[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/1 p25,26 later designated J14]
[Also on this page: revew of Crossdialectal phonology.
[Adam Brown: see Journals, Book.]
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet 15, Book, Papers.]
Chris Upward revews
Adam Brown Pronunciation Models.
Singapore University Press, 1991, 143pp, ISBN 9971-69-157-4
Dr Brown teachs at th British Council, Singapore, and has taut at universities in Thailand and Malaysia, as wel as in his nativ Britain. This revew is ritn in Cut Spelng.To many readrs this book wil probbly com as a revlation - as it certnly did to this revewr. It puts th hole question of english as an intrnationl languaj in a new, balanced and rationl perspectiv, with direct implications for th pronunciation non-nativ speakng lernrs shud aim for, and indirect implications (of a profoundly intrestng kind) for th question of world english spelng and its futur.
One of th gretst bugbers of spelng reformrs in twentieth century has been th problm of defining th pronunciation of english wich we want th spelng to represent. No soonr dos a suthrn british reformr sujest that a singl spelng cud sufice to represent both TO candied and candid, or both which and witch, than americns object that it is esential th riting systm make a distinction between them. Conversly, any americn proposal that missile cud be ritn misl arouses hakls in Britn. And wen an australian sujests that ate cud be reduced to et, al those speakrs in Britn and America for hom ate ryms with late and not with let, firmly reject such a chanje.
A simlr, but mor complicated, problm faces non-nativ speakrs wen they lern to pronounce english. First ther is th question of wich accent they shud try to emulate, with british RP and jenrl americn ofrng th two most obvius alternativs. But secndly ther is th question of how far th fonolojy of th lernrs nativ languaj can be alowd to influence ther pronunciation of english. To ansr 'not at al' is unrealistic, since retainng at least a trace of a 'foren accent' is nearly always an inescapebl outcom of foren languaj lernng, and in any case few teachrs ar likely to hav a 'perfect' english accent for th lernr to imitate anyway. Ther ar also sycolojicl dificlties: many lernrs wil themselvs resist being forced to atemt a ful-blown british or americn accent, feelng it sounds afectd wen used in th compny of ther peers and compatriots. In this way ther hav developd independnt varieties of spoken english in difrnt cuntries, such as Nijeria or India or Singapor, and for most lernrs in those cuntries ther nativ variety becoms th natrl standrd. At th same time, th requiremnts of intrnationl comunication demand that english shud retain at least a minmm of mutul intelijbility between speakrs al over th world.
Adam Browns book explors these issues, using th tools of a traind fonetician, and ends by aplyng th lesns of th analysis specificly to singaporean english. Th tecniqe developd cud equaly be aplyd to lernrs of english as a secnd or foren languaj in any othr linguistic environmnt. In jenrl it apears that lernrs ar likely to bring to ther pronunciation a reduced foneme invntry (ie typicly those fonemes wich ther mothr tong hapns to share with english), and a ke question th book discusses is how far this matrs. Thus it may not matr wethr th lernr distinguishs th vowls in pull/pool, but it is importnt that th vowls of bad/bed be difrentiated. Wat Adam Brown is doing is to accept th reality of th variations english displays around th world today, and to ask wat th best way myt be to ensure that lernrs aquire both a useful standrd of english for ther local needs, wile not cutng them off from english as a medium of world comunication. His findngs provide a powrful tool of languaj planng for th english of th futur.
Adam Brown is a frend of th Simplifyd Spelng Society of som years standng, havng contributed a paper to its 1987 intrnationl confrnce ('A Singaporean Corpus of Misspellings: Analysis and Implications', Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society J9, 1988/3, pp4-10), and havng since been one of th Journals advisors. It is noticebl how far his specific analyses ar based on th work of such foneticians as Profesr A C Gimson, a formr Vice-Presidnt of th Society (se his obitury tribute in th Societys Newsletter, Summer 1985, p4), and Profesr John Wells, hos semnl adress to th Society on 'English accents and spelling reform' also apeard in th Newsletter (Summer 1986, p5-13). Adam Brown is thus fuly aware of th spelng dimension of th question he is adresng.
On p27, for instnce, he notes that 'many features of non-native speech are the result of spelling pronunciations', ie english spelng is th cause of many mispronunciations by non-nativ speakrs. And on p43 he rases th very importnt question of wethr lernrs spelng cud be improved by teachng them a pronunciation that reflects th spelng mor closely than for instnce british Receved Pronunciation dos. Eithr an americn or a scotish accent cud be helpful here, for instnce teachng th lernr to pronounce th first sylabl of support difrntly from that of surprise, hos <r> wud then not be silent. (This very importnt idea is one that cud with profit be taken up by nativ speakng litracy teachrs too.) And on p59 Adam Brown cites as one of th criteria for a good pronunciation modl for non-nativ speakrs that it shud 'not increse th existng dificlty of english spelng'.
I find it hard to prase this book too hyly. It combines clarity and simplicity in its argumntation with exemplry treatmnt of th tecnicalities of fonetic analysis. It is realistic in its aprasal of th needs and abilities of non-nativ speakng lernrs, and draws on years of experience of EFL teachng in th field. It surveys th most authoritativ specialist litratur, but always remains close to th practicl situation of th lernr and teachr on th ground. It has a vision of th futur of english as a systm of world comunication.
For spelng reformrs it contains a welth of lesns, both in how to considr th vexd question of th intrface between speech and riting, and in how to overcom th problm of th difrnt accents of english.
Perhaps th ke to its aproach lies in th concept of 'comn denomnators', altho I didnt notice that term being used: it efectivly asks, wat ar th comn denomnators of english pronunciation around th world? Th same concept has much to ofr th spelng reformr too, sujestng how we may try to transend th preconceptions of our individul accents. We shud be askng, wat ar th comn denomnators of english spelng, wich can maxmize th represntation of a universly intelijbl pronunciation of english for al users, nativ and non-nativ speakrs alike? (Readrs may like to considr how far Cut Spelng fits that bil.)
Meanwile we must wish Adam Browns ideas th widest posbl curency. His book shud be at th top of many a readng list.
[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 14, 1993/1 p26-28]
[Thomas Hofmann: see Journals, Newsletters, Bulletins.]
[Adam Brown: see Journals, Book.]
Adam Brown reviews
Thomas R Hofmann Crossdialectal phonology,
with application to English vowels.
Bulletin of Hokuriku University 15 (1991): 21-72
Ron Hofmann teaches English as a foreign language at Hokuriku University, Japan. Adam Brown has taught Phonetics and English as a foreign language at universities in South East Asia and in the UK, and has written extensively on related subjects. His most recent book is reviewed in this issue of the JSSS.All languages have accents. However, with English there is probably a wider range of accents than with any other language in the world. It is spoken as a native language in countries all over the world, mainly in Britain, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Also, we cannot totally ignore the fact that there are many people nowadays who speak English quasi-natively (eg in Singapore) or as a second or foreign language. Indeed, it is difficult to find a country where English is not spoken.
This is of course a monumental problem for considerations such as English spelling, which should be applicable to all speakers of the language. In the past, phonologists have largely dealt with a single variety, or with one or two major accents, eg British Received Pronunciation (RP), General American (GA). Crossdialectal phonologies, dealing with all major spoken varieties of the language, are more relevant for the purpose of spelling reform and, Hofmann argues, for language teaching.
There are two extreme possibilities for such a phonology. A minimal phonology describes what all major varieties have in common, with no treatment of features which occur in certain accents but not in all. At the other extreme, a maximal phonology therefore contains merger rules accounting for the fact that certain contrasts are present in some accents, but not in others.
Hofmann's approach favours a maximal phonology, and rests on six propositions:
1. Few if any native speakers of a language are familiar with only one variety of that language.To this we might add that few non-native speakers of English are familiar with only one variety of it.
In this regard, a maximal crossdialectal phonology is preferable. For example, I have long argued that much pronunciation teaching is ineffective because of the model accent used. In classrooms, one often comes across three separate accents in play:
- the model accent, usually RP or GA, found in the textbook and accompanying material such as cassette tapes.
- the teacher's accent. If the teacher is not a native speaker of English, then his/her accent is unlikely to correspond to that found in the textbook. Even if the teacher is a native speaker, there may still be substantial differences in this respect.
- the student's accent. Many writers have noted that, for the purposes of group identity, students have little intention of using an accent such as RP outside the classroom.
2. People's exposure to non-native accents (ie accents different to a speaker's own) can, and no doubt does, modify the phonology that they use to speak their own varieties.
3. The order and range of exposures is likely to be unique to each individual.As a result of these last two statements, any one speaker's phonology can be said to be different from everyone else's.
Hofmann's point of view is often biased towards the perception rather than the production of English. This is justifiable for at least two reasons.
Firstly, we are probably all able to understand many accents of English other than our own. However, our ability to produce such accents convincingly may be limited. This is not normally a drawback since we are rarely required to assume different accents in speech.
Secondly, for learners of the language, the immediate need is to make oneself understood and to understand speech directed at oneself. The former may be accomplished in one accent, whereas the latter requires familiarity with various accents. This has been neglected in certain kinds of teaching. For example, Hofmann cites the English professor in Japan who is proud of his excellent command of English, but cannot comprehend a single word of a taxi driver in Los Angeles and has to resort to writing messages to him.
4. In a literate society, the orthography can be considered as another accent or variety.This is the most novel line of thinking in this paper. The process of spelling has certain similarities to the process of familiarising oneself with different accents. For example, many Scots and Americans do not distinguish the RP phonemes /ɔ:/ and /ɒ/. For them, the information underlying the decision whether to spell a word tall or toll is analogous to the information required to understand either of these words when pronounced by a speaker who does distinguish them.
5. Orthographies tend invariably towards overdifferentiation, having several ways of writing the same sound.In languages such as English with various acceptable varieties, the orthography usually supports them all, where some spelling features are pronounced in one dialect but not in another. The only varieties that are not supported by a standard orthography are those too low socially to warrant support; by the fact that they are supported, they automatically acquire this status.
We may also use this justification for excluding consideration of non-native accents in establishing spelling norms. Many features of non-native pronunciation can be classified as spelling pronunciation, ie the spelling determines the pronunciation. For example, many Singaporeans pronounce almond and salmon with /l/, and want and what with a vowel of the /æ ˜ Λ/type rather than /ɒ/. However, for native speakers, pronunciation is learnt first, with spelling being taught at a later age. It seems right that pronunciation should determine the spelling for reform purposes too.
6. Nearly all the variability in individual phonologies can be captured as in a crossdialectal description of the native accent(s) plus the standard orthography.Accents encountered later cannot modify this base phonology significantly, as the writing system already supports them. Those later encounters will only bring awareness to the differences in spelling that had earlier been seen as homophonous.
Hofmann's goal is therefore a crossdialectal phonology that is valid for all dialects, with orthography being considered as one of those dialects. This will inevitably produce a linguist's artifact, ie a phonology which exists in no speaker. However, Hofmann claims that a maximal crossdialectal phonology matches the writing system of English better than any one dialect does, and as a result can help both native and foreign students to learn to read and write. It is therefore necessary for purposes such as spelling reform.
However, it cannot be completely followed. For example, there are exceptional words, eg apricot, economic, dynasty, dahlia, fete, which differ in irregular ways between accents. These are ignored for the purposes of this study, on the principle that a correspondence which is found in only a handful of words is not worth cluttering up a maximal crossdialectal phonology with. They are analogous to lexical items which are peculiar to particular dialects.
Hofmann's work raises background questions which anyone interested in spelling reform should ponder. However, he limits his analysis to stressed vowels. Since he does not touch on unstressed vowels or consonants, the reader interested in spelling reform will have many other questions to add.
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