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I listened this morning to a radio discussion about accents (French radio France Inter, Doit-on avoir honte de notre accent ?). It was about accents from various regions in France (and abroad) and how people are discriminated if they do not have the "official accent" (equivalent I guess to the BBC or Queen accent in the UK).

When discussing that afterwards over breakfast, my son said that people should speak in a way which is understandable by others. To what I said "do not make the confusion between having an accent and having a bad pronunciation".

And then I started to think about my comment. I ended up with the conclusion that I actually do not know if there is a difference. After all, an accent is an agreement between a group of people about how to pronounce words (and rhythm, ...)

So my question: what is the difference between having an accent and having a bad pronunciation. Could the latter ultimately evolve into the former if more people do it?

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  • You'd better never listen to France Inter. My piece of advice. – Arnaud Fournet May 2 '20 at 12:31
  • @ArnaudFournet: and that would be because...? – WoJ May 2 '20 at 12:32
  • Because France Inter is one of the most politically contaminated merdias. – Arnaud Fournet May 2 '20 at 12:34
  • @ArnaudFournet: ah nevermind then, I thought that would be some actual advice on an actual topic. I also listen to France Culture. Have a good day. – WoJ May 2 '20 at 12:36
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As you said, "After all, an accent is an agreement between a group of people about how to pronounce words." This is the difference between bad pronunciation and accent. But there is a catch. Sociolinguistically speaking an accent as a system of preferred phones for certain phonemes, along with a systematic distribution of stress, and also prosody, etc belonging to an "individual", location, or a nation. So, just because you don't speak the accent that you are "supposed" to speak accordingly to your nation or location, doesn't mean it is bad pronunciation or it is not an accent.

On the other hand, what would be a bad pronunciation is that failing to be regular. For instance:

[sæŋk juː mɪsəz tæt͡ʃəɾ] "Thank you, Mrs Thatcher"

In this example, the speaker maps [θ] to both [s] and [t] in the same environment. I think these irregularities and pronouncing a word without knowing how it is pronounced are the causes of bad pronunciation.

Latter can be evolved into the former if more people use it, yes. Also, more people using it means the accent will be eventually be rid of its oddities, such as the example, and will be more regular (especially after children start using it). But as I said, there is no reason for claiming latter is not already the former.

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  • Can you explain why it's "bad pronunciation" to say that? Preferably with sources. – OmarL May 2 '20 at 17:47
  • I don't think I can provide sources to my own interpretations. I forgot to add "I think" in the first sentence claiming what is bad pronunciation. In the second, I clearly stated that this idea is how I think about it. To be more precise, I would never call a pronunciation a "bad pronunciation" if the cause is the speaker's own inventory of phonemes or syntactic understanding to handle language in general. In this case, a "bad pronunciation" has to be something that can be fixed easily by just learning or practicing. – Yanek Yuk May 2 '20 at 23:35

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