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  1. #11
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    General American, modern RP - these are "most neutral" to me. Of course, you won't be speaking a neutral accent if you try RP in New York.
    That's my point. You are saying that you can speak in a neutral accent in one English-speaking country, but in another country your accent is not neutral. That would be my definition of an accent that is not neutral - speaking linguistically.

  2. #12
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    That's my point. You are saying that you can speak in a neutral accent in one English-speaking country, but in another country your accent is not neutral. That would be my definition of an accent that is not neutral - speaking linguistically.
    It's difficult to define a term so that everybody is satisfied. I think, to me, neutrality of an accent is more continuous than to you. You seem to say accents can be either neutral or not and there's nothing in between.
    I, on the other hand, could say something is more neutral and something else is less. That's why I said Cockney was less neutral than RP. Isn't it to you?

    I'm not going to try to strictly define what I mean by "neutrality"; it's too difficult. But I certainly think that a simple, absolute definition like yours makes the problem too simple. My definition, if I made one, would involve some kind of numerical representation of accents based on statistical data and then would say that the neutral accent is that one which has the highest representation. Of course, what exactly I'd like to represent and how I'd do that requires much thought. The existence and uniqueness of the highest representation should also be considered.

  3. #13
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    It's difficult to define a term so that everybody is satisfied. I think, to me, neutrality of an accent is more continuous than to you. You seem to say accents can be either neutral or not and there's nothing in between.
    No, I've never said that accents can be neutral. I'm saying all accents are not neutral. I'm saying that there is no neutral way of saying 'o' as in 'dog', for example.

    I, on the other hand, could say something is more neutral and something else is less. That's why I said Cockney was less neutral than RP. Isn't it to you?
    That's depends. How are you defining neutral?

    I'm not going to try to strictly define what I mean by "neutrality"; it's too difficult.
    Oh.

    But I certainly think that a simple, absolute definition like yours makes the problem too simple.
    It's not my definition. It's the definition of linguistics. If we were having a scientific discussion and you wanted to claim that a neutral pH is not 7, but the pH of the most numerous substances, I'd disagree there too.
    I'd also disagree if you said that the most neutral umpire was the one who gave the most equal number of points to the teams.

    My definition, if I made one, would involve some kind of numerical representation of accents based on statistical data and then would say that the neutral accent is that one which has the highest representation.
    Well, then you're dealing with statistcs, and you'd be talking about the 'modal' accent. I would not disagree that a certain accent might be the one most represented, assuming we could agree on what makes two people's accents the same.

    Of course, what exactly I'd like to represent and how I'd do that requires much thought. The existence and uniqueness of the highest representation should also be considered.
    If you wanted to make a case for the most often-spoken accent as being the most neutral, you'd probably have others arguing with you.
    Given that "by 2050, the number of English-speaking Chinese is likely to exceed the number of native English speakers in the rest of the world", your modal accent would be Chinese. And all these Chinese people having language neutralisation classes would be wasting their time.
    http://www.bookofjoe.com/2005/05/the_ascent_of_e.html

    Anyhow, here are a few other concepts of neutrality:
    Neutral - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  4. #14
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    If you wanted to make a case for the most often-spoken accent as being the most neutral, you'd probably have others arguing with you.
    Given that "by 2050, the number of English-speaking Chinese is likely to exceed the number of native English speakers in the rest of the world", your modal accent would be Chinese. And all these Chinese people having language neutralisation classes would be wasting their time.
    http://www.bookofjoe.com/2005/05/the_ascent_of_e.html

    Anyhow, here are a few other concepts of neutrality:
    Neutral - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    What's your definition of a neutral accent then? Or do you mean that "neutral accent" doesn't mean anything? (I'm not asking whether it exists or not, just whether it means something.)

    By "numerical representation" I didn't mean the number of speakers. It's a simple example of what it could be though. I meant that every accent should be given a number that would be understood as a measure of neutrality. The bigger the number the more neutral an accent would be. Mathematically speaking, I don't understand neutrality of an accent as a binary function. I think it's more like a function from the set of accents to the set of real numbers. What function? I don't know. It would have to say something like, "this is how much this accent makes the listeners think about it instead of about what is being said, and how much it is understood." It's not strict again. How to measure how much an accent draws attention? In which area? It would have to be some kind of a mean value. What kind? Mean value of what? I can't answer these questions. It's too difficult for me, because I'm neither a statistician nor a linguist.

    I wanted to say that some accents can be more neutral than others. Do you agree? Or would you say that it depends on the situation? Would you agree that Cockney is less neutral than RP? Or would you say that it's nonsense to apply the adjective to Cockney, because whether it's neutral or not depends on where it's spoken?

    I think that saying that "neutrality of accents" doesn't exist is incorrect. It is perceived. I do perceive it. It's not that I know exactly why I find some accents neutral and probably different people find different accents neutral. Which is why I'm sure a scientific definition of neutrality should use some mean value of what people find neutral.

    PS: Do you acknowledge that there are more people who find RP "neutral" than people who think so about Cockney? This question is not meaningless because I'm not asking whether accents are neutral but whether people think they are. And I don't think "thinking an accent is neutral" is ambiguous.
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 01-Nov-2010 at 12:07. Reason: PS added

  5. #15
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    I'm with Ray: there is no neutral accent in English. It doesn't matter how we define neutral, we can't make a neutral English accent. Because General American and the current version of Southern British RP speakers are so widely heard on news bulletins broadcast throughout the world, non-native speakers may well find these accents easier to understand, but they are not neutral. Equally such accents as Orcadian and Geordie are so localised and/or inaccessible to many, that it makes them difficult for even some native speakers to understand. So, a non-native might consider them non-neutral; that's a personal, not an objective judgement.

    Followers of this thread who have not yet tried the link lauralie provide earlier may find it interesting: Click here and scroll down to "Is there a Standard English accent?"
    Last edited by 5jj; 01-Nov-2010 at 13:13.

  6. #16
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    personal, not an objective judgement.
    Personal judgements are worth studying too. And such studies can be objective. It's a fact that I find RP more neutral than Cockney. This personal judgement of mine exists. It's also a fact that many other people make the same judgement. It is true that some other people might make a different one. We can count both groups.(*) We can therefore compare the obtained numbers. We could (?) do that with all of the English accents. We could give the following definition:

    "Accent A is more neutral than accent B if and only if more people find A neutral."

    (Someone might object that this definition uses a word to define itself. I think it doesn't. If someone isn't convinced about this particular thing, I can try to explain myself.)

    I still haven't defined a neutral accent. Then I could say the following:

    "Accent A is neutral if and only if there is no accent more neutral than A."

    According to such a definition, there must exist a neutral accent and saying that the accent is neutral is not a personal judgement.

    I'm not saying this is the definition of a neutral accent. I can surely be argued against. I'm only trying to show that it isn't impossible to provide an objective definion of neutrality.

    (*) "Both" because I meant two groups, those who find RP more neutral and those who find Cockney more neutral. Maybe there are other people. Let's not count them.
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 01-Nov-2010 at 13:22.

  7. #17
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    What's your definition of a neutral accent then? Or do you mean that "neutral accent" doesn't mean anything? (I'm not asking whether it exists or not, just whether it means something.)

    Yes, it's meaningless. Your accent is the way your voice sounds when you speak.

    I think that saying that "neutrality of accents" doesn't exist is incorrect. It is perceived. I do perceive it.
    You perceive something. And you choose to call it 'neutrality'. I don't know why you choose that word to define your perception with. You are simply taking the "accent-neutralisers" 'definition' and you want to change it again. (Note, I have nothing against "accent reduction" - either the practice or that term. I suppose they must call it something.)
    I think what you're trying to define is comprehensibility, or something similar to that.

    PS: Do you acknowledge that there are more people who find RP "neutral" than people who think so about Cockney?
    I think more people would find RP less marked than Cockney, but I wouldn't call a relatively unmarked accent neutral.

    By the way, the OP still hasn't got their answer yet. No one who believes in neutral accents has given an answer saying what a neutral accent is. No one can say how you pronounce 'dog' in a neutral accent. Why do you think this is?
    An accent is the quality and characteristics of a person's speech. It's a sound. The vowels are more or less open/closed, anterior/posterior, rounded/unrounded. A 't' is more or less alveolar or flapped, tapped, retroflex, dental ...
    It's like saying there's a neutral hair colour, or eye colour. It's like asking a musician which is the most neutral tone on a piano; which is the most neutral instrument in an orchestra. None of these things exist. "Neutrality" is the wrong word. Which bird song do you consider the most neutral and why?

    Imagine this conversation:
    Linguistics professor: Well you've listened to that recording. Can you describe his accent?
    Student: Yes, it's neutral.
    Professor: OK, what about the tone, the timbre, the vowel qualitym the articulation of consonants ...?
    Student: Completely neutral, the whole way.
    Professor: But you must be able to say more than that!
    Student: Why? You have a PhD. You must know what a neutral accent sounds like!

    This is possibly why linguists do not believe in neutral accents. It implies that there's no accent there at all; nothing to describe. Everyone speaks with a slightly different accent. None of them can be called neutral. It's like claiming that B flat on a clarinet is the most neutral musical tone.

  8. #18
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    You perceive something. And you choose to call it 'neutrality'.
    That's how language works. Words don't have absolute meanings. I tried to explain what I perceive. I and some other people choose to call this thing neutrality. We're perhaps not entirely sure what this thing is but we know we mean more or less the same. I don't know why you don't want to call it neutrality. I think it's a good word.

    I don't "believe" in the neutral accent. I never called any accent neutral. I do believe that accents' neutrality is comparable and in the possibility of defining "the neutral accent". I don't believe such a definition will satisfy everybody but I do believe it could be useful.

    My notion of neutrality is not the same as my notion of comprehensibility. Neutrality to me is about not drawing listeners' attention.
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 01-Nov-2010 at 13:48.

  9. #19
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    It's like saying there's a neutral hair colour, or eye colour. It's like asking a musician which is the most neutral tone on a piano; which is the most neutral instrument in an orchestra. None of these things exist.
    They could exist - to someone. If there were many such someones it could be worth talking about. What would neutrality of an instrument mean? I don't know. People would have to start using this word in this context to give it a meaning. There's no meaning without usage, and - I believe - when there is usage, there is a least some meaning.

    Nobody knows what it means that a song is beautiful. And one person could think a given song is beautiful and another could think it isn't. There's no definition of a beautiful song. But it's a fact that some songs are beautiful to many people. And people try defining beauty of a song by counting people who find the song beautiful. And such a definition can be useful.

  10. #20
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    Re: what is neutral accent?

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Personal judgements are worth studying too. And such studies can be objective. It's a fact that I find RP more neutral than Cockney. Right. It's a fact that you find it more neutral. It is not a fact that it is more neutral. This personal judgement of mine exists. It's also a fact that many other people make the same judgement. It is true that some other people might make a different one. We can count both groups. We can therefore compare the obtained numbers. We could (?) do that with all of the English accents. We could give the following definition:

    "Accent A is more neutral than accent B if and only if more people find A neutral."

    (Someone might object that this definition uses a word to define itself. I think it doesn't)
    I'm one of those someones. I think that all that one can legitimately say is "If enough people consider Accent A to be neutral, then it may become generally accepted that Accent A is neutral".
    This changes nothing. If enough people agreed that red was a hostile colour, this too might mean that red was generally accepted as a hostile colour. But, even if everybody in the world had this opinion, it still wouldn't make it hostile. Red is red. Red is not hostile.
    5jj

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