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Review of  Practical Phonetics and Phonology


Reviewer: Beatrice Szczepek Reed
Book Title: Practical Phonetics and Phonology
Book Author: Beverley S Collins Inger M. Mees
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Phonetics
Phonology
Subject Language(s): None
Book Announcement: 19.3803

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Review:
AUTHOR: Collins, Beverley S.; Mees, Inger M.
TITLE: Practical Phonetics and Phonology
SUBTITLE: A Resource Book for Students
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2008

Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Centre for English Language Education, University of
Nottingham, UK

SUMMARY
The book under review is an introductory textbook for undergraduate students of
phonetics and phonology, and learners and teachers of English as a foreign
language. It is divided into four sections, progressing from basic to more
complex issues.

Section A gives an introductory overview of relevant issues in studying
phonetics and phonology. Starting with the issue of variation, the book sets the
scene for its main two foci of application: pronunciation, and accents of
English. Three texts, available as audio files on an accompanying CD, show the
distinction between traditional Received Pronunciation (RP), modern non-regional
pronunciation (NRP) and Estuary English. In a second step, the section presents
basic phonetic and phonological terminology and concepts, such as phoneme,
consonant, vowel and syllable; furthermore it covers stress, and the
distinctions between strong, weak and contracted forms, including a list of
essential words that are typically pronounced as weak or contracted.
Subsequently, the authors introduce phonemic transcription. Passages for
transcription are provided as exercises here and throughout the book; keys are
provided on the website accompanying the book.

The focus of the subsequent sub-chapter is speech production. Basic speech
processes are explained, such as breathing and phonation. An introductory
section on articulation leads to a presentation of English consonants and vowels.

Section B, entitled ''Development'', revisits some of the concepts introduced in
the previous section in more detail. Regarding the phoneme, the distinction
between complementary distribution and free variation is introduced; regarding
the syllable, English syllable structure is explained. Subsequently, English
consonants are revisited in a substantial overview of the English consonant
system, including stops, nasals, fricatives and approximants. Similarly, English
vowels are presented in greater detail, including distinctions between checked
steady-state vowels, free steady-state vowels and free diphthongs.

The section then goes on to consider English spelling, and its relation to
pronunciation. Basic pronunciation and spelling guidelines are provided for
typical areas of uncertainty, such as the pronunciation of certain letters in
specific contexts of occurrence. Subsequently the authors revisit connected
speech, and introduce phonetic conditioning in some depth, focusing mainly on
patterns of assimilation and elision. The following section revisits the concept
of stress, both in words and sentences. Regarding word stress, the authors
introduce the concepts of primary and secondary stress, and go on to provide
basic guidelines for pronunciation. Regarding sentence stress, a short
introduction is given to speech rhythm, and its effect on vowel length.

Finally, this section introduces pitch movement, and the distinction between
tones and intonation. It presents the intonation structure of English as the
division of speech into intonation groups, and introduces the concept of the
most strongly stressed syllable in any intonation group, the nucleus. The
authors mention the most frequent nuclear pitch movements fall, rise, fall-rise
and rise-fall, and present four functions of intonation in the areas of focus,
attitude, grammar and discourse. Specific utterance types, such as statements,
commands and questions, are presented as receiving specific intonation patterns.

Section C, entitled ''Exploration'', returns to the issue of variation briefly
touched upon in section A. Here, four large groups of accent variation are
presented in detail: General American, Accents of England, Celtic-influenced
British varieties and world accents. In a second part, the chapter presents
diachronic change in English pronunciation covering Old English, Middle English,
Elizabethan English, Eighteenth-century English, and current varieties. The
section focuses most strongly on changes currently in progress, such as
consonant and vowel changes, changes in stress and intonation, and influences
from spelling and American English.

A third part of this section is aimed specifically at teachers and learners of
foreign languages. Initially, the authors address the issue of non-native
accents, and follow Jenkins (2000) in claiming that not all pronunciation errors
are of equal importance when it comes to learners' intelligibility. Errors are
ranked according to three categories: first are those that lead to a breakdown
in intelligibility, such as confusion of crucial phonemic contrasts, confusion
of fortis and lenis consonants, and errors of word stress; second are errors
which evoke irritation or amusement, such as inappropriate /r/ articulations,
dental fricative problems with /th/, and errors involving weak or contracted
forms; third, and least important are errors which may go unnoticed, such as
intonation errors, lack of syllabic consonants and incorrect compound stress.
The authors provide a table of the most frequent pronunciation errors in
learners of English from selected native languages.

In a second step the authors address native speakers of English and their
potential problems when learning a foreign language. Basic introductions to the
sound systems of Spanish, French and German are provided with tips for learners
with English as a first language.

Section D provides selected excerpts from influential texts, and texts on
current issues in phonetics and phonology. The section provides readings from
David Abercrombie (1991) on Received Pronunciation; Daniel Jones (1935) on
attitudes to accents; David Crystal (1988) on typical complaints about ''sloppy''
English usage; Dennis Fry (1977) on the application of phonetics to teaching the
deaf; Peter Ladefoged (2001) on text-to-speech software; Maurice Varney (1997)
on forensic phonetics; Barbara Bradford (1997) on the sentence-final rising
intonation contour commonly known as 'upspeak'; David Crystal (1986) on the
acquisition of intonational meaning; John C. Wells (2003) on spelling reform;
and Peter Trudgill (2002) on public perceptions of accents of English.

EVALUATION
The book under review is one of the most successful introductory texts in the
field, as it manages an ongoing seamless combination of phonetic and
phonological theory and areas of practical application. As a textbook it covers
a vast amount of material, but is consistently successful in presenting only
what is immediately relevant for the undergraduate / EFL level it is aimed at.

As an initial introduction, section A works particularly well. Rather than
starting with an introduction to theoretical concepts, the authors begin with
one of their main foci of phonetic application, variation. Only in a second step
do they introduce theoretical concepts. This emphasis on keeping the study of
phonetic concepts firmly rooted in the reality of spoken language is
continuously pursued, and makes for a highly engaging text throughout.

However, not only does the textbook successfully link theory with practical
application. The authors also manage to combine relevant issues from across the
phonetic and phonological spectrum. For example, section A mentions such diverse
topics as sociolinguistic aspects of accent, the phoneme / allophone
distinction, sentence stress, transcription, and articulation as they become
relevant in the text.

Section B develops many of the areas mentioned in section A without being
repetitive. Descriptions of individual manners and places of articulation
benefit from examples from synchronic and diachronic variation throughout the
chapter. The section on spelling and pronunciation is an extremely helpful
resource for any learner of English, or teacher of pronunciation. Although
unexpected in an introductory textbook on phonetics, it reaffirms the impression
that the authors are concerned with phonetics in real-life situations.
Similarly, the guidelines on word stress provide a helpful pronunciation
resource for learners and teachers of English.

The treatment of intonation in the book is possibly one of the few areas that
invite criticism, particularly the authors' attribution of specific linguistic
and discourse functions to certain intonation contours. For example, attitudinal
functions attributed to the fall-rise include 'doubt, correction, reservation,
appealing to the listener to reconsider', whereas the rise-fall is claimed to
imply 'impressed, arrogant, confident, self-satisfied, mocking, putting down'
(p. 140). Aside from the fact that not all of the attributes are attitudinal –
some clearly being discourse functional, such as correction and appealing – such
intuitive interpretation of pitch movements rarely matches the realities
experienced by conversational participants themselves as they employ pitch
patterns in the course of an emerging interaction. Recent research in
interactional linguistics has shown that any interpretation of 'functions' of
prosodic events is best rooted in empirical investigation (cf. Local et al.
1985; 1986), rather than native-speaker intuition (Wells and Macfarlane 1998;
Szczepek Reed 2004; Local and Walker 2008).

Following on from this issue, while the book successfully includes practical
applications in the areas of variation and English pronunciation, the area of
spoken interaction is noticeably missing. Only intonation receives a mention as
being relevant for discourse, when similar points could have been made regarding
most other phonetic and suprasegmental areas.

In addition to the extremely successful presentation of an extensive amount of
material, the exercises and activities provided in the book are many, and highly
imaginative, repeatedly inspiring readers to ''think outside the box''. The
accompanying CD is also very valuable, covering every important aspect discussed
in the book. The accompanying website provides ten additional passages for
transcription, and keys to transcription exercises in the book. In terms of
resources it offers little beyond a small number of weblinks, most of which are
also mentioned in the book.

Overall, this book provides a genuinely successful textbook, which manages to
remain relevant and accessible to the undergraduate, and the EFL reader
throughout. For the teacher it offers a clear and easy-to-follow progression
from basic to more complex issues, and a wealth of demonstration recordings and
activities that provide ample resources and teaching material.

REFERENCES
Abercrombie, D. (1991). _Fifty Years in Phonetics_. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, pp. 48-53.

Bradford, B. (1997). ''Upspeak in British English.'' _English Today_ 51, 13:3, 33-6.

Crystal, D. (1986). _Listen to Your Child_. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 193-7.

Crystal, D. (1988). _The English Language_. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 57-61.

Fry, D. (1977). _Homo Loquens_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 139-43.

Jenkins, J. (2000). _The Phonology of English as an International Language_.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jones, D. (1935). ''Speech training: the phonetic aspect.'' _British Journal of
Educational Psychology_ 5: 27-30.

Ladefoged, P. (2001). _Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sounds of
Language_. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 68-73.

Local, J., Wells, B. & Sebba, M. (1985). ''Phonology for conversation. Phonetic
aspects of turn delimitation in London Jamaican.'' _Journal of Pragmatics_ 9,
309-330.

Local, J., Kelly, J. & Wells, B. (1986). ''Towards a phonology of conversation:
Turn-taking in Tyneside English.'' _Journal of Linguistics_ 22, 411-437.

Local, J. & Walker, G. (2008). On the interplay of phonetic and sequential
resources in talk-in-interaction. Paper presented at the Colloquium of the
British Association of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP) 2008. Sheffield, UK.

Szczepek Reed, B. ''Turn-final intonation in English.'' In: E. Couper-Kuhlen and
C. E. Ford (Eds.), _Sound Patterns in Interaction_. Amsterdam: John Benjamins,
pp. 97-118.

Trudgill, P. (2002). _Sociolinguistic Variation and Change_. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, pp. 173-80.

Varney, M. 91997). ''Forensic linguistics.'' _English Today_ 52, 13:4, 46-7.

Wells, B. and Macfarlane, S. (1998). ''Prosody as an interactional resource. Turn
projection and overlap.'' _Language and Speech_ 41, 265 – 294.

Wells, J.C. (2003). www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/accents_spellingreform.htm

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Beatrice Szczepek Reed is research fellow at the Centre for English Language
Education, at the University of Nottingham, UK. Her research focuses on the
phonetics and prosody of natural conversation, prosodic turn-taking cues in
intercultural communication, and spoken language teaching. She regularly teaches
courses in English pronunciation and conversational skills.
 

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