Roberts Got It Wrong: Vowel Sounds and the English Language

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EL237

Okay, it's late, and honestly, I was just going to read the chapter (13 in Roberts), and blog about it later. However, one thing in it annoyed me enough that I really gotta blog right now (Expect the bags under my eyes to be a shade darker than usual tomorrow in class).

The explaination of the schwa sound is highly problematic, the words he uses as examples, actually make two different sounds. While "about," "nation" and "circus" do use the schwa sound, which is the same sound as in "the," it sounds like "uh." as in "UH-bout" (UH-boot (for any Canadians out there), "na[sh]-UH-n," and "circ-UH-s."  "Rapid" uses a short i sound, like in "this" or "is" or "pitiful." No one says "rap-UH-d." unless one is using the word "rapper" as a past-tense verb. "Stages" is a bit trickier, as it can be used both as a plural noun, and a verb, which shifts the stress. As a noun, the stress is on the first sylable, which makes the "e" come out sounding a bit more like a short "i" sound: "sta[j]-I-[z]," definately not "sta[j]-UH-[z]. When used as a verb, the stress is on the second sylable, which slightly alters the sound, so that it comes out a bit more like the short "e" like in "forget" or "hell" or "bet," making it "sta[j]-E-[z]" and NOT "sta[j]-UH-[z]." 

I'm a bit picky, because I may spend a fair amount of my life teaching English as a Second Language, and phonology is a big part of teaching pronounciation. However, you don't have to have taken a ridiculously easy online TEFL certification course to know that unless you use the pronounciation of Lenny from Of Mice and Men, ("And George, I'll get tuh feed thuh rabbuhts."), these words simply do not use the schwa sound.

In all honesty, I don't profess to know all the rules that one might use to explain the sounds used in different situations within the English language, and I really doubt that such a rule book exists, as anyone attempting to write one likely commited suicide before its completion. The best bet as far as sorting out the vowel sounds would probably be to discard Roman characters altogethor and switch to some sensible alphabet, like Thai. They have 16 vowels, but at least each of them only makes one sound (each also has a long version that just indicates that you hold it longer, but we don't need that). We can forget about inculding their 44 consonants, and tone rules though, as that bit gets kinda complex. 

2 Comments

Dianna Griffin said:

Hahahaha. The shades under my eyes are a little darker too :). I kind of noticed the schwa thing too. This kind of thing is beat into our heads in linguistics. I should probably notice it a little more than I do.

Dave said:

Haha, I'm glad I'm not the only giving up sleep....at least that's almost overwith. I really wish I would have had time to take a linguistics class. I've always found it interesting, and I enjoyed everything we learned about it in my Teaching English as a Second Language course.

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