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Review of  Exploring English Phonetics

Reviewer: J. Kevin Varden
Book Title: Exploring English Phonetics
Book Author: Tatjana Paunović Biljana Čubrović
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 24.3465

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‘Exploring English Phonetics’, from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, is a collection of sixteen papers arranged in two parts. Part I, Phoneme and Beyond, contains eight papers focusing on ''the segmental and prosodic properties of English'' (p. vii). This section covers a range of topics, from segmental issues such as vowel and segmental quality, Voice Onset Time (VOT), and reduced forms, to suprasegmental issues such as stress placement by learners and intonation. Part II, Applied Phonetics and Beyond, presents both practical and theoretical English as a Foreign Language (EFL) work while also touching on research issues in EFL. The introduction and the closing list of contributors and index round out the contents of the volume. A brief description of each paper follows.

Part I

''Vowel frequencies in traditional Cockney and popular London speech'', by Brian Mott, presents the vowel qualities of three older male speakers of Cockney. The speakers read lists of words of the form /h-V-d/, where V is a simple vowel. After reviewing the characteristics of the Cockney accent, Mott compares his vowel formant values to previously published values for Received Pronunciation (RP) speakers, and finds the following: the vowel in ‘kit’ was found to be more fronted than the RP values; the vowel in ‘palm’ was found to be slightly higher; the vowel in ‘strut’ similar in height to RP, despite expectations to the contrary based on transcriptions in the literature; and the vowel in ‘lot’ was slightly lower and more fronted than the RP equivalent, again contrary to expectations. The paper is presumably an introduction to both phonetic data and the target language of many of the studies in the volume.

''Some controversies about /v/ in Serbian, transfer in English, and other related issues'', by Maja Markovic and Bojana Jakovljevic, is the other paper dealing with segmentals. The topic here is the debate surrounding the labiodental ''fricative'' in Serbian, “the sound denoted by the IPA symbol /v/” (p. 13). With an eye toward first language (L1) negative transfer for Serbian learners of English, the authors give background information on both the English and Serbian /v/, and then a detailed acoustic analysis of samples extracted from extensive read corpora in both languages. In particular, they note the need for Serbian learners to develop a strong distinction between /f/, /v/ and /w/.

Bojana Jakovljevic's ''VOT transfer in the production of English stops by Serbian native speakers'' deals with the pronunciation of two British English and five Serbian native speakers (all female). The latter group were graduate students who learned English as a second language (L2) during the 12 years preceding the study. The author first provides baseline VOT measurements for the speakers in both languages. This is followed by a detailed acoustic analysis of the differences. Measures of transfer from Serbian to English are then discussed, in particular, the strong transfer of Serbian pre-voicing for the /b-d-g/ series.

''The evolution of a phonetic phenomenon: The case of Voice Onset Time in Serbian intermediate EFL learners'', by Biljana Cubrovic, also discusses VOT and L1 transfer. Results for four native Serbian speakers -- two female and two male university freshman -- are given for both Serbian and Serbian English. The author notes that the two male speakers demonstrate shorter VOTs than the female speakers, tentatively attributing it to the overall lower level of English of the males. The author also notes the expected traits of longer VOTs for Serbian English than for Serbian, and an average increase in VOT from labial to dental to velar stops for both sets of data.

''Pronunciation in connected speech: A survey of weak forms in a spoken corpus of American English'', by Takehiko Makino, provides an extensive list of reduced forms uncovered in The Ohio State University's Buckeye Corpus of Conversational Speech, which contains speech of 40 Columbus, Ohio speakers. As a starting point, Makino first introduces the 100 weak (reduced) forms listed in Obendorfer (1998). To add to these forms, Makino searched the Buckeye database with its accompanying software, looking for mismatches between the phonetic transcription of utterances and their phonemic transcription. These were taken as weak forms. He found, among others, another six weak forms of the indefinite article ''a'' not on Obendorfer’s list. Findings for ''that'' and ''and'' testify to the wide range of pronunciations in the database: for ''that'', an additional eight strong (unreduced) forms and two weak forms not found in Obendorfer occurred in the database 100 times or more; another 36 strong forms and 20 weak forms occurred 10 times or more, while the list of strong and weak forms occurring less than 10 times takes up two-thirds a page of print. As noted in the discussion, exactly what status the ''weak'' forms found in the database should be given will require further principled investigation into, among other things, the assimilation processes involved.

For the next paper, ''Tonic misplacement by Japanese learners of English'', Isao Ueda and Hiroko Saito recorded 15 Japanese first-year university students reading 15 test sentences containing interrogatives (e.g. ''which'') or attributive adjectives (e.g. ''nice''). They were then asked to mark which word should receive main prominence. If a student produced or marked main stress on the correct lexical word, the item was counted as correct and if the student marked or produced main stress on the (incorrect) target interrogative or adjective, the item was marked incorrect. All other productions or markings were excluded from analysis. The task was then repeated after one year's time. Contrary to any expectations of a match between knowledge and production, for both tests, all students displayed all possible matches/mismatches between production and knowledge (both correct, only one correct, both incorrect). Over the course of the two tests, students improved overall in terms of both knowledge and production, but the authors note and discuss the fact that 86 of 122 items were incorrect in both tests. The authors conclude with a call for formal instruction on tonic placement rather than reliance on audio-lingual practice.

''Punch Line Paratone in English'', by Ken-Ichi Kadooka, discusses the (at least subconsciously) well-known method of telling a joke: set up the punch line, pause slightly, and then deliver it at a slightly lower pitch of voice. Working within the framework of paratones, where high and low tones mark a prosodic paragraph, Kadooka posits the punch line paratone as a slightly lower variant of the ''normal'' low paratone: whereas pitch regularly falls over the course of a paragraph to some target low tone marking the end of the paragraph, when telling a joke, the punch line is uttered with a slightly lower pitch to draw attention to its special status. This exaggerated lowered pitch is most often preceded by a slight pause, further marking its prominence. After providing a brief introduction to English jokes, Kadooka shows how this punch line paratone is also used in Japanese story-joke telling, providing many examples and pointing out the similarities and differences between English and Japanese jokes.

In ''The sign character of intonation'', Vladimir Phillipov, covers the history of the notion of intonation in both Eastern and Western traditions. From the work of Charles Bally (one of Saussure's students, evidently one of the first to treat intonation as a critical element in understanding an utterance), to Lehiste's ‘Suprasegmentals’ (Lehiste 1970), to Halliday's ‘Intonation and Grammar in British English’ (Halliday 1967), Phillipov covers the development of intonational studies, in addition to detailing works and trends which have downplayed or denied its existence. He ends by apparently arguing for what is now a common theme in phonetic research: intonation is not a suprasegmental phenomenon merely riding on the back of segments, but rather is inextricably intertwined with all other elements of speech.

Part II of the volume focuses more on practical applications and methodologies. Again, as in Part I, the papers range from fairly technical to purely theoretical.

''The role of modernized prescriptivism in teaching pronunciation to EFL university students'', by Tvrtko Prcic, offers an alternative to traditional descriptivism (describing native speakers’ speech habits) or prescriptivism (teaching the “grammar rules” of the language) in the classroom. Prcic supports a blended approach where prescriptivism is well-informed by corpus studies and actual language use. Also termed ''usage-enriched descriptivism'', its application to pronunciation teaching at the university level is discussed through such devices as ''advisory statements'' (e.g. notes on alternative pronunciations of a given form) and ''cautionary statements'' noting less-preferred and unacceptable pronunciations. Guidance is called for at all linguistic levels: the phoneme, the word, the phrase and sentence. Prcic also gives a useful list of reference and practical works on the teaching of pronunciation, drawing particular attention to the merits of the 3rd edition of ‘Well's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary’ (Wells 2008a) and the ‘Longman Pronunciation Coach’ (Wells 2008b).

Based on the work of Tomatis (1977), ''Hearing the difference: An innovative approach to the teaching of pronunciation'', by Ingrid Pfandl-Buchegger, Isabel Landsiedler and Milena Insam, deals with training learners on spectrally-modified speech materials. Speech materials in the target language were recorded and formant frequencies important for segmental identification but usually ignored in the learner’s native language were then enhanced according to the work of Tomatis in order to help learners identify problematic contrasts in the target language. Over a two-week period, first-year Austrian university students of Russian and English listened to 5-10 minutes of Mozart followed by 10 minutes of enhanced speech materials in supplemental classes. While the students of Russian in both the target and control groups showed great improvement over the two weeks, the students using the spectrally-enhanced materials did show more improvement than the control group not using them. Likewise, the students of British English making extensive use of the materials in class showed greater improvement than those making incidental use of them. Student diaries and questionnaires support their contention that the materials lead to greater ease and enhanced interest in learning the language.

Tatjana Paunovic's paper, ''Qualitative methods in phonetic research: A contradiction in adjecto?'', surveys three recent phonetic studies involving Serbian EFL students. In each of these studies controlled elicitation materials were used (including, in two of the studies, the story of Arthur the Rat used in the ‘Dictionary of American Regional English’, In contrast to the exclusive use of controlled materials, the author calls for ''…1) naturalistic data collection, 2) careful consideration of the social context in which [the] speech occurs, and 3) understanding the background of spoken interaction — why people do what they do in speech.'' (p. 155) The conclusion is that although including free or spontaneous speech in data collection methods certainly increases the researcher's experimental burden, it is necessary for a broader understanding of speech acts.

''Research strategies in L2 phonological fieldwork investiagation [sic] and significance and/or reliability of results'', by Klementina Jurancic Petek, discusses the results of the study entitled ‘Pronunciation of English in Slovania’ (Jurancic Petek 2007) conducted between 2002 and 2004. Rural Slovene EFL elementary and secondary school students -- 287 students each from 5th and 7th grade of primary school and 1st and 3rd grade of secondary school-- were tested in a 10-15 minute interview format on three separate tasks: Reading, Free speech and Imitation. While originally designed to detect responses deviating from the target British English and hence signaling language interference, the study allowed the author to investigate the effect of different test type through a comparison of correct responses. For vowels, more correct responses were produced in the Free speech condition than in the Reading condition across most vowels and age groups (results for Imitation were much more mixed, and are not discussed). For consonants, the findings are mixed, with more correct responses occurring in Reading for some segments and in Free speech for others. The authors conclude that although reading paradigms are easier to administer and perhaps more useful in comparing multiple studies, the larger number of correct responses in the Free speech condition of this study show that it is a necessary part of any study truly reflecting speaker ability.

''Using web technologies in L2 phonological research: Methodological issues and implications'', by Anastazija Kirkova-Naskova and Dimitar Trajanov, presents results of an online phonetic experiment investigating the intelligibility of the pronunciation of Macedonian EFL learners. Native English-speaking raters with phonetics/phonology backgrounds (including LINGUIST members recruited via the list) judged the accentedness of Macedonian English speakers. Speakers recorded free speech narratives on one of four topics, which were then edited to 17-29 second clips. Clips were presented to the reviewers via a web browser and they marked any pronunciation anomalies they observed (e.g. lack of aspiration, /w/ pronounced as [v], etc.), made an impressionistic comment on the accentedness of the speaker, and finally gave comments on the experiment. The authors compare the responses of the six British and six American reviewers in depth and finish up by mentioning the responses of the one Irish and one Canadian reviewer. They conclude that their method could lend itself well to both language pedagogy and testing.

Rastislav Sustarsic provides the paper ''Learning from students' errors: English phonetics theory exam''. He presents ten types of errors commonly committed on the oral phonetics exam he gives his students (e.g. confusing spelling with pronunciation), although some have nothing to do with phonetic knowledge per se (e.g. not knowing how to pronounce a word due to lack of class attendance, changing an answer because of a lack of confidence when asked for confirmation). The author hopes that his discussion will be useful to teachers of phonetics, suggesting that the best thing might be to give the students the list so that they know what types of things to avoid in their own study and tests.

''English pronunciation models and tertiary-level students: A Bulgarian perspective'', by Snezhina Dimitrova and Tsvetanka Chernogorova, discusses reasons for choosing one native English-speaking model, the ‘Lingua Franca Core of English’ (Jenkins 2000), over several others. Results from questionnaires administered to 90 Sofia University students are presented to support the authors’ contention that British (RP) English should be the standard model for Bulgarian students. However, as the authors themselves note, any survey asking for the ''best'' and ''worst'' anything (in this case, the ''best'' and ''worst'' accents of English) should be interpreted with great caution. It is interesting that at least some of the students who answered that General American English is the most understandable dialect still felt they would prefer to sound like a British speaker.

The final paper, ''English pronunciation norms and the case of Russian English'', by Galina M. Vishnevskaya, is a wide-ranging discussion of students' attitudes toward foreign accents and issues related to teaching intonation in the Russian EFL classroom. Questionnaires were given to 40 American University of Boston students (14 question items) and 50 Russian Ivanovo State University students (9 question items), with a particular focusing on attitudes towards non-native accents. A detailed discussion of a Russian English accent follows, with the conclusion containing a summary of why intonation should be taught in the classroom.


At the end of the introduction, the editors state that the volume ''aims to draw attention to issues that can be of interest to both phonetic researchers and applied phonetic practitioners or EFL teachers, and, in some parts, even to a wider audience'' (p. xii). The volume does indeed contain a wide range of papers, from narrowly-focused phonetic data to broad-ranging theoretical discussion. In this regard the editors have succeeded in calling attention to the breadth of EFL research and teaching, in particular, and foreign language research and teaching, in general.

As for volume coherence, the work resembles more of a collection of conference proceedings than a focused discourse on one subject. Since the goal of the volume is to introduce a wide range of issues related to language teaching, the wide-ranging collection of papers is understandable. However, the wide disparity in terms of both thematic focus and depth leaves one wondering why these specific authors were chosen to contribute to the text, as well as what criteria the authors were presented with in terms of content.

Phonetics researchers and EFL researchers and instructors will most likely be at least passingly familiar with most papers in the volume. Some of the papers were new to the current reviewer, however. The Pfandl-Buchegger, Landsiedler & Insam paper on teaching pronunciation via spectrally modified input is particularly intriguing. Even those familiar with the plethora of reduced forms in various American dialects will likely be amazed at the diversity of the attested forms in the Makino paper. A full analysis of the data set should keep Makino and others busy for some time. Further, the web technologies discussed in Kirkova-Naskova & Trajanov show real promise for future foreign-language-related research, particularly, as the authors note, for ''less-developed regions'' (p. 191) where access to the Internet is or could be made freer than access to native or near-native speakers and/or other traditional teaching resources. Finally, although the Vishnevskaya paper is interesting with regard to teaching intonation, a summary of the results of the study—such as a tabulation of results and concrete differences between Russian and English intonation contours—would have been most welcome. Perhaps these were given elsewhere or are in press.

The volume is no doubt a welcome addition to any university library, especially at institutions where EFL teaching and research are prominent. Phonetic practitioners who focus on language acquisition and related EFL issues will probably also find the volume a useful addition to their personal libraries. Most phonetic researchers and EFL instructors will likely recommend the purchase to their library.


Halliday, M. A. K. 1967. Intonation and grammar in British English. The Hague, Paris: Mouton.

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

Jurancic Petek, K. 2007. The Pronunciation of English in Slovenai. Maribor: Zora.

Lehiste, I. 1970. Suprasegmentals. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press.

Obendorfor, R. 1998. Weak in forms in present-day English. Oslo: Novus Press.

Tomatis, Alfred. 1977. L'oreille et la vie. Paris: Robert Laffont. English translation The Conscious Ear: my life of transformation through listening. Station Hill press, 1992.

Wells, J. C. 2008a. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. 3rd edition. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Wells, J. C. 2008b. Longman Pronunciation Coach. CD-ROM. Harlow: Pearson Education.
J. Kevin Varden is currently an administrator in the General Education English program at Meiji Gakuin University, where he teaches classes related to EFL and the history of the Japanese language. He also teaches an English phonetics practicum for graduate students in a Master of Education program. His research into Japanese vowel devoicing has branched out to include devoicing in other languages, particularly the other languages found throughout the Japanese archipelago.

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