1.0 THE SUBJECT
The subject was chosen among the primary school student who aged 10 years old. The subject’s name is Nur Khairy B. Khirudin. Khairy is a Malay boy who lived in Ipoh and went to Sk Pasukan Polis Hutan, Hulu Kinta, Ipoh Perak. He is the youngest child in the family. His father works as a policeman and his mother is a full time housewife. His first language is Bahasa Melayu where he uses it in his daily conversation with his family, friends and the surrounding communities.
He is obviously does not come from the English speaking environment where many of his friends are. Many of his friends are sons and daughters of teachers and government servants where they use English as a second language at home. He hardly speaks English at home neither at school. At school, Khairy got the chance to read English books and do some activities in the class with help of his teacher. Unfortunately for him, it might not be very helpful either. The English lesson is only carried out in the class but not outside of the classroom. The lack of conversation in the second language, more or less affects his pronunciation and his acquisition of the language.
For this project, Khairy was given a short passage to read. He was encouraged to read aloud so that recording can be done perfectly. His reading was recorded as it then will be analysed and discussed for his pronunciation features and problems he might have in his pronunciation.
2.0 THE DATA
The reading passage used for this project is stated below followed by its phonemic transcription and the transcription of the subject’s pronunciation difficulties.
‘The Great Flood’
Sumandak and her seven brothers lived in a little village atop Gunung Kinabalu. One night she had a dream an old man came to her and said, “Prepare some rice because a great flood is about to come.”
When Sumandak woke up, she decided to tell her brothers about the dream. Her brothers laughed when they heard about her dream. “You must be silly to believe in such nonsense,” they said.
Sumandak was upset. She vowed never to speak about her dream again to them but continued to prepare some rice.
Several miles away, a young man named Rokian, too, had a similar dream. In his dream an old man came up to him and said, “There will be a great flood soon. Build a boat and then you will not drown.”
Adopted from Quest magazine 2012, issue 93.
The phonemic transcription of the passage.
/sʊmandak ænd hɜː(r) ˈsev(ə)n ˈbrʌðə(r)s lɪvd ɪn ə ˈlɪt(ə)l ˈvɪlɪdʒ əˈtɒp gunuɳ kɪnǎbalu/. /wʌn naɪt ʃiː hæd ə driːm æn əʊld mæn keɪm tu hɜː(r) ænd sed “prɪˈpeə(r) sʌm raɪs bɪˈkɒz ə ɡreɪt flʌd ɪz əˈbaʊt tʊ kʌm/.”
/wen sʊmandak wɒk ʌp, ʃiː dɪˈsaɪdɪd tʊ tel hɜː(r) ˈbrʌðə(r)s əˈbaʊt ðə driːm/. /hɜː(r) ˈbrʌðə(r)s lɑːfd wen ðeɪ hɜː(r)d əˈbaʊt hɜː(r) driːm/. “/jʊ məst bi ˈsɪli tʊ bɪˈliːv ɪn sʌtʃ ˈnɒns(ə)ns,” ðeɪ sed/.
/sʊmandak wəz ʌpˈset/. /ʃiː vaʊd ˈnevə(r) tʊ spiːk əˈbaʊt hɜː(r) driːm əˈɡen tʊ ðəm bət kənˈtɪnjuːd tʊ prɪˈpeə(r) sʌm raɪs/.
/ˈsev(ə)rəl maɪls əˈweɪ, ə jʌŋ mæn neɪmd rɒkɪan, tuː, hæd ə ˈsɪmɪlə(r) driːm/. /ɪn hɪs driːm æn əʊld mæn keɪm tu hɪm ænd sed, “ðeə(r) wɪl bɪ ə ɡreɪt flʌd sʊn/. /bɪld ə bəʊt ænd ðen jʊ wɪl nɒt draʊn/.”
The transcription of the subject’s pronunciation difficulties.
/sʊmandak ənd hɪə ˈsev(ə)n ˈbrʌdə(r)s lɪvd ɪn ə ˈlɪt(ə)l ˈvɪlɪdʒ əˈtɒp gunuɳ kɪnǎbalu/. /wʌn naɪt ʃiː hæd ə driːm æn ɒld mæn kɑm tu hɪə ənd saɪd, “preˈpa: sʌm raɪs bɪˈkɒz ə ɡreɪt flʌd ɪz ə tʊ kʌm/.”
/wen sʊmandak wɒk ʌp, ʃiː dɪˈsɪdəd tʊ tel hɪə ˈbrʌdə əˈbaʊt ðə driːm/. / hɪə ˈbrʌdə(r)s lɑːfəd wen ðeɪ hɜː(r)d əˈbaʊt hɜː(r) driːm/. “/jʊ məst baɪ ˈsɪli tʊ bɪˈliːv ɪn sʌtʃ ˈnɒns(e)n, ðeɪ saɪd/.”
/sʊmandak wəz ʌpˈset/. /ʃiː vɒwəd ˈnevə(r) tʊ spiːk əˈbaʊt hɪə driːm əˈɡen tʊ dem bat kənˈtɪnjuːd tʊ praˈpe sʌm raɪs/.
/ˈsev(ə)rəl maɪls əˈweɪ, ə jʌŋ mæn neɪmd rɒkɪan, tuː, hæd ə ˈsɪmɪla(r) driːm/. /ɪn hɪs driːm æn əʊld mæn keɪm tu hɪm ənd saɪd, “ðeə(r) wɪl bɪ ə ɡreɪt flu:d san/ /bɪld ə bəʊt ənd ðen jʊ wɪl nɒt draʊn/.”
Note: The red phonemic symbols indicate the subject’s pronunciation difficulties.
3.0 ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF PRONUNCIATION FEATURES AND PROBLEM
The word ‘phonology’ refers to the linguistic knowledge about the sound patterns of a particular language. Phonological knowledge permits a speaker to produce sounds that form meaningful utterances. In the process of learning a new language especially for the second-language speakers, the absence of a good model and without guidance, the speakers tend to produce and adopt sounds of the language based on the first language’s sounds. Consequently pronunciation will never be acquired well. This is where the knowledge of phonology becomes important as it helps in improving the pronunciation of words in a particular language. From the transcription of the subject’s pronunciation, there are several problems the subject may have including the segmental and supra-segmental features. Relevant examples from the transcribed data are provided in this discussion.
First of all, we are going to look at one of the difficulties that the subject may have that is, weak forms. In English, words can be pronounced in two different ways which are called as strong forms and weak forms. There are about forty words in English which are pronounced in mainly two different ways. Some of these words have more than one weak form. In general, weak forms are much more common than strong forms; in fact, weak forms are the normal pronunciations and for this reason speakers should identify them and use them from the very early stages.
Weak form words usually contains a weak vowel, mainly /ə/ and are structural or function words, such as adjectival words, some pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and a group of auxiliary verbs as well as articles. In this case the subject has a trouble in pronouncing the correct weak form of the word ‘and’ in speaking. Based on the passage, the subject was giving an emphasis on the word ‘and’ in the sentence, ‘Sumandak and her seven brothers’. In spoken words, conjunction should not be stressed but the subject stressed on it where he said, /ænd/ instead of /ən/. The conjunction ‘and’ is not necessary to be emphasised or contrasted unless weak form word is being ‘cited’ or ‘quoted’. In addition, the subject also pronounced the word ‘but’ wrongly while he is reading the text. The weak form of this word is ‘/bət/’, ‘She vowed never to speak about her dream again to them but continued to prepare some rice’, ‘/ʃiː vaʊd ˈnevə(r) tʊ spiːk əˈbaʊt hɜː(r) driːm əˈɡen tʊ ðəm bat kənˈtɪnjuːd tʊ prɪˈpeə(r) sʌm raɪs/. Speakers who are not familiar with the use of weak forms are likely to havre difficulty understanding speakers who do use weak forms (Roach, 2009).
In addition, the word ‘some’ is used in two different ways. In one case, when it occurs before a countable noun, it is considered as strong form. But, based on the passage used, the word ‘some’ is used before uncountable noun, so it is a weak form. During the reading, the subject tend to give emphasis on the word ‘some’, /sɅm/. In the passage, ‘Prepare some rice’, ‘/prɪˈpeə(r) sʌm raɪs/’, ‘some’ is used before the uncountable noun ‘rice’, therefore, less emphasis should be given to that word. The correct sound used is /səm/ instead of /sɅm/.
Apart from that, the subject has the difficulties in segmental aspect of pronouncing the correct vowel in English. For instance, the word ‘her’ is supposed to pronounce as / hɜː(r)/ but the subject mispronounce it as /hɪə/. The /ɜː/ sound is a central vowel which is well known in most English accents as a hesitation sound spelt as ‘er’. This feature is hardly taken by the second language speaker like the subject himself, where he finds it difficult to pronounce. Instead of the sound /ɜː/, the subject used diphthong /ɪə/ as he pronounced the ‘her’ as ‘/hɪə/’. It is very important to note that the long vowel /ɜː/ has the length mark ‘:’ because it is used to help speakers to remember the length difference. Besides, the subject also have the difficulties in pronouncing the word ‘said’ as he said ‘/said/’ instead of ‘/sed/’. Same goes with the word ‘flood’ which the speaker said as ‘/flʊd/’. In English, there are several interpretations in every word that contained the grapheme ‘oo’. For instance, the sound of the grapheme ‘oo’ in the word ‘flood’ is a schwa /Ʌ/ or else /ə/. Thus the correct sound is /flɅd/.
Moreover, the subject has the problem in pronouncing the word ‘decided’ as he follows the letter ‘i’ and ‘e’ in that word and pronounced wrongly as ‘/dɪˈsɪdəd/’. Instead of ‘/dɪˈsɪdəd/’, the subject should say ‘/dɪˈsaɪdɪd/’. According to Louisa Moats and Carol Tolman (2011), phonological knowledge is critical for learning to read any alphabetic writing system. Poor reading and spelling development is the results of difficulty with phonological skills. In English language, the uses of alphabetic writing system which includes the letters and symbols represent speech sounds may help speakers to read the written language effectively. Without phonological skills one might not understand the printed or writing system and do not know how it represents the spoken words.
Every language has different phonemes and using different phonological phase. Phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that serves to distinguish two words. The place of articulation is important to produce sound according to the set of phoneme. Most non-native speakers of English language find that it is difficult to distinguish the sound of words that have the same manner and place of articulation but differ in the phonation. For instance, the letter /ð/ and /d/ are phonemes that the subject cannot distinguish. Based on the transcription of the subject’s pronunciation, the word ‘brothers’ is pronounce as as in /ˈbrʌdə(r)s/ instead of /ˈbrʌðə(r)s/ that vary in the phoneme /d/ and /ð/. The only distinction relies on the manner of articulation of the labiodental, which is the lower lip is contact with the upper teeth. By knowing all the types of phonemes which comprises vowels and consonants in the language, more or less will help in pronunciation and as well as enhance communication.
4.0 POSSIBLE CAUSES FOR THE PRONUNCIATION PROBLEM
Firstly, the breakdown in communication is the result of incorrect pronunciation of speakers. Phonology emphasis on special features of English pronunciation such as long and short vowels, consonants and etc.. The different sounds within a language are called as phonemes. By knowing all the types of phonemes which comprises vowels and consonants in the language, more or less will help in pronunciation and as well as enhance communication.
In addition it is important to note that different languages have different level of phonetics. The phonemic representation of a word has a close relationship with the phonetic representation or how it is pronounced. Phonology serves as a guide to speakers to learn the phonological rules to improve the pronunciation of the language. The function of the phonological rules in a grammar is to provide the phonetic information necessary for the pronunciation of utterances (Fromkin et.al 2011).
Articulation problems can occur if the child is fully depend on the mother tongue and most of the time, the child will read or speak according to the first language. If parents or guardians of a child are not native speakers of a language, the tendency of not acquiring good pronunciation skills is higher. In this case, the subject does not come from the English-speaking environment, so the acquisition of the language is less. Besides, although the parent has the knowledge of the language, if they did not practice it at home, the child cannot learn and thus will lead to the pronunciation problems. If a child learns her parent's native language and a different language common to the region where they live, the child will likely adapt the accent and articulation of her peers for the region's language over time. Same goes to if the child wanted to learn the English language, the child will adapt the pronunciation through what being spoken by the surrounding people especially the teachers at school.
In addition, the possible cause that might affect the pronunciation of the subject is hearing problems. A child started to develop the pronunciation skills and articulation at early stage. Hearing problem might one of the causes that a child may have and affect the acquisition of the sound of English words. While some children may have a speech sound disorder, those that do not can often self-correct their speech over time and benefit from encouragement and practice. This is where the teachers play important role as facilitator to guide the children to correct their pronunciation of particular words in English.
Besides that, most of the second language speakers started to learn the language at middle age which most of them learn it at school. Like the subject himself, he begins to acquire the English language at school and this more or less affect his articulation and pronunciation of words as he never encounters nor practice the words by himself. In order to acquire a language, one must start at the early stage of life. For example, children are being taught phonics in the early stage of language learning as it serves as a guidance for the children to recognise letters with the correct speech sounds. It then may improve their reading and spelling words in the later level. Elain Lutaz (2011) stated that children progress through certain stages of spelling development. One begins to understand how a language works through the sound of letters.
Apart from that, living in rural areas also could be the possible cause for the pronunciation problem. This is due to lack of contact of good English books and less English materials being exposed to the child. Sometimes the people do not care of the benefits of having good English materials to the language development of the children. The ignorance will result in the children are left behind in terms of acquiring the second language.
Phonology covers a wide scope includes the sound system of a language. This phonological knowledge is very important as it helps speaker in improving the pronunciation of words in a language and allows speakers to become articulate in figuring out meaning of words in a language. Besides the knowledge of phonology enables one in knowing the categories and manner of articulation that may help people with speech disorders. In the process of learning a new language especially for the second-language, the absence of a good model and without guidance, the speakers tend to produce and adopt sounds of the language based on the first language’s sounds. Consequently pronunciation will never be acquired well. This is where the knowledge of phonology becomes important as it helps in improving the pronunciation of words in a particular language.
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