miércoles, 16 de julio de 2014

Analysing "errors": My "shame" list

When I first considered writing this blog, I thought of it as an answer to all my quandaries during my lessons. I was thinking of my students first, in fact. But now that I've embarked on this blogging adventure, I have noticed that I find my own processes fit for analysis, and that I can forge a better path for my students if I retrace my steps as a learner. Well. To be honest, I don't think I've ever stopped being a learner, myself.

This is why this blog post is going to address another of my obsessions with pronunciation which is part of my Evernote Moleskine notebook, travelling with me in my mobile and my bag. I humorously, and dramatically, call it....

The SHAME list!

Image credit:"De Paso Arte"
My "shame-on-you!" list includes a number of words that I have mispronounced systematically (or still do, at times!) (Now, I am not going to reveal his name, but there is a friend and great colleague of mine who also keeps one of these..... ;) ). This post, then, will examine some of my versions of these words, and an attempt at an explanation for my mispronunciations.

Warning! The words "error", "mistake", "mispronunciation" will appear a number of times in this post for the purposes of discussing some of the common views on this aspect of the learning process. I try to adopt a positive view towards error, try to be analytical towards it, and that is the spirit of this article.

A bit of theory first. There are different categorisations of "mistakes" around, and one of the views on "error" I first found attractive while a student at College was that outlined by Julian Edge (1989), in his book  Mistakes and Correction. In a nutshell, what I particularly liked about it was this division between:
  • slips: those "mistakes" made due to lack of proper attention, which, if pointed to, the student can self-correct.
  • errors: those mistakes we make which include features that have been systematised by teachers but which have not yet been "internalised" or "appropriated" or "automatised" by us; 
  • attempts: those mistakes which involve the student's experimentation with features that have not been taught, or the overapplication of rules into other contexts.
This leads me into another view that considers the source of error. This great article from Macquairie University explains this very neatly, and I would also like to make a point of some of these categories here:
  • Transfer from L1 errors: we all know that we tend to interpret foreign sounds from the filter of our L1 phonology, and as I have discussed in previous posts, the closer to L1 we interpret a foreign sound to be, the more likely we will have more difficulty in learning it (Flege, 1987 and others). Many interlanguage mistakes, then, imply the production of an L1 sound for an L2 quality which we consider to be approximate, or just because it is the only quality we have "at our disposal".
  • Spelling-to-Sound errors: these can be fully blamed on the irregular spelling of English (especially if the student uses a transparent, phonetic language as L1), and of course, you can then curse (or enjoy!) the history of English! (I've been reading a great book by David Crystal on this, highly recommended!). Students may merely apply an L1 sound to an L2 spelling looking similar to an L1 spelling, or interpret an English spelling he/she knows about into a context where in fact it is not associated to the sound in quesiton: bʌtcher for /ˈbʊtʃə /, for example.
  • Hypercorrection errors: this consists in the overapplication of a rule that does not fit into a context the student believes it should apply to. My secondary school students, for example, apply the /ɪd/ ending in contexts with sibilants, through analogy of the third person singular suffix rule: [wotʃid] for /wɒtʃt/.
  • Performance errors: this refers to the errors that may be "instilled" by the challenges of a particular task, that is, lack of weakening by some students when reading aloud, or overchunking when producing spontaneous speech, etc.
A note on another error-related issue. The transfer vs developmental debate: This is a very interesting way of looking at errors. As we have seen before, there are many common mistakes that reveal that the student is actively making hypotheses as to what the language "sounds like", and these cannot be truly seen as transfer/interference errors. At times we are so used to hearing some of these, that we fail to see that several mistakes are actually attempts towards a sound that may bring about difficulty. Take the sound //, quite rarely at times used in Spanish as an allophone of /ʒ/ (Yes, another debate as to whether /ʒ/ can still be taken to be the phoneme used for <y, ll> spellings in Riverplate Spanish over [ʃ] or the other way round. Long story! No time to draw on this here!). The video of a local celeb, Susana Gimenez, shows different renderings of the word "you" and some (not all, though) have [dʒ]:
(Sorry about this!) Now. When our students say [ʃip] for "jeep", they are not necessarily transferring this from Spanish, as a true instance of transfer would probably be something like [xip]. This pronunciation which makes our students' rendering of "jeep" homophonous with "sheep" reveals that our learners feel this sound is different and approximate it to a quality they may be more familiar with.
A hypercorrection mistake in this respect may be our students' use of [ʒ] for /ʃ/, as when they say "shopping" as [ʒopin], for example. This is becoming a bit of a sociophonetic feature, as I can easily identify some features of the social background of those students who generally pronounce this this way.

OK. Back to my own errors, then. My own "shame list".
 The horror! :p  List 1: [eɪ] for /æ/
The words below stayed fossilized in my interlanguage for a long time. They surely responded to my overapplication, hypercorrection of the /eɪ/ for "a" rule:
*enmel, tpestry, bbey (!)
for General British /ɪˈnæməl̩, i-,  ə-/, /ˈtæpɪstri, -ə-/, /ˈæbi /
(Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (LPD) (Wells, 2008), English Pronouncing Dictionary (EPD, 2011) edited by Hartman, Roach and Setter )
There was a sort-of famous song by a local rap band, here, called "Abbey Road". I guess I will have to blame them (ha!) for my serious mispronunciation of this placename while in London in 2010 (felt sooo ashamed!):

In the opposite direction, I remember having problems with the word apron, which I produced as [ˈæprən ] instead of /ˈeɪprən /, and [ˈæprɪkɒt ] for /ˈeɪprɪkɒt, -rə- /  .

List 3: Word Stress
Again, I guess some of these errors stem on either the hypercorrection of the Teutonic tendency towards early stress:  ˈcoincide,  inˈnovative or the overapplication of my perception of the French tendency towards late stress: maˈssage, misˈchief, emploˈyee . I could have also "fallen pray" to the influence of American English.
The proper word stress according to the cited versions of LPD and EPD goes:  /ˌkəʊɪnˈsaɪd, -ən- /, /ˈɪnəvətɪv, -veɪ-, ɪˈnəʊvətɪv / (Wells 2008 has an interesting poll on the pronunciation of this word!), /ˈmæsɑːʒ, -ɑːdʒ /, /ˈmɪstʃɪf / (EPD accepts /tʃi:f/) , /emˈplɔɪiː, ɪm-, əm-/. In this latter case, my own version is accepted /ˌemplɔɪˈiː/ but as the last entry in both pronunciation dictionaries.

List 4: [ʌ] for /ʊ/
Another case of hypercorrection in the words mʌstache, pʌssycat  for /məˈstɑːʃ, mu-/, /ˈpʊsikæt/. In the case of "moustache", American English influence may also be "to blame".
Many of my students also struggle with the word bʌtcher for /ˈbʊtʃə / and  cʌshion for | ˈkʊʃn̩ |.

List 5: Miscellaneous
A few other words I find myself at odds with, include: tournament, handkerchief, gauge, drawer, demise.
I was relieved to see in the dictionary that the first two words also accept my versions:  [ˈtɜːn ə mənt], [ˈhæŋkətʃi:f] and I guess my perceived "error" stemmed from making a spelling-to-sound connection. In the case of the second word, I believe it is the spelling that initially led me into an /i:/ sound.
My versions for the last three words: *[gɔ:dʒ][drɔ:ə][dəmi:z] for the words /ɡeɪdʒ/, /drɔː/, /dɪˈmaɪz /. I guess these three are mispronounced due to different reasons. In the case of "drawer", I thought it was a homophone of the "one who draws", so my analogy backfired here. For "gauge", I don't remember finding another <au> spelling being pronounced in this way and its etymology does not help me at all (I should maybe check the Phonology of Old French!?), so my knowledge of spelling-to-sound connections was used logically, I guess. In the case of demise, I guess it would probably have to do with the fact that the "-ise" ending is generally /aɪz/ in verbs, not nouns, where this ending is generally  /i:z/. So, in spite of applying the rule correctly, I have not pronounced it correctly (such is...English!)

Hope that some of these items of my "shame list" have helped you wonder about the source of your own mispronunciations! (At a very high level of obsession, you'll understand!)

To err is human, and "native" speakers of English also engage in frequent pronunciation "errors", and these are reported in some very interesting articles. Some views are really extreme and defo beat my own personal passion, let me tell you!

"8 Pronunciation Errors that made the English language what it is today:" - The Guardian . HERE
"100 Most Often Mispronounced Words in English" HERE
"More than 80% British People Can't Speak Properly" HERE
"17 Everyday Words you may just be Mispronouncing" HERE

Any pronunciation pet-peeves out there? Post them on the "comments" box!

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