LINGUIST List 16.3443|
Thu Dec 01 2005
Review: Textbooks/Phonetics/Applied Ling: Price (2005)
Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler
What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley at dooleylinguistlist.org.
An Introduction to French Pronunciation: Revised Edition
Message 1: An Introduction to French Pronunciation: Revised Edition
From: Emanuel da Silva <emanuel.dasilvautoronto.ca>
Subject: An Introduction to French Pronunciation: Revised Edition
AUTHOR: Price, Glanville
TITLE: An Introduction to French Pronunciation
SUBTITLE: Revised Edition
SERIES: Blackwell Reference Grammars
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-1428.html
Emanuel A. da Silva, Department of French, University of Toronto
According to Glanville Price, his book 'An Introduction to French
Pronunciation' is not for absolute beginners. ''It is a book for those
who already have at least a basic knowledge of how French is
pronounced but who need help and advice with a view to improving
their pronunciation, to making it more authentic, to eliminating serious
errors, and to reducing to an acceptable minimum features of their
pronunciation that would betray them as non-native-speakers'' (p. 1).
This book which has some textbook qualities is more of a pedagogic
grammar aiming to help English speakers to know what to listen for in
their spoken French, as well as in the French of others, in order to
improve. It is a general yet systematic analysis of the phonetic
structure of French in a contrastive framework (comparing English and
The book is 176 pages long and is divided into 20 chapters, a page of
references and an index of all the French words discussed throughout
the text. The 20 chapters can be grouped into at least four sections:
the first section (Ch. 1-3) outlines the general principles of phonetics
and the articulation of French. The second (Ch. 4-6) provides a brief
overview of vowels, semi-consonants and consonants in French. The
third section (Ch. 10-18) revisits in greater detail the particularities of
French vowels, semi-consonants and consonants. Ch.10 examines all
the vowels with the exception of mute 'e' which is the focus of Ch. 11.
Ch. 12 deals with vowel length and provides the reader with
five ''simple'' rules. In Ch. 13 the semi-consonants are revisited. The
rest of the chapters in this section concentrate on the consonants: Ch.
14 with Stops, Ch.15 with Fricatives and Ch. 16 with /r/, /l/ and Nasals.
Consonantal germination and assimilation are briefly explored in
chapters 17 and 18. The fourth section is the most difficult to group
because throughout the book the author inserts other chapters that
examine such important aspects of French pronunciation as the
rhythmic group (Ch. 7), the syllable (Ch. 8), stress (Ch. 9), liaison (Ch.
19) and intonation (Ch. 20).
On the whole, this book is an excellent reference guide for improving
French pronunciation. Despite being an 'introductory' work it covers in
considerable detail the many particularities of French pronunciation,
beyond the relation between vowels, consonants and the written
word. By discussing other important topics such as the rhythmic
group, syllabification, the many types of stress and liaisons, as well as
the varying intonational patterns, Price outlines in an informed way
precisely what the language learner should listen for (and eventually
imitate) when hearing/speaking French. His book provides a solid
base for those English speakers looking to improve their French
(particularly first to third-year undergraduate students). All of the most
important aspects of French pronunciation are identified and
discussed (from the pitfalls for English speakers, to an entire chapter
on the mute 'e', and from the particularities of the French liaison to
some regional variations like Canadianisms).
Another strength of this book is Price's writing style. Not overly
technical or theoretical, the phonetic explanations are clear and easily
understood with many examples to help guide the reader's
understanding. The text is extremely well organized and cross-
referenced, with the table of contents clearly outlining each chapter,
subsection and topic. The book can easily be read from cover to
cover, or used as a reference for specific questions because each
section is complete. Students will appreciate the detailed references,
many of which even list the precise page numbers cited. The 18-page
index at the end lists all the French words discussed throughout the
book and serves as a quick and easy reference tool for specific
Many of the weaknesses of this book are identified by the author
himself (in Ch. 1 - General Considerations) because they stem from
the very fact that the written form of introductory texts does not
necessarily do justice to explaining the variation and complexity of oral
pronunciation. To his credit, Price is aware of many of these and
discusses them briefly; like his choice of Parisian French as the
standard, not because it is the best variant but since ''it is the basis of
French as taught in schools, colleges and universities all over the
world it would be perverse not to adopt it here too'' (p. 4). Although I
understand that the author has to make certain concessions, I am not
convinced that today Parisian French is still the basis of French taught
in schools worldwide (i.e. in Canada, Belgium, Algeria or Haiti to name
but a few examples).
With regards to the rich variation within French and English, the
author claims that ''where there seems good cause to do so, we shall
draw attention to regional, social or stylistic differences in
pronunciation'' (p. 4). Nevertheless, from my reading of the book,
attention is almost entirely Euro-centric, that is to say British English
and French from France. Again, due in part to the limitations of writing
an easily accessible and non-exhaustive introductory text, and given
the author's professional affiliation, this comes as no surprise. ''North
American'' or simply ''American'' pronunciations are generalized as
one, whereas among ''British'' pronunciations the author also
highlights the English from: south-west England, parts of Lancashire,
Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Some of the particularities of Canadian French are presented (with
regards to vowels - pp. 74-75, and consonants - p. 104) but they are
generalized as being from Québec. Price writes, ''[t]here is, of course,
considerable variation in pronunciation within the province of Quebec,
both regionally and individually?'' (p. 74) and I would argue that this
kind of phonetic variation is not limited solely to Québec but is present
throughout all of francophone Canada.
Price also admits that no one book can give someone ''a good accent''
(p. 2), and that his book should be supplemented by hearing, listening
and speaking to ''native-speakers'', or radio/TV broadcasts. When
explaining the different intonational contours, the author points out
that ''recordings can be particularly useful provided the learner knows
what kinds of intonation pattern to listen for'' (p. 147). And so, since
this book comes with no audio supplement, it aims to help learners
identity what phonetic aspects to listen for. As a reference tool alone,
this book is extremely useful, but as a pedagogic tool, I think it would
be better served by an audio supplement (perhaps online if the
author's intention is ''not to provide yet more listening material'' [p. 2]).
I was also disappointed by the lack of updated revisions in this new
edition of the 1991 original. In fact, as Price points out in his
preface, ''in its essentials it [this new edition] remains the same book
and the pagination of the original edition has been retained''. Of the
14 references given, only three differ from the original edition: two are
revised editions of earlier books (Catford 2001 for 1988 and Gimson
2001 for 1970) and there is only one new reference Ladefoged
(2001). I expected some more recent references, since half of them
are still from the 1970's or earlier. Furthermore, over the span of
almost fifteen years some of the 'emerging' general phonetic trends
highlighted in the 1991 edition may have become prominent and
widespread by 2005, but the author does not revisit them.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, this book is a useful tool for
Anglophones looking to improve their spoken French. It covers a
broad range of topics in a way that is very easy to read and for that
reason I would recommend it to my undergraduate students.
Catford, J. C. (2001) A Practical Introduction to Phonetics, 2nd edn.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gimson, A. C. (2001) Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 6th edn,
revised by Alan Cruttenden. London: Arnold.
Ladefoged, P. (2001) A Course in Phonetics, 4th edn. Fort Worth
Texas, and London: Harcourt.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Emanuel da Silva is a Ph.D. candidate in sociolinguistic ethnography
at the University of Toronto's department of French. His research
interests include: critical interactional sociolinguistics, discourse
analysis, transnationalism, immigration studies and more, in order to
explore the role of language in the construction of identity among
French-Canadians and Portuguese-Canadians in Toronto. He also
teaches introductory French language courses at the undergraduate
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