Austrian EFL learners and their awareness of social stereotypes towards selected varieties of British English

Seminar Paper, 2021

38 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Conscious awareness of social stereotypes towards selected varieties of British English among Austrian EFL learners

2. Literature review
2.1. Previous studies on language attitudes

3. The study
3.1. Sample
3.2. Method

4. Results
4.1. General attitudes towards the varieties from the present study
4.2. Correlative analysis
4.3. Discussion
4.4. Implications
4.5. Limitations

5. Conclusion and Prospects

6. References

7. Appendices


Studies on language attitudes have been conducted since the 1960s in various formats with native and non-native speakers as well as standard and non-standard English as a native language (ENL), English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) varieties. This paper aims to determine Austrian EFL learners' attitudes towards selected British English native standard and non-standard varieties and whether they support previous findings in the field. In order to do so, a questionnaire containing 20 items was distributed online via social media to Austrian student teachers (N=28). The results partly conform with the existing literature but also show that varieties such as Scottish Standard English or Manchester English are more positively connotated than the usual model of reference for Austrian EFL learners: the RP accent. Moreover, no significant differences between the participants' attitudes who could correctly identify the accents and those who could not be found. Although the RP accent could be identified as the most familiar accent, it was not most positively regarded. Due to the small sample and limited comparability, the results have to be interpreted with caution and future research is needed to support the findings from the present study.

Keywords: language attitudes, English as a Foreign Language, British English varieties

1. Conscious awareness of social stereotypes towards selected varieties of British English among Austrian EFL learners

The study of attitudes originated in the field of social psychology and is defined as “a summary evaluation of an object or thought” (Bohner & Wanke, 2002, as cited in McKenzie, 2007, p. 23) that “is not directly observable but can be inferred from observable responses” (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993, as cited in McKenzie, 2007, p. 24). Consequently, a person's attitudes are permanent enough to be measured. Social stereotypes are, according to Hinton (2000, as cited in McKenzie, 2007), a set of characteristics that are assigned to a social group that defines the group, which can either be positive or negative and close or not close at all to the actual social reality of the group (McKenzie, 2007). Attitudes and social stereotypes also exist within languages, where certain language varieties are more positively or negatively connotated than others. According to Kachru's (1985) The World Englishes model, there exist three levels of spread for the English language: the inner circle (English spoken as a native language), the outer circle (English spoken as a second language) and the expanding circle (English spoken as a foreign language). This paper aims to analyse attitudes and potential stereotypes towards standard and non-standard English language varieties from the inner circle, particularly from Britain, from an EFL perspective. Therefore, existing literature on the topic is outlined in the literature review before empirical work is presented, which was conducted through a self-designed questionnaire including seven British English accents. Then the results are outlined, the findings interpreted, and the research questions are answered. Lastly, implications and limitations are mentioned. A conclusion rounds up the paper.

2. Literature review

2.1. Previous studies on language attitudes

Since the first attempts in the 1960s (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960) to study attitudes towards different languages and language varieties, numerous studies have been conducted. Whereas the first study included native speaker participants and only examined the different attitudes towards Canadian English and Canadian French, other studies have since included regional varieties and non-native speakers. Some of those works will be outlined in this chapter.

Beginning with Lambert et al. (1960), one group of English students (N=64) and one French-speaking group (N=66) with an average age of 18.8 years and 18.2 years respectively were asked to judge four bilingual native speakers on their French and English accents in one of the first studies using the matched-guise technique (MGT). A 2,5-minute sample of French prose was translated into English and then recorded by the four speakers once in English and French. Whereas all four speakers spoke faultless English, one of them displayed a French-Canadian accent usually spoken in the countryside and another one which was judged as an accent typical to France. The other two spoke regular French-Canadian accents. The two groups had to judge ten samples (eight regular ones plus two fillers) on different traits connected with social and economic success (e.g., ambition, confidence, leadership, looks), personality traits (e.g., kindness, likability, character, sense of humour, sociability, dependability, entertainingness) and general traits such as height, intelligence, or religiousness. Although only four speakers (+the filler voices) were included, the listeners were made to believe that they listened to ten different voices. The results showed that, as expected, the English-speaking group rated the English samples higher than the French samples. However, surprisingly, the French group did the same, indicating a minority group reaction from the French group towards their own language.

Bishop, Coupland, & Garrett (2005) tried to replicate Giles (1970) study on young British natives' attitudes towards 16 varieties of English speech. His results show that RP was considered most prestigious and socially attractive, whereas the vernacular varieties of Birmingham, London and Liverpool displayed the complete opposite. ‘Ethnic varieties' such as Indian or West Indies English were rated low, but varieties with a French or German accent, as well as Scottish English or North American English, had similarly good ratings as RP.

Bishop et al. (2005) conducted an online survey in cooperation with the BBC and Grenfield online with participants (N=5010) above the age of 15 from all over the UK. The participants were divided into three groups: 15-23 years, 24-64 years and 65 and above. Whereas the gender and geographical distribution were reasonably even, the number of participants in the second group exceeded the other two groups considerably. The cooperation with the BBC allowed them to ask about the attitudes towards 34 different accents, but Bishop et al. included only those questions which were comparable with the 16 accents from Giles' (1970) study in their paper. Mainly the answers regarding prestige and social attractiveness were of interest. The results indicate that apart from significant differences for certain varieties concerning age, sex and geographical location (e.g., RP is considered significantly less socially attractive for the younger participants), the majority of the population shares similar views regarding prestige and social attractiveness on English varieties in the UK and that those views have mostly persisted since Giles' (1970) study.

A critical study on learner attitudes of Austrian university students (N=132) towards language varieties was conducted by Dalton-Puffer, Kaltenboeck, & Smit (1997). They included five speakers who imitated the following varieties: Austrian British English (OEBr), Austrian American Accent (OEAm), General American (GA), near-RP and Received Pronunciation (RP) through a Verbal Guise Technique (VGT). Hereby, instead of one speaker with bilingual or bi-dialectal abilities, several speakers perform the guises. They found evidence that Austrian EFL learners follow the widely found stereotypical pattern, as the RP accent was rated best and the OEBr accent was rated the least positively. The other three accents were rated in-between, with the OEAm accents reaching comparable results to the GA and near-RP accents. The authors believe that this is since most participants mistook the OEAm accent for a native American. The second variable analysed was the preferred speaking model for the participants: British English (BE) or American English (AE). Although the groups rated their preferred accents higher than the other ones, the 'American' group was more tolerant toward the other native and non-native varieties. The last variable the authors looked at was attitudes in relation to staying abroad. The participants were divided into four groups: never stayed abroad, only went to GB, only went to USA and went to both. Whereas the first group portrayed the stereotypical views that the RP accent is the best, followed by the other native and non­native varieties, the other groups displayed a more differentiated opinion connected to individual experiences. However, the study also shows that Austrian EFL learners display the most positive attitudes towards the native variety they are most familiar with, which is, due to the geographical distances and the Austrian curriculum, the RP accent.

Drljaca Margie & Sirola (2014) studied attitudes of Croatian EFL learners (N= 28) towards inner circle native and outer circle non-native varieties through a three-part questionnaire. The varieties included in their study were BE, AE, Australian English (AusE), Indian English (IndE), Nigerian English (NigE), Irish English (IE), Jamaican English (JamE) and English as an international language (EIL). In the first part of the study, the participants were asked to match adjectives from a list (e.g., prestigious, exotic, standard) with the variety they associate them most with. Whereas for the outer circle non-native varieties, the results were relatively homogenous with traits such as 'informal', 'incorrect' or 'exotic' associated with them, attitudes towards the inner circle native varieties displayed the opposite. For example, AusE and IE were also considered 'exotic' by one fourth and about one-third of the participants, respectively, whereas no one associated AE and BE with this trait. Although significant results for the latter are found for 'standard' and 'correct', AE is considered more informal and corrupted than BE, thus supporting previous findings. Interestingly, EIL is considered both 'simple' and comprehensible' as well as 'standard' and more 'correct' than all native varieties apart from BE.

In the second part of the study, the students were asked which varieties they would want to have a Master's degree in. The results display the importance and prestige of BE (43%) and AE (29%) as well as EIL (21%) but also the interest in non-native varieties (JamE 11% as second or third position and IndE 29% in fourth or fifth position). The last part of the questionnaire asked the participants about the most useful variety to know. 43% consider AE most useful, 32% EIL, and only 25% BE, whereas the non-native varieties are hardly mentioned (7% IndE in second place). The results of Drljaca Margie's & Sirola's (2014) study indicate that AE and BE are still considered most important, EIL seems to develop into an attractive and useful variety.

Gentry El-Dash & Busnardo (2001) conducted a study using the MGT with Brazilian adolescents (N=148) to analyse their attitudes towards English and Portuguese. Six bilingual speakers of English and Portuguese, one from the US, one from Brazil and one from the UK from each sex, were asked to tell personal anecdotes and incidents they have experienced, once in English and once in Portuguese. Twenty adjective pairs (e.g., attractive, loyal, interesting, intelligent, successful or competent) that would elicit reactions from Brazilian teens were included on a 7 point semantic differential scale. Those pairs were grouped into the two dimensions solidarity and status. The results show equal distribution of attitudes towards English and Portuguese regarding status, which the authors assumed to be related to little experience with the prestige the English language holds. Although the two languages were rated similarly in terms of solidarity, English received slightly higher evaluations. The identification with a foreign language in terms of solidarity by such a significant number of students was not expected. However, it is assumed to be connected with the English pop culture's image portrayed in the media rather than the actual native speakers of the language.

One of the most extensive studies on attitudes of non-natives towards varieties of English was conducted by McKenzie (2007). He analysed the attitudes of a Japanese group (N=558) towards the following six varieties of English through a VGT: (a) Glasgow Standard English (GSE), (b) Glasgow vernacular (GV), (c) Southern United States English (SUSE), (d) Midwest United States English (MWUSE), (e) moderately- accented Japanese English (MJE) and (f) heavily-accented Japanese English (HJE). In his extensive study McKenzie (2007) investigates, among other things, whether the Japanese participants can identify native and non-native varieties of English correctly and how competent and socially attractive the speakers are perceived. SUSE and MWUSE were recognised by over half of the participants, whereas roughly a third only correctly identified GSE and GV. The highest percentage of correct recognition was found to be for HJE as opposed to relatively low results of less than one third for the MJE. In terms of competence, speakers of the US are preferred over speakers of the UK and Japan. These results seem to originate in the broadcast of American English via media rather than UK English and higher status and prestige for native speakers of English in general. For social attractiveness, however, a preference for the HJE was found. Also, other non-standard varieties such as the GV and the SUSE were rated more favourably than MJE, GSE and MWUSE supporting previous findings for native speaker evaluations towards non­standard varieties (e.g., Hiraga, 2005; Fraser, 1973, as cited in McKenzie, 2007).

In Clark's & Schleef's (2010) study, several evaluations towards standard native varieties were found. They were often rated higher in terms of prestige (e.g., they are regarded as educated, intelligent or confident) but lower in terms of solidarity (e.g., they are considered less funny, likeable or trustworthy). Birmingham English is consistently rated the lowest for prestige and social attractiveness, whereas Edinburgh English and Scottish English are rated high on both dimensions. RP is considered the most prestigious variety but not necessarily the most socially attractive, whereas Newcastle English is mostly rated the other way around.

3. The study

As it has been previously identified in the paper, previous studies in the field either have included general native varieties such as General American (GA) or RP and specific non­native varieties (e.g., Brazilian English or Austrian English, usually spoken by the participants of the studies) and non-native participants (Gentry El-Dash & Busnardo, 2001; Drljaca Margie & Sirola, 2014; Dalton-Puffer et al., 1997) or specific native British varieties (e.g., Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle) and either native speakers as participants (Giles, 1970) or non-natives who live or have lived in the UK for some time (Clark & Schleef, 2010). In the context of the previous studies outlined in the literature review, the present study aims to identify attitudes of Austrian EFL learners towards seven native varieties of British English (BE) to answer the following research questions:

(a) Which attitudes towards certain British varieties exist among Austrian-born English speakers?
(b) Do the attitudes compare with the findings previously conducted research has identified?
(c) Do correct answers on the map matching task correlate with the stereotypical attitudes towards certain varieties?
(d) Do the results confirm previous findings (Chiba et al., 1995, as cited in Dalton­Puffer et al., 1997) on correlations between familiar accents and positive attitudes towards them (in this case for the RP accent, which is mainly used as a reference model in Austrian schools)?

Hereby the general attitudes of Austrian learners towards the varieties included in the study are analysed and compared with each other. The literature review above included several findings of attitudes towards the varieties RP, SSE, Newcastle English, London English (Cockney), Birmingham English and Edinburgh English. Research question (b) aims to answer whether the present study supports these findings. As native speakers hold certain evaluative judgements (e.g., Giles, 1970; Bishop et al., 2005) towards standard and non-standard British varieties, it is not surprising that L2 learners adopt those judgements while learning the language. Research question (c) aims to find out whether those evaluative judgements are consciously connected to the variety (e.g., the participants know that the accent they are listening to is a Birmingham accent and therefore, they evaluate it negatively, without a particular evaluation of the language features themselves) or unconsciously connected with certain language features that happen to be subjectively connotated positively or negatively (e.g., the participants notice the 'glottal t' language feature in a guise and associate it with a vernacular variety which results in a positive or negative evaluation, but do not know it is associated with the London Cockney 'working class' accent). The last research question seeks to determine whether the RP accent is recognised by most participants and evaluated best due to the familiarity through the Austrian school system.

Like the study of Dalton-Puffer et al. (1997), Austrian EFL learners living in Austria were included in a test format that uses a VGT (Cooper, 1975; Teufel, 1995, as cited in Dalton-Puffer et al., 1997). The guises included in the study were taken from Clark & Schleef's (2010) study. They feature seven university-educated females who were of comparable age and social background. The text was taken from a television news programme called Newsround and was modified in terms of comprehensibility for the target group. The following British varieties were included in the study:

- Scottish Standard English (SSE)
- Edinburgh English
- Manchester English
- Newcastle English
- Birmingham English
- London English (Cockney)
- Received Pronunciation (RP)

3.1. Sample

The population eligible for this research paper included student teachers from the Cluster Mitte. Altogether, 58 participants took part in the questionnaire, but only 28 finished the questionnaire. The sample included one speaker of the English proficiency level A2, three speakers of B1, seven speakers of B2, 14 speakers C1 and three speakers of C2. More female (16) than male (13) speakers participated in the study. The majority of the speakers (26) share German as their mother tongue, whereas one person selected Croatian and another one Vietnamese. All but one person selected English as one of their spoken languages, with ten participants speaking three or more languages. All but four (3 were 19, one person was 32) people were within the age group 20 to 30 (mean = 23.4).

3.2. Method

For this paper, an online questionnaire including 20 items was distributed via social media and email. The questionnaire consisted of three main sections: a general section to identify parameters such as age, gender, mother tongue, languages spoken and English proficiency level. Then the seven guises were arranged into three parts per guise. At the top, the audio file was embedded. Below the file, a six-point Likert Scale was placed, which included the following item pairs (marked in tables in the appendix with the letters (a) to (j)):

- Boring - interesting
- Educated - uneducated (r)
- Unfriendly - friendly
- Unintelligent - intelligent
- Articulate - inarticulate (r)
- Reliable - unreliable (r)
- Posh - common
- Upper class - lower class (r)
- Casual - formal
- Confident - self-conscious (r)

The “r” in brackets signals that the item pair was reversed in the scale. The third part consisted of a map of Great Britain depicting thirteen cities located either in England or Scotland, one of which had to be matched with the corresponding audio file via a single choice format.

The last section of the questionnaire aimed to identify personal attitudes towards ethnocentrism. However, this part is not discussed in this paper as this questionnaire is derived from a group project.

In order to answer research question (a), the descriptive variables for the seven Likert scales were calculated and compared with results from the literature review to answer research question (b). The results for research question (c) were achieved by comparing the mean results from the participants who were able to identify the guises correctly and those who were not. Lastly, the descriptive variables from the RP guise were compared with the others to find out whether it was rated the highest in terms of positive attitudes and with the results of the matchmaking task to evaluate whether it was the most recognised accent of the guises. The data analysis was conducted through the software Jamovi (The Jamovi Project, 2021) and Microsoft Excel. As the questionnaire was distributed online, the contact details of the researcher were included. The participants took part in the study voluntarily, and the answers were anonymised.


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Austrian EFL learners and their awareness of social stereotypes towards selected varieties of British English
University of Salzburg
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stereotypes, British English, Austrian EFL learners, awareness, language attitudes, English varieties
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Axel Kolbeinsson (Author), 2021, Austrian EFL learners and their awareness of social stereotypes towards selected varieties of British English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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