Review of Applied English Phonology
|Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005 12:07:37 +0000 (GMT)
From: Dinha Gorgis
Subject: Applied English Phonology
AUTHOR: Yavaş, Mehmet
TITLE: Applied English Phonology
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Dinha T. Gorgis, Department of English, Hashemite University, Jordan
The aim of this book is ''to provide material on the sound patterns of
American English that is usable by students and professionals in the
field of phonological remediation'' (Preface), in particular to instructors
and students of English as a second/foreign language. And this
explains why each of the nine chapters is followed by exercises.
As is the case with almost any introductory textbook on (English)
phonetics and phonology, linguistics, and (teaching) pronunciation
(e.g. O'Connor 1980, Hawkins 1984, Gimson 1989, Robins 1989,
Katamba 1989, Roach 1991, Fromkin and Rodman 1998, Teschner &
Whitely 2004, among others), which find 'phonetics' their 'bread and
butter', this book starts with 'phonetics', obviously reminiscent of Pike's
(1947) famous statement: ''phonetics provides raw material;
phonology cooks it.'' To the exclusion of auditory phonetics, the book,
with the exception of chapter five on acoustic phonetics, is largely
devoted to articulatory phonetics, taxonomic (distributional) phonology
and, to a lesser degree, to morphophonology. The notational system
used to represent American English phonetically is basically that of the
International Phonetic Alphabet which extends to some other ten
languages (p.16). In this chapter, ''the fundamentals of articulatory
phonetics including voicing, places and manners of articulation, voice
onset time'' are elucidated, and ''a brief account of syllable and
suprasegmental features such as stress, tone, pitch, and length''
(pp.22-23) is presented so as to pave way for what follows next.
Chapter two, titled ''Phonology'', presents a classical phonemic
analysis of English in terms of functional/non-functional contrasts, viz.
complementary vs. overlapping distribution, and free variation; the
minimal-pair technique is used as a tool for establishing phonemes,
allophones, and other variants. Interestingly, what counts as two or
more allophones of the same phoneme in one language can be
allophones of different phonemes in other languages, e.g. Korean,
Spanish, etc. Applications based on such contrasts are seen to
be ''indispensable [not only to] devising alphabetical writing systems'',
but to the study of phonemics as ''a vital tool for foreign language
teachers and speech and language therapists, who constitute the
major targeted audience of this book'' (p.49).
The English consonant phonemes of American English, their
contextual variants, and pertinent dialectal, especially cross-
continental, variations constitute the backbone of chapter three. As in
orthodox descriptions, the 24 consonants of English already shown to
comprise six classes in terms of manner of articulation (see Table 1.2,
p.9) are here accounted for in terms of five groups whereby liquids
and glides are, as the convention goes, characterized as
Chapter four, likewise, handles the description and distribution of
English vowels and their variants within the United States. Perhaps
because the description of vowels and diphthongs ''is a much more
complex task than doing the same for the consonants…. a
comparison of American English with some other major varieties
spoken outside the US'' (p.76) takes the form of four tables (pp.86-87)
containing mostly monosyllabic words pointing to differences in one
direction, viz. American vs. others.
Still wishing ''to present information that will be helpful to teachers of
English and/or speech therapists in their assessment and planning of
remediation'' (p.96), Yavaş supplies some basic knowledge
concerning the acoustics of vowels and consonants in chapter five. In
examining spectrographic characteristics of speech, viz. frequency,
time, and amplitude, consonants are classified into obstruents (with
different degrees of obstruction: a gap for stops, friction noise for
fricatives, and stop gap followed by a friction noise for affricates), and
sonorants which ''behave rather like vowels in that they exhibit a voice
bar along with formant-like structures (p.120).
In any phonological account, the syllable cannot be dispensed with,
especially if the work concentrates on the distribution of individual
sounds and sound sequences, phonotactics, and stress assignment,
among other things. It is chapter six which tells us what type of
constraints there can be on sound patterning in one language but not
in another. ''It is on this basis that a speaker of English can judge
some new form as a possible/impossible word'' (p.127).
Chapter seven, no less important than six, explores ''some basic
patterns in English stress and intonation' (p.173). Like many
phonologists (e.g. Roach 1991, and Teschner & Whitely 2004,
representing British and American traditions, respectively), as well as
many teachers of English phonology around the globe, Yavaş does
not see English word-stress to be rule-governed. Rather, he finds
it ''variable and mobile, [but] there appear to be some significant
generalizations about its predictability'' (p.173). Although secondary
stress for teaching purposes is largely ignored in the British tradition,
the author assigns as equal prominence to it as the primary (main)
stress. While the former is said to be predictable, the latter is
differentiated by the effect of major pitch change.
Chapter eight examines some structural factors in second/foreign
language phonology. Ten languages are briefly contrasted with
English to show several learning difficulties most likely to emerge from
mismatches between L1 and L2 phonemes and allophones. The
comparisons, showing phonemic and phonetic conflicts between L1
and L2, extend to another five languages, a summary of which is
presented in the form of a table (p.198). Beyond this simple contrast,
which is seen insufficient to pin point all of the learner's difficulties, ''lie
deeper principles which can account for different degrees of difficulty'
(p.208). Therefore, to obtain a more accurate and generalized picture
of such difficulties, appeal is made to the notion of 'markedness' as
developed by Eckman 1977; 1985; Eckman & Iverson 1994.
Markedness, conceived of as a 'universal' constraint, varies along a
scale corresponding to degrees of difficulty encountered by L2
Following up brief mention of the rather unsystematic relationship
between the graphemes and the phonemes of English in chapters one
and two, the author devotes the whole of chapter nine, the last
chapter in the book, to spelling and pronunciation. The phonemes and
the graphemes for which they stand are presented firstly, followed by
correspondences via reverse direction. The chapter ends with a
number of lists showing differences in spelling between American and
Let me start from the bottom line: This textbook is, in addition to being
an excellent introduction to both the phonology and pronunciation of
English, is a source of inspiration for those who lack much of language
awareness, and for prospective researchers who whish to follow up
and/ or verify some of the interesting claims made on English sound
patterning and behavior. The comments that shall follow are meant to
improve the book in preparation for the second edition; for over the
last three decades of teaching English phonology, my students have
kept asking me questions for which I still have no conclusive answers.
Before I go any further, two remarks need to be made: first, the
audience to which this book is addressed. At the very start of the
book, there is a note to the 'instructor', which no doubt, is the mediator
between L1 and L2 and hence the remediator. On the other hand,
one is almost puzzled to read Roy Major's words on the back cover,
which positively evaluate the book as: '' A detailed description of
English phonetics and phonology that can be easily understood by
those with no prior training in linguistics.'' I think the last two lines in
the book are quite sufficient to bewilder even those who had an
introductory training in linguistics. Building on the first remark, the
second has to do with users and countries/institutions that will use it
as a textbook. Although the author has already given freedom of
chapter selection, he takes it for granted that the instructor is already
familiar, or must familiarize themselves, with the American accent. The
book, after all, is not accompanied by CD-ROM which could have
facilitated the pronunciation of not only English sounds, but the
sounds of ten languages whose speakers are supposed to be
learning some variety of English, mainly American or British as is the
case in the Middle East
Throughout the text, the author has used the term 'remediation'( one
which we expect to be brought down to earth, as the title suggests) in
two senses, viz. remedying L2 learners' difficulties by the instructor,
and remedying language disorders by the therapist. Unexpectedly,
Yavaş addresses the issue of communication disorders in the United
States only. Why comparing AE ''with some other major varieties
spoken outside the US'' (p.76), then? Remedy of either sort, however,
is unfortunately not found anywhere in the book. The only lucky
person is perhaps the learner of English as a second/foreign
language who, with or without the help of the instructor, is supposed
to draw on language mismatches and insightful contrastive results
and, consequently, overcome their difficulties. Regretfully, there is not
even one single exercise in this direction. I think that the author would
agree with me that it is not enough to say that a particular sound, or
its variant, is found in x or y language. What use can a learner/an
instructor/a therapist make of the differences that exist between an
aspirated English stop, for example, and a non-aspirated Arabic
equivalent as long as aspiration in English is non-phonemic?
The fifth chapter on the ''Acoustics of Vowels and Consonants'' is no
doubt useful, but impractical. In the absence of experimental
laboratories, say in the Arab world, the chapter will, with perhaps a
brief introduction, most likely be skipped by the instructor. Even if the
instruments were made available, acoustic phonetics would require at
least one semester on its own. And if we intend to consider the
productions of the client (learner/patient) whose ''progress needs to
be constantly evaluated via instrumentation [on the belief that] [m]
onitoring the change……would…..accelerate the remediation process''
(p.119), a number of semesters will be required, especially if the class
Giving excerpts selected from four sources talking about world
Englishes for students to transcribe at the end of each chapter is
disappointing because: (1) the learner is expected to have had no
prior training; (2) the required task has no explicit and immediate
relevance to the content of each chapter; (3) the author leaves the
question of narrow (phonetic)/broad (phonemic) transcription open.
And unless weak forms are introduced in connected speech first, it
would be unwise to introduce passages (intended to be read in the
first place!) for unguided transcription. It is only much later
acknowledged (p.90) that ''connected speech is a very fertile context
to accommodate many changes, especially for unstressed function
words.'' Instead, conversations carefully selected are recommended
as long as the book implicitly aims at achieving native-like
pronunciation in the learner.
Reference to British English, in particular RP (received pronunciation),
is demonstrably made more frequently than to any other variety.
Today, we talk about Southern British English (SBE) instead (cf.
Roach 1991). However, differences between AE and BE, though
mostly in one direction, go beyond what we simply see in the text,
especially the question of BE diphthongs (9 in RP vs. 8 in SBE). What
is annoying in the comparisons, including variations in the US, is that
the author supports his argument by citing variants in the ''speech of
some''. I think it would have been much better if he had made appeal
to Labov et al. (2005) for the sake of generalizations.
Injustice, attributable to Broselow (1993), extends to Arabic; certain
Lebanese and Egyptian observations are inadequate, and can in no
way be generalized to all Arabic dialects and their regional variations.
Mind the cautious reader that there are over 280 million Arabic
speakers in the Arab world alone. And this itself requires a series of
The issue of vowel length is so delicate that no two phonologists can
come into agreement, but arguments can often be forwarded on
phonological basis. For example, the vowel [ɪ] is said to have ''several
different phonetic manifestations; it may undergo 'tensing' and be
realized as [i] before palato-alveolar fricatives (e.g. fish [fiʃ].'' And
that ''for some speakers [i] may be in free variation with [ɪ] in final
position (e.g. city [sɪti] / [sɪtɪ], happy [hæpɪ])'' (p. 82). Elsewhere
(p.80), ''the contrast between the two high front vowels, /i/ and /ɪ/,
seems to disappear in words such as ear, fear, beard, pier, etc.'' In
BE, the problem is already solved; whether in fish, city, or dig, the
vowel is neither [ɪ] nor [i:], but an archiphoneme whose length is in
between, and represented as [i]. This is a useful distinction for
pedagogical purposes, I suppose. If this were not the case for AE, it is
very much likely that [i], a tense vowel, would receive primary stress.
And instead of the r-colored production in AE, wherever /i/ and [ɪ] are
neutralized, BE selects the diphthong /ɪƏ/.
Last but not least, students, such as mine, might perhaps be
disappointed when unable to find answers to the following questions,
which I find legitimate for a textbook like this because the author is
addressing the issue of spelling and the relationship that holds
between graphemes and phonemes:
1. When to use the suffix -ance or -ence (and -ant or -ent)?
2. When to reduce com- and con- initially in disyllabic and multisyllabic
3. When is the letter 'g' pronounced as [ɡ] or [ʤ], or [ʒ] in borrowed
words? Is its pronunciation, like that of 'c', governed by the same
following letters, viz. 'e', 'i', and 'y'?
4. And is it true that native speakers of English store lexical words in
their memory along with their stresses during acquisition, as some
This does not mean that phonology instructors do not have answers
to these and the like questions, but learners would like to have
conclusive answers in print.
Broselow, E. (1993). Transfer and universals in second language
epenthesis. In S. Gass and L. Selinker (eds.), Language Transfer in
Language Learning (pp. 71-86). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Eckman, F. (1977). Markedness and the contrastive analysis
hypothesis. Language Learning 27: 315-30.
Eckman, F. (1985). Some theoretical and pedagogical implications of
the markedness differential hypothesis. Studies in Second Language
Acquisition 13: 23-41.
Eckman, F. and G. Iverson (1994). Pronunciation difficulties in ESL:
coda consonants in English interlanguage. In M. Yavaş (ed.). First and
Second Language Phonology (pp. 251-65). San Diego, CA: Singular
Fromkin, V. and R. Rodman (1998). An Introduction to Language. 6th
ed. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt, Brace.
Gimson, A. C. (1989). An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English.
4th ed., revised by S. Ramsaran. London: Edward Arnold.
Hawkins, P. (1984). Introducing Phonology. London: Hutchinson.
Katamba, F. (1989). An Introduction to Phonology. London: Longman.
Labov, W., S. Ash, and C. Boberg, eds. (2005). The Atlas of North
American English: phonetics, phonology and sound change. A
Multimedia Reference Tool. Mouton de Gruyter.
O'Connor, J. D. (1980). Better English Pronunciation. 2nd ed.
Pike, K. L. (1947). Phonemics. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Roach, P. J. (1991). English Phonetics and Phonology. 2nd ed.
Robins, R. H. (1989). General Linguistics. 4th ed. London: Longman.
Teschner, R. V. and M. S. Whitley (2004). Pronouncing English: A
Stress-Based Approach with CD-ROM. Washington: Georgetown
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dinha T. Gorgis is professor of linguistics at the Hashemite University,
Jordan. He has been teaching English phonology (with occasional
reference to Arabic) at a number of Arab universities since 1975.
During 1984-1999, he was mainly involved in teaching graduate
courses, e.g. syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics,
discourse analysis, and translation, and in supervising M.A. and Ph.D.
research work pertinent to these fields. He is co-editor of two
international online journals, viz. Linguistik, and WATA (published in
both English and Arabic). His most recent publication (2005)
is "Binomials in Iraqi and Jordanian Arabic", which can be accessed
freely in: Journal of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 4, No. 2, 135-151.