# Theoretical phonetics. Study guide for second year students. Борискина О.О - 51 стр.

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51
day, generally with such speed that often we have our answer ready before the
person has even finished the question.
As listeners we can distinguish between the most subtle gradations of
emphasis. Most people, if they are reasonably attentive, can clearly detect the
difference between that's tough and that stuff between I love you and isle of
view, and between grey day and Grade A even though the phonics could hardly
be more similar. Sometimes, however, precise diction proves elusive,
particularly when there is no direct eye contact. (It is remarkable the extent to
which we read lips - or at least facial expressions.) Every newspaper person has
his or her favourite story involving slip-ups resulting from misheard dictation.
Despite these occasional drawbacks, listening is something we do
remarkably well. Speech, by contrast, is a highly inefficient process. We are all
familiar with the feeling of not being able to get the words out fast enough, of
mixing up sounds into spoonerisms, of stumbling over phonetically demanding
words like statistics and proprietorial. The fact is that we will never be able to
speak as quickly as we can hear.
Hence the tendency to slur. There has been a clear trend over time to
make our pronunciations less precise, to let letters lapse into silence or allow
sounds to merge and become less emphatic. This happened with –ed endings. In
Chaucer's day, helped was pronounced not 'helpt' but 'hel-pud', with the two
syllables clearly enunciated. By Shakespeare's time, poets could choose between
the two to suit their cadence - writing helped to indicate the historic
pronunciation or help'd to signify the modern one.
Such pronunciation changes are a regular feature of language. Sometimes
they occur with the speed of centuries, sometimes with seemingly hell-for-
leather haste. They appear from time to time in all languages for reasons that no
one really understands.
In England the Great Vowel Shift, as it is generally and somewhat
misleadingly called, happened later, roughly around the time of Chaucer. No one
knows why this vowel shift happened. As Charlton Laird has succinctly put it:
'For some reason, Englishmen started shoving tense vowels forward in their
mouths. Then they stopped. And they have remained stopped. Nobody knows
why they started or why they stopped.' For whatever reasons, in a relatively short
period the long vowel sounds of English (or tense vowels as Laird called them)
changed their values in a fundamental and seemingly systematic way, each of
them moving forward and upward in the mouth. There was evidently a chain
reaction in which each shifting vowel pushed the next one forward: the 'o' sound
of spot became the 'a' sound of spat, while spat became speet, speet became
spate, and so on. The 'aw' sound of law became the 'oh' sound of close, which in
turn became the 'oo' sound of food. Chaucer's lyf pronounced 'leef, became
Shakespeare's life, pronounced 'lafe', became our life. Not all vowel sounds were
affected. The short e of bed and the short i of hill, for instance, were unmoved,
so that we pronounce those words today just as the Venerable Bede said them
1,200 years ago.
                                       51
day, generally with such speed that often we have our answer ready before the
person has even finished the question.
As listeners we can distinguish between the most subtle gradations of
emphasis. Most people, if they are reasonably attentive, can clearly detect the
difference between that's tough and that stuff between I love you and isle of
view, and between grey day and Grade A even though the phonics could hardly
be more similar. Sometimes, however, precise diction proves elusive,
particularly when there is no direct eye contact. (It is remarkable the extent to
which we read lips - or at least facial expressions.) Every newspaper person has
his or her favourite story involving slip-ups resulting from misheard dictation.
Despite these occasional drawbacks, listening is something we do
remarkably well. Speech, by contrast, is a highly inefficient process. We are all
familiar with the feeling of not being able to get the words out fast enough, of
mixing up sounds into spoonerisms, of stumbling over phonetically demanding
words like statistics and proprietorial. The fact is that we will never be able to
speak as quickly as we can hear.
Hence the tendency to slur. There has been a clear trend over time to
make our pronunciations less precise, to let letters lapse into silence or allow
sounds to merge and become less emphatic. This happened with ed endings. In
Chaucer's day, helped was pronounced not 'helpt' but 'hel-pud', with the two
syllables clearly enunciated. By Shakespeare's time, poets could choose between
the two to suit their cadence - writing helped to indicate the historic
pronunciation or help'd to signify the modern one.
Such pronunciation changes are a regular feature of language. Sometimes
they occur with the speed of centuries, sometimes with seemingly hell-for-
leather haste. They appear from time to time in all languages for reasons that no
one really understands.
In England the Great Vowel Shift, as it is generally and somewhat
misleadingly called, happened later, roughly around the time of Chaucer. No one
knows why this vowel shift happened. As Charlton Laird has succinctly put it:
'For some reason, Englishmen started shoving tense vowels forward in their
mouths. Then they stopped. And they have remained stopped. Nobody knows
why they started or why they stopped.' For whatever reasons, in a relatively short
period the long vowel sounds of English (or tense vowels as Laird called them)
changed their values in a fundamental and seemingly systematic way, each of
them moving forward and upward in the mouth. There was evidently a chain
reaction in which each shifting vowel pushed the next one forward: the 'o' sound
of spot became the 'a' sound of spat, while spat became speet, speet became
spate, and so on. The 'aw' sound of law became the 'oh' sound of close, which in
turn became the 'oo' sound of food. Chaucer's lyf pronounced 'leef, became
Shakespeare's life, pronounced 'lafe', became our life. Not all vowel sounds were
affected. The short e of bed and the short i of hill, for instance, were unmoved,
so that we pronounce those words today just as the Venerable Bede said them
1,200 years ago.