20 September 2010

More on Intonation

In my previous post, I discussed the learning of English intonation, particularly the presentation given in Zhenjiang by Francis Nolan and also the use in China of John Wells's book on intonation.

John Wells has discussed this issue in his own blog (here), agreeing with my contention that there is no need for learners of English to try to imitate every single feature of British intonation, particularly the fine detail such as the tones at the start of an intonational phrase that are covered in later chapters of the book.

I am trying to learn Malay, and I try to imitate the recordings I have as closely as possible. On the other hand, I have no delusions that I will ever sound like a native speaker, especially given my limited opportunities to actually speak Malay to anyone; and I don't particularly want to sound like a native speaker. My goal is to achieve clear, fluent speech, to be able to say whatever I want clearly and intelligibly. And I feel that that should be the goal of learners of English. It really doesn't make a lot of sense to try and pretend you come from England if you don't.

Francis Nolan made another astute point in connection with this: if you speak perfect RP English, with all the tonal distinctions of a native speaker, then listeners will expect you also to be familiar with all aspects of English culture. They will expect you to know who Ena Sharples was, and they will feel free to make obscure allusions to Monty Python sketches. If you are not familiar with such things, then you are better off speaking well, clearly, and fluently with a little bit of a non-native accent.