Abstract

Jasmine was an American seventh grader whose first language (L1) is Punjabi and second language (L2) is English. A good speller, she tied for first place at her regional spelling bee. She maintains that she then correctly spelled the tie-breaking word: tomography. After requesting an instant video replay of her word, the judges declared Jasmine’s spelling incorrect: <d-o-m-o-g-r-a-p-h-y>. We examine three questions: Is Jasmine’s presumed-high word-recognition ability consistent with such an error? Did her L1 interfere with her L2 pronunciation? Did an L1-influenced pronunciation cause the judges to perceive her word-initial /t/ as [d]? After inquiring of Jasmine about the spelling event itself, we examined the considerable research on Indian English, spelling, speech production, and speech perception; we also audio-recorded Jasmine’s spoken language at various style levels to assess the degree to which Punjabi may be influencing her English pronunciation. The first question remains without a confirmed answer, though our assumption is that it is ‘no’. Work on Indian English indicates a probable ‘yes’ to the latter two questions. Spectrographic analysis of Jasmine’s word-initial English [th]-sounds demonstrates the shorter voice onset times associated with the nonaspirated /t/-sounds of Punjabi and Indian English. It is probable that Jasmine pronounced the ‘t’ [th] of tomography with little or no aspiration, and that the judges heard the near-unaspirated [t] as a [d]. Jasmine’s experience demonstrates that the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s sole reliance on dictionary pronunciations of Standard American English might well be adjusted to accommodate contestants who speak a nonstandard, or a standard but non-American, variety of English.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. e149-e164
Launched on MUSE
2014-12-10
Open Access
No
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