Voice-Setting Phonology by Sarn Rich
Voice-setting is a term used to describe those 'features of
accent that result from the characteristic disposition and
use of the articulatory organs by speakers of a particular
language, and which affects the production of all the individual
sounds common to that language' (Thornbury 193:127). The discriminating
characteristics of one language's voice- setting compared
to another's are those 'general differences in tension, in
tongue shape, in pressure of the articulators, in lip and
cheek and jaw posture and movement, which run through the
whole articulatory process' (O'Connor 1973:289 in ibid:128).
argues that this is a good point at which to begin L2 pronunciation
training: 'If a learner can be trained to abandon the long-term
settings of his or her native language and switch to those
of L2 (to "get into gear," as Honikman (1964) called
it), then this large- scale adjustment will facilitate small-scale
changes needed in the articulation of the particular vowels
and consonants of the language' (1992:13 in Dalton and Seidlhofer
1994:140), while Beatrice Honikman goes so far as to assert
'where two languages are disparate in articulatory setting,
it is not possible to master the pronunciation of one whilst
maintaining the articulatory setting of the other' (1964 in
and Evans suggest three more reasons why we should take this
as our starting point: 'Firstly it constitutes a more "holistic"
approach in which, from the onset, different elements of pronunciation
are seen as integrated. Secondly, it gives students a chance
to experience pronunciation on intuitive and communicative
levels before moving on to a more analytical exploration of
specific elements of phonology. Finally, work in voice quality
can help students to improve their image when they speak English,
and thus increase their confidence' (1995:245-6).
these arguments, a top-down, or suprasegmental approach remains
less common in the teaching of phonology than it has become
in other areas. There are several possible reasons for this
- There has been little extensive or systematic research into
voice-setting, compared with the attention devoted to segmental
features (Dalton and Seidlhofer 1994:140).
- Tackling phonology from the bottom up may be easier for
the teacher. Of a top-down approach Roach suggests 'the complexity
of the total set of sequential and prosodic components of
intonation and of paralinguistic features makes it a very
difficult thing to teach' (1991 in ibid:73).
- There may be some resistance from learners, particularly
those who prefer a more analytical approach (Gilbert 1993:vii
in ibid 1994:143).
- There are possible moral objections to the teaching of pronunciation,
centering on the tight connection between speaking and one's
self image, and the idea that an apparent attack on the former
can be regarded as an attack on the latter (Porter and Gavin
1989:8 in ibid 1994:7). Arguably such arguments carry greater
force in relation to a top-down approach unless we are sensitive
in our insistence that the learner put aside their LI voice-setting.(1)
(Brown's demand that the learner 'abandon' native language
features might be seen as less than sensitive in this respect
- see above.)
Relating theory to practice
While we should certainly take the above objections into account
there remain good reasons to attempt a top-down approach to
phonology in the classroom, if only for the sake of those
learners who do not relate well to an analytical approach,
and who would benefit from throwing themselves more whole-heartedly
into an English speaking role.
Suggestions for how to go about this are scattered in various
places. Specific ideas are listed in the Appendix, in the
following five categories.
compare the voice-setting features of different languages,
including Li and L2, discussing what seems significant to
them, rather than being told details picked out by some external
advises 'It is important to remember... that before learners
can be asked to produce the sounds of a new language, they
need to learn to perceive them, which means "paying attention
to them and noticing things about them."' (1978:15 in
Dalton and Seidlhofer 1994:125)
Jones and Evans say: 'Different languages have different voice
quality settings which contribute to our perception of the
language's overall auditory character... This perception is
usually a learner's first conscious contact with the phonology
of the second language:
students are often able to describe or imitate the way a language
"sounds" before they are actually able to speak
activities exploit these initial impressons, and draw learners
toward noticing specific features.
imitation activities learners pronounce longer stretches of
L2 in close imitation of native speakers.
consolidate what learners have already discovered, the teacher
might introduce specific suggestions from experts.
problem with accent, or voice-setting, in the classroom is
that in itself it is not used to communicate anything, other
than the speaker's membership of a particular 'voice- setting
community'. In a monolingual class there may even be a disincentive
for the learner to adopt an L2 voice-setting if a form of
L2 which sounds more like L1 is more communicatively effective.
Addressing this problem, communication activities look at
how ideas and emotions are communicated within the conventions
of an L2 voice-setting.
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