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Dave Huxtable

Beyond The Phoneme

Full Title: Beyond the phoneme – improve your pronunciation using suprasegmental phonetics and articulatory settings.

Speech is an intricate dance. We control our lips, tongues, soft palates, vocal cords and lungs independently of each other. Sometimes they move in unison, sometimes the changes are staggered. As we move from one ‘sound’ to another, there are myriad states and positions in between. Alphabets, including the IPA, provide just snapshots at different stages of the movement, capturing some information and ignoring the rest.

Just as different styles of dance have different stances – a straight back here, loose arms there, wrists relaxed, knees bent etc. – so different accents have different default postures for the various speech organs. Relaxed lips can be spread or have different kinds of rounding, the resting position for the tongue can vary, sets of muscles can be tense or lax. These default postures are known as articulatory settings.

Your pronunciation of your target languages will be much better if you learn to recognise and imitate their articulatory settings. At the same time, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to pronounce words and sentences by seeing how airflow, voicing, nasalisation, secondary articulation etc. do not chop up into segments as easily as our alphabets would have us believe.

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20 Comments

  • Alanood says:

    Thank you Dave for this presentation.

  • RekaToka says:

    Thank you for this great, informative, funny and delightful speech! Loved it! 🙂

  • RonP says:

    This was an informative, funny and thoughtful presentation. Thank you, Dave.

  • Gio says:

    This was enlightening and mind-blowing! Thanks for share!

  • Janick Bartels says:

    Hi Dave, thank you for this really amazing talk.

    I teach German pronunciation on italki, but unfortunately I don’t have a background in linguistics. Most of my pronunciation teaching methods are based on what my ear and mouth taught me about phonetics and languages and I don’t know much about “the science of pronunciation”.

    I think I do a great job as a pronunciation teacher, but I do sometimes get to my limits with some sounds that e.g. my student from Vietnam has difficulties with. She would for example have a Vietnamese element in her sound (maybe adding 20% Vietnamese flavour to a mostly well spoken German sound) that I cannot locate in her speaking apparatus (I’ve never properly studied Vietnamese).

    Learning more about the phonetics and studying how and where they are produced as well as the proper terminology would help me a lot to do a better job as a teacher.

    Do you have any material or advices where and how I can study the basics of what your talk is about?

    Thank you for your time.

    Janick Bartels

    (we’ve met last year in Fukuoka, but haven’t really gotten to know each other)

  • Olga Olina says:

    Hello Dave, I’d like to thank you for your exciting talk! Olga

  • EstherB says:

    Absolutely fabulous. I’m going to watch it again. in japan, the Japanese people could hear a distinct accent difference between me (Montreal anglophone) and my colleague (Toronto). I could hear it too, but he could not. It was the Merry/marry hairy/Harry issue, mostly. Do you have a blog or something to follow?

  • DaveHuxtable says:

    Thanks for all your lovely comments!

  • Valentin.cb says:

    Very perceptive explanation, thanks for sharing Dave!
    I haven’t noticed that visceral Dutch “s” before, I can now better “adopt the position” – *giggle*

  • Heidi says:

    I really loved this presentation. If you can’t suggest a book, this means you learned everything just by observing the languages and how you learn them? I think I’ll listen to your presentation a few more times … 🙂

  • PinAngel says:

    This was a wonderful topic. I would love to dive deeper. I’m eternally fascinated by the mechanics of speech. I have found it’s easier for me to recreate the sounds of languages that tend to sit “forward” in the mouth(Spanish or Romanian) while it’s a bit more difficult for sounds that sit in the back of mouth(German). With more knowledge of how the sounds are created, I can more closely create a “proper” accent. Thank you so much for your presentation, it was fascinating.

  • DaveHuxtable says:

    @IoannesOculous. I’m afraid I don’t know of a good book on the topic. It’s a practical skill best learned from a teacher in person.

  • DaveHuxtable says:

    Ute, related languages don’t necessarily have similar articulatory settings. Different accents of the same language can vary greatly in this regard. Conversely, Basque, Spanish and Galician have similar settings despite being separate languages but in close geographical proximity.

    I’m not sure about the rest positions of the languages you mention. Dutch is definitely characterized by a retracted tongue and a relaxed larynx. German and Italian have tense articulations in common.

  • DaveHuxtable says:

    JimmyP I think it is really useful in the beginning to work with a teacher with a good ear and ideally a grasp of phonetics who can tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.

    It’s not something you should beat yourself up over, either. For most learners, our goal is to be easily understood rather than to pass ourselves off as a native.

  • Very interesting video, thank you. I find general phonetics very interesting but also quite challenging. Can you advise a book on the matter?

  • JimmyP says:

    Hello Dave,
    First of all, thank you for this very illustrated conference.
    Like you said, it is difficult to reproduce sounds just by reading about how the organs should be (last time I tried, I felt like I was swallowing my tongue 🙂 )
    I was wondering, from your experience, is there an efficient way of learning how to articulate new sounds that you do not have in your native language? I try to listen to recordings, record myself and compare, but when it’s not good enough, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s wrong !

  • Ute says:

    Thank you for this very interesting talk on secondary articulation and the origin of sounds like the light l vs dark l etc. , the homophones (retroflex R in US American) etc. I would like to know what the rest position for other speeches are, you mention the French speech. What about German, Italian, Dutch… Are these rest positions similar in languages who have the same roots?

  • Bec-IrregularEndings says:

    Super interesting presentation, Dave – thank you for sharing this!

  • heatherk says:

    Fascinating talk! Brought me back to my undergraduate days studying linguistics and communication sciences. I live for all these examples 😀 Thanks Dave!

  • joshapolyglot@gmail.com says:

    Interesting.

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