• Phonetics and TESOL

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    Phonetics, the study of the sounds of human speech, and in particular “Articulatory Phonetics”, are not commonly taught to native speakers of English, let alone learners of English as a second language. However if the learner is serious with their English and wish to progress to an advanced level, learning phonetics, in particular the International Phonetic Alphabet, would be of immense benefit.

    English spelling is often contradictory, devoid of relation to the pronunciation of a word, and lacking in clear patterns. Patterns that do exist are numerous, with a large number of exceptions, and all of this makes it very difficult for the learner of English as a second language to master pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet puts all of the individual sounds of all of the languages across the world into one alphabet. Although complex to learn, once mastered, learners of English would have the ability to teach themselves pronunciation from a dictionary, and should notice improved pronunciation of individual words. Most characters are based on the Roman alphabet, and most dictionaries use the IPA to explain pronunciation.

    Rather than pronunciation drilling of individual words, if we were to teach phonetics to learners of English as a second language, we would teach where each individual sound is made. This is called the “place of articulation”, and can be taught to learners of English by using diagrams of the inside of the mouth. The place of articulation has to do with where in the mouth the sound is produced, and in what way, which is called the “manner of articulation”. The manner of articulation has to do with other factors, such as air flow or constriction, tongue movement and lip movement.

    There are a number of different ways in which sounds can be articulated. “Stops” are one way, and occur when there is a total blockage of the outgoing air-stream, not just in the mouth, but also in the nasal passage. The letters “p” and “b” are both examples of stops. “Nasals” are similar to stops, however the nasal cavity remains unblocked. Examples of nasals are the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’, and this also explains why when we are suffering from a cold induced blocked nose, our letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ cannot be produced properly. ‘Fricatives’ are not to do with a blockage of air, but a near block of air. A fricative is produced when air escapes through a narrow gap, and examples are the letters ‘s’ and ‘z’. Similarly, an ‘affricate’ is actually a combination of a stop and a fricative. For example if you were to take the stop ‘d’ and the fricative ‘g’, you would produce the affricate ‘dg’, as in ‘judge’, where the sound occurs twice. Other manners of articulation include ‘approximates’, named so as they are more approximate in their production and do not cause an obvious friction nor blockage, and also a ‘trill’, which is present in some European languages.

    As well as these manners of articulation, there is another very important factor in sound production, and that is voicing. Consonants occur in pairs, and for each pair, the place and manner of articulation is the same. The only difference is whether the sound is voiced or not. An example of a voiced consonant is the sound ‘zzzzzz’, where if you touch your larynx while making this sound you will feel a vibration. However if you make the sound ‘ssssss’, you will feel no vibration, as it is voiceless. Apart from this, the place and manner of articulation are the same.

    Although these explanations are long winded and complicated, the teaching of phonetics to learners of English does not have to be. With clear diagrams of the inside of the mouth and demonstrations, practical study of phonetics does not have to be complicated. Also, as consonants are formed in voiced and voiceless pairs, if only the voiced sounds were taught first, then it should be fairly simple to come back and simply alter the voicing to double the sounds the students can recognize and produce.

    Like learning any other alphabet, it would be best to do it over a period of time, like learners of English as their native language currently do. So it would take dedication and a clear plan, as well as a teacher with a firm understanding of phonetics to be able to teach phonetics and the International Phonetic Alphabet successfully. However if the student was serious in their study of English it would be extremely beneficial and worth the effort for them in the long run.

    Reference:

    • Language - Its structure and use
      Edward Finegan, David Blair and Peter Collins
      Hardcourt Brace and Company 1997

    • An introduction to English Language - Sound Word and Sentence
      Koenraad Kuiper and W. Scott Allan
      Macmillan Press Ltd 1996

    Alison Julian

  • Phonetics and Phonology and Their Relation to EFL

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    Teaching English as a foreign language is a challenge for many teachers, whether they are experienced or new to the profession. There are many different concepts that the teacher must address with the students if they are going to be successful at learning the English language. One of the many, if not the first, is introducing the phonetics and phonology of the English language.

    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, phonetics is the system of speech sounds of a language or group of languages; and phonology is the science of speech sounds including the history and theory of sound changes in a language or in two or more related languages.1 Both terms come from the Greek word meaning sound and each relies on each other in the sense that phonological awareness and analyses have to be based on phonetic facts.2 One cannot exist without the other and the teacher must know and remember that when they are teaching students a foreign language, especially English.

    The English language is not an easy language to learn because the English spelling of words is not a direct indication of how they should be pronounced. This has led to the formation, publications, and teaching of the phonetic alphabet3, which breaks down each phoneme into its phonological component. This phonetic alphabet is hard to grasp for many foreign students who are learning English. They have to learn to respond to a whole new sound system that is very unlike their native sound system. This is difficult because it is a challenge for the foreign student to hear the many different phonological sounds correctly, not only because of the new sound structure but also of their lack of knowledge of the whole English language in general (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, structure).4 Studies have even shown that students who learn a second language find it much easier to perceive sounds in their native language as opposed to those of the second language they are learning.5 In order for the student to become successful, the teacher should set pronunciation teaching in a context of everyday English language use, not concentrate on the drilling of the pronunciation of individual sounds.4

    There are many different ways that teachers can teach pronunciation using phonological approaches to English language learners. Regardless of the method used, the teacher must have an understanding of: joining sounds (i.e. blending, contractions), word stress and intonation, sentence stress and intonation, rhythm and pitch, speech volume and speed, and non-verbal gestures (i.e. eye contact, facial expressions, body language, pauses).6 Once the teacher knows that they have an understanding of these English language concepts, they can begin teaching the English sound system to their students, which can be broken into 2 parts. These parts are: 1) segmentals and 2) suprasegmentals. Segmentals uses the phonetic alphabet and includes the teaching of consonants, vowels, diphthongs, digraphs, and clusters. Suprasegmentals addresses the teaching of anything that has to do with putting words together that forms and pronounces a sentence (i.e. stress, rhythm, syllables).6

    Phonetics and Phonology are the basis of the English language. The complexity of the English language makes it a fundamental first in the teaching of it to any student who wishes to learn English and/or improve their English skills. If this basis is not taught and understood by the student, the chances of their success in learning the language will decrease.

    Andrea D. Horton

  • Phonetics & Phonology of the English Language

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    What is phonetics and phonology? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, pho·net·ics, \f?-ne-tiks\, is the system of speech sounds of a language and pho·nol·o·gy, \f?-?nä-l?-j?, f?-\, is the science of speech sounds.

    Phonetics is an important aspect of teaching in the English language, but is rarely taught at schools or universities. For a teacher to be effective, they need to view teaching pronunciation as an essential part of the course. Skilled pronunciation teaching can do much good. It can give life to a class because it can reveal feelings and reactions.

    There are many areas in Phonology worthy of discussion: stress, rhythm, intonation, International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). We will first discuss stress and intonation. Stress is the volume and pitch withindividual words. Stress is important for a full understanding of what is being spoken and correct production. It can help the listener to know what the speaker is trying to say or imply. There are a number of ways the teacher can help students detect the stressed part in a statement: nonsense words, by gestures, humming/singing and the use of the board.

    Next, intonation is the variation in volume and pitch in a wholesentence. Intonation is important for questioning, agreeing, disagreeing and confirming sentences, expressing emotions and feelings. The normal pattern of intonation is the rise/fall intonation. This is when the pitch slowly changes from rise and falls down, indicating the speaker has finished his/her statement. The second intonation is the fall/rise intonation. The fall/rise intonation indicates surprise, disagreement, or request of a response/confirmation from listener. The third and last intonation is the flat intonation. This intonation indicates the speaker probably does not want to speak.

    Teacher should arrange adequate time for practice of pronunciation, stress and intonation to make the students aware of the importance of accuracy and clarity in effective communication.

    Lastly, we will discuss the wonderful phonemic alphabet. Just by reading over George Bernard Shaw poem on “Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners,” one can already see how closely spelling and pronunciation are in the English language. The fact is in the English language, spelling and pronunciation differs greatly…very much. Many words are spelled very closely, but pronounced totally different with no relevance/closeness. It is nice to know there is a pronounced method to help all students grasp the correct pronunciation of English words. This is by the means of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). IPA is a system of phonetic notation composed of symbols and letters. Its purpose being to create a standardized and accurate method of representing the sounds of the English language. Teachers need to keep in mind not to neglect the correct written spelling of words and only giving regard to the IPA in speech and pronunciation. When teaching and practicing the IPA have students ‘feel’ the difference of the sounds with their own hands against their throat. It will certainly help them better grasp the idea of the different sounds. Teachers can also use different activities to help students grasp the idea of phonetics and accurate pronunciation: peer dictation, teacher’s own mouth, visuals, phonemes, and tongue twisters.

    Teachers taking the time to stress the importance of phonetics and phonology will help students to better communicate in the English language, enabling them to more fully express and understand the feeling and implications behind the words of the English language.

    *Resources and information gathered from ITTT, “Teaching Pronunciation and Phonology.”

    Carmen Ching

  • A Brief History of The Phonetic Alphabet

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    The Phonetic Alphabet 

    A Brief History of The Phonetic Alphabet

    Over the past century researchers have dedicated their lives to the study of Phonetics and the Phonetic Alphabet. Many researches have found only speculation to the true origins of Phonetics and the first Phonetic Alphabet. This has led to more theories and conjecture than to facts.

    • What are the early forms/history of Phonetics and/or Phonetic Alphabets?
      In this research article I shall focus on and attempt to answer this question.

    Early Phonetics

    The earliest forms of Phonetics are said to have dated back to about 600BC. Most researchers believe that the Aramaic language was pre-dated form of phonetics. In this period, most of the Aramaic language was sung or sounded out in a kind of musical notation. The Aramaic languages used symbols that would represent certain sounds. Some of these symbols were themselves silent, but would change the sound of other symbols to give a new sound and meaning. Researchers believe that the Indian Language of today was actually derived from the Aramaic language (On-line Research Library, Encyclopedia Britannica).

    Phonetic Confusion

    As far as “Early Phonetics” is concerned, there is not a lot of documented information on the subject. Most information found is nothing but theory full of lots of conjecture with little or no evidence of early Phonetics, Phonetic Alphabets and/or their uses. It is almost like someone just forgot to write it down. This has led to many disagreements and arguments amongst researchers, which has changed the ways in which we sound out different words. For example: The many arguments concerning the derivation of “YOGH” and “EZH” (Michael Everson, Irish National Position), which has changed the way in which we spell and pronounce Scottish names such as “Mackensie”.

    It finally dawned on me that there are several references to early Phonetics in some very familiar books. I am speaking of the Christian/Jewish Old Testament and of the Kabbalistic writing known as the Zohar. There are passages that refer to the use of Phonetics and the study of language as far back as the time of Babylon, but modern day records only show accuracy dating back to the 1700’s.

    The Phonetic Alphabet 03

    18th Century Phonetics

    Benjamin Franklin was an “Alphabet Reformer”. In 1768 he wrote “A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling” in which he proposed a fairly accurate phonetic system for spelling English. The alphabet was not published though until 1779 in Franklin’s “Political, Miscellaneous and Philosophical Pieces”. This new phonetic alphabet consisted of all of the lowercase letters of the Latin alphabet, but it excluded the letters “c, j, q, w, x, and y, which he thought of as redundant. He also added six new letters for sounds, which he thought, lacked the proper representation. The rest of the letters were all based upon the principle of “one symbol for one sound”. Benjamin Franklin met with many disagreements over his desired changes in the Phonetic Alphabet. He eventually lost interest and stopped promoting his idea.

    19th Century Phonetics

    Modern phonetics began with Alexander Melville Bell (1819-1905), whose “Visible Speech” (1867) introduced a system of precise notation for writing down speech sounds. The first alphabet that was employed and promulgated was a modification of the 1847 Alphabet of Isaac Pitman and Alexander J. Ellis. (Journal of the International Phonetic Association 25.1:43,1995). These were the predecessors of the IPA or the International Phonetic Alphabet. The International Phonetic Alphabet was created in 1886 by a group of French and British Language teachers. This also led to the creation of the International Phonetic Association.

    In its un-extended form (as of 2005) it has 107 and 55 modifiers. The Symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet and divided into three categories: Letters (which indicate basic sounds), diacritics (which further specify those sounds) and suprasegmentals (which indicate qualities such as speed, tone and stress). These are then broken down even further into smaller “subcategories”.

    20th Century Phonetics

    Americanist Phonetic Notation, also known as the APA or the American Phonetic Alphabet, has a very foggy beginning, because no one knows exactly when it began. There are many theories that claim its origins to date sometime around the early 1900’s, but no one truly knows. Leonard Bloomfield, author of the book “Language” (1935), had used IPA notion in his writings up to that point. Later, the IPA Linguists noticed seeing a change in the behavior of the American linguist, sometimes even hostile, towards the use of IPA notation and some of its symbols.

    The Phonetic Alphabet 04

    Unlike the IPA, Americanist Phonetic Notation doesn’t require a strict harmony among the character styles: letters from the Greek and Roman alphabets are used side by side. Another contrast is that the Americanist tradition relies heavily upon diacritics where the IPA, which reserves diacritics for specific purposes, relies on newly created Greek and Roman letters with character shape modifications. The reasons for these differences boils down to nothing other than different philosophies (Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia, Americanist Phonetic Notation/History).

    Today

    The IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet is still the most widely used method of teaching the pronunciation of English language. I have discovered that the English language and language in general is constantly evolving. Teachers and linguist will have to evolve at a higher rate than they have in the past and “We must remember to write it all down”. A history lost is a history forgotten and does everyone little good.

    David Byron Langley

  • Phonetics and ESL

    Expand

    Phonetics, the study of the sounds of human speech, and in particular “Articulatory Phonetics”, are not commonly taught to native speakers of English, let alone learners of English as a second language. However if the learner is serious with their English and wish to progress to an advanced level, learning phonetics, in particular the International Phonetic Alphabet, would be of immense benefit.

    English spelling is often contradictory, devoid of relation to the pronunciation of a word, and lacking in clear patterns. Patterns that do exist are numerous, with a large number of exceptions, and all of this makes it very difficult for the learner of English as a second language to master pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet puts all of the individual sounds of all of the languages across the world into one alphabet. Although complex to learn, once mastered, learners of English would have the ability to teach themselves pronunciation from a dictionary, and should notice improved pronunciation of individual words. Most characters are based on the Roman alphabet, and most dictionaries use the IPA to explain pronunciation.

    Rather than pronunciation drilling of individual words, if we were to teach phonetics to learners of English as a second language, we would teach where each individual sound is made. This is called the “place of articulation”, and can be taught to learners of English by using diagrams of the inside of the mouth. The place of articulation has to do with where in the mouth the sound is produced, and in what way, which is called the “manner of articulation”. The manner of articulation has to do with other factors, such as air flow or constriction, tongue movement and lip movement.

    There are a number of different ways in which sounds can be articulated. “Stops” are one way, and occur when there is a total blockage of the outgoing air-stream, not just in the mouth, but also in the nasal passage. The letters “p” and “b” are both examples of stops. “Nasals” are similar to stops, however the nasal cavity remains unblocked. Examples of nasals are the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’, and this also explains why when we are suffering from a cold induced blocked nose, our letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ cannot be produced properly. ‘Fricatives’ are not to do with a blockage of air, but a near block of air. A fricative is produced when air escapes through a narrow gap, and examples are the letters ‘s’ and ‘z’. Similarly, an ‘affricate’ is actually a combination of a stop and a fricative. For example if you were to take the stop ‘d’ and the fricative ‘g’, you would produce the affricate ‘dg’, as in ‘judge’, where the sound occurs twice. Other manners of articulation include ‘approximates’, named so as they are more approximate in their production and do not cause an obvious friction nor blockage, and also a ‘trill’, which is present in some European languages.

    As well as these manners of articulation, there is another very important factor in sound production, and that is voicing. Consonants occur in pairs, and for each pair, the place and manner of articulation is the same. The only difference is whether the sound is voiced or not. An example of a voiced consonant is the sound ‘zzzzzz’, where if you touch your larynx while making this sound you will feel a vibration. However if you make the sound ‘ssssss’, you will feel no vibration, as it is voiceless. Apart from this, the place and manner of articulation are the same.

    Although these explanations are long winded and complicated, the teaching of phonetics to learners of English does not have to be. With clear diagrams of the inside of the mouth and demonstrations, practical study of phonetics does not have to be complicated. Also, as consonants are formed in voiced and voiceless pairs, if only the voiced sounds were taught first, then it should be fairly simple to come back and simply alter the voicing to double the sounds the students can recognize and produce.

    Like learning any other alphabet, it would be best to do it over a period of time, like learners of English as their native language currently do. So it would take dedication and a clear plan, as well as a teacher with a firm understanding of phonetics to be able to teach phonetics and the International Phonetic Alphabet successfully. However if the student was serious in their study of English it would be extremely beneficial and worth the effort for them in the long run.

    Alison Julian