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Review of  The Sounds of English: Phonetics and Phonology for English Teachers in Southeast Asia

Reviewer: Zahariah Pilus
Book Title: The Sounds of English: Phonetics and Phonology for English Teachers in Southeast Asia
Book Author: David Deterding Gloria R. Poedjosoedarmo
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 10.1348

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Deterding,D. and G. Poedjosoedarmo (1998) "The sounds of English: Phonetics
and phonology for English teachers in Southeast Asia." Prentice Hall:
Singapore. 298 pp.

Reviewed by Zahariah Pilus, Univ. of Wisconson.

This book mainly describes the sounds and sound system of English, but it
also provides some descriptions of the sounds in other languages from
Southeast Asia and East Asia. It consists of 28 short chapters with an
accompanying tape for parts of the exercises given at the end of each
chapter. The chapters in the book can be divided into three general themes:
the segmental aspects of English sounds, the suprasegmental aspects of
English sounds, the sounds and sound systems of major languages of
Southeast Asia (also included are Korean and Japanese), and the application
of computers in speech analysis and in the teaching of pronunciation.

Chapters 1- 8 focus on the segmental aspects of English sounds. Chapter 1
sets the background for the following chapters by introducing and defining
some relevant concepts such as descriptive versus prescriptive approaches
to language studies, phonetics and phonology, letters, sounds and symbols,
and accent. The authors make an important point that the book is meant to
be descriptive and not prescriptive. Chapter 2 introduces the basic
articulators involved in speech production. Chapter 3 provides a detailed
description of the vowels in general and its classifications in terms of
quality and length. Chapter 4 specifically discusses vowels in British RP
(SSB) while chapter 5 describes and compares the vowels in General American
English (GA) with those in SSB. In both chapters 4 and 5, the authors
relate the vowels to their phonetic symbols. Chapter 6 describes the
consonants in general and the classifications of consonants based on
voicing, place and manner of articulation. An IPA chart upon which
consonant symbols in this book are taken is given on page 52. Chapter 7
focuses on English consonants in both SSB and GA, mentioning the
differences between them. Chapter 8 provides an elaborate description of
the sounds of the vowels and consonants in English, and the relationship
between their phonetic symbols and spelling. The similarities and
differences between SSB and GA in terms of vowel contrasts are pointed out.
At the end of this chapter, the authors compare the symbols used in this
book with those used in Fromkin and Rodman (1974), a widely used
introductory text in America.

Chapters 9 and 10 deal more with the phonological structures of English.
Chapter 9 defines 'phoneme' and 'allophones' and discusses allophonic
variants in SSB and GA. This chapter mentions the need for comparing sounds
systems and introduces readers to a basic phonological analysis of sounds
using data from Spanish as an example. Chapter 10 describes the syllable,
the syllabic structure, phonotactic constraints, and consonant clusters in
English, ending with a paragraph on the problems faced in describing
syllables in English.

Chapters11 -15 are devoted to the suprasegmental aspects of speech. Chapter
11 discusses stress and the effect of heavy/light syllables, parts of
speech, suffixation and compounding on stress placement in English while
chapter 12 dwells further into stress and the rhythmic structure in
English, emphasizing the difference between stress and syllable timed
languages. Chapter 13 discusses tones and intonation. This includes the
difference between tone languages, as represented by Mandarin Chinese and
intonation languages, as represented by English. Chapter 14 gives a
description of stress and intonation in English, focusing on stressed
syllables that carry a tone (tonic syllable), the function of a tonic
syllable, the relationship between tone units and grammatical units and the
structure of the tone unit. Chapter 15 explains features found in connected
speech such as vowel reduction and other phonological processes in fast
speech like assimilation, deletion, and insertion. It also describes
progressive voicing assimilation in English, a phonological process that
occurs in both slow and fast speech. For this latter process, the authors
focus on voicing assimilation in the suffixes -s and -ed.

Chapters 16 and 17 discuss language variation. Chapter 16 first defines
language, dialect, and accent. Then, it describes three types of language
variation; geographical, social and stylistic variation. To exemplify
geographical variation, the authors give brief comments on accents in the
UK and America. For social variation, they refer to Labov's work on the
presence or absence of /r/ in the speech of English speakers in New York
City. Singapore English is used to demonstrate stylistic variation. Chapter
17 describes in detail the pronunciation in Singapore English as compared
to SSB, a variety of English often regarded as the standard in Singapore.
The authors state that Singapore English is not a 'lazy' language as some
people assume.

Chapters 18- 27 prepare the readers for a contrastive analysis of sound
systems. More specifically, Chapter 18 introduces the Contrastive Analysis
approach to sound systems and discusses its application to language
teaching while chapters 19-27 describe the sound systems of seven major
(groups of) languages of Southeast Asia and two other languages of East
Asia. The languages described are Malay (and its different varieties),
Javanese, Mandarin Chinese, some other Chinese dialects (for example,
Hokkien), Thai, Tamil, Tagalog, Japanese and Korean respectively. The
authors note in the introductory chapter of the book that 'the presence of
Japanese and Korean businesses in the region makes communication with
speakers of these languages important'. Thus, an understanding of the sound
systems of these languages is necessary.

The last two chapters (28 and 29) discuss the use of computers in relation
to speech studies. Chapter 28 offers basic information on speech analysis
using computers. Concepts such as the speech waveform, spectrogram, vowel
formants, and voice onset time (VOT) are introduced with illustrations.
Chapter 29 looks at the possibility of using computers for teaching
pronunciation. The authors think that although a computer program (CECIL)
has the potential of becoming a tool for teaching and learning
pronunciation, at the moment, there is no computer program that is ideal
for this purpose. However, the authors are convinced that with rapid
advancement in technology, such a program will become available soon.

As shown by the summary above, the book is comprehensive in that in
addition to the descriptions of the different aspects of the sounds and
sound systems of three different varieties of English: British RP, General
American and Singapore English, it also covers essential topics on the
phonetics of major languages of Southeast Asia (and East Asia) for
comparison with English. This is essential information for teachers
teaching English language to students in or from this region. The book is
also well organized and clearly presented. All technical concepts are
appropriately defined and some are gradually introduced as the authors
weave their points through the chapters. This prepares the readers for the
concepts when a more detailed discussion of them is later presented. The
authors also try to relate the description of certain concepts or speech
processes to everyday experience. For example, in chapter two, the authors
ask why we are asked to say 'cheese' when taking a photograph. The answer
is the word produces spread lips. The authors then relate lip spreading to
the fact that the word 'cheese' contains unrounded vowels. Such analogy
promotes better understanding of the book for those not specializing in the
fields and it also makes phonetics and phonology more interesting.
Exercises given at the end of each chapter are useful in enhancing the
readers' factual knowledge of phonetics and phonology, and their critical
analysis of the teaching and learning of English in their own countries.
Answers to the exercises given at the back of the book makes it a good
source for self-learning.

However, I have some criticisms pertaining to the pedagogical usefulness of
the book. Firstly, it may useful if the sounds of the English vowels
presented in chapter 4 (SSB) and 5 (GA) are provided in the accompanying
tape. In this way, the readers, especially those who are new to this area,
can learn to distinguish the vowels, and match the sounds of these vowels
to their phonetic symbols because the readers are expected to be able to
associate the different vowel sounds with their symbols in the listening
exercises at the end of the chapters. Secondly, although cross referencing
is necessary especially when new concepts are introduced earlier in the
chapters, this book has too many cross referencing that at times can be
disruptive to the readers' flow of thought. Thirdly, based on my knowledge
of Bahasa Malaysia, a variety of Malay, I think that the description on the
differences between Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia is quite
simplified. It is clear that Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia evolve
slightly differently. Bahasa Indonesia receives a lot of influence from
Dutch while Bahasa Malaysia is very much influenced by English. Thus, if
borrowed consonants are replaced in Bahasa Malaysia, they are not always
substituted with the same consonants as those used in Bahasa Indonesia. For
example, the authors note that that in Bahasa Indonesia, /z/ is replaced
with the palatal plosives in loanwords from Arabic and with /s/ in
loanwords from European languages. Bahasa Malaysia does not have these
substitutions. Bahasa Malaysia also has more borrowed consonants than is
suggested in the section on Bahasa Indonesia. The point is that teaching
English to Malay students in Indonesia is a lot more different from
teaching English to Malay students in Malaysia than the book seems to
imply. Apart from these probably minor details, the book is certainly a
useful reading for both specialists and non-specialists whose concern is in
teaching English to learners in or from Southeast Asia. It is also a good
quick reference for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the
sound systems of major languages in South East Asia and East Asia.

Zahariah Pilus is a graduate student at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. Her main interests include the teaching and learning of
English as a second language (ESL), computer assisted language learning,
ESL teacher training and interlanguage phonology.