Study: Zionism helps with accent in Hebrew
Speakers of a foreign language who identify with the native speakers' culture will have less of an accent in that tongue, according to a new study by researchers from Haifa University.
"Native English speakers who make aliyah out of ideology can be expected to have lighter Hebrew accents than other expatriates, or than Israeli Arabs," said Dr. Rafiq Ibrahim, a researcher from the university's department of learning disabilities and resident of Kasra-Samiah in the Galilee.
In the study, Ibrahim, Dr. Mark Leikin and Prof. Zohar Eviatar examined the Hebrew pronunciation of Arab and Russian speakers. "The more empathy one has for the culture of the acquired language, the lighter the accent will be," they concluded.
"There is a question of linguistic ego involved," Ibrahim told Haaretz when asked to explain the psychology of accents. "An English speaker who identifies with the goals of the majority group will take on Hebrew accent characteristics more easily than someone who has difficulty parting from his or her own identity."
The study, published in the International Journal of Bilingualism, suggests that fluency in the second language is related to how the speaker wishes to be viewed by the majority group.
Three groups of 20 people with identical socioeconomic characteristics participated in the study. One group was comprised of native Hebrew speakers, the second of Arab Israelis who learned Hebrew in grade school, and the third of immigrants from Russia, who learned Hebrew in junior high or later.
All were recorded while reading a Hebrew-language text. They also filled out a questionnaire that measured their empathy with Israeli culture via 29 statements. A group of native Hebrew speakers then rated each participant's accent.
While the immigrants and the Arab Israelis were found to have similarly heavy accents on the whole, Russian immigrants displayed an inverse ratio between heaviness of accent and level of empathy with Israeli culture. No such link could be seen in the Arabic speakers.
"We believe this demonstrates that Arab speakers consider their accent as something that distinguishes them from the majority," the researchers said, adding that teachers of second languages must take their students' "political connection" to the majority culture into account - especially when teaching minority groups.