Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Pronunciation exercises for EAL students - no. 1

How do you usually pronounce button: [bʌthən] or [bʌtn̩], as in my belly button is itching. (No, I'm not going to discuss body hygiene). It's fine to use the former version with the schwa if you prefer a very clear and a more formal way of enunciation. In a normal, relaxed situation you will hear native speakers say [bʌtn̩] and you're invited to follow suit.
What happens here phonetically after you've dropped the schwa? The process is called

nasal release.

The consonants /t, d/ have the same place of articulation as /n/; they are all alveolar sounds (phoneticians call them homorganic consonants). Your tongue approaches the alveolar ridge to form a closure (= the approach stage of a plosive) and the soft palate (= velum) is raised  to shut off the nasal cavity. Then the closure is held for a few milliseconds (= the hold stage), while the air that you exhale is blocked and compressed behind the closure. As the /n/ has the same place of articulation, all you have to do is to lower the velum, let the compressed air escape through the nasal cavity and make the vocal folds vibrate because the /n/ is a voiced sound, is it not? You can practise the nasal release in isolation by repeatedly saying /tn, tn, tn, tn, .../. What happens when you pinch your nostrils shut and try to say /tn/? You simply can't or can you? If you can still say /tn/, the air must be able to escape through some hitherto undetected crevice. Hmm ... where would that be?

But let's get serious again:
Nasal release (which some phoneticians call nasal plosion) also occurs when there's no schwa to be dropped as in chestnut or bet now. It would, however, sound very peculiar to say [ʧesthnʌth] rather than [ʧestnʌth] and less relaxed to pronounce bet now as [beth naʊ].  The same process of nasal release applies to the sequences /dn/, /pm/ and /bm/ as in sudden, bad news, topmost, lap memory, webmaster or nab meat,  though - again - there's not always a schwa to be deleted first.The plosives /p, b/ are bilabial as is /m/, so that at the transition from the first to the second consonant it's just the velum which has to be lowered. And you can say the two consonants in isolation without any intervening aspiration: /dn, dn, dn, ..., pm, pm, pm, ..., bm, bm, bm, .../.

Ready for some practice sentences? Make sure you spot the nasal releases before you practise them!
  1. A chipmunk dashed across the grass.
  2. A lot of money was spent on the equipment of the new lab.
  3. He saw Andrew as nothing but a helpmate for Anne.
  4. His stepmother urged him to hurry up.
  5. The topmost branches had all been cut off.
  6. How d'you choose a ripe melon?
  7. He's the top manager.
  8. Crop management is vital.
  9. Maternity clothing should be comfy.
  10. I want to rip music from my iPhone.
  11. The road network resulted in landscape fragmentation.
  12. The Chestnut Tree is a funny short story.
  13. Small companies may be a good bet now.
  14. The room looks a lot newer now.
  15. There is not now, nor has there ever been an easy programming language.
  16. The ink cartridges are not new, but still half full.
  17. I got near the top of the steps to see the hallway was on fire..
  18. It's hard for her to let new people into her life.
  19. He got none of the blame.
  20. It got a bit nasty in the end.
  21. All of a sudden, the two doors to the hall were shut.
  22. He is bedridden with arthritis.
  23. He was not a bidden guest, but rather a surprise guest.
  24. Travelling broadens one's horizons.
  25. The burden of proof is on the student.
  26. We have some very good news for you.
  27. I'm afraid I've got some bad news.
  28. There are so many doom-laden headlines in the newspapers these days.
  29. The gardener was charged with murder yesterday.
  30. Groundnuts are a high value crop.
  31. The reader can submerge himself into a totally different world.
  32. Here you can submit a review of any of the books.
  33. Access is for club members only.
  34. Web marketing companies offer a great variety of solutions.
  35. We provide a wide range of good pub meals.
  36. There was a dispute among rival tribe members.

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