Richard Cauldwell on the jungle of connected speech

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 11:30
IATEFL-Liverpool -

Richard Cauldwell is gradually developing a whole new set of words and images for conceptualizing connected speech, and his system is given power by his long experience in close analysis of natural, unscripted recordings. His principle claim is that unscripted speech radically departs from anything that the written form might lead us to expect. This point is made very graphic with his tripartite distinction between ‘greenhouse’, ‘garden’, and ‘jungle’.

Greenhouse English is characterized by words pronounced in citation form – as they might be represented in the dictionary, for instance. Garden English adds to this the features that emerge when words come together in connected speech, including features like weak forms, assimilation, linking and elision. This is the kind of language we typically hear in scripted audio material, in coursebooks, perhaps. These two ways of pronouncing are familiar and well covered in mainstream ELT materials. However, Richard’s third category, Jungle English, includes some very surprising revelations. In the environment of unscripted, unplanned, real-time communication, words may be radically modified in ways that the textbooks will never ‘allow’. For example, a word like ‘city’ may morph into ‘see’, or ‘something’ into ‘sumnin’. Some of these word ‘soundshapes’ are so surprising that competent speakers of English will deny they could occur – until confronted by the recorded evidence. This kind of evidence is supplied in the material Richard presents in his app ´Cool Speech' (speechinaction). In this material, the recordings are accompanied by scripts which are presented in tone units, with tonic stress indicated. The functionality of the app allows for re-listening to micro-excerpts so that the user can hear for themselves how radically reduced some words and phrases may become.

Richard explained that the most radical reductions occur in what he calls the ‘squeeze zone’, which is the part of the tone unit which lies before the first stressed syllable and the final tonic syllable. The longer the stretch of language between these two points, the more squeezed it will be.

Another evocative term Richard has coined is ‘sound substance’, which gives the image of the stream of speech as something very physical, elastic and infinitely pliable. He speaks of it as something rippling with colour and that may be handled and ‘savoured’. By savouring, he means trying out some of the sound substance you hear on the recording in your own mouth: trying to say it just as you hear it – not with the purpose of learning to speak that way, but rather, to boost awareness of how the spoken language really works. A good idea in principle, although many in the audience found it impossible to do in practice in some of the more extreme examples of ‘squeeze zones’. This is something which might be potentially off-putting for some learners. Although of course, if they are working on their own with the app, they may simply not do the ‘savouring’ activity.

Richard has self-published, under his company name ‘Speechinaction’, a handbook on Phonology for Listening which will be available on Amazon later this year.


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