British vs. American pronunciation? : A real-time study of change and consistency in Swedish TV interviews 1970-2009

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Abstract: This magister degree project is a quantitative, real-time study concerning Swedes’ pronunciation of English, their choice of English accent and the degree of mixing of accents by individual speakers. The informants of the study are Swedish television journalists who speak English on television, in various interview situations. In order to determine which accent/s the journalists adopt, the classical RP/GA differences have been observed. For the purpose of the study a corpus of television clips was created, using The Swedish Media Database (Svensk Mediedatabas). The time span of the gathered material stretches from 1970 until 2009, covering four full decades. The speech of TV journalists is particularly interesting from a sociolinguistic point of view, as it can be argued that it is a form of performed speech where the concern for linguistic norm or context appropriateness is higher than in normal speech. The accent that the journalists adopt could therefore be particularly indicative of which English accent is considered most prestigious or most appropriate, among Swedish speakers. British English was the exclusive educational norm in Sweden until 1994 when American English was accepted as an alternative. Students have since been encouraged to choose one of these accents and to avoid mixing of accents. At the same time Swedish speakers are increasingly exposed to American English through media. The hypothesis underlying this study was therefore that we should see a growing tendency in favour of American English in the journalists’ speech and that the tendency to mix accents would be less frequent in earlier years and more common today. Results of the study show a very modest increase of American accent, which peaks in the 1990s and seems to abate by 2000. The data indicates a surprisingly stable situation in favour of British English over the four decades, with a general 30-40 percent mix of American English features. All the informants mix accents, typically up to 30 percent, already in the 1970s. The data cannot fully confirm an increasing American English influence on Swedes’ choice of English accent. However, the study indicates that mixing of accents is, and has been, a common and probably inevitable phenomenon.

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