LINGUIST List 15.2199

Tue Aug 3 2004

Review: Phonetics/Applied Ling: Teschner & Whitley

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  1. Karen Chung, Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

Message 1: Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2004 16:52:05 -0400 (EDT)
From: Karen Chung <karchungntu.edu.tw>
Subject: Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

AUTHORS: Teschner, Richard V.; Whitley, M. Stanley 
TITLE: Pronouncing English
SUBTITLE: A Stress-Based Approach with CD-ROM
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press 
YEAR: 2004 
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1353.html


Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taiwan

SAMPA symbols are used to represent IPA symbols in ASCII; see:
http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/sampa/home.htm

DESCRIPTION

_Pronouncing English_ is, as its title suggests, a stress-based course
in North American English pronunciation aimed mainly at ESL teachers,
particularly those whose native language is not English.

A typical English pronunciation book begins with individual consonants
and vowels, illustrated by single-word examples or
specially-constructed sentences like _Was Ethel's thesis on an atheist
with arthritis?_. There are many problems with this approach; it tends
to ignore allophones and linking, and stress and rhythm are seldom
addressed in depth. Not to mention that words and phrases out of
context are just not very memorable or fun, and thus not that
effective as teaching tools.

This book seeks to do things differently. The authors take
suprasegmentals, rather than individual segments, as their starting
point. Chapter 1, entitled ''The Metric Foot'', focuses on stress,
syllable count, and prosody. It uses poetic meter, i.e. iambic,
trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, and spondaic, to analyze and increase
awareness of the rhythmic patterns of ordinary spoken English.

In Chapter 2, 'Strong Stresses and Weak'', the authors propose that
each syllable of each English word can be assigned one of three types
of stress: strong (stressed syllable with full vowel), weak
(unstressed with full vowel), and null (no stress with reduced
vowel/schwa). Using a corpus of the 25,108 entries of an
English-Spanish dictionary, the authors calculate the respective
percentages of English words consisting of one to eight syllables, and
further analyze stress patterns, to help foreign learners make the
best possible guess without a dictionary at where the stress of any
given word will fall. Useful miscellaneous rules are scattered
throughout the chapter, and book, for example, ''While the stress of
open syllables varies (_'fellow_, but _be'low_, _'preview_ but
_re'view_), a closed syllable tends to attract stress: _a'broad_,
_a'bout_, _a'brupt_, _ac'claim_.'' (p. 31). Guidelines are provided to
help identify which words retain the stress on the same base vowel in
derived forms (_ad'mit, ad'missible, ad'mittance_) and which have
shifting stress (_'character, character'istic_).

Chapter 3 covers intonation: contrastive stress (_I don't want LEMONS,
I want ORANGES._), compound stress - compounds are divided into
left-stressing (_'air force_) and right-stressing (_ad'ult
edu'cation_) - and intonation patterns of statements, and yes-no
vs. wh- questions.

Chapter 4, ''From Orthography to Pronunciation'', is an accessible
introduction to phonics. English phonics are not always taught outside
the US, and this chapter offers a compact and handy reference for both
teachers and students.

Chapter 5, ''Vowels'', contains some of the more conventional
information found in most pronunciation and phonetics books,
e.g. descriptions and diagrams of tongue position and lip rounding,
and information on diphthongs.

Chapter 6, ''Consonants'', offers interesting coverage of English
phonotactics and ambisyllabicity, topics often not treated in depth in
books of this type. Much of the chapter consists of familiar phonetic
descriptions of consonants. The authors go into considerable depth on
the topic of rhotic and non-rhotic dialects, and on syllabic
consonants, VOT (voice onset time), taps (called ''flaps'' in this as
in many ESL books), glottal /t/ (as in _it was_), /h-/ deletion, and
the distinctive features of sibilants.

Chapter 7, entitled ''Sounds and forms that change and merge'', covers
a wide variety of irregularities and variable forms in English, such
as citation vs. contextual forms, weak forms and contractions, the
different stress patterns of content vs. function words in phrases
(e.g. _They *used* to cook outside a lot._ vs. _This is the pan I
*used* to cook peas._), regular plurals (/-s/, -/z/ /z/;  = schwa)
and exceptional ones (_mouse, mice_; _deer, deer_), schwa elision
(_family_, _chocolate_), derivative forms (_nose, nostril_), consonant
alternations (_twelve, twelfth_), and the pros and cons (mostly cons)
of spelling reform. There is a discussion of syllable vs. stress
timing which includes a fun comparison of native and various
non-native English rhythms; English spoken by a Hindi speaker, for
example, may sound like _dot-dot-dot-dot-dot_; that of a native
English speaker is more like _di-DUM di-DUM di-di-DUM_.

Each chapter includes practical exercises, and ends with a number of
thoughtful hints on how to teach the material in the chapter to EFL
students.

A crash course on sound waveforms and spectrogram reading is appended
at the end of the book. Also included are a useful 10-page glossary of
specialized terms that appear in the book, a list of references, and a
good index.

The book comes with a CD-ROM with readings by the authors of the
illustrative examples in the book. It also includes corpus data in
.rtf format, i.e. word lists organized by syllable count and
phonological structure.

EVALUATION

Pronunciation teachers sometimes debate which is more important,
accurate vowels and consonants, or good rhythm. I think it is clear
that both are very important, but mostly the balance has been tipped
too far in the direction of segments. By shining the spotlight on
stress and rhythm, a better balance can perhaps be achieved, and that
is what this book sets out to do - and largely succeeds in doing.

The idea of using poems and poetic meter to make students aware of the
rhythms of ordinary spoken English is a good one, though some of the
poems might be a bit difficult for some readers. A spondee is supposed
to be two stressed beats; the authors apply it to utterances in which
all syllables are stressed, even when they are not grouped in pairs;
but this is a minor point.

I personally don't favor the authors' choice of the Kenyon & Knott
(KK) pronunciation symbol system, in particular the use of [e] for
[eI] (as in _ate_) and [o] for [oU] (as in _oat_). In my own
experience - the KK system is used in Taiwan schools - these symbols
suggest monophthongs to the students rather than diphthongs, and thus
lead to mispronunciations. I also disagree with the inclusion of [eI]
and [oU] with [i] and [u] in the statement, ''...the diphthongization
of the tense vowels /i e o u/ is relatively slight...'' Admittedly
this is true of some dialects, and the authors do address dialect
differences. But I come from the US Midwest, one of the supposedly
''non-diphthong'' areas, and I take issue with this analysis of the
data. I spend a good bit of teaching time trying to get my
Chinese-speaking students to diphthongize [eI] and [oU] correctly, and
would like help rather than indulgence from the textbook I use! Also,
the authors do mention the diphthongal quality of /O/ (''turned c'' as
in _saw_) in dialects such as New York City English, but not how
diphthongal it is in general American as well. This is typical of
English pronunciation textbooks, and is another point that confuses my
own students - most haven't the faintest idea of the difference
between /o/ and /O/, and few have any inkling that both are
diphthongal in general American English. So again, some help from the
text would be appreciated.

In general I prefer avoiding phonological terms that are not as
specific as phonetic ones, especially the category ''coronal''
(p. 173ff); sticking with just ''dental, alveolar, retroflex, and
aveolopalatal'' would leave less room for confusion. On the other
hand, the book's introduction of the phonological concept of
''sibilants'' is useful in describing the rules for English
pluralization. ''Glides'' are described as being the same as
''approximants'', with the ''liquids'' /r/ and /l/ categorized
completely separately (p. 176); though a few pages later (p. 179) /r/
is called an approximant after all. This may cause confusion if you go
to Ladefoged or other phonetics texts straight from this book.

The authors do an admirable job of explaining phrase and compound
stress in Chapter 3, but they mix various word and phrase types
together under the category of ''right-stressing compounds''. Some of
the examples given can be accounted for by the adjective + noun phrase
stress rule, in which all words retain their original stress,
e.g. 'back 'door, 'automatic 'pilot -- and this rule is mentioned in
the text. Others follow the ''material'' subrule, which states that
both nouns in noun + noun compounds retain their original stress when
the modifying noun is the material from which the head noun is made:
contrast _'bookcase_ with _'brick 'wall_, _'doorknob_ with
_'strawberry 'jam_; this could perhaps be added in a future
edition. Another point that could be covered is the role of
*intonation* in phrase stress; _wall_ sounds more strongly stressed
than _brick_ in _brick wall_ simply because it is the final and thus
tonic stress in the utterance.

Something else the authors might consider adding in a future edition:
an explanation of front vowel raising before the voiced velars /N/
(_ng_ in spelling) and /g/; contrast the vowel of _kin_ with that of
_king_, and _pick_ with _pig_.

The volume is attractively designed and carefully edited. The
accompanying CD-ROM is an excellent tool, especially for non-native
speakers of North American English. The material on the CD is read by
the authors in a very ordinary-sounding voice, rather than in
broadcaster style, which means listeners will be hearing a more
everyday version of North American English, though some of the
readings are rendered with exaggerated emphasis to illustrate specific
points, e.g. word stress or meter. It might have been nice if they
had included a female voice rather than using just two male ones.

This book could perhaps best be used as a supplementary textbook in
ESL teacher training courses, and as a resource and reference book for
both teachers and students of English. As a work of applied rather
than theoretical linguistics, there is not much that is terribly new
in this book; its value lies rather in how it selects, organizes and
presents the material to make English and its workings more
transparent to learners, and thus help them to better use and teach
the language. I have been very picky on small points, mostly due to my
own experience and minor frustrations in teaching English
pronunciation to second-language learners in Taiwan. But really, I
think this is a great book that is onto the right track in teaching
English pronunciation.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Karen Steffen Chung teaches English and phonetics at National Taiwan
University. She also co-hosts an English teaching program over the
radio at Ivy League Analytical English, Taipei: http://www.ivy.com.tw/
The title of her dissertation is _Mandarin Compound Verbs_ (Leiden
University, 2004).
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