Beverley Collins & Inger M. Mees: Practical Phonetics and Phonology, A Resource Book for Students

London & New York: Routledge 2013. Pp xxi + 330. ISBN: 978-0-415-50650-2(hbk). ISBN: 978-0-415-50649-6 (pbk). ISBN: 978-0-203-08002-3 (ebk)

Review published and copyright Cambridge University Press Journal of the International Phonetic Association 2014 Number 2 of Volume 44. This version incorporates some slight emendations.

This very well received book, first published in 2003 and undoubtedly now the leading text in its field, has undergone a considerable revision. It now has sixty more of its broad pages than in its first edition. It also has a re-designed website and yet still also provides an attached audio CD. It now even has an attractive cover design. It's the work of a remarkably successful thirty-five years writing partnership. Among their previous achievements have been an excellent book on The Phonetics of English and Dutch and, of special interest to many JIPA readers, their splendid 1999 volume on Daniel Jones entitled The Real Professor Higgins. No less an authority than the late Peter Ladefoged was quoted in these pages describing this biography as "a great book" (in an interview reported in JIPA Vol. 36/2 at page 137).

For two decades there was one outstanding practical coursebook on pronunciation for students of British English as an additional language, Peter Roach's English Phonetics and Phonology. Ten years ago, that book was joined in its category, by the present work, henceforth "C&M". These two fine books cover much of the same basic ground but C&M set out to extend their treatment a good deal more widely. Both books are primarily concerned to give an account of British pronunciation of which they provide excellent detailed descriptions. Both have eschewed the embarrassing term 'Received Pronunciation'. Fortunately neither has embraced the unsuitable, not to say clumsy, 'Standard Southern British English' which has acquired a certain following since its 1999 appearance in this Association's Handbook. Although 'Standard English' is an undoubtedly consensual term in respect of grammatical and lexical features, the term 'standard' is not so feasibly applicable to something so far less satisfactorily delimitable as an accent. And, while 'Southern' is applicable to the region from which the variety has historically descended, it is not at all adequate to specify its latterday distribution. Roach adopted the popular but very unsuitable label "BBC English". C&M use their own much less objectionable term 'non-regional pronunciation'. Although 'NRP', as they regularly abbreviate it, avoids the sociological invidiousness of 'RP', it lacks geographic specificity and rather awkwardly seems to suggest that it embodies the older term. More suitable than these would have been 'General British', the term that Gimson in 1980 (at page 303) remarked "may in time supersede" RP and now indeed does so in Cruttenden's latest revision of the Introduction to the Pronunciation of English as its eighth edition.

The first of the C&M book's four main divisions, 'Introduction', is devoted to explaining basic concepts and terminology. Readers, many of whom will be likely to find the terms new to them, would be helped by being given pronunciations for the words acro-, basi- and meso- lectal especially as they're used fairly freely in the subsequent text. It's surprising that such help is not given here because later in the book it is generally provided eg at arytenoid, trachea etc. Justification for the word "Practical" in the book's title begins to appear early on in the authors' use within this first section of three lively illustrative texts (with transcripts in ordinary spelling) of recordings provided on the CD. Some of these passages of two to three hundred words are not merely effective but positively entertaining, notably the first of them which is an interview with an old Etonian whose endearingly unaffected-sounding 'posh' speech illustrates what they label as 'Traditional Received' Pronunciation'.

A subsection 'English Worldwide' is illustrated by a convenient simple map, the first of a number supplied throughout the text, some original and others borrowed, including ones showing British and Irish accent distributions and world accent varieties. Another subsection, 'Phoneme, Allophone and Syllable' has nine interspersed boxes prescribing further practical 'Activities' several of which have 'Answers on Website'. Yet another subsection, on 'Connected Speech and Phonemic Transcription', has two single-page tables one of weak and the other of contracted forms. This commendable conciseness seems to go a step too far in the omission of the weakform of but consequently sanctioning use of an unnatural-sounding pronunciation of this so extremely frequent word. The other recommended weakforms seem to be a judiciously chosen adequate set. Phonemic transcriptions are now introduced and set as exercises to be transcribed from spoken texts. A dozen of these, of about ten lines each, are distributed throughout the main two first sections of the book. They're all taken from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, an effective choice because the language has the simplicity of ordinary conversation even if the amount of actual direct speech in them is very small indeed. They're well delivered without artificiality. More varied subject matter is to be found in the extra passages provided at the book's accompanying Website. The rest of this first part of the book, entitled 'How we produce speech', deals with 'Consonant and vowel possibilities'. The book as whole is quite outstanding for its generous provision of various kinds of tables, diagrams, and vowel charts — well over 200 figures in all.

One of the basic features of the series into which this book was incorporated has been the aim to facilitate the digesting of its main topics by having them presented in two distinct stages. Thus we next find the second stage, entitled Development, revisiting the topics of the first in greater depth. It begins by extending the coverage of allophones and viewing the vowel and consonant systems overall. It continues with miscellaneous topics including the investigation of syllable structures, the providing of guidance on the interpretation of spellings, and the examination of aspects of connected speech. These last deal with sentence and word stressings containing some particularly useful practical advice such as rather original recommendations on the stressings of compound words. In this section, as they turn to connected speech, we are specially aware that they not only aim to use straightforward language but are even on occasion not reluctant to introduce terms of their own when they consider them more memorable or comfortably comprehensible than something more traditional. A notable example of this is their preference for describing assimilations as 'leading' or 'lagging' rather than 'regressive' or 'progressive'. Their final one of these topics, 'speech melody', provides what some might find is a little too concisely outlined account of this rather difficult area. The terminology and symbology for it are chosen eclecticly from among the well-known alternatives to be found in the literature. An exception is their choice of symbol to indicate intonation onsets namely a preposed degree-type 'high circle' (something employed, though differently, in O'Connor-&-Arnold 1973). The simplified coverage they adopt elects to ignore stressings between 'onset' and 'nucleus'. This completes the first and major half of the book.

Their third section, 'Exploration', begins with outline accounts of the kinds of English spoken in the rest of the British Isles and beyond and is accompanied by liberal sets of illustrations of accents, all unscripted recordings of native speakers supplied with normal-spelling transcripts and analytical descriptions. These first cover Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Carmarthenshire and Liverpool. Next are mentioned American varieties — besides General American they include Texas, Kentucky, and New York. They then proceed to Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian, Singaporean, Caribbean and West African types. Free use is made of the Wells lexical sets (more appropriately than is now usual) in their original application for inter-variety comparisons. Here again we find vowel charts and maps liberally provided. These explorations are followed by excursions into pronunciation changes 'past, present and future' with spoken samples of Old English, Middle English, Elizabethan and eighteenth century pronunciations and a variety of more modern types.

The rest of this third division deals at length with the various problems in acquiring an English pronunciation experienced by native speakers of other languages. Taken as particular examples are speakers of Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese and Polish. At the website are to be accessed sound files with "native speakers providing illustrative examples of the consonants and vowels of the foreign languages discussed in the book". This is in line with with their satisfying policy of using genuine native speakers in their illustrations of the 25 worldwide accent varieties and has even extended to some of the illustrations of foreign sounds earlier on. A jokey item with which they enliven these earlier accounts of exotic articulations is the notoriously long Welsh placename apparently best known even to Welsh speakers as 'Llanfair P. G.' /ˈɬanˈvaɪr ˈpiː ˎʤiː/. A droll thing about this item is that, though a convincingly genuine-sounding native Welsh speaker demonstrates it, she doesn't say it with its accepted pronunciation, replacing one of its ɬ sounds with a vowel, saying [drobui] instead of [drobuɬ] and producing other occurrences of [ɬ] that don't sound very clearly like classic Welsh articulations. The earlier "Activity 42" at "Unit A5" demonstration of [ɬ] as one of the types of lateral, in the commonly used two-vowel framework, is plainly not from a native Welsh speaker because its ɬ is followed by a voiced intrusive [l] ie it is [aɬlɑː] instead of the appropriate [aɬɑː]. Also at the website are to be found a variety of supplementary materials to those provided by the 71 tracks of various lengths on the CD. These include keys to exercises and transcriptions in the text as well as extra items of the same types. A novel section likely to be popular is its "interactive flashcard glossary resource to enable students to test their knowledge of essential terminology".

The fourth and final section of the book, entitled Extension, is devoted to ten extracts, each several pages long, on a stimulating variety of topics from the writings of mainly leading figures in the past and present of the field of English phonetics including David Abercrombie, Daniel Jones, David Crystal, Dennis Fry, Peter Ladefoged, John Wells and Peter Trudgill. The subjects include matters as diverse as attitudes to accents, spelling reform (a brilliant piece by Wells), controversial individual words, 'talking computers' and phonetics as used in teaching the deaf, and as in criminal investigations. Each is followed by a set of questions on the extract and suggestions of 'issues to consider'.

The book ends with a useful dozen pages of Glossary, several of recommendations for further reading which include a full page of websites, and an Index covering ten double-column pages. Although this very remarkable work is not primarily aimed at native speakers of English it can very well be commended to students of general phonetics as at least an auxiliary text.


Collins, Beverley & Inger M. Mees. 1999. The Real Professor Higgins: The Life and Career of Daniel Jones. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Collins, B. S. & I. Mees. (1981..) 2003. The Phonetics of English and Dutch. (5th edn) The Hague: Leiden University Press.
Cruttenden, Alan. 2014. Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 8th edn. London: Hodder Education.
Kaye, Alan S. An interview with Peter Ladefoged. 2006. Conducted at United Arab Emirates University. JIPA 36/2.
O'Connor, J. D. & G. F. Arnold.1973. Intonation of Colloquial English. 2nd edn. London: Longman Group Ltd.
Roach, Peter. 2009. English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course. 4th edn. Cambridge University Press.