here and scroll down to "Is there a Standard English accent?"
what is neutral accent?
I've always held that there is no neutral accent, but my opinion is belied by all the people who can teach you how to get one!
I agree with Raymott, but I am one of those people that teach accent reduction. There is so much variety in accents that chances are your foreign accent is comparable to a native English speaker somewhere.
But to simplify, the most desired accent in the British dialect would be what is often referred to as a BBC accent.
In America, the preferred accent for broadcasters is a West Coast accent. So while a New Jersey accent or a Texan accent are understandable, a Califorina accent is considered the most neutral.
The same trend occurs in Canada, where the West Coast accent is considered more neutral compared to Southern Ontario or the Eastern Provinces.
I agree in part with both sides. In some cultures, female infanticide is fairly common, as is aborting a female foetus. I have a 5 month old daughter, and no one will ever convince me a son is better than a daughter. It's a completely illogical position, to me.
Yet I recognize that, sociologically, in certain communities, the normative reality is that there is a preference.
I don't aim to combat that preference by saying there aren't 2 genders. I just say it's unnecessary and not rational.
The same goes for neutral accents. I see little point in preferring one accent over another, but it's tosh to say that all are equally intelligible by other groups. Some are "easier" than others, by virtue of vowel commonalities with the largest number of other dialects, and such criteria.
I have been told by many international students (France, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Mexico) that my Toronto English is easier to understand than the accents of other teachers (Cockneys, Glasgoweegians [sp.], Mancunians, South Africans, for instance).
Cultural attitudes and normative phenomena exist.
Ray -- What's that got to do with gender change operations?
Edit-- I see your meaning more clearly now. No, I don't see Canadian English as particularly neutral, but I find others do.
And you're right there is a vast difference (ontogenetically) between gender, which is genetic, and accent, which is social. But phenotypically, they both can be observed empirically. Maybe a better analogy would be facial beauty. There are definite tendencies that belie the old adage that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Symmetry, for instance.
I would say some accents, by nature of their peculiarities, exhibit difficulties for outsiders that are not attributable solely to exposure levels (US and BBC English being most widely heard on the airwaves)...
There are vowel phonemic differences which are nearer and farther, and objective characteristics that make geolects harder for outsiders.
Take Aussie English, for instance. It has two words of French origin -- sure and pure -- which come from perfectly riming originals. In BBC English, and in Canadian English, they still rime. Yet my Aussie friends pronounce the latter fairly closely to the BBC pronunciation, whereas they say the former with a very broad /o/ vowel, sounding like "shore" in the Queen's English. To outsiders, the word is not even recognizable in context.
Similarly, with /eI/ and /aI/... these vowels form a phonemic pair which are very distinct in some dialects (those perceived as neutral). But in Aussie English, only a native can tell which is which. We honestly can't tell coming from outside.
So saying neutral accents don't exist is like saying there aren't right angles in man-made structures. Sure, you will win the quick argument if you're stubborn, but ... your position is obtuse, to me.
Last edited by konungursvia; 01-Nov-2010 at 00:31.
How can my position be obtuse? All I've said so far is that I believe there are no neutral accents. From the "Ask a Linguist" page that lauralie2 gave above: "There is no neutral accent of English." This is a linguistic commonplace.
You'd have to first define 'neutral' and 'accent' if you want to claim that a neutral accent exists. Is rhoticity neutral? Is /dɒg/ more neutral than /dɑg/ for "dog"? Is an accent neutral simply because more people can understand it? Isn't that an understandable accent?
Your accent is the way you speak. I'm using the term linguistically not politically. There is also no such that thing as "speaking without an accent".
However, there is also a definition used by accent reductionists, which is different from the linguistic definition, and I acknowledged that in my first post. I'm not trying to win an argument. Maybe I missed your point about boys and girls.
(Right angles exists because there's a strict definition and you can measure an angle. I wouldn't bother arguing that there are no right angles among man-made things.)