LINGUIST List 12.2217

Mon Sep 10 2001

Review: Cruttenden, Gimson's Pronunciation of English

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  • DETERDING David (ELL), Review of Cruttenden, Gimson's Pronunciation of English,

    Message 1: Review of Cruttenden, Gimson's Pronunciation of English,

    Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 11:53:24 +0800
    From: DETERDING David (ELL) <>
    Subject: Review of Cruttenden, Gimson's Pronunciation of English,

    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 errors.

    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 (p.244).

    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 English.

    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 Press.

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

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