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Applied English Phonology

Applied English Phonology

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Published by dtgorgis
This is a book review already published on Linguist List.
This is a book review already published on Linguist List.

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Published by: dtgorgis on Jan 02, 2010
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AUTHOR: Yavas, MehmetTITLE: Applied English PhonologyPUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing YEAR: 2006
Dinha T. Gorgis, Department of English, Hashemite University, Jordan
 The aim of this book is ''to provide material on the sound patterns of American English that is usable by students and professionals in thefield of phonological remediation'' (Preface), in particular to instructorsand students of English as a second/foreign language. And thisexplains why each of the nine chapters is followed by exercises.As is the case with almost any introductory textbook on (English)phonetics and phonology, linguistics, and (teaching) pronunciation(e.g. O'Connor 1980, Hawkins 1984, Gimson 1989, Robins 1989,Katamba 1989, Roach 1991, Fromkin and Rodman 1998, Teschner &Whitely 2004, among others), which find 'phonetics' their 'bread andbutter', this book starts with 'phonetics', obviously reminiscent of Pike's(1947) famous statement: ''phonetics provides raw material;phonology cooks it.'' To the exclusion of auditory phonetics, the book,with the exception of chapter five on acoustic phonetics, is largelydevoted to articulatory phonetics, taxonomic (distributional) phonologyand, to a lesser degree, to morphophonology. The notational systemused to represent American English phonetically is basically that of theInternational Phonetic Alphabet which extends to some other tenlanguages (p.16). In this chapter, ''the fundamentals of articulatoryphonetics including voicing, places and manners of articulation, voiceonset time'' are elucidated, and ''a brief account of syllable andsuprasegmental features such as stress, tone, pitch, and length''(pp.22-23) is presented so as to pave way for what follows next.Chapter two, titled ''Phonology'', presents a classical phonemicanalysis of English in terms of functional/non-functional contrasts, viz.complementary vs. overlapping distribution, and free variation; theminimal-pair technique is used as a tool for establishing phonemes,allophones, and other variants. Interestingly, what counts as two or more allophones of the same phoneme in one language can beallophones of different phonemes in other languages, e.g. Korean,Spanish, etc. Applications based on such contrasts are seen tobe ''indispensable [not only to] devising alphabetical writing systems'',but to the study of phonemics as ''a vital tool for foreign languageteachers and speech and language therapists, who constitute themajor targeted audience of this book'' (p.49).The English consonant phonemes of American English, their contextual variants, and pertinent dialectal, especially cross-continental, variations constitute the backbone of chapter three. As inorthodox descriptions, the 24 consonants of English already shown tocomprise six classes in terms of manner of articulation (see Table 1.2,p.9) are here accounted for in terms of five groups whereby liquidsand glides are, as the convention goes, characterized asapproximants.Chapter four, likewise, handles the description and distribution of 
English vowels and their variants within the United States. Perhapsbecause the description of vowels and diphthongs ''is a much morecomplex task than doing the same for the consonants... acomparison of American English with some other major varietiesspoken outside the US'' (p.76) takes the form of four tables (pp.86-87)containing mostly monosyllabic words pointing to differences in onedirection, viz. American vs. others.Still wishing ''to present information that will be helpful to teachers of English and/or speech therapists in their assessment and planning of remediation'' (p.96), Yavas supplies some basic knowledgeconcerning the acoustics of vowels and consonants in chapter five. Inexamining spectrographic characteristics of speech, viz. frequency,time, and amplitude, consonants are classified into obstruents (withdifferent degrees of obstruction: a gap for stops, friction noise for fricatives, and stop gap followed by a friction noise for affricates), andsonorants which ''behave rather like vowels in that they exhibit a voicebar along with formant-like structures (p.120).In any phonological account, the syllable cannot be dispensed with,especially if the work concentrates on the distribution of individualsounds and sound sequences, phonotactics, and stress assignment,among other things. It is chapter six which tells us what type of constraints there can be on sound patterning in one language but notin another. ''It is on this basis that a speaker of English can judgesome new form as a possible/impossible word'' (p.127).Chapter seven, no less important than six, explores ''some basicpatterns in English stress and intonation' (p.173). Like manyphonologists (e.g. Roach 1991, and Teschner & Whitely 2004,representing British and American traditions, respectively), as well asmany teachers of English phonology around the globe, Yavas doesnot see English word-stress to be rule-governed. Rather, he findsit ''variable and mobile, [but] there appear to be some significantgeneralizations about its predictability'' (p.173). Although secondarystress for teaching purposes is largely ignored in the British tradition,the author assigns as equal prominence to it as the primary (main)stress. While the former is said to be predictable, the latter isdifferentiated by the effect of major pitch change.Chapter eight examines some structural factors in second/foreignlanguage phonology. Ten languages are briefly contrasted withEnglish to show several learning difficulties most likely to emerge frommismatches between L1 and L2 phonemes and allophones. Thecomparisons, showing phonemic and phonetic conflicts between L1and L2, extend to another five languages, a summary of which ispresented in the form of a table (p.198). Beyond this simple contrast,which is seen insufficient to pin point all of the learner's difficulties, ''liedeeper principles which can account for different degrees of difficulty'(p.208). Therefore, to obtain a more accurate and generalized pictureof such difficulties, appeal is made to the notion of 'markedness' asdeveloped by Eckman 1977; 1985; Eckman & Iverson 1994.Markedness, conceived of as a 'universal' constraint, varies along ascale corresponding to degrees of difficulty encountered by L2learners.Following up brief mention of the rather unsystematic relationshipbetween the graphemes and the phonemes of English in chapters oneand two, the author devotes the whole of chapter nine, the lastchapter in the book, to spelling and pronunciation. The phonemes and
the graphemes for which they stand are presented firstly, followed bycorrespondences via reverse direction. The chapter ends with anumber of lists showing differences in spelling between American andBritish Englishes.
Let me start from the bottom line: This textbook is, in addition to beingan excellent introduction to both the phonology and pronunciation oEnglish, is a source of inspiration for those who lack much of languageawareness, and for prospective researchers who whish to follow upand/ or verify some of the interesting claims made on English soundpatterning and behavior. The comments that shall follow are meant toimprove the book in preparation for the second edition; for over thelast three decades of teaching English phonology, my students havekept asking me questions for which I still have no conclusive answers.Before I go any further, two remarks need to be made: first, theaudience to which this book is addressed. At the very start of thebook, there is a note to the 'instructor', which no doubt, is the mediator between L1 and L2 and hence the remediator. On the other hand,one is almost puzzled to read Roy Major's words on the back cover,which positively evaluate the book as: '' A detailed description of English phonetics and phonology that can be easily understood bythose with no prior training in linguistics.'' I think the last two lines inthe book are quite sufficient to bewilder even those who had anintroductory training in linguistics. Building on the first remark, thesecond has to do with users and countries/institutions that will use itas a textbook. Although the author has already given freedom of chapter selection, he takes it for granted that the instructor is alreadyfamiliar, or must familiarize themselves, with the American accent. Thebook, after all, is not accompanied by CD-ROM which could havefacilitated the pronunciation of not only English sounds, but thesounds of ten languages whose speakers are supposed to belearning some variety of English, mainly American or British as is thecase in the Middle EastThroughout the text, the author has used the term 'remediation'( onewhich we expect to be brought down to earth, as the title suggests) intwo senses, viz. remedying L2 learners' difficulties by the instructor,and remedying language disorders by the therapist. Unexpectedly,Yavas addresses the issue of communication disorders in the UnitedStates only. Why comparing AE ''with some other major varietiesspoken outside the US'' (p.76), then? Remedy of either sort, however,is unfortunately not found anywhere in the book. The only luckyperson is perhaps the learner of English as a second/foreignlanguage who, with or without the help of the instructor, is supposedto draw on language mismatches and insightful contrastive resultsand, consequently, overcome their difficulties. Regretfully, there is noteven one single exercise in this direction. I think that the author wouldagree with me that it is not enough to say that a particular sound, or its variant, is found in x or y language. What use can a learner/aninstructor/a therapist make of the differences that exist between anaspirated English stop, for example, and a non-aspirated Arabicequivalent as long as aspiration in English is non-phonemic?The fifth chapter on the ''Acoustics of Vowels and Consonants'' is nodoubt useful, but impractical. In the absence of experimentallaboratories, say in the Arab world, the chapter will, with perhaps abrief introduction, most likely be skipped by the instructor. Even if theinstruments were made available, acoustic phonetics would require at

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