I'd like to share with you some impressions of mine while going through the book.
The book is intended for both native and non-native speakers to be used as a training course in developing students' skills in transcribing features of English pronunciation. All the words and discourses are available online.
The first 3 chapters are intended as a detailed introduction to broad transcription with lots of examples (maybe too many for most of my students, but I will test this). The accent which the examples are based on is termed Southern England Standard Pronunciation (or SESP for short), "a type of accent that used to be known as Received Pronunciation. But this term is no longer transparent in meaning [...]" (4). Most of you know, of course, that the accent so identified is neither restricted to Southern England nor is it a standard in the sense that other accents are non- or sub-standards. Calling it a standard is based on the author's observation "that it is recognized as a form of pronunciation that is typically used by those who professionally engage in public speech, people like newsreaders" (4). Well ... I've heard a lot of professionals in Southern England speaking publicly with an accent which is not very close to RP. But let's not split terminological hairs. We have quite a lot of terms available substituting (or offering to substitute) Received Pronunciation - PSP, NRP, GB ... - so that we actually are in no need at all of yet another one. But as the right to freedom of speech still holds within the realm of the United Kingdom, "suffer it to be so now".
Chapter 4 goes into narrow transcription, most of which I shall skip in my phonetics classes. Due to lack of time I shall also ignore chapter 5: it deals with various accents. Much more important for my clientele are chapters 6 and 7 dealing with assimilation, elision, rhythm etc. I'm afraid I can't go into chapters 8-12 because a single semester is simply too short.
Chapter 1 introduces the IPA symbols for vowels, first the short vowels /ɪ, ɛ, æ/a, ɒ, ʊ, ʌ/, next the long ones (mono- and diphthongs are treated together) and then the weak vowels /i, u, ə/. Here they are again in chart form:
|credit: Cambridge University Press|
Some dictionaries use the ordinary Roman letter <e>, because it has a more familiar look; however, in IPA, <e> represents the sound in the German word [...] Tee and the French word thé, Italian té, Welsh tê; or in many an English accent a word like lake. That vowel sound is distinctly different from the vowel in leg. [...] So, for comparative purposes [...] we need to keep the ordinary Roman letter <e> as the IPA symbol for the /e/ sound, and rely on the Greek letter epsilon, <ε>, as the IPA symbol for the /ε/ sound. (10)We are also informed how to draw the 'ash' or the printed 'a' symbol - students will like it:
- the short vowel /ɒ/ is not used in most American accents;
- the past tense form of eat "in a British accent is usually /εt/" (10);
- silent letters as in tomb, sandwich, gnome, debris;
- homographs such as freeze-frees;
Chapter 4 deals with allophonic variations first among consonants and second among vowels. Aspiration, glottal reinforcement, flapping, devoicing, fronting, backing and rounding of consonants are explained and exemplified. As regards vowels the reader is familiarised with the processes of nasalisation, clipping, breaking, smoothing and diphthongisation.
Skipping chapter 5 I now turn to chapter 6 which is entitled 'phrases'. Topics such as assimilation, elision, epenthesis and liaison are covered. Most of these processes are employed by native speakers of English when they engage in informal, colloquial conversation. My advice is: If non-native speakers of English want to sound less 'bookish', they should incorporate several of these processes into their ordinary, colloquial, non-formal speech. Employing these processes is an option, however, not a must.
|credit: Cardiff University|
I highly recommend this book to my students and anyone else interested in developing her/his transcription skills. But mind you: Reading this book or doing its exercises does not turn you into a native speaker of English. But it helps you become aware of things that so far may have escaped your attention.