Review of JWL’s A Guide to English Pronunciation for Users of English as a Foreign Language

Oslo, Bergen, Tromsö: Universitetsforlaget. 1969.

This detailed and originally-minded treatment of English phonetics was evidently written with the needs of Scandinavian university students particularly in mind. It is hardly a book for beginners in the subject: the term ‘phoneme’, for example, although the reader will encounter it here and there throughout the book, is only very briefly explained and sparsely illustrated, while the expression ‘a case of phonemic neutralization’ is used without explanation as early as page 3. The transcription used is [as in Gimson’s Introduction 1] , except that Gimson’s /u:/ is replaced by the symbol /o:/, which is allegedly less confusing for Scandinavians. The main emphasis is always on British RP, though there are frequent references to ‘General American’ pronunciation. The student’s task is lightened by helpful comparisons with the phonetics of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.

The book has ten chapters: (1) Consonants, (2) Vowels, (3) Transcription, (4) Gradation, (5) Rhythm, (6) Intonation, (7) Orthography, (8) Models of Pronunciation, (9) Intonation Reading Practice, (10) Passages for Reading and Transcription. It will be seen that theoretical material and practical exercises are both accorded plenty of space, the latter predominating over the former as the learner progresses through the book. Seven appendices deal with (A) Comparative Vowel Diagrams, (B) Key to Gradation Exercises, (C) Key to Intonation Exercises, (D) Key to Sounds and Spellings Exercises, (E) Model Transcription, (F) Bibliography, and (G) Nonsense Words for Dictation.

Professor Lewis has many fresh observations to make on English phonetics, showing himself in no way content just to repeat what others have said. Perhaps the most valuable innovations are his articulatory classification of /l/ and /r/ as ‘contractives’, lateral and longitudinal respectively, and his redesigning of the familiar vowel quadrilateral. The latter has been given extra grid lines so that it shows seven degrees of opening and seven degrees of tongue advancement, while still being based on Jones’ cardinal vowels. Thus in the vertical scale a ‘semi-half-close’ line is located between close and half-close, a ‘mid’ line between half-close and half-open, and a ‘semi-half-open’ line between half-open and open. It is further prescribed that vowel points may be plotted only on grid lines or half way between them, so that overly precise plottings are ruled out. Lip position is shown by placing the vowel symbol in a square (spread) or a circle (rounded). Vowel diagrams of this kind are shown for primary and secondary cardinal vowels and for the vowels of RP, General American, the Scandinavian languages, and (relegated to their appendix) Finnish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.

The chapters on gradation (weak forms) and intonation, too, illustrate Professor Lewis's originally-minded approach. The former seems to this reviewer the more successful. Intonation in general is a notoriously difficult subject to learn and teach, and the intonation of English in particular is really too complex to be treated adequately in a mere twenty pages. The range of tunes described here is considerably greater than the practical selection to which O’Connor and Arnold devoted a whole book 2. An inevitable result of so brief a treatment is that some tunes and tune symbols are only partly or misleadingly explained. Thus on page 60 the ‘level-level’ tone (shown thus, "Cheerio everybody!) surely requires the first level tone be higher than the second (we might show this as 'Cheeri-'o everybody!) – but Professor Lewis forgets to mention that this is so. Doubling a tone mark denotes that the tone ‘exhibits a pitch range wider than is normal relative to its situation’ (p. 61): what is the learner to make of the doubled LEVEL tone which occurs four examples later? One can hardly give a level tone wider pitch range!

The Scandinavian countries being England’s foremost linguistic colonies, their speakers of English as a foreign language have for long outshone all others in their ability to pronounce English in a reasonably native-like way. This book seems likely to increase their lead.

1 A.C. Gimson, Introduction to the Pronunciation of English (Edward Arnold, 1962).

2 J.D. O’Connor and G. F. Arnold, Intonation of Colloquial English (Longmans, 1961).