In Defense of Talking Funny

For the most part, I will only post original material on this blog. However, in this case, I ran across a post that I wish I had read 4 years ago and felt compelled to share. As an instructor of a general communication course, one of the required assignments was a public speech. In the standardized rubric we were told to use, “pronunciation” was a category in which we were to evaluate our students. After reading this, I will no longer be grading based on pronunciation. Thoughts?

harm·less drudg·ery

[Ed. note: Five months! I know. My (very poor) excuse is that I was working on another big project that I can’t tell you about yet. In the meantime, here’s an extra-long post to pay you back for the extra-long wait.]

I was talking with a friend–well, a “friend”–about some of the videos we were about to shoot for M-W. We were at a crowded, chichi restaurant, the type of place where the waiters pull your chair out for you and ask if you want sparkling, still, or mineral water. In short, a place far above my usual grab-and-go, paper-napkins milieu. A place where it behooves you to not only look smart, but sound smart. A place where you’d use the word “behoove.”

So I was behooving, using some expansive vocabulary and trying not to think about how I was paying $12 for a glass of wine when…

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of Talking Funny

  1. Amen. I’m thankful that my COM department encourages students to deliver speeches using whatever dialect or with whatever accent they normally speak. I grade on articulation, but I only care that they articulate clearly enough for me to understand the words they’re saying, not whether they are pronouncing the words in standard English. What’s more important is that the audience is able to identify with the speaker, and since most of my students have a southern accent, encouraging them to speak as they normally would in conversation allows them to enhance identification with the audience through that southern accent. I also have a great forensics story about using accents to enhance identification, so remind me to tell it to you sometime.

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  2. Hear, hear! I really love Kory’s attitude and share her descriptivist’s philosophy, notwithstanding the fact that that’s her job. And I completely agree with Hope’s approach as well.

    Grading is a tough one. My opinion is that – time and curriculum permitting – just making the communicators aware of some of the differences and how they might be perceived, and under which circumstances is enough. You know: which pronunciations would stand out more- and which less so, when, where, and perhaps even why. Still, the important thing has much less to do with pronunciation, I believe: If the speaker is cognizant of the triggered inferences that hinge on the use of one expression versus another, much in the way a linguist would be, this feeling of being able to predict reception feeds confidence. Of course, this veers into the territory of marketing, which I am not a big fan of, and political correctness, which I am only a fan of selectively; but knowing how the audient receives you enables you to convey the things people love, like astute self-awareness and mild self-deprecation.

    But it is also important that one whose pronunciation is rooted in accent be free from the oppression of the prescriptivists. Folks is folks, after all. This is really what education should be about: imparting knowledge, not creating lingual automatons.

    Unfortunately, evaluation is another animal, especially when caught between what you, as an instructor, and the prospective institution(s), respectively, hold most dearly as regards whose interests are being served.

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