A Quantitative Study of the Attitudes of Japanese Learners towards Varieties of English Speech: Aspects of the Sociolinguistics of English in Japan
McKenzie, Robert M
Language attitude studies focussing specifically on native speaker perceptions of varieties of English speech have demonstrated consistently that standard varieties tend to be evaluated positively in terms of competence/ status whilst non-standard varieties are generally rated higher in terms of social attractiveness/ solidarity. However, the great majority of studies which have investigated non-native attitudes have tended to measure evaluations of ‘the English language’, conceptualised as a single entity, thus ignoring the substantial regional and social variation within the language. This is somewhat surprising considering the importance of attitudes towards language variation in the study of second language acquisition and in sociolinguistics. More specifically, there is a dearth of in-depth quantitative attitude research in Japan concentrating specifically on social evaluations of varieties of English, as the limited number of previous studies conducted amongst Japanese learners have either been qualitative in design or too small in scale. Moreover, the findings of these studies have been somewhat inconclusive. The present quantitative study, employing a range of innovative direct and indirect techniques of attitude measurement, investigated the perceptions of 558 Japanese university students of six varieties of English speech. The results obtained suggest that Japanese learners are able to differentiate between speech varieties within a single language of which they are not native speakers and hold different and often complex attitudes towards (a) standard/ non-standard and (b) native/ non-native varieties of English speech. For instance, the learners rated both the standard and non-standard varieties of inner circle speech more highly than varieties of expanding circle English in terms of prestige. In contrast, it was found that the learners expressed higher levels of solidarity with the Japanese speaker of heavily-accented English and intriguingly, with speakers of non-standard varieties of UK and US English than with speakers of standard varieties of inner circle English. Moreover, differences in the Japanese students’ gender, level of self-perceived competence in English, level of exposure to English and attitudes towards varieties of Japanese all had significant main effects on perceptions of varieties of English speech. However, the regional provenance of the informants was not found to be significant in determining their language attitudes. The results also imply that Japanese learners retain representations of varieties of English speech and draw upon this resource, whether consciously or unconsciously, in order to identify and evaluate (speakers of) these speech varieties. The findings are discussed in relation to the pedagogical and language planning implications for the choice of linguistic model in English language teaching both inside and outwith Japan and in terms of the methodological importance of the study for potential future attitudinal research in this area.