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Review of English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene
EDITORS: Dziubalska-Kołaczyk, Katarzyna; Przedlacka, Joanna TITLE: English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene SUBTITLE: Second Edition PUBLISHER: Peter Lang AG YEAR: 2008
Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Centre for English Language Education, University of Nottingham, UK
The book under review is a collection of papers presented at the 2003 and 2004 Poznań Linguistic Meetings. It addresses a number of current issues for pronunciation teaching and learning, in particular the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) introduced by Jenkins (2000). Contributions are arranged into five parts: part one is concerned with the issue of standard accent models; part two addresses the LFC model directly; part three explores learners' perspectives; part four deals with intonation; and part five focuses on issues concerning dictionaries and teaching materials.
Part 1 on '(In)stability of Native Models' begins with Joanna Przedlacka's chapter 'Models and Myth: Updating the (Non)standard Accents', in which she explores the changing nature of Received Pronunciation (RP), and its role for English pronunciation teaching. By presenting a number of sound changes that have occurred in RP throughout the last century she shows that RP is an accent that is as much subject to change as any other. She goes on to present positive and negative expressions of attitudes towards RP, and Estuary English, which she characterizes as a myth. In her concluding remarks, Przedlacka argues for a continuation of an up-to-date variety of RP to be used as the standard pronunciation model for English language teaching.
Dennis R. Preston's chapter 'How Can You Learn a Language that Isn't There?' presents findings regarding General American English (GA) in the form of a dialogue between a Polish English language teacher and an American dialectologist. By citing counter-evidence for a number of claims regarding GA he shows that the accent as it is described in many textbooks has no native speakers. The author then explores sociolinguistic aspects of US American native speakers' classifications of spoken American English, showing that perceptions of 'good' or 'bad' American English are closely connected to social prejudice. The paper argues for pronunciation teaching which exposes learners to as many English varieties as possible, rather than a model which is based upon a specific 'native' concept.
In her chapter 'Language Variation and Change: The Case of English as a Lingua Franca', Barbara Seidlhofer sets out her concept of English as a lingua franca (ELF). She makes a strong case against the claim that 'the true repository of the English language is its native speakers, and there are so many of them that they can afford to let non-natives do what they like with it so long as what they do is confined to a few words here and there' (Trudgill 2002: 151). Seidlhofer argues that the opposite argument is also possible: as there are many more non-native speakers than there are native ones, one could say that it is the ELF speakers that own the English language. Her chapter ends on a distinction between pedagogical implications for learners of ELF (English as a lingua franca) and EFL (English as a foreign language): while the aim of the first group is to communicate with other non-native speakers of English, that of the second group is primarily interaction with native English speakers.
Peter Trudgill's chapter 'Native-speaker Segmental Phonological Models and the English Lingua Franca Core' makes a polemic argument against Jenkins' LFC concept. Trudgill does not accept the argument that non-native speakers find the speech of other non-native speakers easier to understand than that of native speakers; neither does he accept Jenkins' attempted deconstruction of the concept of 'native speaker'. Instead, he argues strongly in favour of a continuation of English pronunciation teaching according to a model of native speech, given the large amount of teaching material already available. Trudgill also shows that some phonetic and phonological aspects of the LFC are not necessarily only characteristics of English as an International Language (EIL), but also of Irish English. In the final section, he takes particular offence at Jenkins' suggestion that native speakers should incorporate some features of EIL into their interactions with non-native speakers, and the underlying assumption that he should have to relearn the pronunciation of his own native language.
Part 2 of the book is entitled 'Lingua Franca Core as a Democratic Alternative? Attempts at Evaluation'. All contributions to this part of the book deal directly with Jenkins' (2000) suggestion of the LFC; the final chapter is a response by Jennifer Jenkins. J. C. Wells's chapter 'Goals in Teaching English Pronunciation' outlines what he sees as the main priorities in pronunciation teaching. He points out that a simplification of English for the purpose of EIL could be argued to include not only phonology, but also vocabulary, syntax, and orthography. He suggests that a potential remedy for the teaching of complex pronunciation patterns is for teachers to be familiar with phonetic symbols. After a close examination of Jenkins' LFC proposals, Wells presents his recommendations for English pronunciation teaching, which include concentrating on matters that hinder intelligibility; encouraging interaction with native speakers; and allowing findings from contrastive analysis to inform the teaching and learning of challenging areas.
In her chapter 'Why Native Speakers are (Still) Relevant', Sylwia Scheuer makes a strong argument against the LFC approach. She identifies as an inconsistency a bias in the LFC towards native speaker pronunciation, particularly in its inclusion of aspiration and consonant cluster reduction. Scheuer cites Jenkins as being concerned not only with intelligibility, but also with acceptability; by aligning the concept of acceptability with 'irritability', Scheuer makes a strong claim that establishing a common core is 'virtually impossible' (p. 116). In an experiment, she asks subjects for their responses to non-native accented English speech. Her findings show that subjects' professed irritation runs in parallel with their impression of how strongly a speech sample deviates from a perceived native-speaker norm. Therefore, she argues, teaching pronunciation according to the LFC is less beneficial to learners than Jenkins claims. Scheuer rejects Jenkins' proposal, making a strong argument for native speakers as 'the keepers of the key to what is irritating and what is acceptable' (p. 127).
Similarly, Włodzimierz Sobkowiak's chapter 'Why Not LFC' is a strong rejection of Jenkins' book. He does not accept her empirically based argument against RP as an appropriate target accent, firstly on philosophical grounds. The occurrence of certain phonetic patterns, no matter how frequent, can, in the author's view, not be the sole basis for teaching goals, which must also be informed by other, non-empirical norms. Secondly, in his sociolinguistic arguments against the LFC he points out that the LFC is an artifice, similar to Esperanto, and therefore unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, he claims that pronunciation is routinely rated an important issue in experiments which test the acceptability of English accents. Thirdly, Sobkowiak makes a pedagogical argument against falling teaching standards, and against the implications of the LFC for grammar, spelling and vocabulary teaching. Finally, his psychological argument against the LFC is one that is reiterated throughout the volume: native-like pronunciation is indeed an ambition for many learners, rather than a threat of loss of identity.
Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska's chapter 'Lingua Franca Core, Phonetic Universals and the Polish Context' is another strong rejection of the LFC. Here, the arguments are made on phonetic and prosodic grounds, and with the Polish learner in mind. Her section on segmental issues argues, for example, that Jenkins' inclusion of the retroflex [r] is not ideal for Polish learners, or indeed many other learners of English, who find it easier to produce alveolar trills. The exclusion of dental fricatives, on the other hand, while welcomed as a simplification, is described as stigmatized. Amongst the prosodic features discussed in the chapter are weak forms, speech rhythm and intonation, none of which are included in the LFC. Szpyra-Kozłowska presents arguments for their inclusion, in particular that of weak forms. She agrees, however, with the inclusion of nuclear stress and the division of speech into word groups.
In his chapter 'The Lingua Franca Core and the Phonetics-Phonology Interface', Geoffrey Schwartz introduces the angle of speech perception to the debate over English sound structure and its teachability. He reminds his readers that the phonetic classification into phonemes does not necessarily translate easily into the perceived speech signal, which is typically dynamic and continuously changing. His example of tense and lax vowels and voicing/devoicing show how knowledge about context, linguistic variety and articulatory detail can inform teachers and learners in their pursuit of native-like speech and their ability to understand native speakers. Schwartz goes on to argue strongly in favour of such metacompetence in second language acquisition, both for teachers and students. The chapter continues with an in-depth look at parts of the LFC from a perceptual perspective; overall, his analysis confirms many of Jenkins' suggestions.
Jennifer Jenkins' chapter 'Misinterpretation, Bias, and Resistance to Change: The Case of the Lingua Franca Core' is a response to other contributions in the volume. It begins with a summary of her original LFC proposal, before addressing 'misinterpretations and misrepresentations' (p. 202). For example, one misinterpretation identified by Jenkins is that the LFC promotes pronunciation errors. This mistake is based on some contributors' confusion over the distinction between EFL and ELF: what is an error in EFL may promote intelligibility in ELF. The author concludes that contributions to the volume clearly show that the title of the book, 'English Pronunciation Models - a Changing Scene', is overly optimistic, given that so many authors seem resistant to change.
Part 3 of the book considers 'The Learners' Views. Implications for Teaching'. Peter Trudgill's chapter 'Finding the Speaker-listener Equilibrium: Segmental Phonological Models in EFL' considers the possibility of introducing a 'common core' of consonants and vowels which are employed by all varieties of English, rather than the higher number of sounds used by RP. While Trudgill argues that such an approach would be very efficient in terms of pronunciation acquisition, listening and comprehension would be made more difficult for learners by such a reduction, as non-native speakers require more, rather than less information to process speech in the target language. He argues that while other factors such as speech rhythm and phonotactics are also relevant for listening, segmental information is of primary importance. He therefore calls for a compromise between the importance of communicating with the least effort and the necessity to do so with the greatest possible accuracy. In order to achieve such a balance, a maximum, rather than a minimum, of segmental contrasts should be taught.
Ewa Waniek-Klimczak and Karol Klimczak's chapter 'Target in Speech Development: Learners' Views' reports on a student needs and attitude analysis with regard to learning English, in particular pronunciation. Two student groups were compared: students of English, and students of sociology and economics. The authors' pre-questionnaire hypothesis was that students who were not majoring in English would be less interested in native-like pronunciation, and also more interested to learn American English pronunciation, rather than British English. The first hypothesis is in part confirmed by the questionnaire findings: sociology and economics students believe it less likely that they will acquire native-like pronunciation (43%) than English students (81%). However, both groups prefer British over American English. The article concludes with a tentative suggestion that providing students whose aim is mainly international communication with a well-defined core of pronunciation features, such as the LFC, may increase their confidence in their ability to acquire pronunciation skills.
Similarly, Katarzyna Janicka, Małgorzata Kul and Jarosław Weckwerth's chapter 'Polish Students' Attitudes to Native English Accents as Models for EFL Pronunciation' reports on three questionnaire surveys on student attitudes towards English pronunciation and its teaching. The first survey sets out to investigate what motivations lie behind Polish students' choice for either British or American English as their target accent, and what opinions they have on their own practice as future teachers. Almost all respondents place very high importance on the teaching of native-like accent models. The second reported survey evaluates Polish learners' attitudes towards RP and GA, respectively. On the whole, students estimate GA easier to produce; and only students of RP find RP easier to understand. The third survey concentrates on RP, and students' recognition of and attitudes towards it. In a listening session, RP is rated highest in terms of 'goodness', compared to other accents.
Michał Remiszewski's chapter 'Lingua Franca Core: Picture Incomplete' offers a tentatively skeptical evaluation of the LFC, however, without the palpable antagonism of some previous chapters. The author argues from a perspective of social psychology that Jenkins' assumed clash between L2 pronunciation proficiency and speaker identity is highly speculative and without evidence. He provides evidence from previous research which shows that the majority of learners would like to be able to speak like a native speaker, if that was a possibility. In addition, he argues that most learners like to strive for the best, whatever it is they are learning; and that the fact that learners may be interacting only with non-native speakers at a certain moment in time does not mean they may not want to communicate with native speakers in the future. Thus, the LFC proposal seems only appropriate for a narrowly defined type of learner. Remiszewski concludes by identifying the need for increased research activity in the area of learner motivation and attitude.
Part 4 of the book focuses on 'Intonational Variation in English and its Role in Communication'. The first chapter, Esther Grabe's, Greg Kochanski's and John Coleman's 'The Intonation of Native Accent Varieties in the British Isles: Potential for Miscommunication?' investigates variation in intonation patterns across British accents. Their findings point to a high degree of intonational variation within dialects, with typically one or two patterns more popular than others. Their findings also show a high degree of variation between different dialects. The authors conclude that learners of English must be prepared for high degrees of variation within individual varieties, including the Southern English variety. They also conclude that their findings support the LFC proposal in its inclusion of nuclear accent placement, and its exclusion of pitch patterns.
John Levis' chapter 'Comparing Apples with Oranges? Pedagogical Approaches to Intonation in British and American English' reports on implications for pronunciation teaching that derive from the differences between the British and the American schools of intonation research. He shows that teacher training materials and pronunciation course books treat intonation according to either of these approaches, depending on which side of the Atlantic they are published. His main focus is on Brazil (1997), representing the British school, and Celce-Murcia et al. (1996), representing the American approach. The chapter shows that the American approach is based on a practice of predicting intonation patterns, whereas the British school prioritizes the description of actual speech. Subsequently, the British approach is less inclined than the American one to link intonational choices with the status of information as given or new. This leads the author to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of tying the study and teaching of intonation to grammar. While he concedes that such a link can be pedagogically beneficial because of its seeming promise of certainties, it is ultimately too simplistic. Levis concludes, similarly to the previous chapter, that Jenkins' (2000) exclusion of pitch movement and inclusion of nuclear stress placement represent the most 'learnable option' (p. 363).
Jane Setter's chapter 'Communicative Patterns of Intonation in L2 English Teaching and Learning: The Impact of Discourse Approaches' focuses on David Brazil's (1997) discourse approach to intonation. The chapter begins by introducing the British tradition of intonation research in general; and Brazil's discourse intonation approach in particular, summarizing his concepts of tones, key, tone unit and tonicity. Subsequently, the author discusses both teacher education materials and teaching materials for learners which incorporate the discourse intonation (DI) approach to varying degrees. Finally, Setter discusses recent research that uses the DI approach. She concludes by suggesting that a DI model can make the teaching and learning of English intonation more easily accessible.
Part 5 of the book contains four short chapters which focus on 'Dictionaries and Teaching Materials: Reflection of a Changing Scene?' Peter Roach's chapter 'Representing the English Model' begins by pointing out that RP is not an accent that has been defined on the basis of research on speech samples from a specific group of speakers, but is in fact 'a convention' (p. 393). The author reports some difficulties in finding an ideal RP speaker for his recent 'illustration' of RP, i.e. its phonetic analysis and description for the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. However, the main problems of representation encountered by Roach were caused by the necessity for a phonemic as well as a phonetic description. He therefore argues that conventional phonemic transcription should be extended to include a more detailed account of phonetic patterns.
J.C. Wells' chapter 'Abbreviatory Conventions in Pronunciation Dictionaries' compares the three currently available English pronunciation dictionaries, the English Pronouncing Dictionary (EPD), the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation (ODP), and the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (LPD) in terms of their use of certain types of abbreviations. He finds differences in the way the dictionaries indicate elision, stress shift and variations in lexical pronunciations, and discusses the issue of description vs. prescription. Wells goes on to compare other abbreviatory conventions, closing on the note that the more varied a dictionary's abbreviations are, the more phonetic detail can be recorded.
Clive Upton's, Lawrence M. Davis' and Charles L. Houck's chapter 'Modelling RP: A Variationist Case' focuses on three vowels - those in 'flat hat', 'fair share' and 'fine line' - and reports on their realization in different data corpora. Findings show significant variations across corpora, and across time. Similarly, RP pronunciations of the same vowels have changed over time, with some recent pronunciations very similar to earlier Leeds samples. The authors conclude that both the Leeds accent, as well as the RP accent are subject to diachronic change. Furthermore, they argue that cities such as Leeds have contributed to the development of RP. Finally, the chapter argues for a phonetic, rather than a phonemic representation for dictionary use.
In her chapter 'An Overview of English Pronunciation Teaching Materials. Patterns of change: Model Accents, Goals and Priorities', Magdalena Wrembel investigates changes in pronunciation teaching materials, and compares their goals and priorities. Regarding the issue of model accents, British English is the main model accent taught in textbooks, followed by American and Australian English. However, in CD-ROM publications, American English is the main model accent used. Regarding teaching priorities, the interest in suprasegmental aspects of speech has grown considerably. On the basis of a comparative analysis of pronunciation syllabi across materials, the author suggests a 'common core' of pronunciation features that are most frequently included in textbooks and CD-ROMs. She then compares this common core to the LFC suggested by Jenkins (2000). Wrembel concludes that pronunciation teaching materials have become more inclusive of different accent varieties over the years; and that the LFC proposal differs widely from the status quo of current teaching materials.
The afterword by Dafydd Gibbon, 'Navigating Pronunciation in Search of the Golden Fleece', discusses some of the issues raised in the volume, and proposes a different approach to the common core model suggested in Jenkins (2000). In a first section he argues that the economic dimension of the ELT market has a major influence on the development of new paradigms in the field of ELT, pointing out that the contributors to the volume under review are located at different ends of the market spectrum. In a subsequent section the author makes the point that there is no evidence that varieties of English across the world share a common core. Instead, he puts forward an approach to ELT that is based on a Family Resemblance Model, as introduced by Wittgenstein (1953). According to Gibbon, such a model, which takes account of the resemblance between a learner's accent in his first and his second language, has a stronger base in reality than the artificially designed and globally applicable LFC, which is constructed from only two accents, RP and GA, which in themselves are largely artifices. Subsequently, Gibbon raises the issue of sociolinguistic environments for teaching and learning, pointing out that Jenkins' environment of the native English speaker teaching polyglot classes is only one such environment. Other environments include commercial language schools in non-English speaking countries, European state schools, and European universities. The author goes on to discuss specific suggestions made by the LFC, and its strong tendency to prioritize phonetic intelligibility over acceptability. He argues that focusing on the phonetics is not realistic, given the large amount of information derived from context in natural interaction. Thus, he suggests an integration of more, rather than less pragmatic issues into the teaching of pronunciation. Gibbon ends by suggesting a 'Standardisation Consensus Framework' for ELT, based on the Family Resemblance Model, rather than a common core model.
In his afterword, Daffyd Gibbon writes about the 'non-Gricean' communicative style adopted in many of the contributions to this volume (p. 442); and indeed, the book makes for uncomfortable reading, at least in parts. The antagonistic stance with which many of the contributors approach Jennifer Jenkins' LFC proposal is unusual in an academic publication. Several chapters argue explicitly and vehemently for preserving the current - perceived - status quo, i.e. the teaching of RP as the standard model accent, and the pursuit of native-like competence as a universal underlying goal. It becomes clear that the debate held here is to a large extent an ideological, rather than a scholarly one, with many of the arguments appealing to a populist common sense, rather than an exploratory attitude. This is unfortunate, as beneath the heated controversy there are arguments well worth discussing.
One is the emergence of very strong evidence - not only from the contributions to this volume, but also from previous research - that some learners do not feel at all empowered by the suggestion that, at least in EIL interactions, they need not aim for native-like pronunciation. While the strong rejection of such simplification is perhaps initially surprising, given the small number of non-native speakers that do acquire near-native English accents, it points to a very important area of language learning, which, as Remiszewski points out in a slightly different context, is 'the most speculative of them all: the language ego' (p. 295). In spite of recent efforts to the contrary, learning to speak English is still an issue deeply rooted in the power relations of the current global context. Telling learners that they do not need to speak like native speakers seems to be interpreted by some as a (deliberate) 'denial of access' (Scheuer, p. 126). And indeed, while Jenkins herself is clearly 'appalled' (p. 206) by this suggestion, it does seem as if this powerful sentiment may have been slightly overlooked in the original proposal.
Another issue that deserves a lively debate is the precise nature of a common core model such as the LFC, both in terms of its detailed composition, and its nature as an artificially designed accent. Several chapters offer insightful suggestions regarding which features and broader areas should be included in a common pronunciation core, and which should not (see contributions by Wells, Szpyra-Kozłowska, Schwartz, Grabe et al., Levis and Wrembel). The issue regarding the artificial nature of an LFC-based accent is discussed by Sobkowiak and Gibbon. Both are pessimistic about the chances of survival of an artificially created accent. Gibbon offers a very interesting alternative: a learning and teaching model based on family resemblance between the original and the target language. This model seems better suited to the global learning context outside the European and US American influenced Western world, especially as it does not rely on 'native' accents such as RP and GA. This approach takes the more difficult route of calling for teachers' engagement with their students' native language; a scenario less likely in, for example, UK-based language institutions than in non-English speaking countries. However, its integrative nature has the potential of being perceived as less threatening to learners' identity than the LFC.
Not all contributions join in the heated discussion over the LFC proposal. Of the few chapters containing original research, Grabe et al.'s work on intonational variation stands out with its clearly defined research questions and findings; while one of the most helpful chapters from a teaching perspective is Levis' comparison between the British and American approaches to intonation, and their influence on different teaching materials. All in all, the volume presents a valuable platform for the discussion of many significant issues surrounding the learning and teaching of English pronunciation. It can be hoped that in the future those issues will be taken up with a more measured stance, and with a view to achieve Gibbon's proposal for a standardised consensus.
Brazil, David (1997): The Communicative Value of Intonation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Celce-Murcia, Marianne, Brinton, Donna and Goodwin, Janet (1996): Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. New York: Cambridge University Press. Jenkins, Jennifer (2000): The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Trudgill, Peter (2002): Sociolinguistic Variation and Change. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953): Philosophical Investigations / Philosophische Untersuchungen. Edited by G. E. M. Anscombe and R. Rhees, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Beatrice Szczepek Reed is a research fellow at the Centre for English
Language Education, University of Nottingham, UK. Her research focuses on
the phonetics and prosody of natural conversation, intercultural
communication, and pronunciation teaching methodology. She regularly
teaches English pronunciation and advanced conversational skills.