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Review of Ta(l)king English Phonetics Across Frontiers
EDITORS: Biljana Čubrović, Tatjana Paunović TITLE: Ta(l)king English Phonetics Across Frontiers PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing YEAR: 2009
Seetha Jayaraman, Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman
SUMMARY Today linguistic research in any subfield has come to include aspects like learner attitudes, learning strategies and the challenges faced in learning. The book under review brings together research findings in comparative phonetics, with special reference to problems in the acquisition of English as a Second language by learners in Serbia and surrounding areas. It also serves as a reference guide to aspiring researchers in and students of phonetics, specifically on segmental and prosodic features. The volume is a collection of research papers on various aspects of sounds of English. Acoustic parameters of formant frequencies, duration and intonation are studied, both individually and comparatively. The volume has two parts. Part I “Phoneme and beyond” focuses on phonetic studies and has nine papers on learning problems of English as a Second language. Part II “Phonetics and further beyond” consists of five papers and discusses the phonological features in language learning and language use in social context.
The editors’ Introduction states the book’s aim briefly, lays out the chapter organization and important views on the acquisition of individual sound segments, and reports results of research work done on the prosodic features of some dialects of English.
The papers in Part I are based on empirical studies by scholars from different backgrounds. The research studies were presented at the First Belgrade International Meeting of Phoneticians, organized at the University of Belgrade, Serbia in March 2008. The studies address issues on phonetics and phonology based on speech samples, using instrumental phonetic techniques. They are linked to different subfields from syntax and semantics, to pragmatics and phonology, and emphasize the importance of the interfaces. Supporting the views of Laver (1997), the studies reflect the belief that research on phonetics and phonology is an interdisciplinary study and is not dissociated from other disciplines engaged in language analysis, nor from the social contexts in which the language operates.
In the first paper of Part I in “Acquiring L2 vowels: The Production of High English Vowels /i:, I, u:, u/ by Native speakers of Serbian”, Maja Markovic investigates the four high vowels in English, along the first three formant frequencies and their durational values using spectral analysis. Observations are made drawing on Flege's Speech Learning Model (SLM, Flege 1995) and Best's Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM, Best 1995) on the perception and production of L2 phonemes by non-native speakers of Serbian. The study observed that Serbian speakers substituted the short vowel /ɪ/ for /i:/ in long syllables and articulated it as a lower and more retracted vowel, which is closer to their L1, and it was also found to be more centralized than the English vowel. The back vowel /u:/ was more fronted, a modified form of Serbian /u/. A mention may be made here that providing a few examples from Serbian to illustrate short and long /i/ and /u/ would have made the distinction more explicit. The absence of diphthongal articulation among the Serbian speakers’ speech is another feature which shows the influence of L1 visible in F1-F2 values. Thus the results revealed varying patterns and levels in the acquisition of English vowels, either through substitution or modification of identical or nearly identical vowels of the learners’ L1, and they incline more towards Flege’s Model (SLM).
The second paper reports the results of a phonetic study of speech samples of Japanese university students. The paper, “Vowel substitution patterns in Japanese Speakers' English” by Takehiko Makino, highlights the common errors and the tendency of the speakers to substitute sounds which may or may not exist in their mother tongue. For instance, English /ε/ was closer in pronunciation to Japanese /e/. and the diphthong /aɪ/ as /ɒ/, /ɪ/, /a/ and /εi/. English /æ/ was articulated closer to Japanese /a/, and /ɔ/ was pronounced as /o/. The pronunciation of schwa was found to vary with different speakers, both in perception and production. The study uses a large corpus of English sentences produced by Japanese speakers, with a focus on the five vowels of Japanese. The vowels are classified on a 4-point scale as 'easy', 'difficult', 'variable' and 'R-diphthongs', based on a statistical analysis of the tokens and depending on the varying percentage of results obtained. The author discusses a few similarities between Japanese and American English vowels and the study is diagnostic and reconfirms the earlier findings by Makino (2007).
The third paper is “Practical Advice on the Transcription of the Unstressed Vowel System for Non-native students of English” by Brian Mott. Mott draws out distinctions in the phonological system adopted for transcribing English vowels in unstressed syllables. The investigation is done through different dictionaries, viz., Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (CEPD) and edited by Peter Roach et al., and the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (LPD) by John Wells. ‘Fleece or Kit’ type unstressed vowels, and ‘Foot or Goose’ type of unstressed vowels are used as representative samples. Likewise, the transcription of ‘Lot or Thought’ and ‘Nurse or unstressed Letter/Comma’ vowels are observed. It is argued that the use of /ε/ in lieu of /e/ as in the first element of the diphthong /εə/ makes the sounds clearer. Use of /i/ without the length mark at the end of the words ‘happy, ‘coffee’ is seen as a shortened variety of ‘Fleece’ type vowel. Both LPD and CEPD transcribe the verb + suffixes as in ‘carry, carries, carried’ using the symbol /i/ without the length mark. Mott also makes a few suggestions on the phonetic representation of the vowel /i/ in unstressed phonetic environments, as in the word 'eleven', 'depend' and so on. He finds LPD transcription more comprehensible and consistent in prefixes like ‘anti’ /ænti/ and ‘arch-’ as /a:t∫/, as also the weak forms of ‘do’, ‘to’ and ‘be’. He advocates the use of diacritics with syllabic consonants /l/ and /n/ in narrow transcription and individual phonemic symbols in broad transcription, as in the final syllable of ‘certain’ and ‘journal’. The paper presents a new perspective to phonological studies.
The fourth paper, “English-Hungarian Interferences: Hungarian EFL learners and the English Dental Fricatives” by Erzsebet Balogh, argues that the sounds which generally replace the dental fricatives are mostly those which are similar to the speaker’s L1 and therefore most often result from the contact situation with Hungarian (EFL) students. The main aim is to look at the phoneme(s) which replace(s) English dental fricatives by Hungarian secondary school students, based on a short extract from “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. The study infers that Hungarian native speakers replace English dental fricatives with sounds that do not exist in their native language. However, they also pronounce the dental fricatives correctly.
In the fifth paper, “Voiced labiodental fricative /v/ and some phonotactic statements regarding the English by Slovene Learners”, Klementina Juracic Petek discusses the influence of L1 on the pronunciation of word-final obstruents. The author explains the problem in relation to Natural Phonology Theory and lays special emphasis on the effect of L1 on the acquisition of /v/ word finally and the process of neutralization of /v/ into /f/. Juracic Petek concludes that the phenomenon of neutralization of /v/ word finally occurs in varying degrees among learners of English.
The sixth paper, “The Phonetics and Phonology of Darlington English” by Alastair Wilson is a dialectal study of English. The paper examines Darlington English (DE) as a regional variety, in terms of its phonetic and phonological features like the lack of phonetic distinction between /t/ + palatal combination and the affricate /t∫/, making them both sound alike in onset position and, consonant clusters /lm/ being pronounced as /ləm/ with an epenthetic schwa. Wilson looks at variants occurring in the phonetic realization of English diphthongs and the allophonic variants of vowels. The striking features which identify DE as a variety of Northern English dialect are, merging of /ʌ/ - /ʊ/, /æ/ replacing /ɑ:/ in words like ‘class’ and ‘path’ and absence of the diphthongs /eɪ, əʊ/ being replaced by [e:, o:]. Wilson uses the term Standard Southern British English (SSBE) over Received Pronunciation (RP), while observing the importance given to the more socio-culturally dominant varieties, which endanger the regional varieties.
The seventh paper is on “Accentuation patterns of recent French loan words in English”. It deals with stress assignment to French loan words borrowed into English in the last two centuries and which have found their way into the lexicon of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The process of stress placement varies from one language to another. French word stress is fixed (on the last syllable), whereas in English, word stress varies with sense group (for instance, the noun/verb distinction). The divergences that arise from French loanwords and the changes that occur in the French-French words and the French-English words, and the factors that affect stress placement in loan words are discussed elaborately. The study is a two way process involving the first phase of observation of a corpus of words and the second phase is based on the responses obtained from students through a questionnaire. The key factors on which the word accentual pattern depends are frequency of their occurrence in English, syllable type, social status and phonological changes that occur in the loan words. These include assimilation, substitution and vowel reduction. Loan words are grouped according to their stress assignment, which differs markedly from the conventional rules of stress placement and are accounted for the changes and modifications that occur. The study seems challenging for the different phonologies of the two languages being studied, both at the segmental and prosodic levels.
The eighth paper, “Prosody Research: Rhythm and Intonation” by Jane Setter, extends beyond the phoneme and word levels, looking at speech rhythm through measurements of syllable duration from the point of view of British listeners. In the real sense, the study takes us across linguistic boundaries. It analyses speech rhythm of different varieties of English, viz. Hong Kong English (HKE), Russian English (RE) and British English (BrE). The three varieties of English show different patterns of syllable duration. The findings are found in line with the description of English as stress-timed language by Abercrombie (1967). Reference is widely made to earlier studies done by Jenkins (2000) and Setter et al. (2007). Chinese and Arabic learners face serious problem in the acquisition of English intonation pattern. Experimental group and control group are studied for the placement of nucleus, in the process of acquiring pronunciation at utterance level. The study was conducted in three phases, the first two based on production and the third based on perception of the spoken language. The difference in pronunciation was more prominent in prosodic features than in individual phoneme segments. But these differences may be less important pedagogically, if they do not impede communication.
The last paper of part I, “Patterns of Clause Intonation in English” by Ken-Chen Kadooka, examines the functions of the English intonation system compared to other languages, from phonetic and semantic perspectives. The analysis is in the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), and considers the description of tonal system propounded by the British School of Intonation and relates intonation to meaning. Special emphasis is laid on Halliday's theory of 5 simple tones and 2 complex tones, and the system of Tonality, Tonicity and Tone on the one hand and utterance meaning, on the other. Kadooka draws a comparison between English and tonal languages like Japanese and Chinese and relates them to pitch contours as functioning along meaningful utterances, like declarative and interrogative sentences.
Part II provides a broader phonological perspective including synchronic and diachronic changes in language development. This part has five articles focusing on the use of English in social contexts.
In “Phonological features of Advertising slogans in English and their translation into Serbian”, Mirna Vidakovic analyses advertising slogans phonologically. Phonological devices like alliteration, assonance and rhyme are analyzed. Vidakovic discusses problems in translating slogans into Serbian, where the focus is more on the use of language techniques than on the meaning.
The second paper, “On some phonological processes in English place names” by Ruzica Ivanovic, treats a corpus of place names in England, synchronically and diachronically, which have evolved through different processes of epenthesis, elision, metathesis, assimilation, vowel shortening in compounds and so on, to facilitate easy pronunciation. The author examines place names ending in ‘-chester’ synchronically for the probable palatalisation of initial /k/ sound of Old English (OE) ‘ceaster’ or ‘cœster’ into /t∫/. She studies synchronic plosive epenthesis in words like ‘Chelmpsford’ and a set of diachronic plosive epenthesis reflected in the spellings of names like ‘Brampton’ or Hampton’, diachronic consonant elision as in ‘Alnwick’, and explains the historical change through metathesis and assimilation of voicing or vowel sound schwa as in ‘Banbury’, as assimilated forms of OE. She points out the unpredictability and inconsistency in the pronunciation of place names in Modern English (MnE).
The third paper is “Pronunciation in EFL: Speaking ‘with an accent’” by Tatjana Paunovic, and it investigates the learners' attitude towards standard and non-standard accents in English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Long established views on accent as important part of sociolinguistics and language learning are considered in terms of sociolinguistic variables like age, sex, social class and ethnic identity of the speakers. Research questions include the scope and methodology of learning and subjectivity. Samples range from university students to immigrants. The paper looks at attitudes of adult Serbian EFL learners towards the most familiar and less familiar native varieties of English. The results of the investigation show that the participants exhibited a more positive attitude towards the familiar American variety. Choice depended on the social status, solidarity trait, and 'correctness' criterion of 'standard', 'formal' or 'educated' variety.
The next paper, “Pronunciation Instruction with Young Learners –Does it make a Difference?” by Milika Savic, presents findings of teaching-learning of pronunciation in L2 phonology using two different approaches of listen-and-repeat and awareness-raising method, with reference to the factors influencing acquisition of English vowels by young speakers of Serbian. The study acknowledges the existence of a large difference in the acquisition of L1 and L2 phonology, in line with earlier studies by Yule and Macdonald (1974) and the existence of a link between approaches to teaching phonology of L2 and that of FL to the context of a formal language class-room. The study emphasizes the need to concentrate on the process of phonological acquisition of L2 more extensively and to account for the problems in their teaching/learning. Part II concludes with “Reinforcement of sound-spelling connections with EFL students” by Bijana Radic-Bojanic and Vesna Lazovic. The authors discuss the importance of dictation as an effective tool in language instruction. Although the communicative approach does not encourage dictation, the authors strongly believe that language skills are best acquired and reinforced through dictation. Nevertheless, special care needs to be taken to select the content of the dictation to reinforce orthography, punctuation, acquisition of homophones and their relation to meaning. The seven types of remedial exercises advocated help the learners in perceiving sound-spelling relations, in predicting spellings and forming their own rules to retain the spellings acquired and above all, to familiarize the learners with sounds that do not exist in their Mother Tongue (MT). This in turn will benefit the learners in grammar and lexicon. EVALUATION The strength of the book lies in the fact that the speech samples are drawn from actual speech of the learners (and not controlled samples), and examined without referring to them as native/non-native or standard/non-standard varieties. This approach is both relevant and useful in the light of the growing need for studying language as it is used in social context.
The book offers valuable information as an introduction to the phonetic study of empirical data of Serbian learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) or a Foreign Language (EFL), ranging from advanced undergraduate students to university graduates. The book is particularly useful to scholars who intend to work on speech samples of non-native or dialectal varieties of any language. Teachers of ESL and EFL can find the latest findings in language acquisition and learning problems in specific areas of speech prosody. The works presented take the reader across linguistic frontiers and provide convenient reference data for further research from different perspectives of phonetic and phonological analyses. A few papers (second paper of Part II, on vowel substitution patterns in Japanese Speakers' English) report the findings without reference to earlier studies. Viewed more pragmatically, the limitations and constraints discussed in the last paper of Part II are appropriate in any context of study of speech samples. There is a wide scope for further research, e.g. in the area of phonetic transcription and functional use of language as in the case of advertising slogans. I must mention the usefulness of dictation in language teaching, a technique relevant and apt in a language classroom with non-native speakers.
REFERENCES Abercrombie, D. 1967. Elements of General Phonetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Best, C. 1995. A direct realist view of cross-language speech. In Speech perception and linguistic experience, (ed.) W. Strange 171-204.Baltimore: York Press.
Flege, J.E. 1995. Second Language speech learning: Theory, findings and problems. In Speech perception and linguistic experience: Issues in cross-language speech research, (ed.) W. Strange, 233-277. Timonium, MD: York Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1967. Intonation & Grammar in British English. The Hague: Mouton.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1970. A Course in Spoken English Intonation. London: Oxford University Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. 2000. ‘The Phonology of English as an International Language’.London: Oxford University Press.
Laver, J. 1994. Principles of Phonetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Makino, T. 2007. A Corpus of Japanese Speaker's Pronunciation of American English: Preliminary Research. In Proceedings of the Phonetics Teaching Learning Conference 2007 (PTLC2007) CD-ROM. Also found at proceedings/ptlcpaper_02e.pdf.
Setter, J., V. Stojanovik, L. van Ewijk and M. Mreland. 2007. The Production of speech affect in children with Williams Syndrome. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 21 (9):659-672.
Yule, G. & D. Macdonald. 1994. The Effects of Pronunciation Teaching. In Pronunciation Pedagogy and Theory, New Views, New Directions, (ed.) J. Morley, 109-118. Bloomington, Illinois: Pantograph.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dr. Seetha Jayaraman is a faculty member at Dhofar University at Salalah,
Sultanate of Oman, where she teaches English language skills to
undergraduate students. Her research interests include sociolinguistics,
comparative linguistics, articulatory and acoustic phonetics of English,
French and Indian languages, comparative phonetics, and L2 acquisition and
mother tongue influence.