LINGUIST List 23.472

Tue Jan 31 2012

Review: Applied Ling; Phonetics; Phonology: Skandera & Burleigh (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 31-Jan-2012
From: Snezhina Dimitrova <>
Subject: A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology
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AUTHORS: Skandera, Paul and Burleigh, PeterTITLE: A Manual of English Phonetics and PhonologySERIES TITLE: Narr StudienbücherPUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KGYEAR: 2011

Snezhina Dimitrova, Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University“St Kliment Ohridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria


The second completely revised edition of Paul Skandera and Peter Burleigh’s “AManual of English Phonetics and Phonology” is intended for tertiary-levelundergraduate students of English in German-speaking countries. It introduceslearners to the theory of pronunciation while simultaneously teaching them howto transcribe English from both written and spoken texts. The manual is designedto be used over one semester of at least 12 weeks, either as seminar material orfor self-study. The exercises from Lesson 3 onwards constitute an integratedcourse in English transcription. All exercises are supplied with annotatedsolutions.

The book requires no prior knowledge of either linguistics or phonetics.Therefore, the first lesson introduces students to some basic linguisticterminology, such as ‘prescriptivism’ and ‘descriptivism,’ ‘parole’ vs.‘langue,’ and ‘performance’ vs. ‘competence.’ It briefly outlines the core areasof linguistics and places phonetics and phonology within the context of thescientific study of language. The introductory lesson goes on to present thenotion of a ‘standard variety,’ stating explicitly that the book will focus onBritish English Received Pronunciation (RP), although throughout the book thereare occasional references to General American (GA), as well as some otheraccents. Finally, the need for phonetic transcription when studying Englishpronunciation is motivated by discussing some spelling irregularities, andlearners are introduced to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), on whichthe transcriptions in the rest of the manual are based.

Lesson 2, entitled “The Description of Speech Sounds,” presents a set of ninefeatures which the authors deem necessary for sound description. These aredivided into two groups. The first contains features which are considered tohave phonetic rather than phonological relevance: loudness, pitch, tone ofvoice, duration/length, airstream mechanism, and voicing. The second group offeatures - phonologically relevant or distinctive features - includes the lenisvs. fortis distinction, place of articulation, and manner of articulation.Starting with Lesson 2, each unit in the manual is followed by a set ofexercises. The exercises at the end of Lesson 2 are designed to help studentsexplore the role of some of the features introduced in the text in theproduction of English sounds.

Lesson 3 focuses on a detailed description of the consonants of English, chieflyin terms of place and manner of articulation. Such a description logically leadsto the construction of the consonant table, with places of articulation listedalong the horizontal axis and manners of articulation along the vertical axis,while intensity of articulation is indicated by a sound’s position in therespective box in the table. The table is printed on the inside back cover ofthe book. The exercises at the end of Lesson 3 are intended to further raisestudents’ awareness of the process of consonant articulation in English, as wellas to give them practice in using relevant IPA transcription symbols for thewritten representation of consonant phonemes.

Lesson 4 is dedicated to the description of the vowels of English. First, thetraditional criteria for vowel classification in terms of tongue position andlip shape, along with Daniel Jones’ system of primary and secondary cardinalvowels, are introduced. The vowels of English RP are then illustrated and givendetailed phonetic specifications in terms of tongue height and shape, lipposition, length, and intensity of articulation (i.e. tenseness vs. laxness).The RP vowel phonemes are also plotted within the vowel quadrilateral, and avowel chart showing the relationship between tense-long and lax-shortmonophthongs is shown on the inside back cover. The exercises at the end of thelesson are designed to help students explore the role of tongue height and shape(i.e. closeness vs. openness and frontness vs. backness) in vowel production,and to drill them in the usage of IPA symbols for the representation of themonophthongs, diphthongs, and triphthongs of English.

Lesson 5 starts off by introducing the main criteria for allophony, and goes onto present a detailed discussion of some of the major types of free andcontextual allophonic variation in English. The focus is on devoicing, fronting,and retraction, while two subsequent sections of the book (Lessons 10 and 11)introduce further types of allophonic variation. Lesson 5 also gives a moredetailed outline of the main types of transcription, and motivates the use of“broad phonetic transcription” and of the symbols ‘i’ and ‘u’ for therepresentation of unstressed i- and u-sounds in certain positions. Finally, theauthors give rules for the pronunciation of the letter sequence and of theallomorphs of regular plural and regular past tense morphemes.

From Lesson 6 onwards, the authors start introducing students to connectedspeech phenomena. Lesson 6 focuses on liaison and looks at the occurrence oflinking and intrusive ‘r,’ which logically leads to a discussion of thedistinction between rhotic and non-rhotic accents of English. The remaining partof the lesson is dedicated to an introduction to the different types ofjuncture. Other connected speech processes are discussed in a later chapter(Lesson 9). The exercises give instructions on the transcription of linking andintrusive ‘r’ in written and spoken texts, and continue drilling students intranscribing ‘i’ and ‘u,’ as well as various endings, and the letter sequence .

Lesson 7 is devoted to the syllable and English phonotactics. Several pages arededicated to the syllabic consonants of English and the environments in whichthey occur. It is argued that square brackets [ ] should be used wheneversyllabic consonants are shown in transcriptions. The rest of Lesson 7 discussesstressed and unstressed vs. strong and weak syllables, and goes on to considerstress patterns in English polysyllabic words. Students are instructed to marklexical stress in words of two and more syllables only when it is notpredictable from syllable weight. The exercises in this and the followinglessons are of two types: transcription from a written text and transcriptionfrom a spoken text (a monologue or a dialogue) on the accompanying CD. Eachspoken text is first presented as a whole, and subsequently broken down intoshorter tracks in order to facilitate transcription work.

Lesson 8 focuses on strong and weak forms of grammatical words, while explainingtheir distribution, and illustrating their occurrence with the help of numerousexamples. A list of the most frequently used grammatical words which have both astrong and (a) weak form(s) is also included and annotated extensively. Theexercises at the end of the lesson drill the transcription of strong and weakforms, and also provide further practice in the representation of features suchas linking and consonant syllabicity.

Lessons 9 brings the discussion back to features of connected speech in English,namely, rhythm, assimilation, and elision. First, a distinction is made betweenstress-timed and syllable-timed languages. Various types of assimilation arethen explained and illustrated, followed by an explanation of the nature ofelision, and a classification of the various types of elision observed inEnglish. The exercises at the end of the lesson require students to startincluding these aspects of connected speech in their transcriptions.

Lessons 10 and 11 provide a further look into allophonic variation in English.Sources of allophony such as aspiration, labialization, retroflexion,palatalisation, velarisation, and nasalisation are described and illustrated inLesson 10, although students are not expected to include any of these inphonetic transcriptions. Lesson 11 looks at the main pronunciation variants ofthree consonants of English, namely, /t/, /r/, and /l/. They have been chosenbecause of the amount of allophonic variation that they exhibit, and thesubsequent significance of these allophones for the teaching and learning ofEnglish pronunciation.

The final lesson in the manual outlines the structure and main functions ofEnglish intonation. The discussion is relatively brief and gives fewer exampleswhen compared with the extensive illustrative material of previous lessons. Highkey is treated as a tone in its own right, on par with the fall, the rise, thefall-rise, and the rise-fall. The brevity of the final chapter precludes apresentation of other aspects of English intonation, such as prominence andphrasing, thus limiting the discussion only to some aspects of pitch variation.


In the introductory note to the manual, the authors say that one motivation forwriting the book was “… the fact that there is currently no textbook whichsatisfactorily combines an introduction to the theory of phonetics and phonologywith the practice of transcription” (p. ix). The integration of introductorypronunciation theory with practical transcription work, not only from writtentexts, but also from recordings of spoken English, is undoubtedly one aspectwhich sets apart the manual under review from others of its kind. Each lessonbuilds on previous lessons, while the exercise sections at the end of every unitprovide students with the opportunity to put their newly acquired theoreticalknowledge into practice. However, some of the authors’ decisions regarding theuse of transcription conventions are rather controversial and could prove to beconfusing for students working on their own with popular textbooks anddictionaries currently available on the market.

One of the main reasons given by the authors for the use of “broad phonetic”transcription and square brackets [ ] is the use of the neutralisation symbols‘i’ and ‘u’ for the representation of the final vowel in “happy” (happY-tensing)and the first vowel in “throughout,” respectively. Both symbols have been in usefor more than 20 years now, and appear in pronunciation dictionaries such asRoach et al. (2003) and Wells (2008), English language dictionaries, such as theLongman Dictionary of Contemporary English for Advanced Learners (2009), andwidely used textbooks such as Roach (2000), Collins and Mees (2008), etc. Roachet al. (2003, p. xiv) observe that “The symbol /i/ is used… (though it is not,strictly speaking, a phoneme symbol; there is no obvious way to choose suitablebrackets for this symbol, but phoneme brackets / / will be used forsimplicity).” English language dictionaries have followed the convention ofenclosing pronunciations between slants / / while also continuing to use ‘i’and ‘u’ in order to show the neutralisation of the contrast between therespective “long” and “short” vowels in certain positions. In view of thisfairly well established usage, the insistence on reverting to square bracketswhenever ‘i’ and ‘u’ appear in transcriptions is somewhat confusing andoccasionally unmotivated; compare, for example, the two weak forms of “be” on p.81, the first of which contains the “short i” and appears between slants, whilethe second one is given between square brackets because its vowel is representedwith the neutralisation symbol ‘i.’ Likewise, the pronunciation of “triphthongs”on p. 40 is shown between slants, while that of “epenthesis” on p. 96 isenclosed between square brackets. Other departures from establishedtranscription practices which could turn out to be potentially confusing forstudents include the marking of lexical stress only in polysyllabic words inwhich its occurrence is not predictable on the basis of syllable strength, andthe use of [ ] when marking consonant syllabicity.

The practical activities in Lessons 2 - 4 which do not concern transcription arevery carefully designed to help students without any prior experience inarticulatory phoneics explore the production of the consonant and vowel soundsof English. The step-by-step instructions in each exercise are explicit and easyto follow.

Another strength of the book is that it requires no prior linguistic knowledgeand can be used to teach the skill of phonetic transcription even to studentswho have not yet attended an introductory linguistics course. The key terms areexplained using language which is easy to understand, although there areoccasional inaccuracies, such as the use of the label “lenis” with reference tosonorants, as English sonorants do not form any fortis-lenis pairs (Collins andMees 2008:13), or the use of “isochrony” and “stress-timing” as synonyms. Also,when introducing the glottal stop in Lesson 2, the authors state that this soundis not important in present-day RP and is usually considered non-standard. Thisis a controversial claim, as shown by studies such as Wells (1997), Trudgill(2001), and Collins and Mees (2008), among others.

It is unfortunate that the question of prominence has been left out of thediscussion of intonation, since research has demonstrated that prominence andphrasing are at least as important for intelligibility as pitch movement (see,for example, the work which led Jenkins (2000) to the formulation of her LinguaFranca Core).

Given the German-speaking audience for whom it is intended, the book providestranslations in German for technical terms as they are introduced throughout thetext, as well as a glossary at the end (in English only). The glossary is ahandy tool for quick reference purposes. However, the manual lacks abibliography or any references, even to well-known and widely-used textbooks anddictionaries which the students will certainly come across in the course oftheir studies. Some of the differences in the use of transcription conventionsbetween the manual under review and these materials could turn out to bepotentially confusing for students in their future studies.

To sum up, the second edition of “A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology,”by Scandera and Burleigh is a well structured and easy-to-follow introduction tothe basics of the theory of pronunciation, accompanied by a carefully designedset of practical exercises and a step-by-step transcription course whichundergraduate students of English at German universities would find very useful.


Collins, Beverley & Inger Mees. 2008. Practical phonetics and phonology. Aresource book for students. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, Jennifer. 2000. The phonology of English as an international language.New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Longman dictionary of contemporary English for advanced learners, 5th Edition.2009. Pearson Education Ltd.

Roach, Peter. 2000. English phonetics and phonology. A practical course. (3rdEdition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roach, Peter, James Hartmann & Jane Setter (eds.). 2003. Cambridge Englishpronouncing dictionary by D. Jones. 16th Edition. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Trudgill, Peter. 2001. Received Pronunciation: Sociolinguistic aspects. StudiaAnglica Posnaniensia 36. 3-13.

Wells, John. 1982. Accents of English. (vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress.

Wells, John. 1997. Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation? (10 January, 2012.)

Wells, John. 2008. Longman pronunciation dictionary. 3rd Edition. London:Pearson Longman.


Snezhina Dimitrova is an Associate Professor of English Phonetics and Phonology in the Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, where she teaches English phonetics and phonology and practical English pronunciation courses at both the BA and MA levels. Her primary research interests include experimental phonetics and socio-phonetics, English and Bulgarian phonology, the prosody of English, the teaching of English pronunciation, and speech corpora. She has presented at international conferences, has participated in several bilateral and multilateral research projects, and has published extensively both at home and abroad. She is the author of “English Pronunciation for Bulgarians” (2003).

Page Updated: 31-Jan-2012