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Review of  A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology


Reviewer: Snezhina Dimitrova
Book Title: A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology
Book Author: Paul Skandera Peter Burleigh
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Phonetics
Phonology
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 23.472

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Review:
AUTHORS: Skandera, Paul and Burleigh, Peter
TITLE: A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology
SERIES TITLE: Narr Studienbücher
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
YEAR: 2011

Snezhina Dimitrova, Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University
“St Kliment Ohridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria

SUMMARY

The second completely revised edition of Paul Skandera and Peter Burleigh’s “A
Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology” is intended for tertiary-level
undergraduate students of English in German-speaking countries. It introduces
learners to the theory of pronunciation while simultaneously teaching them how
to transcribe English from both written and spoken texts. The manual is designed
to be used over one semester of at least 12 weeks, either as seminar material or
for self-study. The exercises from Lesson 3 onwards constitute an integrated
course in English transcription. All exercises are supplied with annotated
solutions.

The book requires no prior knowledge of either linguistics or phonetics.
Therefore, the first lesson introduces students to some basic linguistic
terminology, such as ‘prescriptivism’ and ‘descriptivism,’ ‘parole’ vs.
‘langue,’ and ‘performance’ vs. ‘competence.’ It briefly outlines the core areas
of linguistics and places phonetics and phonology within the context of the
scientific study of language. The introductory lesson goes on to present the
notion of a ‘standard variety,’ stating explicitly that the book will focus on
British English Received Pronunciation (RP), although throughout the book there
are occasional references to General American (GA), as well as some other
accents. Finally, the need for phonetic transcription when studying English
pronunciation is motivated by discussing some spelling irregularities, and
learners are introduced to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), on which
the transcriptions in the rest of the manual are based.

Lesson 2, entitled “The Description of Speech Sounds,” presents a set of nine
features which the authors deem necessary for sound description. These are
divided into two groups. The first contains features which are considered to
have phonetic rather than phonological relevance: loudness, pitch, tone of
voice, duration/length, airstream mechanism, and voicing. The second group of
features - phonologically relevant or distinctive features - includes the lenis
vs. fortis distinction, place of articulation, and manner of articulation.
Starting with Lesson 2, each unit in the manual is followed by a set of
exercises. The exercises at the end of Lesson 2 are designed to help students
explore the role of some of the features introduced in the text in the
production of English sounds.

Lesson 3 focuses on a detailed description of the consonants of English, chiefly
in terms of place and manner of articulation. Such a description logically leads
to the construction of the consonant table, with places of articulation listed
along the horizontal axis and manners of articulation along the vertical axis,
while intensity of articulation is indicated by a sound’s position in the
respective box in the table. The table is printed on the inside back cover of
the book. The exercises at the end of Lesson 3 are intended to further raise
students’ awareness of the process of consonant articulation in English, as well
as to give them practice in using relevant IPA transcription symbols for the
written representation of consonant phonemes.

Lesson 4 is dedicated to the description of the vowels of English. First, the
traditional criteria for vowel classification in terms of tongue position and
lip shape, along with Daniel Jones’ system of primary and secondary cardinal
vowels, are introduced. The vowels of English RP are then illustrated and given
detailed phonetic specifications in terms of tongue height and shape, lip
position, length, and intensity of articulation (i.e. tenseness vs. laxness).
The RP vowel phonemes are also plotted within the vowel quadrilateral, and a
vowel chart showing the relationship between tense-long and lax-short
monophthongs is shown on the inside back cover. The exercises at the end of the
lesson are designed to help students explore the role of tongue height and shape
(i.e. closeness vs. openness and frontness vs. backness) in vowel production,
and to drill them in the usage of IPA symbols for the representation of the
monophthongs, diphthongs, and triphthongs of English.

Lesson 5 starts off by introducing the main criteria for allophony, and goes on
to present a detailed discussion of some of the major types of free and
contextual allophonic variation in English. The focus is on devoicing, fronting,
and retraction, while two subsequent sections of the book (Lessons 10 and 11)
introduce further types of allophonic variation. Lesson 5 also gives a more
detailed outline of the main types of transcription, and motivates the use of
“broad phonetic transcription” and of the symbols ‘i’ and ‘u’ for the
representation of unstressed i- and u-sounds in certain positions. Finally, the
authors give rules for the pronunciation of the letter sequence <ng> and of the
allomorphs of regular plural and regular past tense morphemes.

From Lesson 6 onwards, the authors start introducing students to connected
speech phenomena. Lesson 6 focuses on liaison and looks at the occurrence of
linking and intrusive ‘r,’ which logically leads to a discussion of the
distinction between rhotic and non-rhotic accents of English. The remaining part
of the lesson is dedicated to an introduction to the different types of
juncture. Other connected speech processes are discussed in a later chapter
(Lesson 9). The exercises give instructions on the transcription of linking and
intrusive ‘r’ in written and spoken texts, and continue drilling students in
transcribing ‘i’ and ‘u,’ as well as various endings, and the letter sequence <ng>.

Lesson 7 is devoted to the syllable and English phonotactics. Several pages are
dedicated to the syllabic consonants of English and the environments in which
they occur. It is argued that square brackets [ ] should be used whenever
syllabic consonants are shown in transcriptions. The rest of Lesson 7 discusses
stressed and unstressed vs. strong and weak syllables, and goes on to consider
stress patterns in English polysyllabic words. Students are instructed to mark
lexical stress in words of two and more syllables only when it is not
predictable from syllable weight. The exercises in this and the following
lessons are of two types: transcription from a written text and transcription
from a spoken text (a monologue or a dialogue) on the accompanying CD. Each
spoken text is first presented as a whole, and subsequently broken down into
shorter tracks in order to facilitate transcription work.

Lesson 8 focuses on strong and weak forms of grammatical words, while explaining
their distribution, and illustrating their occurrence with the help of numerous
examples. A list of the most frequently used grammatical words which have both a
strong and (a) weak form(s) is also included and annotated extensively. The
exercises at the end of the lesson drill the transcription of strong and weak
forms, and also provide further practice in the representation of features such
as linking and consonant syllabicity.

Lessons 9 brings the discussion back to features of connected speech in English,
namely, rhythm, assimilation, and elision. First, a distinction is made between
stress-timed and syllable-timed languages. Various types of assimilation are
then explained and illustrated, followed by an explanation of the nature of
elision, and a classification of the various types of elision observed in
English. The exercises at the end of the lesson require students to start
including these aspects of connected speech in their transcriptions.

Lessons 10 and 11 provide a further look into allophonic variation in English.
Sources of allophony such as aspiration, labialization, retroflexion,
palatalisation, velarisation, and nasalisation are described and illustrated in
Lesson 10, although students are not expected to include any of these in
phonetic transcriptions. Lesson 11 looks at the main pronunciation variants of
three consonants of English, namely, /t/, /r/, and /l/. They have been chosen
because of the amount of allophonic variation that they exhibit, and the
subsequent significance of these allophones for the teaching and learning of
English pronunciation.

The final lesson in the manual outlines the structure and main functions of
English intonation. The discussion is relatively brief and gives fewer examples
when compared with the extensive illustrative material of previous lessons. High
key is treated as a tone in its own right, on par with the fall, the rise, the
fall-rise, and the rise-fall. The brevity of the final chapter precludes a
presentation of other aspects of English intonation, such as prominence and
phrasing, thus limiting the discussion only to some aspects of pitch variation.

EVALUATION

In the introductory note to the manual, the authors say that one motivation for
writing the book was “… the fact that there is currently no textbook which
satisfactorily combines an introduction to the theory of phonetics and phonology
with the practice of transcription” (p. ix). The integration of introductory
pronunciation theory with practical transcription work, not only from written
texts, but also from recordings of spoken English, is undoubtedly one aspect
which sets apart the manual under review from others of its kind. Each lesson
builds on previous lessons, while the exercise sections at the end of every unit
provide students with the opportunity to put their newly acquired theoretical
knowledge into practice. However, some of the authors’ decisions regarding the
use of transcription conventions are rather controversial and could prove to be
confusing for students working on their own with popular textbooks and
dictionaries currently available on the market.

One of the main reasons given by the authors for the use of “broad phonetic”
transcription and square brackets [ ] is the use of the neutralisation symbols
‘i’ and ‘u’ for the representation of the final vowel in “happy” (happY-tensing)
and the first vowel in “throughout,” respectively. Both symbols have been in use
for more than 20 years now, and appear in pronunciation dictionaries such as
Roach et al. (2003) and Wells (2008), English language dictionaries, such as the
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English for Advanced Learners (2009), and
widely used textbooks such as Roach (2000), Collins and Mees (2008), etc. Roach
et al. (2003, p. xiv) observe that “The symbol /i/ is used… (though it is not,
strictly speaking, a phoneme symbol; there is no obvious way to choose suitable
brackets for this symbol, but phoneme brackets / / will be used for
simplicity).” English language dictionaries have followed the convention of
enclosing pronunciations between slants / / while also continuing to use ‘i’
and ‘u’ in order to show the neutralisation of the contrast between the
respective “long” and “short” vowels in certain positions. In view of this
fairly well established usage, the insistence on reverting to square brackets
whenever ‘i’ and ‘u’ appear in transcriptions is somewhat confusing and
occasionally unmotivated; compare, for example, the two weak forms of “be” on p.
81, the first of which contains the “short i” and appears between slants, while
the second one is given between square brackets because its vowel is represented
with the neutralisation symbol ‘i.’ Likewise, the pronunciation of “triphthongs”
on p. 40 is shown between slants, while that of “epenthesis” on p. 96 is
enclosed between square brackets. Other departures from established
transcription practices which could turn out to be potentially confusing for
students include the marking of lexical stress only in polysyllabic words in
which its occurrence is not predictable on the basis of syllable strength, and
the use of [ ] when marking consonant syllabicity.

The practical activities in Lessons 2 - 4 which do not concern transcription are
very carefully designed to help students without any prior experience in
articulatory phoneics explore the production of the consonant and vowel sounds
of English. The step-by-step instructions in each exercise are explicit and easy
to follow.

Another strength of the book is that it requires no prior linguistic knowledge
and can be used to teach the skill of phonetic transcription even to students
who have not yet attended an introductory linguistics course. The key terms are
explained using language which is easy to understand, although there are
occasional inaccuracies, such as the use of the label “lenis” with reference to
sonorants, as English sonorants do not form any fortis-lenis pairs (Collins and
Mees 2008:13), or the use of “isochrony” and “stress-timing” as synonyms. Also,
when introducing the glottal stop in Lesson 2, the authors state that this sound
is not important in present-day RP and is usually considered non-standard. This
is a controversial claim, as shown by studies such as Wells (1997), Trudgill
(2001), and Collins and Mees (2008), among others.

It is unfortunate that the question of prominence has been left out of the
discussion of intonation, since research has demonstrated that prominence and
phrasing are at least as important for intelligibility as pitch movement (see,
for example, the work which led Jenkins (2000) to the formulation of her Lingua
Franca Core).

Given the German-speaking audience for whom it is intended, the book provides
translations in German for technical terms as they are introduced throughout the
text, as well as a glossary at the end (in English only). The glossary is a
handy tool for quick reference purposes. However, the manual lacks a
bibliography or any references, even to well-known and widely-used textbooks and
dictionaries which the students will certainly come across in the course of
their studies. Some of the differences in the use of transcription conventions
between the manual under review and these materials could turn out to be
potentially confusing for students in their future studies.

To sum up, the second edition of “A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology,”
by Scandera and Burleigh is a well structured and easy-to-follow introduction to
the basics of the theory of pronunciation, accompanied by a carefully designed
set of practical exercises and a step-by-step transcription course which
undergraduate students of English at German universities would find very useful.

REFERENCES

Collins, Beverley & Inger Mees. 2008. Practical phonetics and phonology. A
resource book for students. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, Jennifer. 2000. The phonology of English as an international language.
New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Longman dictionary of contemporary English for advanced learners, 5th Edition.
2009. Pearson Education Ltd.

Roach, Peter. 2000. English phonetics and phonology. A practical course. (3rd
Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roach, Peter, James Hartmann & Jane Setter (eds.). 2003. Cambridge English
pronouncing dictionary by D. Jones. 16th Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Trudgill, Peter. 2001. Received Pronunciation: Sociolinguistic aspects. Studia
Anglica Posnaniensia 36. 3-13.

Wells, John. 1982. Accents of English. (vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.

Wells, John. 1997. Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation?
http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/rphappened.htm (10 January, 2012.)

Wells, John. 2008. Longman pronunciation dictionary. 3rd Edition. London:
Pearson Longman.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Snezhina Dimitrova is an Associate Professor of English Phonetics and Phonology in the Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, where she teaches English phonetics and phonology and practical English pronunciation courses at both the BA and MA levels. Her primary research interests include experimental phonetics and socio-phonetics, English and Bulgarian phonology, the prosody of English, the teaching of English pronunciation, and speech corpora. She has presented at international conferences, has participated in several bilateral and multilateral research projects, and has published extensively both at home and abroad. She is the author of “English Pronunciation for Bulgarians” (2003).

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