sábado, 13 de septiembre de 2014

Conference Report #1: III Jornadas de la Didáctica de la Fonética (UNSAM, August 29th, 30th - Sept 4th, ENSLV JRF)

I attended a truly enriching event two weeks ago: a conference on the teaching of Phonetics, called " III Jornadas de la Didáctica de la Fonética", at Universidad de San Martín and the "Post-Jornadas" at "ENSLV Juan Ramón Fernández".
This post will be an attempt at reporting some of the highlights of the conference, at least according to my own personal interests. The pictures of the slides are a bit blurry but you can enlarge them by clicking on them, at least.

The conference started with a recorded interview to Alan Cruttenden by Mgtr Roxana Basso, which tackled points such as the use of the label "General British" and the motivations behind that choice (which I'd seen Jack Windsor Lewis explore years ago here) and the current associations in the media with RP. Mgtr Basso also discussed the future of the so-called Estuary English, to which Cruttenden, as many such as Prof Wells have done, agrees it will not become a future standard or "replacement for RP" as some people have claimed. Some interesting bits that were mentioned that make instruction and priorities for pronunciation teaching different from the ones ELF may propose were related to the role of word stress and hesitation pauses, which help learners become "native sounding", if that is the aim. There were quite a number of interesting views in these 20 minutes, and I could not take them all down, but the videoconference by Basso-Cruttenden will be made available online soon, so I'll link to it HERE once it is online.

The opening panel was brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the presentations by:
  • Alejandro Renato, who is working on an "intonation map" of Argentinian accents of Spanish using Sp-ToBI, from a connectionist perspective of perception. Renato mentioned the complexities behind the study and systematisation of intonational features, including the effect of sonority and duration, for example, in the measurement and meanings of contours, the need for a consideration of a "microtonal" dimension, and the multiplicity of dimensions operating and the amount of different layers of info encoded in a single contour. Brilliant remarks included the fact that human processing time is not lineal, as we work on different "temporal windows". There was also a critical review of ToBI.

  • Leopoldo Labastía, made a fantastic presentation on the ways we mark foreground and background information in Spanish and English through tone and focus (in my humble opinion, the best talk at the conference):

  •  María Emilia Pandolfi, an expert in the Phonology of Italian, discussed different activities to make pronunciation work more significant, communicative and contextualised.

On Friday afternoon, I made the most of the talks by:

  • Francisco Zabala, friend and brilliant colleague, who discussed ways of teaching Phonetics I from a top-down perspective. He has found that making students aware of stress, the contrast between content and function words, and the overwhelming presence of schwa, together with a few rules of thumb regarding spellings, can ensure student success in transcription and pronunciation.
  • Marisol Hernández,  teacher and actress who discussed some ideas to relate our pronunciation work to drama, and made a point of how talking another language is a way of "staging something through our bodies" 

  • Gonzalo Espinosa, Alejandra Dabrowski, Leopoldo Labastía from Universidad Nacional del Comahue reviewed the functions and intonation of cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences in English and Spanish and showed some great integrative materials for the Language and Phonetics lessons. I was truly inspired by the way they have managed to design instructional materials which place prosody in context and lead students towards using intonation naturally.
  • Adriana Cáldiz et al from Universidad Nacional de La Plata who reviewed different theories relating politeness to prosodic choices.

And later, I also made my own presentation on
ways of teaching the prosodic configuration of instructional discourse, based on my 2013 research and on the type of work I have been doing on Systemic Functional Linguistics and Discourse Intonation in the last two years, with my Lab 3 and 4 and Phonetics 2 courses.

Saturday morning was also interesting, with inspiring talks by 

  • Andrea Perticone, another colleague who has a great brain for Phonetics, particularly everything acoustic. She presented her preliminary findings on the way we hear tones, and particularly on what happens when there are "non-prototypical" tones, in our context, those tones that go beyond the "mould" presented by O'Connor and Arnold, which dominates our teaching of tones from an imitative perspective. There were thought-provoking remarks on micro-prosodic effects that need to be considered for pitch measurement (pitch scaling, intensity, duration, the temporal dimension) which ToBI may not consider; issues of stylisation and compression, and allotony. Looking forward to hearing more on this, it was great!

  • Lucía Rivas and  Miriam Germani from Universidad Nacional de La Pampa, who are also working on the prosodic configurations of genre from a SFL perspective (they are like my intellectual soul-mates!). They discussed their experience teaching intonation and discourse, and the need to get away from mere taxonomies to engage in discourse analysis proper, not only discussing linguistic but also paralinguistic features of text ypes.

  • Diana Martinez Salatín, who reported on an experiment relating pronunciation to transcription errors from interlanguage phonology theories.
There were also talks by colleagues from UNLP and UNCo stressing the importance of doing contextualised, significant dictation and pronunciation practice with authentic materials.

I missed the talks by Miriam Germani on Storytelling, and Ana Irazábal (Phonology FB page editor!) called "Funology", which I would have loved to attend, but concurrent sessions are like that.

On September 4th, the "Post Jornadas" took place at Lenguas Vivas Juan Ramón Fernández. My colleague Francisco Zabala made a presentation on the connections between phonetics and listening in our context of speakers of Riverplate Spanish learning English, and he reviewed some of the issues that affect comprehension and intelligibility. There were also some live comprehension experiments which proved how complex the whole process can be.

Almost a century of English pronunciation teaching in my country!

The next speaker was Patrick, a language assistant from the US, who commented on Upspeak, and some findings from the original paper on "Jeopardy" by Linneman. The presenter also made connections with political discourse and presented his own hypotheses on the matter.

Finally, another presentation by Andrea Perticone. This time, she discussed some connections between the Gestalt (notions of figure and ground) and issues of focus and tone in English, with clear examples and illustrative videos, very useful for learners. (And my intelligent phone run out of its unintelligent battery, which is why I don't have any pics, I am afraid :( )

Whenever I attend a conference, I generally feel excited about the networking, even more thrilled to learn new things, but I also cannot help feeling a bit miserable when I find that most of the research I do is self-imposed, non-funded, and that attending conferences generally means asking for the day off and getting that money discounted from my salary because the red tape in the City of Buenos Aires for us in tertiary education is just so impossible. 
Anyway, I believe this conference was brilliant, as I have found like-minded people doing work on prosody more even than before, and to see we all come from different places and traditions and still see eye to eye, and that we all "dared" trod the path of intonation and meaning, which many people fear so fiercely, was just inspiring, and I am really grateful for the experience.

So here's the bunch of us, like-minded Phonlings from ISP JVG, ENSLV JRF, UNCo and UNLPam phonetising over food! Obviously!

It is always the case with concurrent sessions that you miss out on a lot of presentations you would ehave liked to see, so I am not reporting on all the papers, obviously. If you are curious, the whole programme and presentation titles are available HERE. And I have made a summary of my live tweeting below:

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