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Review of  Gimson's Pronunciation of English

Reviewer: David Deterding
Book Title: Gimson's Pronunciation of English
Book Author: Alan Cruttenden
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 12.2217

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Cruttenden, Alan (2001) Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 6th
ed., Arnold Publishers, paperback ISBN: 0-340-75972-0, xix+339pp.

David Deterding, NIE/NTU, Singapore

SYNOPSIS This is the newly revised edition of a classic text on
the pronunciation of RP that has been an incredibly valuable
resource for generations of language teachers and phoneticians.
Cruttenden already took over responsibility for updating this
work with the 5th edition, where some chapters, such as that on
intonation, were almost completely rewritten, while others, such
as that on the historical background, were left largely
unchanged. In this 6th edition, he maintains the basic structure
and style of the book, with a detailed description of each of the
vowels and consonants of RP constituting the central core of the
work, with preceding chapters covering the production of speech,
acoustics, and the classification of sounds, and final chapters
dealing with intonation, processes such as assimilation that
occur in connected speech, and the teaching of pronunciation.
While this basic structure has been retained, Cruttenden has
applied his immense authority as a writer and researcher on
phonetics to updating the work in a number of areas, particularly
the description of recent trends in the pronunciation of RP and
also the incorporation of new research findings.

CRITICAL EVALUATION It is essential for a book like this to be
constantly updated. Otherwise, it might come to represent "the
old-fashioned pronunciation of English as it was once spoken by
Gimson" rather than the intended meaning of its title as "the
pronunciation of English building on the foundation and knowledge
originally established by Gimson".

Below, the following reasons for updating this kind of book are
considered: description of new trends in pronunciation; new
material, including the findings of recent research; style of
presentation; advice to foreign learners; and correction of

1. New Trends in Pronunciation
Cruttenden has done a masterful job in observing and reporting
recent changes in pronunciation. There is extensive material on
London Regional RP (= Estuary English) throughout the book. In
addition, he discusses recent trends such as: the increasingly
open pronunciation of the /ae/ vowel in words such as 'hand' and
'sat' (p.111); the unrounding and fronting of the vowel in words
such as 'good' and 'soon' (p.83); and the frequent use of a high-
rise tone on declaratives, perhaps as an influence from
Australian and New Zealand English (p.83). This observation of
recent trends extends to shifted patterns for individual words,
so it is noted for example that 'Caribbean' now sometimes has the
accent on the second rather than third syllable (p.232), and
patterns for new compounds such as 'control freak' and
'adrenaline tourism' (p.229) are discussed.

One might quibble that a few of the pronunciations are still not
fully up-to-date. For example: 'nephew' is listed with a medial
/v/ (p.181) whereas Wells (2000:509) reports that, by 1988, 79%
of RP speakers preferred a medial /f/; 'suit' is stated as
beginning with /sj/ (p.190) whereas Wells (2000:748) finds that
only 28% of British speakers prefer /sju:t/ over /su:t/; and
'junk food' is listed with the main accent on the second word,
whereas most RP speakers surely have the accent on the first word
(Wells 2000:413). But such flaws are of minor consequence among
the wealth of exceptionally reliable observations about recent
trends in RP.

2. New Material
This edition includes much additional material, such as new
spectrograms to illustrate vowels (pp.100-1), obstruents (p.157),
and sonorants (p.194), and plots to show recent data on the
measurement of vowels (p.102). In addition, there are useful new
sections on the breakdown of syllable structure into onset,
rhyme, peak and coda (pp.50-51) and word-medial syllable division

One substantial change that Cruttenden has introduced (though
this change was already in the 5th edition) is the elimination of
all mention of stress, apart from a brief discussion of why he
regards it as too loose a term because "it has been used in
different ambiguous ways in phonetics and linguistics" (p.24). In
the transcription throughout the book, the most prominent
syllable within words is shown using a falling accent rather than
a primary stress mark. As this is within his greatest area of
expertise (Cruttenden 1997), he is exceptionally well qualified
to introduce a theoretical innovation of this nature, and
certainly he has solid grounds for avoiding the use of the term
'stress'. However, it does mean that the book uses a slightly
different means of representing words than other standard works
on RP, such as the two pronouncing dictionaries (Wells 2000,
Jones 1997), which is perhaps a pity, as one of the attractions
of using RP as a model for pronunciation teaching is the wealth
of different materials that employ the same symbols with
essentially the same underlying system.

In incorporating the fruits of recent research on pronunciation,
Cruttenden makes reference to a large number of new sources, so
the bibliography provides an invaluable resource for works on the
pronunciation of English. One well-motivated innovation in this
respect is the inclusion of page numbers wherever appropriate
with references to books: if the purpose of references is to
provide the reader quick and easy access to further materials,
surely it makes sense to include the page numbers for books, and
I just wish that other writers would adopt this practice. One
minor flaw with the new references is the omission of a few of
them from the bibliography: MacMahon (1998) referred to on page
78, Wells (1990) on page 231, and Lecumberri and Maidment (2000)
on page 309.

3. Style of Presentation
One stylistic usage that seems somewhat old-fashioned is the use
of male pronouns throughout to refer to the general
speaker/listener. For example: "The native listener will need to
adjust his decoding habits in much the same way that he does when
..." (p.313). Traditionally, of course, it was perfectly
acceptable to use 'he' in this way as a gender-neutral pronoun,
but in our modern age of sensitivity about gender issues, some
readers might find this usage a bit jarring. Of course, this is
an underlying problem with the English language, as we have no
easy means of referring to a person whose gender is not stated,
but perhaps greater usage could have been made of plurals to
avoid the problem, thus: "Native listeners will need to adjust
their decoding habit in much the same way that they do when ...".

However, this underlying problem in English is certainly not the
fault of Cruttenden (or Gimson), and it is also true that there
are times when it is not easy to avoid the issue, or when
avoiding it results in less clear wording. Moreover, Cruttenden
is updating a classic work while maintaining the spirit of the
original, not completely re-writing it, so perhaps he is right to
retain this old-fashioned aspect of the original style.

4. Advice to Foreigners
One of the principle uses of this book is in the teaching of
pronunciation to foreign learners, and Cruttenden has introduced
much valuable advice for Cantonese, Arabic, and even Bantu
learners in addition to the existing advice to those from such
places as France, Germany and Italy.

One aspect that might give rise to controversy is the degree to
which the book assumes that foreign learners want to sound
completely like native RP speakers, particularly if one remembers
the old adage that the only person who needs to sound completely
native is a spy. Thus, we are told that "With the acquisition of
correct hesitations a foreign learner can dramatically increase
his ability to sound like an Englishman." (p.54) Although it is
certainly true that most foreign learners aim to achieve a high
level of competence, one wonders how many really want to sound
totally like an Englishman.

In this new edition, there has been some subtle movement away
from a strict insistence on the RP model, so that readers are
advised that use of an /r/ in words such as 'here' and 'dear'
"gives the impression of an American pronunciation", which
certainly moderates the advice that /r/ should not be pronounced
finally or before a consonant. However, this tempering of the
advice could, perhaps, be extended elsewhere, as learners are
still warned, for words such as 'work' and 'bird', that "care
must also be taken to avoid post-vocalic /r/." (p.126). In
contrast, many writers on pronunciation teaching recommend that
post-vocalic /r/ is always helpful in aiding comprehension
(Jenkins 2000:139), so maybe advice that it makes the speaker
sound American is more helpful than total prescription.

One other area that some pronunciation teachers might disagree
with is the relative importance of the various aspects of
pronunciation. Cruttenden (p.300) insists on the central
importance of the use of reduced vowels in weak syllables to
achieve a native-like rhythm, but others, such as Jenkins
(2000:146-150), suggest that use of weak forms to achieve native-
like stress timing is not so important for foreign learners of

5. Correction of Errors
While it is welcome that some errors from the 5th edition have
been corrected, it is rather unfortunate that quite a large
number of new errors have been introduced. I found about one
hundred. While most of these are trivial, such as opening
brackets with no closing brackets and minor problems with
symbols, particularly use of Cardinal Vowel 4 instead of Cardinal
Vowel 5 for the vowel in 'car', some are rather more serious. For
example: the third row of Table 9 on page 151 is misaligned and
as a result suggests that 'bicker' has a medial /d/ while
'bigger' has a medial /k/; there is a missing line of phonemes,
the open back vowels, from the Old English sound system on page
73; and the text on page 156 states that the VOT in /p/ is
greater than in /t,k/ while the evidence in the footnote on the
same page indicates exactly the opposite.

It is a pity that such an expert job of updating this classic
work should be slightly marred by these errors, especially as the
other areas where it has been revised should ensure that it
continues to serve as a massive authority on pronunciation for so
many teachers and researchers around the world.

REFERENCES Cruttenden, A (1997). Intonation (2nd Edition).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J (2000) The Phonology of English as an International
Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jones, D (1997). English Pronouncing Dictionary (15th Edition).
Edited by P Roach and J Hartman. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Wells, J C (2000). Longman Pronouncing Dictionary. Harlow:

ABOUT THE REVIEWER David Deterding is an Associate Professor at
NIE/NTU, Singapore, where he teaches phonetics, syntax, and
translation. His webpage is:


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