Flight announcers are pivotal in making sure that no traveller misses or boards the wrong flight when announcements are made in the airport; thus they must exhibit an excellent command of English in order to communicate effectively. Therefore, this research is motivated by the concern of how flight announcers in Nigerian airports pronounce their words during announcements. It is a phonological analysis on the language of flight announcers at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. The main objective was to investigate their pronunciation patterns using three linguistic variables (/ǝ/, /ð/ and /Ө/) in line with the Labovian theory of linguistic variation. The research instruments employed were a questionnaire (used to elicit respondents’ demographics) and reading tests (comprising of word list, phrase list and sentence list). Output of the reading tests were recorded using a Remax RP1.8GB.OLED Digital Voice Recorder. Data was phonetically transcribed with the help of Phonetizer (online software that transcribes and pronounces) and the 17th edition of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. It was then analyzed using descriptive statistics involving simple frequency and percentage. The result showed that exposure to native speakers, age of respondents and years of working experience in flight announcing as sociolinguistic factors; affect correct pronunciation while educational qualification and ethnic origin do not. It was also discovered that the retention of the strong forms in words like is, the, to, a in contexts where they ought to have been deleted was the recurrent phonological pattern; as almost all respondents made that mistake while reading the sentence list. As regards the announcers’ general use of language, the study showed that most respondents approximated the English phonemes with what they have in their mother tongue. At the same time, some respondents inserted and deleted vowels and consonants in words while some others exhibited cases of dialectically influenced personal speech handicap. This means that a person’s pronunciation could be attributed to mother tongue interference, variational, environmental and physiological conditions. Thus, flight announcers do not speak the Received Pronunciation (RP) but use a variety of Nigerian English. This is not only unintelligible to non-Nigerians but Nigerians too, especially when the flight announcers try to imitate foreign accents. In the long run, this could cause miscommunication resulting in travellers missing their flights or boarding the wrong flight. Finally, recommendations were made regarding steps that linguists, government agencies and the flight announcers themselves could do to improve their pronunciation pattern.
1.1 Background to the Study
Language is studied and analyzed at different linguistic levels such sounds (Phonology); the internal structure of words and phrases (Morphology); the structure and rules governing sentences (Syntax); the meaning of words (Semantics); or how meaning relates to the context of people and situations (Pragmatics). According to Rice-Johnston (2008) “Language is a process or set of processes used to ensure that there is agreement between the sender and receiver for meanings assigned to symbols and the schema for combining them as used for each communication.” This means that communication is ineffective if it leads to misunderstanding. With this in mind, this study seeks to carry out a phonological analysis on the language of flight announcers at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos; in order to ascertain the level of communication in their announcements.
In the airport, communication takes place at different levels – from the time a traveler arrives to check-in to the time he boards the flight, till he disembarks the aircraft. Howbeit, the international language of aviation is the English language, so it is not surprising that, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – Nigeria is a member country – passed a decree that “all Air Traffic Controllers and Flight Crew members engaged in or in contact with international flights must be proficient in English Language as a general spoken medium…since January, 2008. This means thatproficiency in the proper pronunciation of words and not written English – as was done earlier – is being tested using ICAO approved tests. It is therefore expected that pilots, cabin crew members, all air traffic control officers, as well as flight announcers possess the ability to speak right and clearly for one to understand, while on duty.
In Nigeria, the use of English language for flight announcements is not just limited to international flights but also domestic ones. The job of a flight announcer is to give information about flight schedules, make boarding calls for travelers, inform the public about an inbound flight, as well as make other overhead announcements. Thus if an unclear announcement is made, especially if words are not properly pronounced, or the wrong intonation, rhythm or accent is used; such an announcement may cause a miscommunication rather than communication. This is one of the reasons why some travelers do complain that they miss their outbound flights while sitting in the waiting lounge.
The experience of Dr. Farooq Kperogi, a Professor of Communication, based in Atlanta; as recounted on his blog Notes from Atlanta gives credence to the numerous oral accounts of travelers who claim not to understand most of the announcements made by flight announcers. In the blog he bemoaned the type of accent that the flight announcers used, saying that it was neither British nor American accent, in as much as they tried so hard to imitate trans-Atlantic accents. He ended up naming the accent inaudible babbles and claims that it might even pose a security threat in the country (Kperogi, 2016).
Besides road transportation, the other means of transportation in Nigeria that attracts a high level of patronage is air travel and the reason is not far-fetched – though expensive, it is fast. Commercial air travel began in Kano in 1925 and has marked its 90th year of existence in Nigeria, in 2015 (Essien & Chiama, 2015). The first few flights however were for emergency relief purposes at the war front during World War II. Beyond the war, the industry has grown in the country and today we have about 7 major domestic and 14 other domestic airports, one airport that is not manned by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN, 2016), 13 airstrips, 2 military airports, as well as 5 international airports which includes the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
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