With every year that passes, TESOL is acquiring a more egalitarian personality and is more dedicated to the recognition of the various purposes for English teaching, the broad spectrum of ownerships of the somewhat organically mutating language that we know as English, the ways in which this language unites many different collectives around the world. That’s a long sentence; in a way, it tries to convey the scope of the conference we attended and the direction it took.
Twenty speakers in different locations around the world might give surprisingly different renditions of the following sentence: “I hurt myself working on the hood of the car in the late half of the day.” What is definitely a priority concern is the intelligibility of the message, the immediacy of its power to communicate; this concept broadens the scope of how to regard pronunciation and its effective connection – for better or for worse – to the result of an attempt at general communication.
One of the sessions I attended took me momentarily back to a bus tour that I took some years ago in Scotland. I was sitting right behind the bus driver and happy to be receiver of many side comments he made during the trip; one of these remarks was offered to describe what a large number of laborers were doing on the road at almost dusk…the driver said they were walking/working on the road, and in my interpretation of the driver’s tone, neither activity was appropriate for that time of day. The problem was one involving accent; I couldn’t for the life of me determine (even upon further inquiry) whether those people were “walking” or “working”, because of the pronunciation of the vowel in the main verb….and no amount of repetition on the driver’s part shed any definitive light on the subject. I finally decided that those men just shouldn’t be on the road doing anything and would be better off at some nearby pub. End of subject.
Fortunately, the subject of pronunciation has not ended, and this conference was an example of the variety of views that are developing with regard to the influence of pronunciation on communication and to how general is the acceptance that the “native English speaker” is not “the” norm, but - instead – just one of them.