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Review of A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology
AUTHORS: Skandera, Paul and Burleigh, Peter TITLE: A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology SERIES TITLE: Narr Studienbücher PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG YEAR: 2011
Snezhina Dimitrova, Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria
The second completely revised edition of Paul Skandera and Peter Burleigh’s “A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology” is intended for tertiary-level undergraduate students of English in German-speaking countries. It introduces learners to the theory of pronunciation while simultaneously teaching them how to transcribe English from both written and spoken texts. The manual is designed to be used over one semester of at least 12 weeks, either as seminar material or for self-study. The exercises from Lesson 3 onwards constitute an integrated course in English transcription. All exercises are supplied with annotated solutions.
The book requires no prior knowledge of either linguistics or phonetics. Therefore, the first lesson introduces students to some basic linguistic terminology, such as ‘prescriptivism’ and ‘descriptivism,’ ‘parole’ vs. ‘langue,’ and ‘performance’ vs. ‘competence.’ It briefly outlines the core areas of linguistics and places phonetics and phonology within the context of the scientific study of language. The introductory lesson goes on to present the notion of a ‘standard variety,’ stating explicitly that the book will focus on British English Received Pronunciation (RP), although throughout the book there are occasional references to General American (GA), as well as some other accents. Finally, the need for phonetic transcription when studying English pronunciation is motivated by discussing some spelling irregularities, and learners are introduced to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), on which the transcriptions in the rest of the manual are based.
Lesson 2, entitled “The Description of Speech Sounds,” presents a set of nine features which the authors deem necessary for sound description. These are divided into two groups. The first contains features which are considered to have phonetic rather than phonological relevance: loudness, pitch, tone of voice, duration/length, airstream mechanism, and voicing. The second group of features - phonologically relevant or distinctive features - includes the lenis vs. fortis distinction, place of articulation, and manner of articulation. Starting with Lesson 2, each unit in the manual is followed by a set of exercises. The exercises at the end of Lesson 2 are designed to help students explore the role of some of the features introduced in the text in the production of English sounds.
Lesson 3 focuses on a detailed description of the consonants of English, chiefly in terms of place and manner of articulation. Such a description logically leads to the construction of the consonant table, with places of articulation listed along the horizontal axis and manners of articulation along the vertical axis, while intensity of articulation is indicated by a sound’s position in the respective box in the table. The table is printed on the inside back cover of the book. The exercises at the end of Lesson 3 are intended to further raise students’ awareness of the process of consonant articulation in English, as well as to give them practice in using relevant IPA transcription symbols for the written representation of consonant phonemes.
Lesson 4 is dedicated to the description of the vowels of English. First, the traditional criteria for vowel classification in terms of tongue position and lip shape, along with Daniel Jones’ system of primary and secondary cardinal vowels, are introduced. The vowels of English RP are then illustrated and given detailed phonetic specifications in terms of tongue height and shape, lip position, length, and intensity of articulation (i.e. tenseness vs. laxness). The RP vowel phonemes are also plotted within the vowel quadrilateral, and a vowel chart showing the relationship between tense-long and lax-short monophthongs is shown on the inside back cover. The exercises at the end of the lesson are designed to help students explore the role of tongue height and shape (i.e. closeness vs. openness and frontness vs. backness) in vowel production, and to drill them in the usage of IPA symbols for the representation of the monophthongs, diphthongs, and triphthongs of English.
Lesson 5 starts off by introducing the main criteria for allophony, and goes on to present a detailed discussion of some of the major types of free and contextual allophonic variation in English. The focus is on devoicing, fronting, and retraction, while two subsequent sections of the book (Lessons 10 and 11) introduce further types of allophonic variation. Lesson 5 also gives a more detailed outline of the main types of transcription, and motivates the use of “broad phonetic transcription” and of the symbols ‘i’ and ‘u’ for the representation of unstressed i- and u-sounds in certain positions. Finally, the authors give rules for the pronunciation of the letter sequence and of the allomorphs of regular plural and regular past tense morphemes.
From Lesson 6 onwards, the authors start introducing students to connected speech phenomena. Lesson 6 focuses on liaison and looks at the occurrence of linking and intrusive ‘r,’ which logically leads to a discussion of the distinction between rhotic and non-rhotic accents of English. The remaining part of the lesson is dedicated to an introduction to the different types of juncture. Other connected speech processes are discussed in a later chapter (Lesson 9). The exercises give instructions on the transcription of linking and intrusive ‘r’ in written and spoken texts, and continue drilling students in transcribing ‘i’ and ‘u,’ as well as various endings, and the letter sequence .
Lesson 7 is devoted to the syllable and English phonotactics. Several pages are dedicated to the syllabic consonants of English and the environments in which they occur. It is argued that square brackets [ ] should be used whenever syllabic consonants are shown in transcriptions. The rest of Lesson 7 discusses stressed and unstressed vs. strong and weak syllables, and goes on to consider stress patterns in English polysyllabic words. Students are instructed to mark lexical stress in words of two and more syllables only when it is not predictable from syllable weight. The exercises in this and the following lessons are of two types: transcription from a written text and transcription from a spoken text (a monologue or a dialogue) on the accompanying CD. Each spoken text is first presented as a whole, and subsequently broken down into shorter tracks in order to facilitate transcription work.
Lesson 8 focuses on strong and weak forms of grammatical words, while explaining their distribution, and illustrating their occurrence with the help of numerous examples. A list of the most frequently used grammatical words which have both a strong and (a) weak form(s) is also included and annotated extensively. The exercises at the end of the lesson drill the transcription of strong and weak forms, and also provide further practice in the representation of features such as linking and consonant syllabicity.
Lessons 9 brings the discussion back to features of connected speech in English, namely, rhythm, assimilation, and elision. First, a distinction is made between stress-timed and syllable-timed languages. Various types of assimilation are then explained and illustrated, followed by an explanation of the nature of elision, and a classification of the various types of elision observed in English. The exercises at the end of the lesson require students to start including these aspects of connected speech in their transcriptions.
Lessons 10 and 11 provide a further look into allophonic variation in English. Sources of allophony such as aspiration, labialization, retroflexion, palatalisation, velarisation, and nasalisation are described and illustrated in Lesson 10, although students are not expected to include any of these in phonetic transcriptions. Lesson 11 looks at the main pronunciation variants of three consonants of English, namely, /t/, /r/, and /l/. They have been chosen because of the amount of allophonic variation that they exhibit, and the subsequent significance of these allophones for the teaching and learning of English pronunciation.
The final lesson in the manual outlines the structure and main functions of English intonation. The discussion is relatively brief and gives fewer examples when compared with the extensive illustrative material of previous lessons. High key is treated as a tone in its own right, on par with the fall, the rise, the fall-rise, and the rise-fall. The brevity of the final chapter precludes a presentation of other aspects of English intonation, such as prominence and phrasing, thus limiting the discussion only to some aspects of pitch variation.
In the introductory note to the manual, the authors say that one motivation for writing the book was “… the fact that there is currently no textbook which satisfactorily combines an introduction to the theory of phonetics and phonology with the practice of transcription” (p. ix). The integration of introductory pronunciation theory with practical transcription work, not only from written texts, but also from recordings of spoken English, is undoubtedly one aspect which sets apart the manual under review from others of its kind. Each lesson builds on previous lessons, while the exercise sections at the end of every unit provide students with the opportunity to put their newly acquired theoretical knowledge into practice. However, some of the authors’ decisions regarding the use of transcription conventions are rather controversial and could prove to be confusing for students working on their own with popular textbooks and dictionaries currently available on the market.
One of the main reasons given by the authors for the use of “broad phonetic” transcription and square brackets [ ] is the use of the neutralisation symbols ‘i’ and ‘u’ for the representation of the final vowel in “happy” (happY-tensing) and the first vowel in “throughout,” respectively. Both symbols have been in use for more than 20 years now, and appear in pronunciation dictionaries such as Roach et al. (2003) and Wells (2008), English language dictionaries, such as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English for Advanced Learners (2009), and widely used textbooks such as Roach (2000), Collins and Mees (2008), etc. Roach et al. (2003, p. xiv) observe that “The symbol /i/ is used… (though it is not, strictly speaking, a phoneme symbol; there is no obvious way to choose suitable brackets for this symbol, but phoneme brackets / / will be used for simplicity).” English language dictionaries have followed the convention of enclosing pronunciations between slants / / while also continuing to use ‘i’ and ‘u’ in order to show the neutralisation of the contrast between the respective “long” and “short” vowels in certain positions. In view of this fairly well established usage, the insistence on reverting to square brackets whenever ‘i’ and ‘u’ appear in transcriptions is somewhat confusing and occasionally unmotivated; compare, for example, the two weak forms of “be” on p. 81, the first of which contains the “short i” and appears between slants, while the second one is given between square brackets because its vowel is represented with the neutralisation symbol ‘i.’ Likewise, the pronunciation of “triphthongs” on p. 40 is shown between slants, while that of “epenthesis” on p. 96 is enclosed between square brackets. Other departures from established transcription practices which could turn out to be potentially confusing for students include the marking of lexical stress only in polysyllabic words in which its occurrence is not predictable on the basis of syllable strength, and the use of [ ] when marking consonant syllabicity.
The practical activities in Lessons 2 - 4 which do not concern transcription are very carefully designed to help students without any prior experience in articulatory phoneics explore the production of the consonant and vowel sounds of English. The step-by-step instructions in each exercise are explicit and easy to follow.
Another strength of the book is that it requires no prior linguistic knowledge and can be used to teach the skill of phonetic transcription even to students who have not yet attended an introductory linguistics course. The key terms are explained using language which is easy to understand, although there are occasional inaccuracies, such as the use of the label “lenis” with reference to sonorants, as English sonorants do not form any fortis-lenis pairs (Collins and Mees 2008:13), or the use of “isochrony” and “stress-timing” as synonyms. Also, when introducing the glottal stop in Lesson 2, the authors state that this sound is not important in present-day RP and is usually considered non-standard. This is a controversial claim, as shown by studies such as Wells (1997), Trudgill (2001), and Collins and Mees (2008), among others.
It is unfortunate that the question of prominence has been left out of the discussion of intonation, since research has demonstrated that prominence and phrasing are at least as important for intelligibility as pitch movement (see, for example, the work which led Jenkins (2000) to the formulation of her Lingua Franca Core).
Given the German-speaking audience for whom it is intended, the book provides translations in German for technical terms as they are introduced throughout the text, as well as a glossary at the end (in English only). The glossary is a handy tool for quick reference purposes. However, the manual lacks a bibliography or any references, even to well-known and widely-used textbooks and dictionaries which the students will certainly come across in the course of their studies. Some of the differences in the use of transcription conventions between the manual under review and these materials could turn out to be potentially confusing for students in their future studies.
To sum up, the second edition of “A Manual of English Phonetics and Phonology,” by Scandera and Burleigh is a well structured and easy-to-follow introduction to the basics of the theory of pronunciation, accompanied by a carefully designed set of practical exercises and a step-by-step transcription course which undergraduate students of English at German universities would find very useful.
Collins, Beverley & Inger Mees. 2008. Practical phonetics and phonology. A resource book for students. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge.
Jenkins, Jennifer. 2000. The phonology of English as an international language. New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Longman dictionary of contemporary English for advanced learners, 5th Edition. 2009. Pearson Education Ltd.
Roach, Peter. 2000. English phonetics and phonology. A practical course. (3rd Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roach, Peter, James Hartmann & Jane Setter (eds.). 2003. Cambridge English pronouncing dictionary by D. Jones. 16th Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Trudgill, Peter. 2001. Received Pronunciation: Sociolinguistic aspects. Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 36. 3-13.
Wells, John. 1982. Accents of English. (vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wells, John. 1997. Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation? http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/rphappened.htm (10 January, 2012.)
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Snezhina Dimitrova is an Associate Professor of English Phonetics and
Phonology in the Department of English and American Studies, Sofia
University “St Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, where she teaches English
phonetics and phonology and practical English pronunciation courses at both
the BA and MA levels. Her primary research interests include experimental
phonetics and socio-phonetics, English and Bulgarian phonology, the prosody
of English, the teaching of English pronunciation, and speech corpora. She
has presented at international conferences, has participated in several
bilateral and multilateral research projects, and has published extensively
both at home and abroad. She is the author of “English Pronunciation for