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Petty Pronunciation Peeves

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Joined: 25 Oct 2006
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2006 10:28 pm    Post subject: Petty Pronunciation Peeves Reply with quote

I'm a lowly TA and I am slightly annoyed by the teacher I am assisting. She emphasizes the need for the Spanish speakers to pronounce the H and de-emphasises the need to distinguish between the S an Z phonemes.

I explained to her that native English speakers don't listen for the H but they do listen for the S and Z phonemes because H is an optional phoneme, and that there are dialects of Spanish that voice the H so they will pick it up as they go along and as they need it. H is one of those sounds that can get left behind when a native speaker is speaking quickly, but since Russian is her first language, she uses a very breathy H that is a little overpronounced without sounding foreign. I was very active in a mixed West Indian/Latino church for years and years, and so my H is voiced, but very softly, especially if they are Latin, French, or Spanish loanwords, or after another consonant.

She says that the Z phoneme is impossible for Latinos over 30. I disagree because I hear the Z sound all the time when they say 'desde', and the breathy 'jota' H is different than the English H so what she's really doing is confusing the phonemes! Am I being petty?
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Joined: 18 May 2003
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Location: San Francisco, California

PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2006 6:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not quite sure what you mean about the "h" sound. Native English speakers listen for the /h/, which distinguishes words like "hear" and "ear." Is that what you mean? In any case, in American English, the /h/ is often dropped in words like "him" "her" "he" and "his".

As for the /z/ sound, I disagree with her position that it can't be taught to anyone over 30. I have many older students, and have had success teaching them the /z/ sound. It's just the voiced pair of the /s/ sound, and it is the same difference as the /f/ and /v/ sounds (which I know Spanish speakers also have trouble with.) Even if students have difficulty with it, it seems it would be a good idea to teach such an important sound. Even if some students have trouble, some will pick it up.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2006 3:44 pm    Post subject: Not petty at all Reply with quote

Hey all!

I don't think, Twelve, that you are being petty at all, though I wouldn't worry about the "h" thing too much, as Lorikeet points out, it's often lost among the other consonants and vowels around it. I ask my Spanish students to consider it mute unless I ask for the aspiration that is usually given as its pronunciation.

The unvoiced and voiced "s" sounds do seem rather important, though distinguishing or producing each one is not always necessary; I mean, if a student uses an "s" instead of a "z" it probably won't get too much in the way of understanding. If you are ordering vegetables in a restaurant and say "peace" instead of "peas", the waiter will understand what you want to eat. If you say "peas" instead of "peace" at a UN conference or meeting, I think the members will catch onto your concept.

This snakey sound must be pronounced, in any case. Sometimes the "s" means the word it's attached to is plural (plural nouns) or singular (present simple 3 person verbs) or maybe it's an auxiliary (is, has) or maybe it's showing possession (Mary's book). To not help students to place that "s" is to do them an injustice. However, that it must be voiced or unvoiced might be more work than is necessary, at least until the students are correctly using liaison and reduction in their spoken language.

Finally, it's not important. Your teacher in question obviously has an "old dog new tricks" attitude, she's probably been teaching for a long time and has made her own decisions about what is "correct" and for all your debate, I don't think you'll convince her. The young whipper-snappers certainly never convince me!

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 01, 2006 12:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I guess, you're right. I think her problem is that she doesn't understand when people drop the H because she isn't a native English speaker. She also has a slight California accent and pronounces else as alse, and elevator as allevator. Its not a problem for native speakers.

I'm of the school of thought that learners of American English should be taught to pronounce Hs and Rs but not to expect them to be pronounced by all English speakers, just as students of Spanish should be taught to not expect everyone to pronounce the S unless its between two vowels.

Which leads to an interesting question. Should learners of a language be made to learn the least phonetic, fastest "respectable" variety of the language so that all varieties are easily understood? A speaker of New York or Estuary English is understood by all and looked down upon by few, while a speaker of slow Texan English (the variety spoken by most Paisano Mexicans) is held in derision by many and is more likely to have trouble understanding faster, less phonetic varieties.
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