The study of pronunciation is usually divided into phonetics and phonology; together they deal with the structure of human language sounds. Phonetics is the study and description of the production of speech sounds and silences across languages, – i.e., not related to a specific language. Phonology is the study of the sound patterns or system within a particular language, or variety of language. To put it another way, phonetics deals with the production of speech sounds, and phonology is about patterns of sounds. But, actually, it’s not quite like that. For the purposes of the MA, I suggest that you concentrate on phonetic transcription, even though phonology is often what you’ll be talking about.
The basic content of this module is as follows:
• Phonemic and phonetic symbols
• Connected Speech
• Word Stress
• Speech Transcription
• Speech Analysis
• Teaching pronunciation.
In this module you can’t just pick one area, as you can in grammar: you have to get the whole picture, and you have to know something about all the different bits and pieces. Particularly when it comes to teaching pronunciation, you need to know something about speech production in all its aspects. But, nevertheless, I suggest that you concentrate on learning how to do speech transcriptions, and, in this regard, to focus on using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to describe and analyse the segmental and uprasegmental features of spoken texts. Segmental phonology is, as the name suggests, concerned with the segments of sound. For example, the English word “cat” consists of three segments, represented as “c”, “a”, and “t” in the spelling. Suprasegmental phonology is concerned with connected speech, and deals mainly with tone, stress and intonation. Speech transcription s is central to most MA TESL pronunciation modules, and most graded assignments are based on it. The most usual assignment is to choose a particular spoken text; get one or more of your students to record it, and then transcribe and comment on the recording in detail.
The course materials that your university provides will give you the basic information, and will give you a series of exercises and mini-tasks to do, to make sure you get the hang of what’s involved. If you’re doing a Distance Learning MA TESL, you’ll probably be provided with interactive materials to help you. At Leicester University, the MA TESL programme is lucky enough to be led by Pamela Rogerson-Revell (an expert in pronunciation who is also an unusually excellent teacher), and she’s put together some great stuff that guides students through everything they need to know in the clearest way I’ve ever seen. Pam takes advantage of David Brett’s fantastic materials, which I highly recommend. Among other jewels, David provides a “Unicode Phonemic Typewriter”, which is an easy way to get the phonemic symbols you’ll need in your written work into a Word document.
After you’ve worked through the course notes, I recommend one of these three books:
• Underhill’s Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation.
• Rogerson-Revell’s English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching.
• Roach’s English Phonetics and Phonology.
While both Underhill’s and Roach’s books include recorded material in cassettes or CD Roms, if I had to choose just one, I’d plump for Rogerson-Revell’s. Any of these three books is probably all you need for the whole module. You also need a pronunciation dictionary, and I recommend Wells’ Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. For these and other books mentioned in this chapter, see “Suggestions For Reading” for full reference at the end of this chapter.
Choose a Topic
As I’ve said, choosing a topic for this module is rather different from the problem posed in all the other modules. Apart from doing the small assignments set by your particular course, the main assignment is usually quite strictly defined. Even if it isn’t, you can probably choose to do the assignment like this:
1. Choose a short written text: a dialogue is a good choice.
2. Get two of your students to read the text, while you record it.
3. Transcribe the text firstly into RP and secondly as the students do it.
4. Examine the students’ performance in order to identify the segmental and suprasegmental features of the students’ recording that you think are the most interesting.
That’s the heart of your paper.
Read in Depth
Gimson is the main reference: he’s the main man. As Quirk, et al. is to grammar so Gimson is to pronunciation. Gimson’s An Introduction to the Pronunication of English is THE reference work, and any paper on pronunciation must refer to it, or to the slightly less daunting book by Gimson and Cruttenden, Gimson’s Pronunciation of English.
If you want to get involved in this area, you really should have a copy of Gimson, or at leat Gimson and Cruttenden, otherwise, one of the three general books cited above will get you through this module very well. A few more suggestions for reading are given at the end of this chapter. In any case, what you must get to grips with is the technical stuff: the phonetic symbols (vowels & dipthongs and consonants) and the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Write an Outline and submit it to your tutor
Write the First Draft
The problem here is how to introduce the phonetics symbols into the text. You can use the Unicode Phonemic Typewriter described above, or, to use IPA characters directly in your text, you need to have a font that can display them. The best, in my opinion, is Lucinda Sans Unicode. To see if you have these, open your word processor and try to change the font, selecting this font. You can then insert the phonetic symbols using the menu item Insert / Symbol. Make sure that a unicode font is selected and go to the IPA extensions subset. Include a recording of your students doing a pronunciation task (an mp3 file) as an Appendix.
Write the Final Version of the Paper See Page on Grammar
Model Paper on Pronunciation
Here’s an example written by Sam Crofts, an MA TESL student at Leicester University who already knows more about this stuff than I ever will.
Title: Problems with pronunciation in the Japanese high school
Submitted by: Sam Crofts
Table of Contents
This essay discusses the performance of two learners asked to read a short dialogue in English. Both learners are female high school students, both 15 years old at the time of the recording and both speak Japanese as their first language, having studied English in the public school system for three years. Appendix 1 gives the script of the dialogue; Appendix 2 gives a phonemic transcription based on a Received Pronunciation (RP) model of English; Appendix 3 gives a a phonemic transcription of the learners reading the dialogue; and Appendix 4 contains a mp3 recording of the learners reading the dialogue.
Before beginning an analysis of the recording, the learning context of the speakers will be briefly explored, including the position of English in Japan, and the problems posed by learners’ first language. After this section, the main analysis begins with a section focusing on segmental features of the students’ speech production. This section looks at individual phonemes and how their production in the recording differs from a standard RP model. A third section is concerned with sentence level production, exploring stress, intonation and other aspects of connected speech. Finally, the implications of the study for the teaching of pronunciation are examined, with the essay concluding that current pronunciation teaching techniques are unsatisfactory, and that a different approach is necessary to bridge the gap between the phonemic systems of Japanese and English.
2.1. English in Japan
In Japan, there is very little English in everyday life. To compound this, the English studied in the Japanese public school system is overwhelmingly geared towards grammar and translation, with no pronunciation element in the vast majority of college entrance examinations (Sudong & Higgins, 2005, 39). Despite its central importance to effective communication, pronunciation does not occupy a particularly high status within the subject and Shudong and Higgins (2005, 39) highlight that teaching it is ‘up to individual schools and teachers to decide when, if, or how’ to teach pronunciation’.
2.2. The Japanese language
The construction of words in Japanese is radically different from English. Instead of syllables, which are made up of distinct vowel and consonant sounds, Japanese is based on 47 units of sound, known as mora. The majority of Japanese mora are equivalent to an English consonant followed by a vowel sound, and only one mora ends with a consonant sound. Furthermore, there is no distinction between consonant and vowel sounds in Japanese, and
3. Segmental features
The following two sections assess the actual English production of the two learners in the recording. This section, which concentrates on segmental features, is subdivided into consonants and vowels.
As Bradford (1993, 5) observes, the /l/ and /r/ phonemes are problematic for Japanese students because they are allophones of the same phoneme in Japanese
In line 2, the speaker can be heard to pronounce the /l/ in delay as an /r/ sound and in line 6, the opposite is true, with the speaker pronouncing the /r/ from the word real as /l/. By contrast, the /l/ sounds from the word lovely on line 4 seem clearer. A significant barrier it seems to correcting this mistake is that students are themselves unaware of the difference between the two phonemes, and this makes self monitoring impossible.
English phonemes that do not appear in Japanese are not limited to /l/ and /r/. The dental /θ/ and /ð/ phonemes, appearing in English words such as ‘think’ (θɪŋk) and ‘the’ (ðə) also seem to cause trouble for the speakers in this recording. Roach (1999, 103) points out that speakers of English must be able to ‘distinguish dental from labiodental and alveolar places of articulation.’ However, each time the dental /θ/ sound is expected, the speakers substitute it for an alveolar /s/ as heard on line 3 and 4 in the words something and thank you. Similar substitutions can be heard
The next example also relates to an English phoneme that does not exist in Japanese. The word would appears in lines 3 and 4, and both times, the distinct /w/ sound in the first position of the word is missing and instead, speakers pronounce /uːd/.
There follows two more examples of consonant mistakes at phoneme level. In line 6, the word pleasure, which according to an RP model, would be pronounced with the post alveolar /ʒ/ sound in the central position, is in fact pronounced with the harder ‘dʒ’ sound.
As Bradford (1993, 5) points out, Japanese has less vowel sounds than English, as few as 5. Furthermore, the differences between short and long vowels as well as the inclusion of the /ə/ sound in some words can present more problems for Japanese learners. In this section, the speakers’ vowel use will be explored.
According to the RP model, the first long vowel in the dialogue should be expected in the word you, on line 1. In the recording, however, the speaker seems to articulate a short /ə/ sound instead. It is difficult to say whether
Moments later in the word journey (dʒɜːniː), a similar thing occurs, instead of the extended /ɜː/ vowel sound, the speaker articulates a short /æ/ sound instead. In this instance, the mistake is more serious
Other examples of vowel mispronunciation include the word delay on line 2, where the final /eɪ/ sound seems to have been replaced with /aɪ/. The same phoneme is also mistaken in the word waiting /weɪtɪŋ/
4. Suprasegmental features
Alongside the accurate production of sounds at the phoneme level, the ability to produce fluid connected speech at sentence level is also an important component of spoken English. A range of features have been identified by academics as contributing to such fluidity, including stress, intonation and the means to link words together. This section will explore these features and assess the performance of the speakers in the recorded dialogue in employing them.
At sentence level, it has been suggested that English is a stress timed language, with stressed syllables occurring at relatively regular intervals (Roach, 2009, 107). Although academic opinion is far from agreed on this point,
The learners in this recording display mixed success in negotiating the stress of simple words in English. Yesterday on line 1 as well as lovely on line 4 display good awareness of correct syllable stress, yet journey on line 1 and Manchester on line 2 do not. Alongside weakened syllables within words, some words themselves have weakened forms,
Roach (2009, 119) observes that while intonation is difficult to satisfactorily define, it can basically explained as the way that pitch relates to meaning in spoken English. He also argues that as a result of the complexity of the area
4.3. Other aspects of Connected Speech
A number of devices are regularly used by NSs to produce fluid sounding language. One such device is assimilation, where the end of one word merges with the beginning of the next. There are numerous examples of assimilation in the recording, including Did you on line 1 (pronounced /dɪdʒuː/), and Not too on line 2 (pronounced nɒˈtuː).
A similar feature to assimilation is elision, where phonemes are deleted by the speaker in order to make an utterance easier to pronounce. Typically, elision occurs in rapid casual speech (Roach, 2009, 113).
5. Implications for pronunciation teaching
The problems identified in this recording reflect a number of problems I have experienced as a teacher of Japanese high school students. Let us now look at how these problems can be dealt with in the classroom. At a segmental level
On a suprasegmental level,
Appendix 1: The Dialogue
A: Did you have a good journey yesterday?
B: Not too bad, just one short delay waiting in Manchester.
A: Good. Would you like something to drink?
Tea, coffee …..?
B: Tea would be lovely. Thank you.
A: It’s great that we could meet today.
B: It’s a real pleasure and it’s not out of my way at all.
A: Oh, let me put the kettle on.
B: Yes, then we can catch up on what’s been happening since last time.
Appendix 2: RP Transcription
A: dɪdʒuː ˌhæv ə gʊd ˈdʒɜːniː jestədeɪ||
B: nɒˈtuː bæd| dʒʊst ˌwɒn ʃɔːt dəˈleɪ weɪtɪŋ ɪn ˈmæntʃestə||
A: ˈgʊd|| wʊd juː ˌlaɪk sʊmθɪŋ tə ˈdʒrɪŋk|| ˌtiː| ˌcɒfiː||
B: tiː wʊd biː ˈlʊvliː|| ˈθæŋk juː||
A: ɪts ˈgreɪt ðæt wiː cʊd ˈmiːtədeɪ||
B: ɪts ə ˈrɪəl pleʒə| ænd ɪts ˈnɒt aʊt əv maɪ ˌweɪ ət ˈɔːl||
A: ˈəʊ| ˌlet miː pʊt ðə ˈketəl ɒn||
B: ˈjes| ˈðen wiː kən kætʃ ʊp ɒn wɒts biːn ˌhæpənɪŋ sɪns ˈlæst taɪm||
Appendix 3: Learners Transcription
Appendix 4: Mp3 recording of learners
***** Excellent **** Very Good *** OK ** Not Good * Don’t go near it! ??? Beats me
Top Suggestions for the Module A. Overview of Pronunciation
***** Rogerson-Revell, P. 2011. English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching. London: Continuum Press. Very clear, well-organised, great exercises, near perfect. Hats off to Pam!
***** David Brett’s website at http://davidbrett.uniss.it/index.htm. Work through the materials and exercises on this website, and you’re set for an “A”!
***** Underhill, A. 2005. Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation (2nd Edition). Oxford: Macmillan. Excellent. Very popular and rightly so. Contains recorded materials.
***** Roach, P. 2001. English Phonetics and Phonology (3rd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A fine book, also contains recorded materials.
*** Phonetic typewriter. http://www.e-lang.co.uk/mackichan/call/pron/type.html OK – worth a look, but not, I think, as good as Brett.
B. Reference Works
***** Gimson, A.C. and Cruttenden, A. 1994. Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (5th ed.), London: Edward Arnold. This is the one to buy.
***** Wells, J.C. 2000. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. Second edition. Harlow: Pearsons.
***** Gimson, A.C. 1989. An Introduction to the Pronunication of English, London: Edward Arnold, UK. The definitive work.
***** Brown, A (ed). 1991. Teaching English Pronunciation: A Book of Readings. London: Routledge. A collection of excellent articles. Still a very good reference work.
**** Chela-Flores, B. 2001. Pronunciation and language learning: an integrative approach. IRAL 39(2):85-101.
C. Books For Teachers
I think the 3 books mentioned above in “Overview” are quite enough, but here are a few suggestions:
***** Roach, P. 2001. Phonetics (Oxford Introductions to Language Study). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
***** Rogerson, P. and Gilbert, J. 1990. Speaking Clearly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Teachers Book.
****Kenworthy, J. 1987. Teaching English Pronunciation. London: Longman.