LINGUIST List 15.2199

Tue Aug 3 2004

Review: Phonetics/Applied Ling: Teschner & Whitley

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  • Karen Chung, Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

    Message 1: Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

    Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2004 16:52:05 -0400 (EDT)
    From: Karen Chung <>
    Subject: Pronouncing English: A Stress-Based Approach

    AUTHORS: Teschner, Richard V.; Whitley, M. Stanley TITLE: Pronouncing English SUBTITLE: A Stress-Based Approach with CD-ROM PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2004 Announced at

    Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taiwan

    SAMPA symbols are used to represent IPA symbols in ASCII; see:


    _Pronouncing English_ is, as its title suggests, a stress-based course in North American English pronunciation aimed mainly at ESL teachers, particularly those whose native language is not English.

    A typical English pronunciation book begins with individual consonants and vowels, illustrated by single-word examples or specially-constructed sentences like _Was Ethel's thesis on an atheist with arthritis?_. There are many problems with this approach; it tends to ignore allophones and linking, and stress and rhythm are seldom addressed in depth. Not to mention that words and phrases out of context are just not very memorable or fun, and thus not that effective as teaching tools.

    This book seeks to do things differently. The authors take suprasegmentals, rather than individual segments, as their starting point. Chapter 1, entitled ''The Metric Foot'', focuses on stress, syllable count, and prosody. It uses poetic meter, i.e. iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, and spondaic, to analyze and increase awareness of the rhythmic patterns of ordinary spoken English.

    In Chapter 2, 'Strong Stresses and Weak'', the authors propose that each syllable of each English word can be assigned one of three types of stress: strong (stressed syllable with full vowel), weak (unstressed with full vowel), and null (no stress with reduced vowel/schwa). Using a corpus of the 25,108 entries of an English-Spanish dictionary, the authors calculate the respective percentages of English words consisting of one to eight syllables, and further analyze stress patterns, to help foreign learners make the best possible guess without a dictionary at where the stress of any given word will fall. Useful miscellaneous rules are scattered throughout the chapter, and book, for example, ''While the stress of open syllables varies (_'fellow_, but _be'low_, _'preview_ but _re'view_), a closed syllable tends to attract stress: _a'broad_, _a'bout_, _a'brupt_, _ac'claim_.'' (p. 31). Guidelines are provided to help identify which words retain the stress on the same base vowel in derived forms (_ad'mit, ad'missible, ad'mittance_) and which have shifting stress (_'character, character'istic_).

    Chapter 3 covers intonation: contrastive stress (_I don't want LEMONS, I want ORANGES._), compound stress - compounds are divided into left-stressing (_'air force_) and right-stressing (_ad'ult edu'cation_) - and intonation patterns of statements, and yes-no vs. wh- questions.

    Chapter 4, ''From Orthography to Pronunciation'', is an accessible introduction to phonics. English phonics are not always taught outside the US, and this chapter offers a compact and handy reference for both teachers and students.

    Chapter 5, ''Vowels'', contains some of the more conventional information found in most pronunciation and phonetics books, e.g. descriptions and diagrams of tongue position and lip rounding, and information on diphthongs.

    Chapter 6, ''Consonants'', offers interesting coverage of English phonotactics and ambisyllabicity, topics often not treated in depth in books of this type. Much of the chapter consists of familiar phonetic descriptions of consonants. The authors go into considerable depth on the topic of rhotic and non-rhotic dialects, and on syllabic consonants, VOT (voice onset time), taps (called ''flaps'' in this as in many ESL books), glottal /t/ (as in _it was_), /h-/ deletion, and the distinctive features of sibilants.

    Chapter 7, entitled ''Sounds and forms that change and merge'', covers a wide variety of irregularities and variable forms in English, such as citation vs. contextual forms, weak forms and contractions, the different stress patterns of content vs. function words in phrases (e.g. _They *used* to cook outside a lot._ vs. _This is the pan I *used* to cook peas._), regular plurals (/-s/, -/z/ /z/; = schwa) and exceptional ones (_mouse, mice_; _deer, deer_), schwa elision (_family_, _chocolate_), derivative forms (_nose, nostril_), consonant alternations (_twelve, twelfth_), and the pros and cons (mostly cons) of spelling reform. There is a discussion of syllable vs. stress timing which includes a fun comparison of native and various non-native English rhythms; English spoken by a Hindi speaker, for example, may sound like _dot-dot-dot-dot-dot_; that of a native English speaker is more like _di-DUM di-DUM di-di-DUM_.

    Each chapter includes practical exercises, and ends with a number of thoughtful hints on how to teach the material in the chapter to EFL students.

    A crash course on sound waveforms and spectrogram reading is appended at the end of the book. Also included are a useful 10-page glossary of specialized terms that appear in the book, a list of references, and a good index.

    The book comes with a CD-ROM with readings by the authors of the illustrative examples in the book. It also includes corpus data in .rtf format, i.e. word lists organized by syllable count and phonological structure.


    Pronunciation teachers sometimes debate which is more important, accurate vowels and consonants, or good rhythm. I think it is clear that both are very important, but mostly the balance has been tipped too far in the direction of segments. By shining the spotlight on stress and rhythm, a better balance can perhaps be achieved, and that is what this book sets out to do - and largely succeeds in doing.

    The idea of using poems and poetic meter to make students aware of the rhythms of ordinary spoken English is a good one, though some of the poems might be a bit difficult for some readers. A spondee is supposed to be two stressed beats; the authors apply it to utterances in which all syllables are stressed, even when they are not grouped in pairs; but this is a minor point.

    I personally don't favor the authors' choice of the Kenyon & Knott (KK) pronunciation symbol system, in particular the use of [e] for [eI] (as in _ate_) and [o] for [oU] (as in _oat_). In my own experience - the KK system is used in Taiwan schools - these symbols suggest monophthongs to the students rather than diphthongs, and thus lead to mispronunciations. I also disagree with the inclusion of [eI] and [oU] with [i] and [u] in the statement, ''...the diphthongization of the tense vowels /i e o u/ is relatively slight...'' Admittedly this is true of some dialects, and the authors do address dialect differences. But I come from the US Midwest, one of the supposedly ''non-diphthong'' areas, and I take issue with this analysis of the data. I spend a good bit of teaching time trying to get my Chinese-speaking students to diphthongize [eI] and [oU] correctly, and would like help rather than indulgence from the textbook I use! Also, the authors do mention the diphthongal quality of /O/ (''turned c'' as in _saw_) in dialects such as New York City English, but not how diphthongal it is in general American as well. This is typical of English pronunciation textbooks, and is another point that confuses my own students - most haven't the faintest idea of the difference between /o/ and /O/, and few have any inkling that both are diphthongal in general American English. So again, some help from the text would be appreciated.

    In general I prefer avoiding phonological terms that are not as specific as phonetic ones, especially the category ''coronal'' (p. 173ff); sticking with just ''dental, alveolar, retroflex, and aveolopalatal'' would leave less room for confusion. On the other hand, the book's introduction of the phonological concept of ''sibilants'' is useful in describing the rules for English pluralization. ''Glides'' are described as being the same as ''approximants'', with the ''liquids'' /r/ and /l/ categorized completely separately (p. 176); though a few pages later (p. 179) /r/ is called an approximant after all. This may cause confusion if you go to Ladefoged or other phonetics texts straight from this book.

    The authors do an admirable job of explaining phrase and compound stress in Chapter 3, but they mix various word and phrase types together under the category of ''right-stressing compounds''. Some of the examples given can be accounted for by the adjective + noun phrase stress rule, in which all words retain their original stress, e.g. 'back 'door, 'automatic 'pilot -- and this rule is mentioned in the text. Others follow the ''material'' subrule, which states that both nouns in noun + noun compounds retain their original stress when the modifying noun is the material from which the head noun is made: contrast _'bookcase_ with _'brick 'wall_, _'doorknob_ with _'strawberry 'jam_; this could perhaps be added in a future edition. Another point that could be covered is the role of *intonation* in phrase stress; _wall_ sounds more strongly stressed than _brick_ in _brick wall_ simply because it is the final and thus tonic stress in the utterance.

    Something else the authors might consider adding in a future edition: an explanation of front vowel raising before the voiced velars /N/ (_ng_ in spelling) and /g/; contrast the vowel of _kin_ with that of _king_, and _pick_ with _pig_.

    The volume is attractively designed and carefully edited. The accompanying CD-ROM is an excellent tool, especially for non-native speakers of North American English. The material on the CD is read by the authors in a very ordinary-sounding voice, rather than in broadcaster style, which means listeners will be hearing a more everyday version of North American English, though some of the readings are rendered with exaggerated emphasis to illustrate specific points, e.g. word stress or meter. It might have been nice if they had included a female voice rather than using just two male ones.

    This book could perhaps best be used as a supplementary textbook in ESL teacher training courses, and as a resource and reference book for both teachers and students of English. As a work of applied rather than theoretical linguistics, there is not much that is terribly new in this book; its value lies rather in how it selects, organizes and presents the material to make English and its workings more transparent to learners, and thus help them to better use and teach the language. I have been very picky on small points, mostly due to my own experience and minor frustrations in teaching English pronunciation to second-language learners in Taiwan. But really, I think this is a great book that is onto the right track in teaching English pronunciation.


    Karen Steffen Chung teaches English and phonetics at National Taiwan University. She also co-hosts an English teaching program over the radio at Ivy League Analytical English, Taipei: The title of her dissertation is _Mandarin Compound Verbs_ (Leiden University, 2004).