How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
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 YEAR: 2006
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 approximants.
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 learners.
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 British Englishes.
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 is large.
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 independent studies.
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 words? 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 researchers claim?
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 Publishing.
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. Cambridge: CUP.
Pike, K. L. (1947). Phonemics. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Roach, P. J. (1991). English Phonetics and Phonology. 2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP.
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 University Press.
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.