CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Sounds of English: Plosives & Stops

Plosives – a plosive is a consonant characterized by a complete obstruction of the outgoing airstream by the articulators, a build up of air pressure in the mouth, and finally a release of that pressure.  A stop is merely the first part of this sound (the stopping of the airstream).  In other words, in producing these sounds, the air is stopped for a brief moment (say pop over and over and pay attention to what’s happening).  There are three types of plosive in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click stops, and select the appropriate sound.

/p/  /b/ bilabial plosives

A bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by closing the lips together. English has two bilabial plosives — /p/ in which the vocal chords are not used (voiceless) as in pizza and pepper, and /b/ in which they are used as in boy and trouble.

/t/  /d/ lingua-alveolar plosives

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. English has two lingua-alveolar plosives — voiceless /t/ as in top and must, and /d/ which is voiced as in dog and troubled.

/k/  /g/ lingua-velar plosives

lingua-velar (from lingua tongue and velar the velum or soft palate) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  English has two lingua-velar plosives — voiceless /k/ as in cook and ask, and /g/ which is voiced as in dog and good.

Aspiration — aspiration refers to the release of air at the end of a consonant sound.  Plosives are naturally aspirated (because air is released following the stop portion of the sound.  Linguists often use the term aspiration only to refer to strong puffs of voiceless air after a plosive.  Sometimes the term “aspirated stop” is employed, but this is a misnomer as stops cannot be aspirated (aspirated stops thus being plosives).  Regardless of aspiration though, the procedures for producing sounds are the same, thus ‘aspirated /p/ is not annotated differently from non-aspirated /p/.

Continue reading Part 3.2: Fricatives

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January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

I HAVE YET to figure this out…

(yes, pay attention to the CAPS)

Linguistics is all about questioning what you already think you know about language.  And, as I’ve pointed out in other posts, in order to be an effective English instructor, you must also be a linguist — if not by career, at least by your willingness to question your understanding of the language.  My first ESL post is what actually led me to become a linguist.  I remember being in the classroom as a very green teacher and upon seeing the various looks of confusion on my students’ faces, thinking that there simply had to be a better way to teach English than the method used in that school (Callan Method).  I realised at the time that while these purely communicative methods provide learners with an inventory or forms and vocabulary, that they fail to convey any actual understanding of how or why to use this newly acquired knowledge.  Of course my next realisation was that neither I nor my fellow teachers really understood the various reasons and logic behind most of the usage we were teaching either.  Hence my entry into the field of linguistics, and the beginning of an ever ongoing project to research, classify, and explain the various bits of English grammar and syntax that confuse even the best of us at times.

Over the past three years I have been doing quite a bit of work on sentence structure, word order, and forms which are difficult for language learners to grasp.  I owe this to probably the greatest group of students I shall ever have — a class of 16 German engineers to whom I taught a 3 month intensive technical English course.  They were great for asking questions I couldn’t answer and for not allowing exceptions to the rules.  I made a deal with them at the time that I would research their questions until I found a fool-proof answer for them.  Three years later and I am still working on about half of those queries!

Much of my work has resulted in a classification system for modals (found here) that seeks to explain why some verbs, or forms, or other such sentences don’t mesh with the standard ‘rules’.  I’ve found that almost every one of the oddball constructions is a modal expression (just like shall, or will, or be going).  However, there is one form that I’ve been trying to figure out for well over a year now, and it’s actually the only but of standard grammar I have not been able to fully explain.  That form is:

have + yet + infinitive.

Examples include things like “I have yet to finish my homework,”  “he has yet to call home,” “I had yet to cook dinner when the fire broke out.”

These forms differ from other uses of yet and generally have an equivalent form in the perfected informational aspect:

I have yet to finish my homework  ≃ I haven’t finished my homework yet.

He has yet to call home  ≃  He hasn’t called home yet.

I had yet to cook dinner when the fire broke out  ≃  I hadn’t cooked dinner yet when the fire broke out.

Now, modal forms and adverbs both are often used to express mood in English.  And many times two completely different forms can be used to express the same mood.  Often one form has an added meaning that is perhaps a bit different than the other.  That’s probably the case here.  I have yet to actually figure out what mood is being expressed by these forms, but I am certain that have + yet is a modal phrase.

Modals in English have certain characteristics that set them apart from other verbs and verb phrases (these are outlined in the modal post below).  Certain attributes are only found in some modals though and not in non-modal forms.  Have+yet subordinates the verb that follows it into the infinitive form (requiring to); this is a modal-only characteristic.  Have+yet cannot be modified by other modals (will have yet is not possible), another modal characteristic.  Have+yet has no negative form.  This final one is characteristic that only modals and some auxiliaries exhibit.  It is also what separates Have+yet from the perfected forms with yet.

Thus, while I have no doubt that have+yet is in fact a modal, I still have no idea what mood (or moods) it expresses.

Any ideas?

December 19, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity

When do you use shall versus will?  And what is the difference between ‘will read’ and ‘going to read’?

Years of teaching English to non-native speakers has given me a sort of insider’s view into this shall versus will phenomenon.  What I have found is that asking any two native-speaking English instructors when to use a certain grammatical or lexical construction will often result in three, four, five, or more often conflicting ‘rules.’  What this shows is that not only do students of the language not generally understand the grammar, but most often native speakers and in also those tasked with teaching the language do not fully understand the grammar and proper rules of usage.  In surveying speakers of the language, teachers, and the content of method books and grammar guides, it has become quite obvious to me that in regard to futurity in English this confusion and uncertainty goes well beyond the simple issue of shall versus will but that it extends to the entire spectrum of future forms.

This paper discusses the role of tense, aspect, and mood in expressing future in English.  It discusses at length the ten ways of expressing the future and provides detailed rules on the usage of forms such as shall, will, be going, be about, etc.

It dispels folk etymology and opinionated theories on when to use one form or the other, instead providing a thorough inventory of all forms with detailed discussion of the roots of these forms, historical changes, and current usage.  It is hoped that through a better understanding of the differences in these forms and their usage, that speaker and language educators may better equip themselves to teach this often challenging bit of grammar.

Click below to read the entire paper or download it to your computer:

An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity

December 17, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Structural Classification of English Modals

Have you ever wondered which modals can be used where?  Or why ‘will be able to go’ is grammatical but ‘will can go’ is not?  Or why some modals require to before the modified verb while others don’t?   Then read on…

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Structural Classification of English Modals is the fourth in a series of five papers dealing with the basic grammatical structure and behavior of verbal constructions in modern English.  These five works: Voice in English:  Semantic Implications of the Passive-Active Paradigm (2007), Word Order & Syntactic Hierarchy in English (2007), A Logical Classification of English Aspects (2007), Structural Classification of English Modals (2009), and An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity (2009) are intended to provide a holistic overview of the core functions of the language and their inherent interactions so that a better understanding of modern English grammar may be attained.

Introduction

Modality is a contentious topic within the linguistics community with a vast diaspora of theories, approaches, interpretations, and classification schemes – some complementary and some far from it.  English relies on modal expressions more than many languages and possesses a vast complexity of mood and modal forms.  While there may be much debate as to which moods are or are not present in English usage, there is little to deny that mood plays an integral role in the meaning and structure of utterances in the language.  Mood is expressed in English via an ever changing number of marked and unmarked forms.  Regardless of specific modal usage being a point of contention among linguists and grammarians, language analysis shows a clear pattern of change in recent centuries toward increased usage of marked modal forms.  Many of these marked forms involve specific abnormal word orders, adverbial or prepositional cues, qualifying clauses or phrases, and verbal constructions functioning in an auxiliary manner.  It is not the specific moods, nor the meanings expressed by them that are the subject of this paper.  Rather, this is a discussion of these various marked verbal auxiliary forms used to manifest modality within the language.

This paper first discusses the auxiliary system of English utterances as outlined in Word Order & Syntactic Hierarchy in English (Ward 2007) and in particular the role modals as auxiliaries within this system.  It should be stated that the term modal, as discussed in this paper refers to any single word or words used as a marked form for expressing modality.  There is no credence given to terminology such as true modal, semi-modal, modal approximates, or the like.  Terminology such as the aforementioned reflect a  very limited and closed-minded approach to the study of modality and have more a place in efforts to classify structures based on historical views of modality than on the usage of the forms themselves.  As pertains to this discussion, modals express modality, and any marked form – whether a single verb, phrase, or other structure which together or alone expresses modality is a modal.  Upon adequate background discussion including word order, auxiliaries, and aspect, an accounting of all currently known structural classes of English modals shall be given with special attention paid to their form, behavior, and effect on the forms they subordinate.  Finally as thorough an inventory of modal forms as possible will be provided with reference to their respective structural classifications.

Continue reading, or download the entire paper to your computer:

Structural Classification of English Modals

December 17, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Logical Classification of English Aspects

A Logical Classification of English Aspects is the third in a series of five papers dealing with the basic grammatical structure and behavior of verbal constructions in modern English.  These five works: Voice in English:  Semantic Implications of the Passive-Active Paradigm (2007), Word Order & Syntactic Hierarchy in English (2007), A Logical Classification of English Aspects (2007), Structural Classification of English Modals (2009), and An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity (2009) are intended to provide a holistic overview of the core functions of the language and their inherent interactions so that a better understanding of modern English grammar may be attained.

Introduction

In years of teaching English and sitting in classes trying to learn other languages, one thing that has become evident to me is that most people do not understand the role of Aspect in language.  This is quite obvious when language learners are used as a thermometer against which to measure native speaker production errors.  There are quite well-known instances of widespread misuse of tense/aspect combinations.  North American English speakers are known to use forms such as ‘I saw’ when ‘I have seen’ is called for.  Likewise British speakers tend to use ‘I have seen’ nearly universally, even when ‘I saw’ or ‘I had seen’ would be the ideal forms.  It’s difficult to classify such happenings as error because grammar guides generally lack a clear explanation of the features, purpose, and usage of these many forms.  Those that do attempt to provide guidance, do so with a slew of competing ‘rules’ based on traditional prescriptive guidance or misperceived standards of usage.

The role of aspect in English is the one key attribute of the language which separates it from most other tongues, especially other Germanic languages.  The dynamics of aspect as both semantic and syntactic systems within English are complex and understanding of these processes are integral to fully understanding the grammar of the language.  It is my hope that this paper provides the historical and general linguistic background to understand the aspectual system of English, and that the proposed classification system for Aspect within the language may lead to a greater understanding and easier method of explaining the grammar and nature of the various forms of English conjugations.

Read the entire paper, or download it to your computer:

A Logical Classification of English Aspects

December 17, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment