English Australia Journal : English Australia Journal 27.2
English Australia Journal Volume 27 No 2 23 frequency of occurrence in speech both of the particular contrast and of its constituent phonemes, as well as the contextual position of the phoneme within the utterance, and the annulment of certain phonemic distinctions in some regional accents. Brown argues that, in pronunciation teaching, contrasts of low FL should be given low priority relative to higher-frequency ones. So, for instance, the contrast between /ʊ/ and /u:/ is dismissed as ‘unimportant’ because these are ‘both infrequent phonemes, are conflated by many Scottish speakers, and produce few minimal pairs’ (1988, p. 603; 1992, p. 10). It is therefore unlikely, he asserts, that a listener will be confused by any transposition of these vowels. However, as Munro and Derwing (2006) observe, even though the FL ranking concept may make ‘intuitive sense . . . for prioritizing segmental contrasts for classroom focus’ (p. 529), it remains only theoretical; there has been very little empirical research to demonstrate correlations between such rankings and actual intelligibility on the part of listeners (p. 522). Indeed, the same research by Munro and Derwing (2006) indicates that intelligibility may be affected not only by the frequency of phonemic contrast errors, but also by their nature. Furthermore, FL rankings appear to assume that other variables affecting intelligibility – the speaker’s grammar, for example – are unproblematic. They also seem to take no account of what Munro and Derwing have elsewhere termed 'listener response latency', whereby ‘the time required for recognition of accented . . . segments may be greater if those segments differ considerably from category prototypes’ (1995, p. 289), so that while ‘the speaker’s message may ultimately be understood, the listener may have to work especially hard to decode it, perhaps even “replaying” it from short-term memory’ (p. 290). Thus, for example, if a second language speaker whose English pronunciation is mostly accented towards standard Australian says /pu:t jə fu:t/ for ‘put your foot’, there may well be a moment in which the listener has both to adjust to the unexpected change to a Scottish accent, and to 'replay' the utterance to render the meaning intelligible. At that point the listener may comprehend the utterance, but the processing time to achieve this comprehension may impede the listener’s attention to the speaker’s next utterance, thus compounding the intelligibility problem. So, in the absence of persuasive research-based demonstrations of the applicability of FL theory in practice, phonemic contrasts of allegedly low FL are included in the next section, to help illustrate how the principles of kinaesthetic reconceptualisation can work. It is up to individual teachers whether or not to use them – or FL rankings themselves, for that matter – in making curriculum choices according to their particular contexts and student needs.
English Australia Journal 28.1
English Australia Journal 27.1