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Review of  Non-Native Prosody


Reviewer: Sabine Zerbian
Book Title: Non-Native Prosody
Book Author: Jürgen Trouvain Ulrike Gut
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Phonology
Psycholinguistics
Subject Language(s): None
Book Announcement: 19.599

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Review:
EDITORS: Trouvain, Jürgen; Gut, Ulrike
TITLE: Non-Native Prosody
SUBTITLE: Phonetic Description and Teaching Practice
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 186
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Sabine Zerbian, Department of Linguistics, University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, South Africa

SUMMARY
This collection edited by Jürgen Trouvain and Ulrike Gut has as its aim to
bridge the gap between theoretically-oriented intonation research and second
language (L2) teaching. It consists of ten chapters by both researchers in the
field of intonation and prosody and teaching practitioners. It will be of
interest to both groups. It concentrates on the acquisition of Germanic
languages as L2, mainly German and English and is accompanied by a CD-ROM which
illustrates the examples of some of the chapters.

In the first chapter, ''Bridging research on phonetic description'' (pp. 3-21),
the editors together with William J. Barry explore the common ground of prosody
in L1 research as well as in L2 teaching. They point out the lack of
professionals who have the skills to mediate between the two camps and suggest
that there might be a lack of overlap in interests between the two groups. By
means of stress, articulation rate, speech rhythm and intonation they sketch out
how the results of formal research would fit into the second language
curriculum. Practical obstacles in this area of obvious shared interests are the
inaccessibility of research results with respect to their relevance to language
teaching and the lack of professionals to bridge the gap, with both the formal
understanding and experience in pedagogy. On the other hand,
theoretically-oriented research largely ignores the immediate needs of L2
prosody teaching as well as the testing ground that L2 acquisition offers with
respect to differing theories. The mutual benefit of closer cooperation is
evident: Application of research results and directions for further
theoretically-oriented research, both language-specifically and
cross-linguistically.

The remainder of the book is divided into two parts: Following the introduction,
chapters 2 to 7 are grouped under the heading ''Phonetic descriptions''. These
chapters relate to theoretically-oriented research and deal not only with
phonetic descriptions but often also pose the question in how far phonetic
phenomena are phonological. These chapters cover a wide range of issues in
intonation, such as pitch range, pitch accent patterns, accent alignment, and
vowel length.

Chapter 2 ''An introduction to intonation - functions and models'' (pp. 25-52) by
Martine Grice and Stefan Baumann summarizes the theoretic foundation of
intonational pitch accents. They discuss the two most wide-spread models of
intonation, namely the British School and Autosegmental-metrical models, in
order to facilitate reading of current primary literature in this area for
second language teachers and textbook writers. Intonation in the broadest sense
can have different functions in different languages. For English and German, the
two central tasks of intonation are characterized as highlighting and phrasing.
The functions of intonation in these languages are mainly with respect to
information structure (given vs. new), though also speech acts and syntactic
structures are disambiguated by intonation.

Chapter 3 by Ineke Mennen ''Phonological and phonetic influences in non-native
intonation'' (pp. 53-76) reviews existing error studies in L2 intonation and
investigates them with respect to the display of a phonological or phonetic
error whereby the phonological level relates to shapes of pitch accents and the
phonetic level relates to the implementational factors such as alignment of
pitch accents with respect to syllables, or the acoustic correlates of a stress
in a language. Though research has shown that duration, intensity, pitch and
spectral composition are the acoustic correlates in many languages, the same
research has also shown that languages rank the importance of these correlates
differently. Mennen shows the need to differentiate between the two levels by a
comparative alignment study of Dutch and Greek. Differences in the alignment of
pitch accents result in the perception of wrongly-placed stress. Mennen doubts
the success of exercises that would train stress placement if the actual
learner's problem is not the stress placement (phonological component) but
rather the phonetic implementation. She suggests that analysis of L2 learner
errors should differentiate between the two levels to efficiently adopt the
teaching methods.

Another possible difficulty in L2 intonation is pitch range. In comparing
speakers of German and English, Mennen shows that the same speakers use a
different pitch range when speaking English. As pitch range reflects not only
foreign origin but also speaker attitude, the appropriate use of pitch range is
an important factor in the acquisition of L2 prosody.

Chapter 4 ''Different manifestations and perceptions of foreign accent in
intonation'' (pp. 77-96) by Matthias Jilka also discusses deviations in the
temporal alignment and choice of pitch accents, this time in the speech of
American English L2 speakers of German. He traces deviations back to two
possible sources: as a transfer from the speaker's native language or as
individual intonation errors. He furthermore notes that the perception of a
foreign accent can be due to a cumulative effect of minor errors which
themselves are not significant.

Chapter 5 ''Rhythm as an L2 problem: How prosodic is it?'' (pp. 97-120) by William
Barry discusses the more complex prosodic perception of ''rhythm''. Word- and
sentence stress can be visualized using capitals and/or signal-processing
software in order to increase the language learner's awareness of the
phenomenon. Rhythm, however, is difficult to hook onto a visual representation.
Barry reviews the concepts of rhythm in language typology. From phonetic
research on stress- vs. syllable-timed languages it emerged that the term rhythm
is a phonological cover term for a great variety of structural and interactional
prosodic effects. Barry suggests that for German L2 teaching the introduction of
foot-based isochrony (as suggested by studies on stress-timed languages) is
unnecessary, even harmful. For an acceptable prosodic rhythm in L2 (German or
English), the acquisition of segmental properties, such as weak forms, voicing
of final consonants with accompanying length, vowel length and quality
contrasts, etc., is sufficient. Barry argues that L2 acquisition should focus on
individually learnable properties of language. These might include intonational
aspects such as prominence on important words, but not global impressions such
as rhythm.

Chapter 6 ''Temporal patterns in Norwegian as L2'' (pp. 121- 144) by Wim van
Dommelen investigates both segmental and suprasegmental aspects in the temporal
organization of L2 learners of Norwegian. For the study, L2 learners of
different L1 backgrounds are taken into consideration. An aim of the study is
thus not only to see if deviation from L1 Norwegian occurs in L2, but also if
language-specific deviations occur.

The segmental aspect of temporal organization concerns complementary length in
vowel-consonant dyads in Norwegian. Consonants in stressed syllables depend for
their length on the length of the preceding vowel. After a long vowel, the
consonant is short, whereas it is long after short vowels. The acquisition of
this length contrast is investigated for French, English, Russian, Persian,
German and Chinese learners of Norwegian. The study revealed twofold: First, the
mean segment duration deviate not as much as possibly expected from the
Norwegian reference line. However, closer inspection showed that interspeaker
variation disguises the actual variation found. Especially in Chinese speakers,
there is a complete overlap in the duration of vowels and consonants, indicating
that the distinction has not yet been mastered. Second, Norwegian and English
speakers showed considerable pre-aspiration, i.e. breathy voice and friction at
the end of a vowel which is followed by a voiceless stop. Pre-aspiration has
been reported for some Norwegian dialects but the results of the current study
suggest that it is more wide-spread in Norway. Pre-aspiration in English
speakers indicates that this characteristic has been overlooked in the
pronunciation of English thus far.

The suprasegmental aspect of temporal organization concerns speech rhythm. In
line with Barry's review of the relevant literature in the preceding chapter,
van Dommelen shows how different acoustic measures contribute to the percept of
speech rhythm. Based on these measures and the observable deviations in the
speech of the Norwegian L2 learners, inferences can be made as to the mother
tongue of the L2 learner with a correct classification rate of 92.2 %.

As the last chapter in this first part, chapter 7 ''Learner corpora in second
language prosody research and teaching'' (pp. 145-167) by Ulrike Gut starts
building the bridge to the applied section of the book. Her contribution argues
for the use of corpora both in L2 prosody research and in L2 teaching as the
objection against highly-controlled, ''artificial'' speech tasks also holds for L2
research. She presents an annotated and aligned L2 corpus (LeaP) which was
specifically collected to investigate the acquisition of prosody by L2 learners
of German and English. By means of this corpus she presents a study of vowel
reduction in native and non-native speech. Vowel reduction is investigated
quantitatively, qualitatively and in a longitudinal study. It can be shown that
L2 learners of both English and German show less reduced vowels than native
speakers. Their performance is improved after a stay abroad or a pronunciation
course. The same corpus was also used as a learning tool in a university course
and yielded positive responses from students.

Chapters 8 to 11 constitute the second part of the book and are grouped under
the header ''Teaching practice''. They refer to the applied aspect of teaching
intonation and prosody of a second language (L2). Chapter 8 ''Teaching prosody in
German as a foreign language'' (pp. 171-188) by Ulla Hirschfeld and Jürgen
Trouvain investigates the state-of-the-art in the teaching of prosody in German
L2. Stress and associated vowel reductions are isolated as one of the major
problems of German for L2 learners at word-level whereas a similar phenomenon of
incorrect use or placement of pitch accents can be observed at sentence-level.
The authors present the kinds of exercises used to address these problems as
well as some exemplifications and methodological recommendations which emerge
from extensive experience in the classroom.

Chapter 9 ''Metacompetence-based approach to the teaching of L2 prosody:
practical implications'' (pp. 189- 210) by Magdalena Wrembel presents new methods
in L2 prosody teaching which have been applied in the classroom (though a formal
empirical validation of the proposed techniques is difficult to obtain). Among
the methods are basic awareness-raising activities such as general relaxation or
discussions, exercises to enhance articulatory control as familiar from drama
coaches, ''mainstream'' techniques for pronunciation training, as well as
technologically advanced techniques. All these methods converge not only on
teaching the target pronunciation but also on enhancing metacompetence of the
prosody of a language.

Chapter 10 ''Individual pronunciation coaching and prosody'' (pp. 211-236) by Grit
Mehlhorn gives a practical report on individualized pronunciation training at
German universities as a complement to pronunciation training in the normal
classroom setting. The advantage of individual sessions is that they take into
consideration the many variables that feed into the individual's pronunciation.
Taking the personal motivation into consideration, the diagnosis of individual
pronunciation deviations, setting individual goals and close monitoring in
regular coaching sessions allow the learner to improve his/her L2 pronunciation
in different areas. The materials target language awareness with respect to word
stress, rhythm and intonation as well as learning awareness.

Chapter 11 ''Prosodic training of Italian learners of German: the contrastive
prosody method'' (p. 237- 258) by Federica Missaglia reports on a prosodic
training method which is informed by the theoretic literature, grounded in
actual learner problems and tested out in the classroom. Starting out from the
observation that most errors at the segmental level are not due to incorrect
pronunciation but rather to a lack of competence at the suprasegmental level,
the author developed a method that increases the awareness of prosodic
differences between Italian and German. The prosodic difference between Italian
and German has been reduced to the fact that German has one sentence accent per
sentence with all other syllables reduced. In applying German intonation to
Italian sentences the L2 learners would practice suprasegmental awareness in a
language they are familiar with before applying the newly acquired skill to the
German L2. The positive effect of this instruction method could be established
in a controlled performance test.

The volume further contains a language index, an index of L1-L2 combinations, a
subject index, and a CD-ROM with examples from some of the articles.

EVALUATION
The book has as its aims to bridge the gap between theoretically-oriented
researchers and teaching practitioners. The compilation of these two viewpoints
in one book allows a stocktaking. It clearly shows the overlap in interests by
recurring topics such as intonational pitch accents, word stress, rhythm, and
vowel reductions. The contributions also reflect the problems envisaged in the
introduction. This is not meant in a negative way but merely as a reinforcement
of the apparent gap. First, although the contributions highlight their
contribution for language teaching, the lack of specific exercises for the
teaching of prosodic aspects is evident. This indicates the difference between
the relevance of research results and implementation into second language
teaching. Professionals are needed with both a theoretical understanding as well
as pedagogic experience. The contribution by Hirschfeld & Trouvain is very
explicit about what is needed in the classroom.

Second, one cannot expect a-priori that researchers and practitioners will
interpret research results in the same way. To give an example from the book: In
his contribution, Barry states that it is not the rhythmic structure of
German/English that should be taught but rather the segmental factors as they
will lead to an appropriate prosody of the target language. This view is based
on research results which suggest that there is no clear acoustic correlate of
rhythm in these languages. The contribution and studies of Missaglia on the
other hand, show that teaching the characteristic rhythmic structure of a
language actually reduces segmental mispronunciations. These two opposing views
on the matter show that interesting results can be gained from a closer
co-operation of these two fields.

It was interesting to note that the importance of research results for L2
teaching was presented based on a contrastive approach. Contrastive analysis is
an approach to L2 acquisition that involves predicting learner problems based on
a comparison of L1 and L2 in order to determine similarities and differences.
The assumption is that there is positive transfer of structures that are present
in both L1 and L2. These structures should not pose a problem for the learner.
However, the learner will encounter problems if a linguistic structure in L1 is
inappropriate in L2 (interference) or if it does not exist in his/her L1.

A problem with the contrastive analysis approach and one that any textbook of L2
acquisition will mention (e.g. Saville-Troike 2006) is that the predictions it
makes are not always validated by evidence from actual learner errors. The error
analysis proved to be a more useful approach in this respect as it includes an
internal focus on the learners' creative ability to construct language. However,
only few studies, e.g. the contribution by Missaglia, have carried out actual
error analysis for L2 prosody.

Lastly, the book finds fault with the lack of exchange between prosody research
and language teaching and the subsequent lack of practical material for L2
prosody teaching. It would have been interesting to extend the discussion to
include the teaching of tone languages in which prosody is an even more
important factor and for which more experiences might exist given the important
lexical and grammatical meaning of pitch variation in these languages.

REFERENCES
Saville-Troike, Muriel. (2006) _Introducing Second Language Acquisition_.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sabine Zerbian is lecturer for phonology/phonetics at the University of the
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research interests are the
phonology and phonetics of tone in Southern Bantu language. She is interested in
the L2 acquisition and teaching of tone in these languages.
 

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