in touch with real speech
In touch with real speech

Evidence No.5: Ying’s Dilemma II – the fate of ‘produced’

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You’ll remember that Ying was a learner who kept a diary about learning to listen. She wrote:

‘Sometimes when a familiar word is used in a sentence, I couldn’t catch it. Maybe it changes somewhere when it is used in a sentence.’ (Goh 1997, p. 366)

Ying’s dilemma is this: does she ‘know’ a word, or not? There is evidence both ways: she recognises words when she sees them, therefore they are ‘familiar’; but she fails to recognise these same words when she hears them, therefore they are ‘unknown’. For her, a word which is a ‘vocabulary success’ in reading, is a ‘vocabulary failure’ in listening. We teachers (native-speaker, expert-speaker) find it difficult to appreciate this problem: it is by no means apparent to us that the soundshapes of words vary. Our vast experience of encounters with words in everyday speech and in writing has deafened us to the destructive forces of everyday speech.

The following five speech units, taken from Cauldwell (2002, chapter 5) illustrate this fact. In each of them, the word ‘produce(d)’ occurs, and it sounds different each time, but note particularly what happens where it is non-prominent, in 04 and 05 below. Click the speaker icons on the left to hear the whole speech unit, click the speaker icons on the right to hear the word ‘produce(d)’ extracted from each speech unit.

01 // proDUCE //
02 // be proDUCED //
03 // proDUCED by a NON-native SPEAker //
04 // produced by GUY MIEGE //
05 // this is ONE produced by PRIESTley //

In 01 'produce' occurs before a pause, the second syllable is prominent and tonic (rising tone), there are clearly two syllables.

In 02 'produced' occurs before a pause, the second syllable is prominent and tonic (falling tone with low termination) - again, the two syllables are clear.

In 03 'produced' is not followed by a pause, the second syllable is prominent but not tonic, the second syllable loses its final consonant because of the following word 'by' - but it is still clearly two syllables.

In 04 'produced' is non-prominent at the beginning of the speech unit ('proclitic') and its syllable structure is much less clear, sounding virtually monosyllabic. The middle consonant /d/ is virtually destroyed.

In 05 'produced', again, is non-prominent but unlike 04 it is between two prominences. However, like 04, its syllable structure is unclear, sounding virtually monosyllabic. The middle consonant /d/ is virtually destroyed.

Position in the speech unit, and choice by the speaker of whether or not to make a word prominent, are therefore key determinants of the soundshapes of any word, whether they be function words, or content words.

To help learners who, like Ying, have the problem of not recognising 'familiar' words - we need to make learners comfortable and familiar with the true nature of everyday speech.

Brazil, D. (1994). Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cauldwell, R. (2002). Streaming Speech: Listening and Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English. Birmingham, UK: speechinaction.

Goh, C. (1997). Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners. ELT Journal 51(4), 361-369