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Introducing Voice-Setting Phonology by Sarn Rich
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Background
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).

Brown 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 Taylor 1993:13).

Jones 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).

Despite 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.

First impressions
Learners 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 authority.

Noticing
MacCarthy 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)

As 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 it.' (1995:245)

Noticing activities exploit these initial impressons, and draw learners toward noticing specific features.

Imitation
In imitation activities learners pronounce longer stretches of L2 in close imitation of native speakers.

Direct teaching
To consolidate what learners have already discovered, the teacher might introduce specific suggestions from experts.

Communication
The 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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