The American’s Speech — A Thomas-Kuhn Perspective on Spoken American English and Linguistic Patriotism
Robert Oliphant – First the King’s Speech, then a cascade of beautifully articulated British English, largely Oxonian, as part of a high visibility royal wedding across the sea.
Surely these recent entertainments should urge Americans to take their own vowels and consonants more seriously, enough so to justify a closer look at how spoken American English is working for us and what kind of a cheap-fix innovation we need, if any.
As far as our last 40 years are concerned, many successful innovations in the USA have been judged at their outset by Thomas Kuhn’s two basic criteria: a widely perceived problem, and an acceptably high level of current technology. For starters, then, let’s state our problem as “offshore superiority in spoken American English” and our current technology as “electronic dictionary technology.” After this we’ll take a quick look at Linguistic Patriotism: a specific innovation currently seeking support.
The Problem — American public perception regarding offshore superiority in spoken American English. . . . As indicated in a recent article about Francis Fukuyama in EdNews.org, replicable surveys indicate that the vast majority of Americans now believe that the multidialectal spoken American English of our college students is measurably inferior to the Standard Worldwide American Dictionary English spoken by many educated foreigners.
This belief has been most strongly expressed by Americans in connection with the spoken American English used (not British) in televised interviews with Egyptian rioters and Japanese refugees. Just as pervasive, though less intense, are the feelings American have about professional telemarketers working out of cubicles in Mumbai and Manila and hired by American companies to sell their products to American customers — cheaply and effectively. Given this strong feeling, a serious attempt to solve this problem could fairly be called Linguistic Patriotism.
Current Technology — Electronic current dictionary technology. . . . Americans crippled by multidialectal American English can now make themselves more linguistically employable by using electronic American dictionaries like www.dictionary.com as their primary learning tool. This option centers upon what has always been the international version of our own language, sometimes called Standard Worldwide American Dictionary English.
This option will also employ the same dictionaries than millions of offshore learners now use, namely, the electronic Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (currently featured in dictionary.com), along with our electronic college-size dictionaries: Random House, Merriam Webster’s, Webster’s New World, American Heritage, etc. As many offshore students will attest, these resources can be used for online diagnostic testing, study assignments (especially pronunciation), and calibrated achievement testing — all without recourse to educational bureaucracies.
A profitable partnership. . . . Dictionary.com is our most authoritative and accessible U.S. electronic dictionary. Unfortunately it does not offer full access to its contents: high tech word lists, crossword searches, etc. In contrast, WordGenius.com, an Australian firm, currently publishes and markets a user friendlier computerized equivalent, Random House Unabridged, along with Random House College. The latter, which contains 60,000 clearly identifiable headword-pronunciation-definition combinations, is a test maker’s dream).
To be more specific: These 60,000 spelling-bee combinations mean that WordGenius can right now offer a 30-item vocabulary-size extrapolation-based test on its web site. They also equip Linguistic Patriotism as a Kuhnian innovation with a low cost tool for measuring and improving the pronunciation-vocabulary skills of young Americans: All this outside the control of educational bureaucracies and government supervisors.
As for additional study programs and achievement testing, it’s worth noting that additional learning-relevant downloads are available via www.npe.ednews.org/resources. These materials can be adapted for use in more ambitious online Linguistic Patriotism programs, e.g., pronunciation, articulation and recitation, mainstream figurative awareness, famous-names awareness (i.e., “cultural literacy”), and semantic awareness (figures of speech, puns, etc.), high tech vocabulary, and public speaking confidence.
To reiterate: Right now any American can put our Kuhnian innovation to the test by asking a few more randomly chosen Americans the question, “Do you believe that many foreigners in Asia and the Middle East speak American English more clearly and more intelligibility than our own college students?” If the yeses add up to more than 90% (my bet is that they will), how can anyone resist supporting a practical, low cost program like Linguistic Patriotism? — Especially those who remember the Emperor’s New Clothes.
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