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Review of  Pronouncing English

Reviewer: Karen Steffen Chung
Book Title: Pronouncing English
Book Author: Richard V. Teschner M. Stanley Whitley
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.2199

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Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 13:56:06 +0800
From: Karen Chung
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

Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taiwan

SAMPA symbols are used to represent IPA symbols in ASCII; see:


_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

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


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

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.
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: The
title of her dissertation is _Mandarin Compound Verbs_ (Leiden
University, 2004).

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010027
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 296
Prices: U.S. $ 39.95