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jueves, 17 de agosto de 2017

PTLC, part 3

Hello, again! This is my last post on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference at UCL (click to read parts 1 and 2 ). I will not be able to to report on all the content of every talk, so you'll have to excuse my selection. Any error (if any) is due to my low caffeine levels or lack of understanding of what the claims in the talks were, and I'm happy to make corrections if the authors point them out. And the proceedings will be available soon, so you will be able to read the full papers in a couple of months!

Andrej Stopar Perception of the General British vowels /ʌ/, /ɑ:/, /ɒ/, and /ɔ:/ by Slovenian speakers of English
Stopar presented a continuation of his presentation in 2015, in which Slovenian speakers of English are reported to have participated in perception experiments on different English vowel contrasts after instruction. Slovenian vowels are very similar to Spanish, so I found the results quite interesting, since the vowel that appears to have given students more trouble is that in the LOT set. Stopar mentions a few errors that could actually be due to the fact that words and non-words were used (students choosing a THOUGHT vowel for the nonsense word "fot"). In general the perception pre-test results were quite good for one of the groups, but the biggest difference was made in the group whose pre-test had been quite weak.

Kakeru Yazawa, Mariko Kondo and Paola Escudero: "Modelling Japanese speakers' perceptual learning of English /iː/ and /ɪ/ within the L2LP framework". This talk discussed  Escudero's model of Second Language Linguistic Perception for Japanese students working on American English vowels /iː/ and /ɪ/, and they discussed their results in the light of Boersma's (1998) Stochastic Optimality Theory, that unlike traditional OT sees a gradient (and not a categorical set) of ranking values and constraints and the perception process as a continuum that should not easily assign vowel perceptions to a particular phonological category. 

Yumi Ozaki, Kakeru Yazawa and Mariko Kondo: "L2 English speech rhythm of Japanese speakers: An alternative implementation of the Varco metrics" Ozaki et al propose an alternative form of using the Varco metrics, because Japanese constraints render the use of the regular Varco metrics for vocalic and consonantal intervals as problematic. Instead of using the mean duration of intervals, they suggest an nVarco: using overal segmental durations. More proficient Japanese learners have been found to exhibit more variability in vocalic and consonantal duration.

Hui-Chuan Liu:  "Identification of Mandarin high-level tone and high-falling tone by Vietnamese learners"
Liu discussed the problems that her Vietnamese learners had in the identification of two contrastive tones, high-level vs high-falling. Since Vietnamese tones have no large falling slopes, this tone brings about difficulty for those learning Mandarin. In her study, Liu found that duration of syllables had a bearing on the type of errors made by learners, but she recommended  not using length as a teaching resource because it is not distinctive, nor reliable.

Eva Estebas-Vilaplana: "How imitation can help the acquisition of L2 pronunciation"
I love Estebas-Villaplana's presentations in general (and her book is so useful!), and even more so because she teaches at UNED, a distance learning uni in Spain. Teaching English pronunciation to Spanish speakers in distance education is a great challenge, so I was very curious about what she would be presenting this time. The experience that Estebas presented involved getting Spanish speakers to read a text in their own L2 English accent, and another version in an accented English version of Spanish (Spanglish or Englishñol, should I say?). Her students imitated English rhythm and reduction better in their "mock" versions, than in their real L2 English. 
Estebas suggests using these "mock" Spanish accents to see what kinds of features students store in connection to how they believe English sounds, and use them to improve their L2 English accents.
For some years now, we have used this strategy in Buenos Aires for /t/ and /d/, and it worked quite well. Many of our students have access to accents of Spanish like Puerto Rico or singers like Ricki Martin, whose /t,d/ are alveolar, and that has proven useful. But I had never considered that students can also improve on rhythm using this strategy!

Yusuke Shibata, Masaki Taniguchi and Young Shin Kim: "A brief intensive method to help Japanese learners perform English tonicity" Shibata et al presented a few methods they have used to help learners acquire narrow focus. Basically, they worked on short exchanges like the ones in textbooks where there is verbatim repetition, and they trained learners in deaccenting repeated items. They tested them before and after instruction, and their improvement was considerable. Some audience members suggested doing a longitudinal study to see how much of this "sticks" some time after instruction, since the exchanges used to test were very short, and students may have got the hang of it strategically rather than actually learning about narrow focus.

Marina Cantarutti: "Questioning the teaching of “question intonation”: the case of classroom elicitations" - My paper had two big parts: the first section consisted in reviewing the theory on 'question intonation' that you can find in the intonation textbook materials used at Teacher Training Colleges in Buenos Aires (Wells, Tench, Brazil, Baker...). Starting from their assumptions, and based on my prior experience of these materials being insufficient to account for the choices speakers make in different speech styles and genres, I did a short corpus study of Teacher Talk (one of the speech situations we train teachers on in their 3rd year), in particular, of teacher elicitations in the recitation stage. By making a conversation-analytic approach of turn-taking, sequencing, and embodied behaviour, I have found the role of "terminal" tone (the last tone in the question) to be related to epistemic assymetries and the handling of the turn-taking system, and not in any way related to the syntax of the question, or attitudinal approaches, neither to finding out or making sure concerns (unless we redefine these notions, something I mention in the full paper). My biggest claim is that we can no longer apply "one-size-fits-all" syntactic and attitudinal approaches to intonation, and that functional approaches work only if properly combining top-down generic analyses with bottom-up, local, turn-by-turn analyses.

Miriam Germani and Lucía Rivas: "A genre approach to prosody teaching intonation from a discourse perspective" 
I'm a big fan of Germani & Rivas' work, we are quite like-minded in our approaches to intonation teaching, and I was very lucky to work with them on different occasions. Germani and Rivas (as I did on my own preso) discussed the shortcomings of intonation textbooks, and the simplifications that these make, that create two common problems (that all of us who do real discourse intonation face!): a) students taxonomise but do not do any real discourse-functional study, they merely repeat classifications; b) students fail to see the contributions that intonation makes to textual organisation and interpersonal projections of meaning. By using Systemic Functional Linguistics, and following the basis in Martin & Rose's (2008) "Genre Relations", and the descriptions of intonation in Brazil and Halliday & Greaves, among others, Germani & Rivas have helped their students make better top-down, holistic descriptions of meaning in text, and have improved their students' accounting of intonation choices.

Hajar Binasfour, Jane Setter and Erhan Aslan: "Enhancing L2 learners’ perception and production of the Arabic emphatic sounds". Binasfour et al describe how the use of Praat can help learners improve on their perception and production of Arabic emphatic sounds, by teaching them how to identify pharyngealisation in spectrograms and compare their production of sounds to that of accurate Arabic emphatics.

Pekka Lintunen, Aleksi Mäkilähde and Pauliina Peltonen: "Learner perspectives on pronunciation feedback" Lintunen et al reviewed the results of an experience of peer and teacher-led feedback on pronunciation. There were some interesting findings, including the fact that students valued peer feedback for pronunciation, and that they trusted the feedback of their non-native teachers of English. Lintunen et al also made a point of the fact that pronunciation feedback-giving is different from other feedback practices, and so it needs to be taught to teacher trainees as a special skill.

Gladys Saunders What does the rapid spread of /u/-fronting in American English have to do with the teaching of French phonetics? Saunders mentions the now established process of GOOSE-fronting and the way this can be used as a reference point to learn specific French vowel sounds.

Daniela Martino: "Sequencing and technology–aided activities in the acquisition of foreign sounds" Martino presented a sequence of presentation and practice of phonetic and phonological features and a number of web platforms that she has used to help her trainees improve on their English pronunciation. The first stage was identification, and she used Sonocent AudioNotetaker (which Cauldwell has popularised), PlayPhrase.me (now down, unfortunately), and TubeQuizard, to create tasks and quizzes leading students to perceive processes such as weakening. Students are also invited to do transcriptions in IPA by using subtitling software. During the imitation stage, students use Soundcloud to record and upload their productions and they use the front facing camera of their mobiles to monitor their articulation. Martino has found the combination of these tools and this sequence to be effective for her students' progress.

 Ana Cendoya: "Technology–aided pronunciation teaching in an ESP/EAP course" Cendoya described the techniques she uses to help her engineering students to improve on their pronunciation when making presentations. She mentioned the use of E-portfolios and strategies to build proprioception, and mentioned how students with time became less "resistant" to recording, and feedback.

Hsuehchu Chen and Qianwen Han: "A corpus-based online Mandarin pronunciation learning system for Cantonese learners: development, evaluation, and implementation" Chen et al described the new Mandarin corpus system (http://ec-concord.ied.edu.hk/mandarin_pronunciation/) and how by using its features, and Praat, they have helped their Cantonese learners improve on their pronunciation.

Shawn L. Nissen, Kate E. Lester, Laura Catharine Smith, Lisa D. Isaacson and Teresa R. Bell "Using electropalatography in second language pronunciation instruction: a preliminary examination of voiceless German fricatives" Nissen showed us the evolution of electropalatography through the ages, and displayed the newest technology, which has made access to these devices much cheaper. The experiment presented, though limited to a few participants, shows how the information derived from EPG may help learners fine-tune their sounds, especially when the differences between their production and the expected target are quite small.
(Image credits: PTLC Twitter account)

Lunch and coffee breaks were as enjoyable as the talks. PTLC seems like a small conference, but it has the right atmosphere, and UCL with all its phonetic history makes the perfect setting for this meeting. Unlike other conferences, PTLC requires in their call for papers that full papers (not abstracts) are presented, so if you are thinking of participating in 2019, get your research going today!

Thanks to Michael, Joanna and Molly for organising, and thank you for trusting me with paper reviews as well. It's been a fabulous experience, and I really hope I can present more interesting stuff in two years' time, when my own research will (hopefully!) have yielded some results!

sábado, 12 de agosto de 2017

PTLC 2017, part 2

Find below a brief report on the two keynote presentations on day 2 at UCL's PTLC conference. As usual, you will see info from the presentations interspersed with my own comments. Any errors in interpretation are my own!

Jim Flege - The cross-language acquisition of stops differing in VOT: Historical review and key findings 
It was truly exciting to see THE Jim Flege in the flesh, and I am not going to include much factual information on the presentation, as it is freely available here. I think I would like to mention a few things I have found really useful and/or comment-worthy in Flege's very interesting presentation on VOT acquisition and learning in different languages.
First, it came as a bit of shock to hear from Flege that his interest lies with pronunciation acquisition in "naturalistic" contexts, that is, his research is not necessarily concerned with instructional settings (where, funnily enough, many of us have studied/applied his models), but with how the Speech Learning Model works in contexts where the L2 is spoken (and yes, this is a common phenomenon, much of the research we cite is for second language in immersion contexts, rather than foreign language pronunciation learning in places where the L2 is not spoken outside the classroom...).
Flege makes an interesting criticism to experimental work:

It was really inspiring to see Flege criticise his own past research, and to see what "mistakes" (sic) he has made in past papers (e.g. 1987) regarding data collection, participant selection, and conclusions drawn. I think that only a true respected academic can really admit that things may not have been done correctly (unknowingly at the time), and the ability to look back and reflect using the current state of knowledge is really brave, and also promotes good, honest science. Part of this review of past research included the current need to displace the role of age of acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis to foreground the role of L1 input.

Flege highlights the role and importance of L1 input ("good input from native speakers", I quote) in the acquisition of VOT contrasts and timing. I totally see the point of native speaker input, and I support it, but I wonder if this view somehow undermines all our own input as non-native speakers (I did not ask this question, so I cannot really say if this is what Dr. Flege actually implied...again Flege's concern is with language learning "in situ", as it were). I think that even though our daily input in lessons may not be native-like, we also provide instructional input, based on our own knowledge and experience of what it is to have learned the phonology and phonetics of a language other than our own, so...complex stuff.
Flege proposes that there should be a 10-year period  (!) of native speaker input for phonological features to be fully acquired and formed (in particular with relation to VOT), since the formation of categories in L1 is also a lengthy process.
Flege also reminds us that the acquisition and formation of phonetic categories does not need then to be related to age, nor to a "special ability"

I also found interesting that studies on the "loss" of L1 features have been carried out, and yes, I believe I may have lost the naturalness of some of my own Spanish features (I would say in terms of intonation, especially).

Please refer to the slides in Flege's website for a review of all the research on VOT presented, which I obviously cannot do any justice to!

Dominic Watt - Private Ear training: Phonetics teaching for the next generation of forensic speech scientists  

Watt discussed something I have found fascinating for years: forensic speech science. He discussed some principles and features of this way of doing phonetics, such as the fact that a great part of what is done includes applied sociophonetics (synchronic and diachronic variation is taken into account); that both the typicality and the similarity of voice features get analysed, and language is seen as a "moving target", and not as a stagnant, stative thing (something we all ought to remember, especially for pronunciation!)

The work that people in FSS do is quite tricky, as it requires objectivity, conservatism and caution bearing in mind that their duty is to the court, and the results can only answer specific questions but clearly not assess levels of innocence. Human analysts can and do fail, and problems like confirmation bias and perceptual priming are to be avoided. We were shown a few cases where experts cannot agree on what the words of a certain segment are, and different kinds of evidence are weighed in order to submit candidate hearings. Plus, as we were told and show, the work that FS scientists do differs greatly from what you can see in CSI and other crime series!

Some interesting things about FSS that Watt has mentioned include:
  • the need to focus on the individual as a potentially unique language user, and of each human voice as a holistic Gestalt as well as a constellation of features;
  • the fact that even though the degrees of freedom in individual speech is unknown, the assumption is that there is  less intraspeaker variability than interspeaker variability;
  • the quest in FSS is to identify most potent/reliable speaker discriminants;
  • the fact that technology has advanced, but it will never yet replace human work.
Some of the tasks that FSS carry out include: 
  • speaker profiling
  • transcription
  • resolution of disputed content
  • speaker attribution
  • enhancement
  • authentication
  • design of voice parades
  • acoustic scene reconstruction
  • language analysis for determination of origin (LADO)
  • speaker comparison 
The University of York has an MSc in Forensic Speech Science, and if you want to read further about the programe, just click here.

miércoles, 9 de agosto de 2017

Brief report: PTLC 2017, part 1

I'm still conference-crawling, and this time, I'm at UCL, in London, for the lovely Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (PTLC), held every two years (hashtag for all the live-tweeting: #ptlc2017). The "Argentinian Delegation" is quite large this time, which makes me really happy and proud, so I got to be reminded of some of our everyday struggles and challenges when teaching Phonetics in my country.

Here's a brief report on Day 1 (click on the presenters' names to access their academic websites), with my usual "comment bites". As always, any error or mis-representation/misunderstanding of the content of the talks is entirely my fault!

Jane Setter "Research-led teaching in phonetics: an exercise in research literacy"

Prof. Jane Setter made a review of the work she has done in her undergraduate courses to contribute to developing students' awareness and literacy of everything involved in research, which is also part of the University of Reading's own strategy. The paper illustrated a few ways of involving students in phonetics research by conducting "research-led teaching", that is, teaching based on someone's (in this case, Jane's) own research on Global Englishes. I once again enjoyed the reference to Dale's Cone of Experience (1969), that estipulates that students retain only 5% of what is presented in a lecture, and 90% when the content is to be taught or applied immediately. Prof. Setter's students made a few interesting remarks after the experience that reveals that they are better acquainted with the challenges of good phonetic research, such as problems with obtaining good quality recordings, liasing with other collaborators, and setting up the technology.

Marina Grasso "Reflecting upon students’ problems in phonemic dictations"

Grasso (whose paper was read by Daniela Martino) discusses a very familiar picture to us, Phonetics professors in Argentina: the number of failed written transcriptions and dictations because of segmental features in Phonetics II exams, where the focus and training is on suprasegmentals. Grasso's list of errors included the misuse of strong and weak forms, overgeneralisation or lack of application of transcription rules, spelling-to-sound and grammar errors. Part of the proposal for improvement consisted in asking students to follow three steps during the transcription revisiion period: 1) Go top-down: reread the transcription to make sense of meaning; 2) Go bottom-up: review rules; 3) after marking intonation: go over weak and strong forms. Error correction activities may also help the reactivation of information presented.
During the question period, two interesting comments came up. RA Knight mentioned that surprisingly, those native speakers of English she has taught make the same type of phonemic transcription errors, which means that there could be some other sort of underlying problem. M Ashby suggested the possibility of doing transcription copying activities, basically, doing some "scribe-like" work of copying a transcription, since errors do also come up in these activities and they can tell us a lot about what processing issues may be at play.
I still think there are quite a few factors involved in the problem that Grasso discusses and which at least those of us who have taught Phonetics in Argentina know very well about, and I think these problems lie in a multiplicity of factors. It's quite fascinating, in any case, to see how common these issues are, and how we can, perhaps, find a way of researching them together, given that we all seem to encounter the same issues!

Mirjam J.I. de Jonge  "Spectrogram reading as a tool to teach acoustic phonetics"

This presentation by de Jonge was really enjoyable. We were challenged as an audience to do spectogram reading several times (oh, yes, audience participation! Scary!), first to guess a mystery word, then to match spectograms to the pronunciation of Dutch numbers. de Jonge proposed a sequence of introduction to the acoustics of English and Dutch, beginning with the introduction of vowels (not from a spectogram, but from a waveform, in order to show how periods work), and diphthongs. Later on, plosives are best introduced, which reveal that even gaps in the spectogram can be useful information to consider, and finally, fricatives, recorded in different audio qualities and sampling rates, to show how problem recordings can really spoil the output and the readings. I particularly enjoyed the fact that students in these sessions at the University of Amsterdam are invited to record themselves and bring spectograms to class. I also found it really impressive that they get to introduce tone, intonation, acoustics, speech perception and production, and quite a few other big topics in just 12 weeks (with a three or four session-a-week frequency).

Claire Timmins "Online video assessment of clinical phonetic transcription skills in Speech and Language Pathology"

Prof. Timmins discussed a pilot experience meant at testing the validity of their final exam in a module in the training of speech and language pathologists. The final exam situation is meant to be quite close to a real speech assessment situation where professional faces the client and needs to phoneticially transcribe their speech in real time. Timmins highlighted the need for speech therapists to be aware and use the IPA and the extension to the IPA for disordered speech in order to take down as much detail as possible regarding the child/adult facing speech difficulties (I was immediately reminded of the transcriptions in Local and Kelly's "Doing Phonology"!).
What I found interesting (and which I keep insisiting I would have looooooved to be able to do in my own final exams) is that students were each given a PC, and the audio sample was played in each computer, so that students could listen to the sample through their headphones, and do the transcription (in one go, however! Just one, fleeting, listening chance!). A considerable number of students who tried the pilot enjoyed the experience and valued the possiblity of listening to the sample on the PCs (previous exam experiences consisted in live dictations, a speaker dictating in one room with all the students there). Technical issues were always there, ready to spoil the whole thing, as some students reported, but this was just a pilot, and it was great, in my humble opinion, that the professors at Strathclyde were considering ways of changing their exams and were setting up pilot trials to that end. 
An issue which also came up is that of the actual assessment of these transcrptions. Triallers were given "competent" or "non competent" as a grade, and Timmins mentioned that as a sociophonetician she was more demanding in her expectations than speech pathologists.
My own, humble, personal opinion, is that speech therapists should have great control over the IPA in order to make observations and find common patterns..

Hyunsong Chung "Review of the Lingua Franca Core for English pronunciation teaching in Korea"

Chung started his presentation by reviewing some of the basics of the Lingua Franca Core (Jenkins, 2000, 2007), in order to address issues that Korean speakers find problematic when speaking English: vowel qualities, and liquids-rhotics, for example. Some interesting audio samples were presented that illustrated some of these problems. Chung mentioned several points, among them the fact that the LFC as an idea appears to be appealing, but in practice, many learners may not want to be trained for intelligibility in the terms proposed in the LFC, and also that what is intelligible for a group of speakers may not be for others. Chung makes a bold proposition (which I cannot truly assess because I am not familiar with his context), which is, training learners in different world Englishes for listening purposes, but with a native-like aim for production purposes, leaving the LFC priorities for more advanced leraners, who are then in a position to make all the possible accommodations. 
The need to work on "GloCal" Englishes came up, which also seems to have been discussed by David Deterding, and in other materials (which to be entirely honest, I am not familiar with, so I will not comment on further!).

Lilián Ariztimuño "The expression of emotion in fairy tales: a multimodal approach to improve EFL students’ oral renderings"

Lilián Ariztimuño shared some of the findings of her MA research on fairy tales and the expression of emotion. On a corpus of stories (read by the same speaker), the presenter used the model of Appraisal developed by Martin & White, and the constructs of Inscribed Affect as described by Bednarek (2008) to trace all the emotion-related tokens in the stories that were part of the corpus. Using the description of Emotional Speech and the phonetic features described for it by Roach et al (1998, 2000), Ariztimuño put together a framework that relates the expression of un/happiness, in/security, dis/satisfaction, un/expectedness, dis/inclination with their realisation in the prosodic parameters of pitch height and range, loudness, tempo and some "paralinguistic" features such as voice quality, vocal effects and voice qualifications. This framework has been found to be useful to help students ( teacher trainees) make their readings more expressive.
When asked about whether the "voices" in the texts were considered, the presenter explained that these prosodic parameters were heightened when the voice of the character was evoked. There was also a remark made about different readers possibly choosing different parameters, which is why some of these features may not hold true if compared with other samples.
I think that working on a genre-based type of approach to prosody is something that some of us advocate, and using real English speech to make observations, find generalisations, and translate those into teaching, is always something to be celebrated. There are always things we can do differently, or perhaps be more precise or systematic about, but I agree that this is the way to go.

Christelle Exare "Intrusive tokens of aspiration in French learners’ L2 English"

I enjoyed this presentation very much, but I don't think I can do justice to it, because there was a lot of important and fascinating information I could not take down (soooo looking forward to the proceedings!). Basically this presentation was about French learners of English adding [h] (aspirating, from a Gestural Phonology perspective) to initial vowels, in combinations like "I ate" (as "I hate") . [h] intrusion was done either through aspiration noise, or via a breathy vowel segment. Acoustically, these intrusions were characterised by undetected F0 trace, aspiraton noise in mid frequencies, F1 weakening, and F2 and F3 clear continuous transitions. They would not happen after a fricative or a plosive, and this could be explained through gestural configurations of the larynx and the vocal tract. Perception and production tests were carried out to explain this phenomenon and contrast it to initial glottaling. Some interesting possible explanations included the reconstitution of a CV type of syllable, also gestural mistimings (Davidson and Stone, 2003).

There was a lot more going on in this presentation, but I am sure that the paper in the proceedings will provide all the information I have not been able to provide here.

There is a very exciting line-up for tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be as effective as today, but do expect more live-tweeting on tomorrow + Friday's presentations, and a post like this some time next week!

sábado, 5 de agosto de 2017

Brief report: some phon-related talks at IPrA 2017 in Belfast (July 16-21)

Hello, hello! Hope you are all doing well. Life over here is hectic, as usual, and a few days ago I decided I had to take a holiday after a year (or more) of basically working non-stop, so I'm back at work now, with renewed energy, for a while, at least.

Two weeks ago I attended the fantastic International Pragmatics Association conference in Belfast (hashtag to look up lots of live-tweeting: #ipra2017). I was there in Antwerp in 2015 (see report on panel on prosody, parts 1 and 2), and it was great to be back in this craze of six days of talks and papers and coffee breaks with colleagues, friends, and "academic crushes" (!). I have to admit I was a bit emotional as well, because two years ago at this conference all I was dreaming of was my PhD at York with all this inspiring people, and today, here I am! (Dreams do come true, folks, you just need to work really hard...only to keep working hard!)

I have to say that the number of phonetics-related talks was disappointingly small (see the book of abstracts here), and there was so much overlap (15 concurrent sessions or more!) that I could not see all the presentations I would have liked to see. From an Interactional Linguistic/Conversation Analytic perspective to the study of phonetics/prosody, three universities stood out: University of York & University of Sheffield (UK), and Universität Potsdam (Germany), and I am going to briefly comment on some of the talks I have seen. After my report of each talk, I have included my own remarks and reflections in italics.

Richard Ogden: "The actions of peripheral linguistic objects: clicks"

Undoubtedly, Ogden is one of the people who has studied clicks as a resource in interaction most widely (see a past lecture here). In this presentation, Ogden addressed issues such as how co-participants themselves establish what actions (if any) can be ascribed to clicks. Ogden studied clicks pre-, mid- and post-positioned in TCUs, and also standalone ones, and he has found them to do interactional work for the regulation of turns or sequence (as a "metronome" for the handling of transition space across turns, for example), and/or the display of affect. What is interesting about clicks is that they are not easily manipulated prosodically, but they may co-occur with peaks of embodied activity: examples shown included raised eyebrows, shifts in body posture, and tracing gestures.  In this particular presentation, clicks followed by other continuations (pre-positioned clicks) and standalone clicks treated as a form insufficient response were studied. Participants were found to make sense of clicks in interaction and/or orient to them through their positioning, their deployment in frequent collocations and usages, and through iconicity in their mirroring in next position, or the marking of incipient speakership.
Some of the conclusions after some careful analysis of data and participant orientation (that is, not through analyst-imposed categories but through participant behaviour in the next turn, as we do in CA) has led Ogden to conclude that:
  • clicks in these positions must be deliberate
  • the lack of accompanying verbal material makes participants reliant on other practices to interpret them
  • clicks are interpreted by participants in interaction through: positioning, multimodality, dialogic practices such as rhythm or mirroring.
Clicks are really exciting, and we use clicks and percussives so very often in speech even though they are not phonemic in English or Spanish as they are in many African languages. I have to admit I "fish" for clicks when I listen to my friends' WhatsApp recordings...fascinating!

Traci (Curl) Walker: "The differential design of other-repetition in repair initiation: does form follow function, or function follow form?"

As one of the organisers of the panel that discussed the function-form conundrum (because yes, this is a massive debate in linguistics!), Walker studied other-repetitions in response position. She reported some of the findings in the use of repetitions in interaction, such as the initiation of repair (because of acceptability issues), the checking of understanding, and the display of surprise. Walker identified two types of other-repetitions in her study: framing, and prefacing ones.
Framing repetitions consist of a sequence in which B repeats a part of what A has said, and A repeats/completes the rest. These were found to be hearing or understanding checks, mostly (suspending the display of understanding), and these have been cases where the first turn-compoments are picked up in repetition by interlocutors. Walker found these to be produced with the following prosodic parameters, completion-inducing in a way:
  • tempo: slower than first saying
  • final syllable lengthening
  • flat pitch contour (rises < 2ST)
  • articulatory features: audible release of final plosives, glottal constrictions rare
Prefacing repetitions, on the other hand, include situations where  B repeats a part of what A has said, but B keeps on talking, and in this case, turn-final components are the ones repeated. Most of these cases were followed by an explicit request for repair or further information. Prosodically, they were found to be produced with anticipatory phonetic design, thus:
  • tempo: slower than 1st mention
  • quieter in loudness
  • falling in pitch
Walker concluded that "form and function should be one, joined in spiritual union (sic)".

The form-function debate is a huge thing, and it affects me deeply as a former trainer in Applied Phonetics for speakers of English as a foreign language. The thing is that as teachers we rely a lot on form-function mappings, and for many years, I have felt very guilty when trying to systematise intonation because many of these mappings only work in restricted contexts, and after all, the real "meaning" of linguistic features in interaction is dependent on participant orientation, something we very hardly focus on. 
When analysing conversation and asking my students to decide on intonation patterns, I have tried (with varied degrees of success) to get them to focus on what co-participants do after something has been uttered, in order to trace how a certain stretch of talk has been interpreted (oriented to), what type of action has been ascribed to it. But I know I have sadly fallen into many of the form-function connections that Walker criticises (which, to be fair, ALL textbooks are filled with), due to the need for simplication for teaching purposes. In my defence, at least I know I have not "sinned" with contextless text analysis: context and genre were always at the heart of my intonation-teaching practices, however lacking in other things they may have been.
 The teaching of prosody in ELT and the training of teachers, in my humble opinion, would really benefit from following a conversation-analytic, inductive, qualitative approach (something I will rant about in my upcoming PTLC conference presentation!).

Susanne Reinhardt: "Tying next turns to question-answer sequences: How links between linguistic forms contextualize different kinds of sequence continuation"
Susanne is a PhD student from Potsdam, and has made a very interesting presentation on format tying in post-expansions after question-answer sequences (if you want to know the basics about post-expansions, see this chapter by Sidnell here). She described how clusters of linguistic features helped disambiguate between minimal or non-minimal post-expansions. Reinhard has found that minimal post-expansion initiators had narrow pitch span, and general lowering of pitch values in relation to the question turn, as well as some degree of prosodic matching with the question turn. Non-minimal post-expansion initiators, on the other had, had a wider pitch range, a medianization of pitch values (moving towards the median), and a clear contrast between the question-answer pair, and the third position, initiator of the expansion.

Dagmar Barth-Weingarten: "Discourse units in English interaction: a prosodic-phonetic perspective"
This was one of my favourite talks in the conference (together with other non-phon talks by Pillet-Shore, Raymond, Hoey, and Heritage). Barth-Weingarten discussed the bases of what she proposes in her new book, a boundary-based approach (rather, a "cesura"-based approach) to the analysis of speech "segmentation" (being particularly careful here not to discuss the notion of "units", which Barth-Weingarten somehow argues against).  The presenter made a very thorough review of different approaches to chunking, and discourse and conversation units, and focused on the similarities and differences between them, as well as the problems, some of which stem from the use of "monologic" data, or the mapping of chunks with syntax or specific pre-determined phonetic parameters. Since units in the end are an epiphenomenon of segmentation in talk as it happens, in order to avoid analyst-imposed categories, Barth-Weingarten proposed focusing on what creates discontinuities in talk, that is, what clusters of features appear to break the flow of talk (which, she states, are in fact what co-participants orient to in the online processing of talk, rather than the units) and how these prosodic parameters display differing degrees of cesuring. By looking at data, real recorded interaction (non-monological), the presenter identified a number of parameters that have a role in marking different degrees of cesuring, including pitch movement, voice quality, tempo, rhtyhm, articulatory features, settings and processes (especially in terms of release, aspiration and glottal constriction), and pauses. 

I see and love the points and criticism made in the presentation and the book to the different theories of "chunking" (tonality). I have done corpus work on this, and I have found syntax-information structure and prosody mappings in pseudo-monological speech (lectures, stories, some speeches). Most of the materials I have developed for my students on this work quite well for these generic types, but it's completely true that when it comes to talk-in-interaction, chunking is fuzzy, and less explicitly (at least) rule-governed. 
At times I think that in ELT we see texts, even oral texts, as finished products. We forget about the essential value of online, emergent speech as it develops. In my intonation lessons, I always felt guilty when asking students to work on texts, because of the unnaturalness of having to see something already developed and treat it as if it was developing. But then again, we need to make peace with the fact that there are different tasks and activities meant to teach and test different things, and having to do transcription or reading aloud work for intonation practice, if applied properly, is a way of testing what was taught. However, if I had the chance to re-plan my intonation courses, I am sure I would go for activities that foreground this developing, online planning aspect of speech, which I did, to a certain extent, with my "first-sight speaking" tasks (emergent, prompt-induced speech tasks) in some advanced courses. 

The following are talks I would have liked to see, but couldn't (refer to the book of abstracts to read about them!):
  • Elena Becker: "Closing telephone conversations: The role of prosody"
  • Marjorie H Goodwin "The intertwining of touch, prosody, and voice"
  • Adriana Cáldiz "Prosody and evidentiality: About how some intonational features pertain the roots of discourse in the Spanish of Buenos Aires"
  • Brown & Prieto: "Multimodal (Im)Politeness"
  • Jesús Romero-Trillo: "The pragmatics of prosody in intercultural communication"

All in all, my IPrA 2017 experience was fantastic, and it spurred on me further feelings of passion about what I do and what I would like to do with my research, while at the same time stirring some of those feelings of inadequacy that come with taking some distance from one's teaching and thinking about what one would have liked to do better, or differently. I wrote a short commentary of what this conference was like for me as a postgraduate student at the ROLSI (Research on Language and Social Interaction) blog here, if you are interested.


I am aware that my posts lately may have been a bit too technical, and yes, at the moment this blog seems to be a way of trying to make sense of English phonetics in real life (now that English is so readily available for me everyday), and my own past practices as a pronunciation teacher. I am sure I have done many things right, and if I see what my students have been able to achieve, and how many of them actually liked the subject and approached it passionately, I am sure I must have done quite a few things well. However, I am still trying, in my head, to find the best possible way to introduce the prosody of English to speakers of other languages based on what happens in real life (and not on the analysts' head as I am sad to see in many textbooks!), and I pretty much guess this will be an ambition to keep me going for a couple of decades.

sábado, 8 de julio de 2017

Brief review: Manchester Voices exhibition

This week I got my PhD confirmation (that is, I passed my first year, which means that I am now a confirmed PhD candidate at York, yay!), and I rewarded myself with a short trip to Manchester, to see the Manchester Voices exhibition (because my love for accents still is alive and kicking!). I will be reporting on what I have seen, very briefly, and informally. (And as usual, any misunderstanding or error is entirely my own!)

This exhibition stems from the Manchester Voices research project on "the accents, dialects and people of Greater Manchester" (see webpage link above), and it has been developed by Dr. Rob Drummond and Dr. Erin Carrie, from Manchester Metropolitan Uni.

The exhibition can be found in the very centre of the Manchester Central Library, and it consists of a huge panel that has as its major division the different boroughs of Greater Manchester: Bury, Bolton, Manchester,  Oldham, Wigan, Tratford, Tameside, Stockport, Rochdale, and Salford.  The exhibition is based on a collection of views in the form of video interviews, whose snippets you can access by scanning the QR codes in the poster with your phone. 

Note: The current division and unification of Greater Manchester as it is is quite recent (1974, if I understood correctly), and this historical division that included parts of Cheshire, and Lancashire, for example, still sports a great deal of dialectal, and accent variation, as the exhibition fantastically attests. 

Tip! If you make it to the exhibition, make sure you have your headphones ready, a QR reading app, and enough battery life (the library's got you covered with the Wifi). I must have stayed there reading the poster and watching snippets for at least a full hour, if not longer!

(Forgive the quality of the pics!)

I understand that the interviews were collected through a direct recruitment method. In late August and early September 2016, participants were invited to get into a van parked in central areas in each borough, and they were asked questions by a computer. Some of the questions are related to how they see their own accent and dialect, how representative they believe their dialect is of where they are from, and of what they are and do. Other questions invited them to offer expressions or pronunciations they considered typically local. (I do not have access to all the questions, but the video snippets available featured some of them.)

Maps and speech bubbles illustrate several of the contributions by the participants recorded for the project, and for each borough you have a purple box that summarises some of the pronunciations and lexical items that have been reported to be used in the area. 

Northern girl.

the Manc twang.

All in all, the exhibition illustrates different individual viewpoints as to how locals view their membership to Greater Manchester, and how they see their own accent, and others, as markers of their local identity. Some participants reported their own identification with their own local borough as strongly related (or not) to Mancunian identity, others confessed to a closer association to Lancashire (in the western areas), or even Yorkshire (in the eastern areas). It was great to see non-linguists reflect on their own "repertoire of accents" and while talking about their accents, to notice how they also made adjustments to what they were saying, and how they were saying it. I personally got the feeling that some participants were going far "broader" than they would normally go in their everyday life, but that's just an unjustfied claim of mine in the shape of a "hunch". 

One of my favourites! Several participants reported having different accents for different settings, some called it a "posh voice", or a "telephone voice", versus the accents they would use at home, or with friends.

I found this exhibition really insightful, and as as a former EFL teacher trainer who once tried to help my trainees understand the social and political role of accents in the UK, I honestly enjoyed the fact that I got to see lots of invaluable testimonials as to how accent issues are always latent in everyday life (even for non-linguists!), and how accent is, indeed, a great part of the way people "categorise" each other, and even themselves, in different speech situations. 

If you want to learn more about the project:
Manchester Voices Website: http://www.manchestervoices.org/
Twitter hashtag #McrVoices

jueves, 11 de mayo de 2017

Some phon bits I have learned lately - Part 2

Hi! This is another post on bits I have learned, unlearned, or re-confirmed, during my PhD studies here so far. I am already over six months into the programme, and I am starting to feel that combination of extreme happiness because of all the stuff I am learning, and the bitterness of not being able to do any teaching to apply it all.

So what I am doing at the moment is, apart from using this knowledge for my own research, to employ it to revisit my approaches to the teaching of segmentals and suprasegmentals. I know I am probably supposed to get over my past as a teacher trainer, but the truth is that for years in Buenos Aires I would spend my whole summer re-designing materials, re-thinking strategies, taking on board the advice, the criticism and the feedback, and I think I can now take some sort of distance with my previous teaching experience and yet continue building upon it, even if I may not go back to it for a while.

(Warning: this post is possibly addressed to people who have been doing very advanced or specific work on Phonetics in Teacher or Translation Training contexts, particularly Applied Phonetics lecturers in general. It may not be of practical use today to those looking to do intonation or pronunciation work in EFL contexts, but of course, feel free to go over it. My apologies in advance if you were expecting to find something different!)

So lo and behold, a few new findings I have made while reading stuff and auditing modules here:

Tone "shapes" and perception: Something I have always discussed with my colleagues in Buenos Aires is the inadequacy of the description of many intonational contours and combinations to describe real speech. And then, of course, there is always the imperative need to have a system that learners of English and teacher trainees can handle without despair. The tension between how much to say, how much to teach, how far we want to go... 
What I have re-discovered here at York (thanks for the heads-up on this many years ago, Fran Zabala!) is the detail of intonational descriptions made in the 50s, 60s and 70s, which competes with some simplications from the early 70 onwards, made for the sake of learners, such as O'Connor and Arnold's. Mind you, much as I personally find fault with O&A, it has helped me "hear" things, and produce things, and I will always give it credit for that. However, after a while, you do realise that the way you hear things may have been shaped by the way you learned to hear things. So basically, in order to write my transcriptions of spontaneous speech, my supervisors suggested "freeing" myself from the phonological constraints I had learned, as these obviously did not represent what I could hear (though, truth be told, many of these intonational descriptions work quite well in stories, and speeches, and lectures, and some institutional encounters!) . But then, my duty here in York is to describe speech in as much detail as possible in order to study it. So in a way I guess I would still make similar (perhaps now, better-informed) decisions like the ones I made in Buenos Aires if I had to teach intonation to EFL learners and teacher trainees, though I am not sure yet what intonational "menu" I would present, contour-wise.

E.g.: As a researcher in prosody (there! I said it!) working with casual speech, it took me a really long time, and I am still struggling, to characterise other kinds of "head" and "post tonic" movement, to mark intonation unit boundaries, and even, to see combinations and contours that may differ from those described in these traditional materials. Not because I don't hear what is  going on, but actually because theory has encased me a little. Of course, I am not alone in this, and I have been on transcription sessions where we compare our best efforts, and still see that we disagree over a few intonation units in the transcription of real speech (Richard Cauldwell has an interesting article on inter-transcriber reliability here).

Phonological units and descriptions can really play tricks on your ability to perceive what is really going on, but then, phonological descriptions are concerned with meaning-making, with the system, so one can really wonder whether the specifics of allotonic variation are actually important for an EFL learner if they really don't make a difference, contrast-wise (e.g.: does a difference between a wide or a narrow fall-rise actually mark a contrast beyond paralinguistics?  Perhaps, but I would claim that a fall-rise vs a rise-fall-rise, for instance, would mark a very important contrast, at least in terms of how participants in conversation react to them in their responses, but this is not something one sees in intonation materials...).

And then again, phonological units are, after all, analytical constructs: units which may be selected as such on ground that may not always fit the "slippery", "fuzzy" nature of speech.

Once again, the phonetics-phonology tension here.

Paradigmatic vs syntagmatic approaches: Phonology is about contrasts and systems, and perhaps in my training as a teacher of English, I have been more influenced by phonology than by phonetics. In my own reflective practice as a teacher trainer these last years, I kept stumbling upon different phonetic nuances that somehow completed the picture for me, because in many respects, my learners presented difficulties that were rooted in the phonetics of it all, rather than in the phonology. But I cannot help feeling that the boundaries are really quite blurry there.
Anyways. For many years, I have been concerned with paradigmatic, contrast-based approaches to segments and the suprasegmentals. And I feel it is fitting to the type of work one needs to do when one trains a learner or teacher of English. Now, however, I find myself being drawn to syntagmatic, Firthian prosodies (I am just starting on this, so I cannot elaborate much on this yet), and it can be quite challenging, and yet, liberating from those phonological "prisons" I have put myself in. I am sure I will be able to explain this further and in clearer terms some time soon.

Perhaps I can only mention at the moment the extreme importance of co-articulation. Phonemic approaches at times work against our production, as they may lead us to "compartmentalise" or "encase" sounds as if they were free-standing entities. And at times we are so concerned with getting to teach targets that we forget about all those trasitions, changes and adjustments that sounds make when they "meet". And this goes beyond phonological processes of assimilation, or elision, this has got to do with allophones and with co-articulatory processes that organically and naturally happen as one sound transitions into the next (in fact, many of these changes are even anticipated before we get to the next sound!).
This is a discovery that comes with experience, I think, and I have to admit I started paying a lot of attention to coarticulation in the last three years before coming here, as before that I innocently thought that it was enough to teach assimilation and elision late in the year, and also only focus on aspiration, devoicing and release as allophonic processes, leaving other processes unattended. I know better now!

(And yes, of course, these remarks refer to a very specific Phonetics teaching context, far perhaps from the context of the regular English language classroom where we may decide not to go all the way into the features that make up certain degrees of accentedness and rather, focus on making students mutually (or future-ly) intelligible and comprehensible).

It is clear from these last two posts that over this half year I have collected more questions and self-criticism than answers. And I think that is the most valuable thing, really. That is what one needs to do to move forward: break the walls one builds for oneself, transcend the comfortable place, and know that one is not infallible. One has to be honest with the fact that if things worked well in the past, they might not work well forever, and that students change, and that practices need to change. Change is good, and necessary in this ever-changing world, especially for pronunciation.
Perhaps this was the right time for me to start over after all, before I started getting too comfortable in my own teaching "haven" and practice. Only time will tell. But what I do know now, is that all this new learning actually makes sense because I had the chance of teaching all this fantastic phonetic and phonological stuff to many of you in the best way I could with the knowledge and tools I had available back then. And I miss it immensely. And for this, I will always be grateful.

lunes, 8 de mayo de 2017

Compendium of Facebook posts

This is just a collection of a few informal experiments,anecdotes, and nucleus placement rule examples I have been putting together these last few months in the UK. They have all been published on my Facebook page, so this is just a compendium:

lunes, 1 de mayo de 2017

3 years old!

Balloons on the third ...
Source: clipartsgram.com

This month this blog turns 3.

The beginning. It all started because I had a lot to say about pronunciation teaching in my context, after that fab IATEFL 2014 conference where I discussed my experience with E-Portfolios, and got a sneak peek of pronunciation teaching elsewhere. I needed to tell people what we do in Argentina, because many of us love what we do, and we take it really seriously. I wanted a place to write down things I used to say in my lessons but which would probably just stay in my students' notebooks, or class recordings, things I wanted to revisit, or recycle. I needed a place to also have a post-lesson outlet, a place to ask myself questions about what was happening with my students' and my own pronunciation. I guess this blog has also eventually become a sort of diary for me to trace how my thinking has evolved, and to get evidence of a harsh truth I have learned: the more experienced one gets, the more questions and uncertainties one collects.

A new chapter. Now that I am so far away from home, now that I am not teaching, now that I am transitioning from teacher to full-time researcher, I no longer have much of the inspiration that teaching phonetics full time provided me with.  And perhaps I have other aspirations now as well. So this blog is still finding its way, or rather, I am finding my way in this new world. In the meantime, then, I'll continue, whenever I can, sharing with you ideas, reports, reviews, thoughts, anecdotes, in my usual generally informal tone.

Pronunciation teaching today. Now that there are so many other blogs and websites, and conferences (PTLC, EPIP, PSLLT, among others) and a dedicated journal dealing with pronunciation and pronunciation and phonetics teaching, I am grateful I can still have a voice, and I get to engage in dialogue with others. I am so excited to see that more and more people are sharing their pron-teaching experiences from different areas of the world, and I am really looking forward to seeing what others are doing, and how that resonates with my own experience, beyond what you can routinely read in books and papers, which may not have the "dynamism" that online timing has, although those obviously have an academic outlook and may be more systematically based on research. I think that being able to tell others what you do, and how, and why you do it, and see if perhaps it is useful to someone somewhere else, is something that the Internet is good for. And despite the disdain of some academics for blogs like this one, I strongly believe in the value of these informal, sometimes reflective and anecdotal spaces because they are dynamic, and vibrant, and based on experience, and they are accessible to all teachers, and not paywalled. 

(A detour: I study conversation analysis, and one of the values of CA is precisely that of recognising that whatever happens once in  interaction, even if it does not happen again in other interactions, is as valid and interesting for study as what happens a million times. I wonder if the covert "positivist" demands that many people make for pronunciation teaching may be overlooking that tiny important detail that especially for something like pronunciation, we do not all learn in the same way, and that individual work and feedback are essential. So what works in an isolated classroom in a neighbourhood in Buenos Aires may work for that particular group of students or even for one individual, and it is as valid, to my humble mind, as a technique that may work in a hundred classrooms around the world. And I think accent coaches, for example, know this well, because they need to care for the individual, which is something we should all, ideally, do as teachers. So I think teaching pron is both a science, and a craft.)

So, as PronBites turns three, I toast to a pronunciation teaching world where everyone is welcome, and where, hopefully, people will not attempt to bring others down but instead try to build good things in symphony with others (be it the creative activity makers, the ground-shakers, the high brow researchers, the reflective bloggers, the anecdotal ones, the traditional teachers, the innovative ones...), in healthy and stimulating dialogue with other perspectives and views, and in a community-sharing spirit. 

Thank you all, my readers, for these three years of continued support.

martes, 18 de abril de 2017

Some phon bits I have learned lately - Part 1

(This is an automatic publication of a blog post drafted in February 2017)

During these last few months, I have been re-drafting my research proposal for my PhD, reading lots of biblio, auditing a few modules and writing a couple of sample analytic tasks. Having all these experts around is fabulous, and I have learned a lot, but it is difficult to do justice to the quality of teaching I have received. And that is one of the reasons that led me to stop blogging for a while (though I suspect I won't be able to stay off it for long). I could not bring myself to post improptu stuff that may "misrepresent" my learning and the quality of teaching here.

My life now studying language in use is quite different from my reality six months ago. The truth is that a phonetician in-the-making in a Teacher Training context, at times you get trapped teaching some "half truths". For many years I have tried to live with it, tried to make phonetics teachable, succeeding and failing in the process, but I always held in me that little feeling of inadequacy that came with knowing that the reality of speech is far more varied, and perhaps less explicitly rule-governed than I have allowed my students to see. I have to admit that being able to lecture in Discourse Analysis was liberating, as it was a truly descriptive module, versus my Phonetics courses, which in many respects, because of the context and the limitations of the type of work we had to do were, in many ways, slightly prescriptive. I have always tried to give tools to my students to be able to account for what they do, and for what other speakers of English do, but it is true that still, this was all very limited.

Anyways, leaving my (justified) guilt aside, I can now say that being able to study language as it develops in interaction has released me from the "straitjacket" I had put myself in (mind you, I loved my work and I was quite happy with my teaching discoveries and frameworks, as this blog should attest!). Now I have the chance to see the English language as it functions in everyday life, and I get to analyse snippets of data in great detail every single day, and this, for me, has meant learning, and mostly, as well, un-learning stuff.

In an attempt to start sharing with you some bits I have learned, I will outline a few interesting points that I have been reflecting on as a result of the classes I've taken, and the books I've read:

The International Phonetic Alphabet: we have all known for ages that the IPA has a number of limitations, but being able to study the sounds of other languages (many of which I did not know existed!) helps you see how limited the IPA may be if you play by its rules, and how fuzzy the boundaries between phonetics and phonology, and between what is phonemic and allophonic, really are. Some of these issues were outlined as early as the early 1900s with Henry Sweet, so go figure!
So, for example, in Arrernte (an aboriginal language of Australia), /ᵗn/ is actually a phoneme, that is, it is contrastive with /n̪/, for instance. We had an interesting discussion in a class as to whether is it length that may help us phoneticians impressionistically distinguish this from a nasally released [t], for instance, and it could be one of the possible answers. But certainly, as a tool and a convention, the IPA is really useful, but it may not be enough to capture all the necessary detail. A good take on this is Local and Kelly's "Doing Phonology" (1986) book, and of course, Ladefoged's wealth of work.

Intonation and "meaning": I have, for many years now, found the word "meaning" uncomfortable when teaching my intonation courses, and many of my pedagogical decisions to make intonation "teachable" ended up falling into the unfortunate use of this word. I have tried to focus more on the functions of intonation in the last couple of years, but I may not have been consistent enough. Truth is, intonation as such does not hold any "meaning" and it works alongside the lexis, grammar, the pragmatics, the gestural aspects of the utterance and the sequential position in the interaction to achieve social action and it is made sense of through participant response (in very simple terms!). Intonation is an important resource in the way we make our social actions interpretable to others, a "contextualisation cue" (Gumperz, 1982). We cannot see it in isolation, and we certainly cannot just only work with isolated or artificial examples as a final product, as you can see in many textbooks, still.
Intonation remains one of the most essential, yet undertaught aspects of English language teaching worldwide (this is widely discussed in some chapters in Grant, 2014 among many other books/papers), and I believe a lot of work needs to be done alongside other areas and skills of language in order to help teachers make it "teachable".
Over the years, I have come up with a few solutions for this, and I expect to be able to write something coherent at some point, but not after I have analysed a great deal of data. I am a little bit annoyed with introspective intonation manuals, to be honest, and I think it is time someone did some corpus-based intonation teaching framework-ing! (I am working on a paper on this, I'll see if I manage to put it all together! I know that for someone who claims to have worked sooo extensively on intonation, I have to admit my blog does not appear to reveal it, at all, but I will try to write more on intonation teaching in the future)

Intonation and some particular practices: Anyone who has taken Phonetics 2 with me will know that I have an obsession with chunking, parentheticals, lists, and questions. And the most rewarding thing I have found when I came to York was that there are lots of studies of interactional phonetics based, precisely, on those four topics! And many of their findings do match many of my hunches (yay!), some of which I have taught systematically. Just to illustrate: we are currently working on lists, here, and we have a corpus of 300 lists. Having listened to 198 lists already, I have only found three lists that have the pattern: rise+rise+fall, and these do not look really like lists per se, but rather, as sequences of events. So I was thrilled to see that my insistence in using level tones for some kinds of lists (which I would neatly explain in my lessons with proper theoretical justification from Brazil and friends) holds true really frequently in "real" life (It would be very long and complex to explain at the moment the way I used to teach this in my lessons, it's a well-kept secret between my students and I, ha, but I will, at some point.).
And in terms of questions, I would dare say you will be frowned at here for claiming that yes/no questions have rises and wh-questions bear falls, something I have "banned" in my own lessons. (Just to give you a heads-up, at the moment I am trying to look -informally!- at the intonation of requests with and without "please"...some very interesting things going on there!)

These are some of the bits I have been studying in detail here, both from books and data. And my "informal experiments" at supermarkets, coffee shops and train stations. I will try to share further in future posts (part 2 is scheduled for publication some time in mid-May).

viernes, 31 de marzo de 2017

Phonetics for linguists, Phonetics for teachers

(I am still pressed for time, but I got this post drafted some time ago, so here it goes!)

I have always been curious about how linguists get trained in Phonetics -as my initial training is in English Language Teaching-, and these two terms I got a "taste" of what it is like, in different ways. I have found this first period truly fascinating, and of course, it opened up a lot of questions as to the way we teach Phonetics in Argentina to our future teachers (and a lot of praise, you know I am very proud of the way many of us work in my country!). So today, I would like to make a brief comparison between the way I experienced Phonetics as both a student and a lecturer in my courses in Buenos Aires, and what I have been able to experience here as a "module auditor" (i.e. "oyente", in Spanish).

The usual disclaimers:
  • Any incomplete or inaccurate information is entirely my fault.
  • I am making this comparison for information purposes, but I do not intend to make any assessment of the choice and structuring of content/textbooks/modules of any of the institutions hereby mentioned. 
  • For the current comparison, I have decided to choose the ISP Dr Joaquín V González in Buenos Aires because this is the institution where I graduated, and where I developed my lecturing career most widely. I am aware other Training Colleges in Buenos Aires may have a similar or different structures of modules and choice of materials. (And, needless to say, I am soooooo grateful to all the other four institutions in Buenos Aires where I got the opportunity to lecture in Phonetics!)
  • I am not writing this post to advertise any of the programmes, nor do I get any money out of this. (Just in case!)
  • This is is just a sneak peek into two very different undergrad programmes in two very different institutions in two very different countries: one where I did my undergrad, the other where I am doing my PhD (though here I'll describe the BA programme). As I have audited a few modules but I have not been a BA student here, I will include info which is readily available on the Uni website, plus a few anecdotal comments of my own.

Degrees & Course duration
  • Instituto Superior del Profesorado "Dr Joaquín V González", Buenos Aires, Argentina. Degree: Profesorado en Inglés (Graduate degree in English Language Teaching).
    •  4 or 5-year course, if done full time. (minimum duration: 3,120 clock hours).  A considerable majority of students take this course part-time and graduate after 5-8 years.
    • Tertiary level degree (since 2005 the law establishes that tertiary-level, 4-year-course degree holders can access postgraduate studies. Thus, this is a Higher Education degree with graduate status). 
    • Cost: free (a minor yearly collaboration is suggested, but not compulsory). The college is state-run, though students need to pay for their own stationery, books, photocopies and commuting. 
    • Entry requirements: High School completed (if you are under 25), and a passing grade in the English entrance exam (the level is generally B2(+), and there is capping, so not all students who pass the exam make it)
    • The college facilities for students to study at are open during termtime and during the day only.
  • University of York, United Kingdom: BA in English Language and Linguistics  (Based on info available at UoY website. Any misinterpretation is my own)
    • 3 years full-time (around 40 hours of study a week). (No info in my power as to how long it takes to complete it part-time)
    • Cost: around £9,000 per year (UK and EU students).
    • Entry requirements: A-Level marks: two As, one B. (Other possibilities are available)
    • Many University spaces are available 24/7 for students to study, including the library, where students can get hold of a copy of their textbooks.
What follows is a comparative chart between the compulsory and elective modules available to students during their course of studies:

University of York – BA in English Language and Linguistics

(Based on 2016-2017 module offer)
(1 hour=60 minutes / 1 term= roughly 8 weeks)
(Note: there is a credit system, but I am not entirely familiar with it. Except for the 1st year subject, all other subjects can be opted out of if students decide to follow other paths)
ISP Dr Joaquín V González – Profesorado en Inglés

(Based on the 2015 curricula)
(1 period= 40 minutes / Annual module= around 32 weeks)
(Note: all the modules hereby listed are core modules)
1st year
Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (2 hrs a week -3 terms)
Fonética y Fonología I (Phonetics and Phonology I) (Annual module - 4 periods a week)
Práctica en Laboratorio de Idiomas I (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab I) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
2nd year
Intermediate Phonetics and Phonology (2 terms) (Elective: but it has to be taken if the other elective, Intermediate Syntax, is not chosen)
Fonética y Fonología II (Phonetics and Phonology II) (Annual module - 4 periods a week)
Práctica en Laboratorio de Idiomas II (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab I) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
3rd year
Forensic Phonetics (1 term)
Phonological development (1 term)
The prosody of English (3 hours a week - 1 term)
Advanced topics in phonetics and phonology (2 terms)
Articulatory and impressionistic phonetics (2-3 hours a week-2 terms)
The phonetics of a modern language (2 terms)
The phonetics of talk-in-interaction (2 hs a week - 2 terms)
Fonología en Laboratorio y su Didáctica I (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab III and Phonology Teaching) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
4th year
Fonología en Laboratorio y su Didáctica II (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab IV and Phonology Teaching (Annual module - 3 periods a week)

At York, the modules vary in terms of content, but in general (and very broadly speaking, of course!), the following content is covered: articulatory phonetics; phonological patterns and processes and phonotactics; phonological models and typologies; experimental phonetics; acoustic phonetics; interactional phonetics; phonological acquisition and development; phonetic profiling & speaker identification (forensics); sociophonetics; theories of prosodic analysis; description of prosody; prosody in interaction. Phonetics and Phonology of English and other languages and varieties around the globe.

At ISP JVG, students are introduced to applied or practical English phonetics and phonology: articulatory phonetics; English rhythm; processes of connected speech: assimilation, elision, linking, weak and strong forms; spelling-to-sound rules. Intonation: components, systems, functions: tonality/chunking, tonicity (nucleus placement rules and word stress), tone (functions), key and termination, intonation in discourse and speech styles in English. Broad characteristics of different accents of English. Pronunciation teaching: techniques, approaches, principles.

Reference accents
The first-year introductory courses on English Phonetics and the Prosody of English modules at York use SSBE/RP as a reference and starting point, but there is a lot of comparative work on features of other accents and languages.

The English Phonetics and Phonology courses at ISP JVG generally work on SSBE/General British. Some professors do some introductory work on General American in the first year courses. The fourth-year module includes an introduction to accents of English around the world.

As I do not have all the relevant information available, I will just list the most widely consulted textbooks for the courses in both programmes, without specifying what courses they are used in:

BA in English Language and Linguistics
Profesorado de Inglés
  • Ogden, Richard (2009) An introduction to English phonetics. Edinburgh University Press.
  • Catford, J C. (2001). A practical introduction to phonetics. Oxford University Press.
  • Ladefoged, Peter and Keith Johnson. (2015). A course in Phonetics. Seventh Edition. Cengage Learning
  • Nathan, G. (2008). Phonology: a cognitive grammar introduction.Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Hayward, Katrina. (2000). Experimental phonetics. Longman.
3rd year modules generally have as part of their bibliography a vast collections of chapters and papers. I cannot include a full biblio here, but it is pretty varied, as you can imagine!

Cruttenden, A. (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English. 7th ed. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Mott, B. (2011). English Phonetics and Phonology for Spanish Speakers. 2nd ed. Barcelona: Publicacions i Edicions Universitat de Barcelona.
Mees, I. and Collins, B. (2008). Practical Phonetics and Phonology: A Resource Book for Students. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Roach, P. (2015). English phonetics and phonology. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brazil, D., Coulthard, M. and Johns, C. (1981). Discourse intonation and language teaching. 1st ed. Harlow, Essex: Longman.
Brazil, D. (1997). The Communicative Value of Intonation in English. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Wells, J. (2006). English Intonation: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Tench, P. (1996). The intonation systems of English. London: Cassell.

Most courses supplement these textbooks with papers and chapters from other sources.

Goals, approaches, and other comments
  • As a postgrad at Uni of York, I have audited three of the Phonetics modules and worked as an exam marker for another. What I can include here is merely anecdotal, but I think it is interesting to share: 
    • Lectures and Seminars: students here are trained as linguists and future researchers, so even though there are content-ful lectures, the focus is on developing bibliographical, reflective and field research. So even though the lecturers present information in their classes, the focus is on research and analytical procedures. Students are expected to get the knowledge out of extensive bibliography reading, and to make the most of the seminars and practicals to ask questions and to learn the know hows. Students can use the Virtual Learning Environment to test their knowledge with some self-assessment quizzes, if they want, but summative assessments are formatted as research or analytical papers or essays.
    • Oral and Aural practice: Students are not asked to produce the sounds of any particular language (except for those who choose to take The Phonetics of a Modern Language), but they are expected to produce and be able to recognise and decode all the sounds represented by the symbols and diacritics in the IPA chart.Resultado de imagen para ipa chart 2015 As for intonation, I have found it interesting to see how hard it was generally for students to learn to decode their own intonation, or that of other native speakers of English. This is an ability that goes beyond your L1, I guess. A big difference with my own training is that students here decode real-life interaction (telephone calls, radio shows) during the practicals and do so pretty much on the spot, and because they work at their own computers, they can work on the material many times as long as they comply with the time limit (something I would have loved to be able to do for my Phonetics II final exams).
  • As a lecturer at ISP JVG, I was supposed to train my students to produce, as naturally as possible, the sound and intonation systems of General British English. 
    • Lectures are really heavy on content, because not all students comply with weekly reading (the truth is that the vast majority of students work full-time and study part-time) and because in a way that is the way lectures are conceived of, and mainly because at times we are not entirely happy with some of the materials, and we develop our own ways of making the content "teachable" and gradable. 
    • Oral and Aural training consists in getting students to perceive, produce and transcribe the sounds and intonation of (mostly General British) English (which is most cases is our students' second or foreign language), in very controlled settings in the first years, based on the professor's own production, or on a graded set of materials. Approximate decoding and production of more authentic material is generally an expectation for 3rd or 4th year students. 
    • We also train students in pronunciation teaching as they work in their own production and perception as, after all, we are expected to help them develop their teaching skills (though secretly, I think we are training them to be linguists of English as well...and I sort of like it!)
Some final remarks
This "information sheet", as it were, presents some differences in terms of how Phonetics as a discipline is presented to future BAs in English Linguistics and to future graduate teachers of English in training. 
At first glance, you can see how thorough Phonetics training is in both programmes. Students are trained in the use of phonetic and phonological jargon, and they need to consult specialised bibliography. They have to develop precise transcription skills, and enhance their perception of segmental and suprasegmental phenomena. Future BAs and teachers are equally assessed in their analytical skills and in their ability to identify, explain, and apply phonetic and phonological phenomena. The main difference, perhaps, lies in terms of what abilities and reference accents and languages are foregrounded.

If they choose to follow a Phonetics-based path, BA students get a wider view of accents and languages, and they get a taste of different phonetic sciences and contexts where phonetics has a role. They are not expected to produce the sounds or intonation of any language or accent in particular (except in The Phonetics of a Modern Language that prepares students for their year abroad), though they need to be able to reproduce the sounds and sound+diacritic combinations in the IPA chart, irrespective of language.

Teacher trainees have their own production as perhaps one of the most important skills to attain, and they are trained in also decoding class materials and some authentic audio as well. However, they are obviously trained in English phonetics and phonology, and not in other languages (though, to be honest, I wish I could have done more work on a lot more varieties of English). As teacher trainees work on their own process, they are also exposed to different pronunciation teaching techniques and approaches, apart from getting specific lessons in pron teaching. 

As an EFL teacher, I have to admit I am really grateful for my linguistic and phonetic training. Of course, when I see the type of training students get here, I often wish I had had a full-fledged training in phonetics, all aspects of it, as these students are lucky enough to get here (which, obviously, I can appreciate because I'm 15 years older than they are and I know how hard it was for me to get the basics of English phonetics!). However, as a researcher in linguistics, I can confirm I would not be here if it had not been for my initial training, even if my undergrad was not (explicitly) meant to be a degree in linguistic research. And as both a teacher and a researcher, I need to say that having been taught to teach, and having been trained in how to explain things to students, is definitely an invaluable skill that both linguists and teachers alike should develop if they want an academic career that involves communicating knowledge to others.

PS to this post: After publication, I got some really interesting comments and suggestions, so I would like to make the following additions:

  • I obviously love the training imparted in both institutions - I would not have engaged in a public post otherwise-. I have been, and I am shaped in my learning and in my past -and hopefully future- teaching by the professors and colleagues I have encountered here and at home. I also find it fascinating to have the best of both worlds, so to speak, and to be able to audit modules as a student and a former teacher makes me value my professors' efforts here even more.
  • It is clear that the organisation of Higher Education in Argentina and in the UK is totally different. The issue of fees is obviously something someone might want to pick on, but I would not like to discuss this here. The systems are very different, the politics are different, and my mentioning the fact that one is (partly) free, and the other is not, is not really something I want to make something of in my blog. And since some of my readers are not aware of how things work in Argentina, I thought I would mention the fees aspect. 
  • Related to this last point is also my mentioning of the fact that it takes students longer to complete their degrees in Argentina. And this is, to a certain degree, a result of the need that all adults in education have of making a living, which forces many students to decide to devote more hours to work than to study. I wish governments would be more sympathetic to and supportive of students in this respect.
  • Also in connection to this point, I wish to clarify the point I made on lectures and bibliography. As a lecturer, I have always seen the need to help teachers make language content "graspable". Our content-ful lectures are meant to be attempts to help students approach the bibliographical materials from some solid ground. Furthermore, I also wanted to show my trainees ways in which these contents can then be made "teachable" for their own students. I know I gave my students a wealth of material to read, and I knew that even though I would have loved them to read it all, I had to be realistic (most of my students worked full-time) and act as a sort of "bridge" between the books and the content I wanted them to learn and I needed to assess them on.
  • Plus, I am aware that I compared a tertiary level college with a university course, and perhaps many of those points I raised would work differently if I had described the course of studies of one of the National Universities in Argentina. Still, from what I have seen in conferences, there are quite a few similarities between what we do at JVG and what many professors in National Unis do.
  • There is, clearly, a separation in my title between teachers and linguists, and perhaps it was not the happiest of divisions, I agree!. I certainly think that teachers are linguists in the traditional sense (the Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines it as 1. A person skilled in languages 2. A person who studies linguistics). Teachers do a lot of linguistics in their everyday teaching: they teach syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonology; they do psycholinguistics when they ponder on or experiment on reading /listening / speaking processes and processing and learning; they do sociolinguistics when they discuss different varieties. And I am happy to see that recently there have been some research teams and conferences set up at Teacher Training Colleges in Buenos Aires that encourage linguistic investigation. Perhaps the separation I tried to make lies in that in the BA here, the training  is inclined mostly towards research (though the career path that opens up after graduation is really wide) , whereas at Teacher Training College the priority is training teachers for teaching at kindergarten, primary or secondary school, or for EAP in Higher Ed (though of course I believe teachers need to be trained in formal research for reasons you already know from my previous rants!).