a medium for communication between non-natives (Jenkins, 2006). If, like Jenkins, one then goes on to exclude native speakers when setting EIL standards, it is clearly difficult to define intelligibility in terms of the widely variant standards of non-native speech while eschewing recourse to native-speaker English. This could be why, despite its explicitly non-native orientation, Jenkins s EIL pronunciation model is essentially based on British RP and GA (Network American). Nevertheless, Jenkins eliminates certain phonological features of these two accents from her model, purportedly since these are either irrelevant, or unteachable , or because they are considered to be lacking in a number of native Englishes.

In fact, many non-natives might object to being denied access to a type of English that can be used easily with non-native and native speakers alike. Furthermore, a recent study (Van den Doel, 2006), based on a large-scale survey of well over 500 native-speaker judges from throughout the English-speaking world, shows that if students of English were indeed to follow Jenkins s recommendations, their resultant pronunciation could expose serious issues of intelligibility and acceptability. This paper will examine these findings and enlarge upon them, suggesting that (1) while intelligibility is obviously of prime significance for native speakers, they also regard acceptability as a major concern; (2) pronunciation features in non-native speech are likely to be notably downgraded when they are also stigmatised in local native Englishes. These findings indicate limitations in Jenkins s current position, and suggest that a truly international English pronunciation model requires account to be taken of the attitudes and needs of native speakers.


See pages 28-38

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Category: Quarterly Journal, Volume 9 Issue 4