Preface to JWL’s Guide to English Pronunciation

With English now used as a first language by more than 300 million people and as a second language, for reasons of commerce, scientific and cultural exchange and political debate, by countless millions more, it is clear that English has willy-nilly reached the stage of serving as a lingua franca for the world. It is also obvious that a language spoken over such a wide area of the globe runs the danger, because of local linguistic influences, of fragmentation and serious diminution of international intelligibility. Such interference in intelligibility arises mainly from divergencies of a phonological kind. It is therefore essential that teachers of English as a foreign language should adopt as closely as possible one of the two main models of pronunciation - British or American. In addition, textbooks on English should make a clear distinction between the type of information which is of interest and value to a student who has an academic and general concern with the language and that which  is appropriate for the student whose chief desire is to perfect is proficiency on the language as a vehicle for communication. For the latter category of student, it is important that textbooks aimed at a particular linguistic community should focus their attention on those specific difficulties which are relevant to the learners in question.

Professor Lewis’s present book (aimed at the Scandinavian countries, which have a reputation for outstanding proficiency in English) has this second category of learners particularly in mind; but, at the same time, it includes sufficient information of a general phonetic kind for the phonological processes of English to be properly appreciated. The author’s long experience in teaching English pronunciation in Norway has provided him not only with first-hand knowledge of the pit-falls which can trap the Scandinavian learner but also a practical insight into the efficacy and ordering of the teaching techniques which may be employed. Though his main concern is with British English, he does not neglect the variants appropriate to American pronunciation with which every English speaker should be familiar. Moreover, he has not been afraid to break away from century-old traditions of English teaching and to describe English pronunciation as it really is today. The pronunciation of a language inevitably undergoes considerable change in time, and it is right that textbook writers and teachers should periodically re-cast their descriptions and their instruction to mirror current trends. None is better qualified to point the way in this respect than Professor Lewis, who for the last few years has meticulously observed the features of current English pronunciation.

Professor Lewis’s practical experience has led him to provide a refreshingly new presentation of the facts. His treatment of vowel description, gradation, rhythm and intonation introduces many innovations, all of which he has tested and found productive in his own teaching. His inclusion of a great deal of practice material renders the book ideal for use in the classroom, and the interested student is provided with useful notes on other works which may be consulted. This book will obviously be found to have its greatest impact in the Scandinavian countries for which is has been designed, but there is in it much information and advice that will be of profit to students of English in other parts of the world.

A.C. Gimson

University College London