Pronunciation Textbook Discrepancies


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Pronunciation Textbook Discrepancies

  1. 1. E l i s a b e t h G a re i s U S NITED TATES Pronunciation Textbook Discrepancies A AMERICAN ENGLISH WIDE VARIETY OF PRONUNCIATION TEXTBOOKS ON ARE ON the market today, allowing teachers to select the most suitable materials for their ESOL students. This abundance of texts would be ideal, were it not for some inconsistencies in the presentation of pronunciation features. Thus, textbooks often differ in the use of pronunciation symbols, the description of individual vowels and consonants, the number of sounds characterized as diphthongs, and the delineation of pitch and stress patterns. Given the fact that many ESOL stu- dents move through several texts in the course of their studies, these discrepan- cies are confusing and can create insecurity among students as well as teachers. This article provides discussion of the most common discrepancies, exempli- fied in five popular pronunciation texts: Accurate English, Pronunciation Pairs, Phrase by Phrase, Sound Advantage, Speechcraft, and the Manual of American Eng- lish Pronunciation. The texts were selected for their range from beginning to V 43 N 2 2005 E T F 18 OLUME UMBER NGLISH EACHING ORUM
  2. 2. advanced level and for their diversity in nota- States may have reduced the perceived need for an all-enveloping sound description sys- tion and content. (Note: No criticism of the tem, like the IPA. selected texts is intended. All of the listed books are internally consistent and represent Pronunciation textbooks excellent guides for pronunciation instruc- If discrepancies were limited to monolingual tion.) Before discussion of the pronunciation versus bilingual language materials, the relevance texts, we’ll take a brief look at related discrep- of this issue for ESOL students—especially at ancies in monolingual dictionaries. the beginning and intermediate level, where stu- While this article focuses on U.S. English, dents seldom use monolingual dictionaries— similar discrepancies exist in publications on would be minor. Unfortunately, discrepancies other varieties of English. Teachers are encour- can also be found within the realm of foreign aged to compare the findings in this article with and second language materials. Since deviations their teaching materials and to explore incon- are probably more confusing with respect to sistencies in their own linguistic environment. pronunciation texts than bilingual dictionar- Monolingual dictionaries ies—with students going through several text- books as their proficiency increases—the fol- The idiosyncratic use of pronunciation sym- lowing discussion uses pronunciation texts as bols in monolingual American English dictio- examples. Discrepancies with respect to vowel naries has been a long-standing source of frus- sounds will be discussed first, followed by con- tration for language students and teachers sonants and prosodics. alike. Sound transcriptions differ from dictio- nary to dictionary and bear little or no resem- Vowels blance to the international pronunciation In general, ESOL pronunciation textbooks alphabet (IPA), which is standard in most bilin- adhere to IPA standards to a great extent. gual dictionaries and pronunciation textbooks. Among the vowels, for instance, the following The vowel sound in the word tap, for example, sound symbols enjoy widespread agreement and is consistently transcribed as /Q/ in bilingual are used consistently, without much variation: /I/, /E/, /Q/, /´/, /ç/, and /U/. There are a few dictionaries and pronunciation texts. In mono- sounds and intonation features, however, that lingual U.S. dictionaries, however, transcrip- seem to incite such strong passions as to war- tions usually involve a variation of the letter a rant idiosyncratic notations. When these devia- as the preferred symbol. The American Heritage tions occur, they often represent not only devi- Dictionary, for instance, uses /a(/ and Merriam- ations from IPA notation but also diversity in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Webster’s) uses opinion over the specific nature of the sounds /a/—a symbol which in many bilingual dictio- and features. naries and pronunciation textbooks stands for Table 1 (next page) shows a selection of vowel the vowel sound in top, rather than tap. Similar sounds as they are treated in various pronunci- confusion reigns for /i/ which in most bilingual ation texts. Also included are two monolingual dictionaries and pronunciation texts stands for dictionaries to illustrate the additional dichoto- the vowel in teen but in Webster’s is used for the my between the ESOL and monolingual realm. vowel in tin. Likewise, /j/ stands for the begin- Naturally, textbook authors have reasons ning of the word year in many foreign language for their choices. Sometimes the various choices education materials but is used in Webster’s for and their reasons are provided in the text; other the beginning of the word jeer. These are just times they are not. It is when no explanation is a few examples. Discrepancies also exist with given that students may become confused. The respect to other sounds. following is an attempt to explain the discrep- Students often ask why monolingual Amer- ancies in the vowel section of Table 1. ican dictionaries don’t use the IPA. The answer probably lies in the same U.S. insularity that /i/ and /u/ The sound /i/ is transcribed /iy/ or /iy/ in some has resulted in so many other deviations from international standards (including standards pronunciation texts to indicate that, especially of measurement, weight, and temperature). In in the Eastern United States, there is a tongue addition, the relatively minor importance of movement at the end of the sound, rendering foreign language education in the United it a glide rather than a pure vowel. For the E T F V 43 N 2 2005 19 NGLISH EACHING ORUM OLUME UMBER
  3. 3. SOUND TYPES COMPARISON OF PRONUNCIATION SYMBOLS AND SAMPLE WORDS SELECTED PRONUNCIATION TEXTS AND MONOLINGUAL DICTIONARIES IN AE MP PP PBP SA SC VD AH W Vowels iy i iy iy iy iy i e# e# bee a a A a A A a A A/Å palm ´ ´ √ √ ´ √ √ u( ´ custom ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ custom — uw u uw uw uw uw u oo ü boot Diphthongs aI ay ay Ai ay ay aI quot;‹ quot;‹ pie aw aw aU/AU ou aU aw aw Au o# out . oi çI çy çy çi oy oy çI oi boy ey eI ey ey ey ey e a# a# pay ow oU ow ow ow ow o/oU o# o# boat Consonants y y y y y y j y y year ’ ’ ’ ´’ ´r Œr ´’ ´r Œr Œ’ u^r ´r curler ’ ’ ’ ´’ ´r Œr ´’ ´r ´r ´’ ´r ´r curler Pronunciation Texts AE = Accurate English • MP = Manual of American English Pronunciation • PP = Pronunciation Pairs • PbP = Phrase by Phrase • SA = Sound Advantage • SC = Speechcraft • VD = Voice and Diction Monolingual Dictionaries AH = The American Heritage Dictionary • W = Webster’s Table 1 Pronunciation textbook discrepancies same reason, /u/ is sometimes transcribed /uw/ of these symbols are often used interchange- or /uw/ (Ladefoged 1982). ably in language texts. One reason for pronunciation textbook au- The difference between /a/, /A/, and /Å/ is thors (or editors) to eschew the glide notation that the sounds constitute a progression from and use /i/ and /u/ instead is that they may be front to back vowel. Specifically, /a/, which is from a part of the United States other than the farthest in the front, is used at the beginning East and therefore prefer the pure vowel tran- of diphthongs; the low, tense /A/ is the sound scription. In addition, there is the argument most Americans use for the vowel in balm; and that /iy/ and /uw/ are based on phonemic (not the low, lax /Å/, which is farthest back and more phonetic) analysis and that glide transcriptions rounded, is accompanied with a slight round- mix vowel and consonant (or semi-vowel) sym- ing of the lips and found mostly in New Eng- bols, therefore making them undesirable. land and British speakers, as in bomb (Eison- The reason for the transcription discrepan- son 1992; Ladefoged 1982). cies is therefore a combination of regional pre- In the case of the three a-sounds, the rea- disposition, linguistic philosophy, and ulti- son for the discrepancies seems to be one of mately personal choice. desired simplification. The symbol /a/ or /A/ is often used as a stand-in for all variations, so /ɑ/ ɑ that students are spared from, perhaps unnec- Moving down the vowel chart from /i/, the essary, confusion. next controversial sound is the /A/, as in palm. The IPA differentiates between three low, albeit /ə/ ə similar vowels and recommends three different The issue of the schwa may be the most symbols: /a/, /A/, and /Å/. At least the first two vexing of all discrepancies. ESOL students are VOLUME 43 NUMBER 2 2005 E T F 20 NGLISH EACHING ORUM
  4. 4. often told that the schwa (or /´/) is the most scription of /o/ more logical) and a wider range common sound in English, used for the major- in other regions of the United States (giving ity of unstressed vowel sounds. However, some more support for the use of the symbol /oU/) textbooks differentiate between the unstressed (Ladefoged 1992). Other times, it is not clear schwa and the stressed, slightly lower and more whether variations indicate personal convic- back sound /√/, while others use the symbol /´/ tions of the authors or whether choices are for both. In other words, some textbooks main- made to simplify sound descriptions and limit tain that the vowel sounds in the words above text-internal symbol variety for the sake of and custom are different (i.e., that the stressed low- or intermediate-proficiency students. syllable is pronounced /√/ and the unstressed Consonants one /´/), while other textbooks recommend Pronunciation textbooks exhibit fewer dis- pronouncing them identically as schwas for all crepancies with respect to consonants than vow- syllables. Proponents of the latter pronuncia- els. If there are problem areas, they seem to be tion argue that it is mostly British speakers who of relatively minor relevance as well. use the /√/. While the difference between /√/ The r-sound and /´/ may be small, one reason to retain the ESOL students who are familiar with the distinction is that it forces students to focus on markedly different r-sounds in other languages the important features of stress and vowel re- might find the use of the symbol /r/ for the duction in American English (Edwards 1992). American r-sound slightly confusing. In IPA In a related matter, a more minor deviation notation, the symbol /r/ actually indicates a can also be found concerning final -ed and -es trill, as in Spanish perro (dog), for example. The (as in rented and houses). Some texts recom- American r-sound (variably described as a glide, mend a pronunciation of /Id/ and /Iz/, others of liquid, semi-vowel, or approximant) would be /´d/ and /´z/. Yet others give a choice between more accurately transcribed as /®/ (Edwards the two versions, stressing that both /´/ and /I/ 1992; Ladefoged 1982). Simplification seems are common as reduced vowels. No specific to be the reason for the substitution. reasons for the discrepancy is apparent; the /j/ matter seems to be one of personal choice. Maybe the most confusing IPA deviation can Diphthongs be noticed in the frequent use of /y/ for the The last vowel discrepancy is the question first sound in year. According to the IPA, /y/ is of how many diphthongs exist in American the rounded vowel sound found in the French English. Some textbooks count five main une or German über. For the beginning sound diphthongs (/aI/, /aU/, /çI/, /eI/, /oU/); others in year—which is variably described as a con- count only three (/aI/, /aU/, /çI/) and consider sonantal or nonconsonantal sound (Edwards /ey/ and /ow/ glides, similar to /iy/ and /uw/. 1992)—the symbol /j/ should be used. Pre- In other words, /eI/ and /oU/ are considered sumably, the reason for using /y/ instead is the full diphthongs by some, while others maintain similarity of this symbol with the letter y, as in that the second vowel sound is not fully devel- year. This connection is supposed to allow stu- oped and the whole sound is therefore more of dents a more intuitive approach to the pro- a glide. The book Voice and Diction goes even nunciation of this sound. farther and transcribes the two sounds as /e/ The er-sound and /o/—with the rationale that they are non- Pronunciation texts vary in their transcrip- phonemic diphthongs; i.e., there are no mini- tion of the r-colored (or rhoticized) vowels mal pairs differentiating diphthong and pure found in words such as curler. In different texts vowel sound. /Œr/, /´r/, /Œ’’/, and /´’’/ are used to transcribe Disagreement also abounds on the starting the sound. The first issue here concerns the and ending vowel of these sounds. For the be- number of symbols in the transcription. Pro- ginning of /aI/, for example, symbols vary from ponents of a single symbol for the sound com- /a/ to /A/; for the end of /aI/, the transcriptions bination (/Œ’’/ and /´’’/)—which is also recom- /I/, /i/, and /y/ are used. Sometimes, the choice mended by the IPA—maintain that the sound is influenced by regional differences. The is a phonetic reality and should therefore be diphthong /oU/, for example, has a relatively limited range in the Midwest (making a tran- represented as such (Edwards 1992). E T F V 43 N 2 2005 21 NGLISH EACHING ORUM OLUME UMBER
  5. 5. The second discrepancy concerns the issue Terminology Discrepancies in the realm of prosodics of stress. Some texts differentiate between start with confusing terminology. The nomen- stressed (/Œr/ or /Œ’’/) and unstressed er-sounds clature used for the stress on a syllable (e.g., (/´r/ or /´’’/). The symbols /Œr/ and /Œ’’/ there- the third syllable in the word informátion), for by indicate a higher tongue position and are example, includes the terms syllable stress and used for stressed sounds, whereas /´r/ and /´’’/ word stress; whereas terms used for the main have a lower tongue position and are used for stress in a thought group or sentence range from unstressed sounds. The word curler would sentence stress, to phrase stress, information focus, thus be transcribed / kŒrl´r/ or / kŒ’’l´’’/. and—again—word stress (e.g., Eisonson 1992). Other texts don’t differentiate between The term word stress can therefore indicate stressed and unstressed er and use one of the either type of stress, depending on the pronun- four alternatives as a stand-in for all occurrences. ciation text, which is indeed very confusing. Since the difference between stressed and un- Apparently, no prescription exists. One stressed er is minor, this widespread simplifi- hopes that, in the course of time, a single com- cation is perhaps understandable. mon usage would manifest itself and become /w/ the standard. The allophonic difference between /w/ for Stress and intonation features the first sound in weather and /hw/ or /„/ for Differences in diacritics for primary and sec- the first sound in whether is minor as well. It is ondary stress are also common (e.g., «infor'ma- therefore only occasionally noted in pronunci- tion, ínformàtion). In addition, textbooks differ ation texts. The rationale is that the differenti- in whether they indicate secondary stress or limit ation seems to be disappearing in most forms themselves to primary stress notations only. of English, especially in frequently used Similarly, the number of pitch levels in words, such as what and when (Eisonson American English is either not mentioned at 1992; Ladefoged 1982). all or differs between texts. Ranges from three Final stops to four or more levels are common. Of slightly more relevance are discrepancies There are also two different descriptions of in the description of final stops: /t/, /p/, /k/. the rising sentence intonation used for yes/no While some texts recommend releasing final questions, such as Do you want coffee? In some stops, others describe them as unreleased. Yet texts, the pitch is described as level until it rises others give the speaker an option of releasing or on the last syllable (see Illustration 1 below not releasing them. At play are issues of formal- left); in others, it is depicted as level followed ity and careful articulation, as well as sound by a fall-rise; i.e., a dip to a lower pitch level environment. Most people, for example, don’t prior to the rise (see Illustration 2 below right). release final stops when the next word begins The latter was previously considered British with a nasal, as in cat nap or with another stop, but is now often used in American English as as in the cat pushed (Ladefoged 1982). well. Interestingly, while some pronunciation Prosodics texts describe the yes/no question intonation as Apart from discrepancies among vowel and a simple rise (as in Illustration 1), taped speech consonant transcriptions, differences also exist samples accompanying the books may feature in the treatment of prosodic features, such as fall-rise patterns and thus contradict the stress and intonation. Many of the issues are textual description (e.g., Hagen and Grogran outside the purview of the IPA and therefore 1992). It’s possible that such internal discrep- lack a standardizing force. ancies are simply based on a difference between (left) Illustration 1 Rise (right) Illustration 2 Fall-rise Do you want coffee? Do you want coffee? VOLUME 43 NUMBER 2 2005 E T F 22 NGLISH EACHING ORUM
  6. 6. author and taped speaker; or they may be a ceive the vowel sounds in the word custom to sign of changes in language use overtaking be different even though they are transcribed as established transcription habits. In either case, the same sound in their textbook). Alternative- teachers and students should be aware of the ly, instructors may preempt questions by teach- two alternatives. ing a whole unit on the more controversial issues. Such a unit could be as basic or com- Conclusion plex as the students’ proficiency level allows. Many more sound and prosodic discrepan- Since regional differences and personal pref- cies exist than have been discussed in this arti- erences (e.g., desired level of detail, formality, cle. The reasons for discrepancies vary. What and speed) seem to be major influences in the follows are the most common explanations phenomenon of discrepancies, it may be help- and one example for each. ful for teachers to diagnose their own speech patterns and choose the transcriptions that • Regional differences. For example, many best match their pronunciation. If an instruc- speakers in the Eastern United States dif- tor pronounces the controversial vowel in teen ferentiate between the vowels in Don and without a glide, for example, /i/ would be the Dawn; not so in the Western United States. symbol of choice instead of the other alterna- • Level of simplicity or detail desired in a tives /iy/ or /iy/. Such a personalized transcrip- publication. For example, the number of tion system can provide consistency in the face content word categories—which are im- of textbook variations and even a level of sup- portant for the stress-timed rhythm of port for the instructor. English—range from the basic list of Instructors often teach two or more differ- nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and full verbs ent levels of students, with different textbooks, to expanded, more comprehensive inven- in the same term. Rather than having to re- tories that include demonstratives, pos- member how each book deals with the contro- sessive and reflexive pronouns, negatives, versial features and risk losing track of which of questions words, and adverbial particles, the controversial symbols to use in which class, such as off in take off. the teacher can thus adhere to his or her own • Levels of careful articulation, often com- system. Not only does this method relieve the bined with British versus American ten- instructor of having to recollect the countless dencies. For example, the medial t pre- variant combinations in the assigned textbooks, ceding an unstressed syllable, as in city, it also ensures that the teacher’s transcription can be pronounced vigorously as a /t/ or symbols match his or her specific speech pat- as the quick, less vigorous intervocalic terns, making lessons on the controversial fea- tongue flap or tap /R/. tures more authentic and coherent. • Speed of articulation. For example, /t/ Thus, a personalized transcription system after /n/, as in twenty, may be articulated will allow instructors to navigate between text- in slow but not articulated in fast speech. books more easily and ensure cohesion be- tween their modeling and transcriptions. In Many of these discrepancies are minor in rel- addition, the teacher’s use of his or her own evance or may constitute levels of detail rather choices can become a catalyst for addressing than true differences. Others are more confus- the question of variation. When teachers intro- ing but are explained sufficiently for the read- duce the issue of textbook discrepancies to their er to make educated choices. students, explain the points of contention, and It is when controversial features are unex- model their own and the alternative speech pat- plained in the textbook and are not discussed in terns, they make students familiar with impor- the classroom that an already difficult subject tant and interesting issues in pronunciation can become unnecessarily taxing. Instructors theory and practice, as well as raise awareness should therefore be aware of the major discrep- about the range of acceptable patterns (Levis ancies found in pronunciation texts and dictio- 1999). A teacher may use a fall-rise pitch pat- naries and be prepared to address them in class. tern, for example, when discussing yes/no This can be done in a variety of ways. Teachers question intonation but point out that the text- may opt for a case-by-case explanation when students question a discrepancy (e.g., they per- book features the alternative level-rise pattern. ➪ 31 E T F V 43 N 2 2005 23 NGLISH EACHING ORUM OLUME UMBER
  7. 7. Students may then experiment with both pat- Eisonson, J. 1992. Voice and diction: A program for improvement (6th ed.). New York: Macmillan. terns and decide which one suits them better. Hagen, S. A and P.E. Grogran. 1992. Sound advan- Such experimentation can heighten a stu- tage: A pronunciation book. Englewood Cliffs, dent’s sense of linguistic self-awareness and pro- NJ: Prentice Hall Regents. mote a spirit of adventure in the classroom. It Hahn, L. D and W. B. Dickerson. 1999. Speech- also helps empower the students to become re- craft: Discourse pronunciation for advanced learn- sponsible for their own learning. In the end, ers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. this level of insight and the realization that Ladefoged, P. 1982. A course in phonetics (2nd ed.). there are choices may well capture at least some New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. students’ imagination and lead them on a path Levis, J. M. 1999. Variations in pronunciation and ESL teacher training. TESOL Matters, 9 (3):16. of continued fascination with language and Merriam-Webster. 1998. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate language learning. dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. Prator, C. H. Jr. and B. W. Robinett. 1985. Manu- References al of American English pronunciation (4th ed.). Baker, A. and S. Goldstein. 1990. Pronunciation Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pairs: An introductory course for students of Eng- The American heritage dictionary of the English lan- lish. New York: Cambridge University Press. guage (4th ed.). 2000. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Chan, M. 1987. Phrase by phrase: Pronunciation and listening in American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents. ELISABETH GAREIS is an associate professor Dauer, R. M. 1993. Accurate English: A complete at Baruch College (City University of New course in pronunciation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: York), where she coordinates ESOL services Prentice Hall Regents. for international graduate students and fac- Edwards, H. T. 1992. Applied phonetics: The sounds of American English. San Diego: Singular. ulty members. E T F V 43 N 2 2005 31 NGLISH EACHING ORUM OLUME UMBER