Friday, December 30, 2011

L2 English speakers fantasy of "Difficult words to pronounce"

1. These threads were started by some non-native speakers of English. Why these schmucks focus on 'difficult' words. There are no difficult words to pronounce if they are anglicized. Anglicizing is a phenomenon well known in Load word phonology.

2. I don't think these idiots wanted to learn systematically about how to anglicize foreign words. Rather, they think that 'pronunciation' is all there is to learn when one wants to acquire a native-like accent.

3. Yes, English words have lexical stress. Not all lexically stressed syllables are accented (cf. pitch accents of Bolinger, Pierrehumbert, Gussenhoven, Ladd, etc). If you listen to spoken English corpus, you see many instances of lexically stressed syllables getting unstressed. These accent reduction guys explain away the foregoing as an aberration. It is not an aberration, but a systematic phenomenon. Richard Cauldwell of Discourse Intonation and many in ToBI traditions know about this.

For instance, from Charles-James Bailey's "New Intonation theory to account for pan-English and idiom-particular patterns"

In rapid tempos heavy non-nuclear accents have lowered to unaccented status, while unaccented vowels other than schwa (in idioms that preserve them) may become schwa (except word-finally) and then undergo rules affecting the loss of schwa. Conversely, in syllable-timed rhythm vowels that are ordinarily reduced may have their underlying target values (as though they were tertiarily or quaternally accented).

Here is another instance from Corpus, discussed by Mark Liberman.

Career center > cur center


 Foreign speakers fantasize about hard words to pronounce. Many of them are ignorant of the fact that the pronunciation has indeed shifted since middle ages. It is called great vowel shift; the current spelling system reflects that of Middle English ( ME ). To answer all exceptions to some generalizations taught in phonics classes, one need to study English linguistics: OE ( Old English ); ME ( Middle English ); MnE ( Modern English ). 

There is no hard word to pronounce for any native speaker. If its hard, it gets distorted to the extent that this distorted pronunciation becomes easier. And this distortion becomes an accepted pronunciation. Later, this pronunciation can force changes in spelling, esp if you are a German, as Germans have a central board that deals with orthography (Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung). When it comes to English, there is no such board to reform spellings (orthography) to reflect changing and changed pronunciations.

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