Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The color and felt sense of English vowels

The "Color Vowel Chart," apparently based on Finger (1985), is a clever mnemonic framework for giving students a memorable key-word and color for vowel sounds. Those CVC color choices are based on the vowel in the color word, etc.

The matrix below, by contrast, shows the EHIEP color schema, based on a number of studies of vowel phonaesthetic qualities, or felt sense, and related neurophysiological properties of the visual field. (See several earlier posts.) In essence, front and higher vowels are lighter; lower and back vowels are darker. The EHIEP vowels are displayed as a mirror image of the standard IPA vowel chart (which the Color Vowel Chart represents in standard format.)

Notice some of the interesting correspondences/contrasts between the two systems:
(a) The colors green and black are in the same positions,
(b) The "central" vowels are very similar in character, although not similarly aligned, and
(c) The diphthongs have some parallels. In CVC, "oy" is turquoise; in EHIEP it is blue to white. In CVC, "aw" is brown; in EHIEP, brown to green. In CVC, "ay" is white; in EHIEP, brown to white.
(d) In both CVC and EHIEP high vowels are lighter than low vowels.
(e) The CVC vowel color for "e" (red) is close to the EHIEP color (mid-front) of orange.
(f) The CVC vowel in "silver" would be white in EHIEP.
(g) The CVC for "blue" would be green or green to purple in EHIEP.
Bright Yellow
Dark Green


For what it is, the CVC works well, but just imagine the impact were it to be a bit more neuro-physiologically tuned in and haptically anchored. Why . . . it'd be "off the charts!"


Bill Acton said...

Here is the reference for the new version of the CVC:
Taylor, Karen, and Shirley Thompson. (1999). "The Color Vowel Chart." 1 Sept. 2008. (Shirley Thompson is an old friend. From that website you can get a couple different versions of the CVC and related materials.)

Bill Acton said...

As in earlier posts, hat tip to one of our graduate students at Trinity Western University, Rachael Caunce, who is doing her MA thesis on the semiotics of color as applied to ESL/EFL teaching materials. Rachel's research introduced me to the "meaning" of the color spectrum and how it is represented in various ways in teaching.

KAT said...

Hi, Bill,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on The Color Vowel Chart. I visit your blog regularly, and while I’m afraid we won’t be adopting your color recommendations anytime soon, I love the work you do with movement and pronunciation practice.

In your blog entry, you state that The Color Vowel Chart is “based on Finger (1985).”

To clarify, I developed the chart on my own in 1999 independent of Julianne Finger's work (which I came across only this year in her article, "Teaching Pronunciation with the Vowel Colour Chart" (1985). Shirley Thompson joined me in my work toward the end of 2000, and we've been teaching and training with The Color Vowel Chart ever since.

The use of color-based key words is not new and, in fact, predates Finger (Joan Morley refers to color words in one of her earlier texts).

The use of color words was, however, new to ME at the time that I created my chart. I'd been reading Howard Gardener's work on Multiple Intelligences theory when I attended a colleague's presentation on using key words. The presenter’s key words, presented in a table format, featured both familiar objects, such as "foot", and color words, including "purple," to represent specific vowel sounds. I was struck by the use of "purple" and set out to create an all-color vowel chart. (You’ll notice that some of Finger’s colors vary from ours, and that her graphic representation of vowels is markedly different from ours.)

What IS unique about our chart is three-fold, namely:

A) the visual presentation of the chart itself, which is sophisticated enough to accurately represent the vocal tract and the sounds of English (from a linguistic perspective) yet simple enough to use with learners of all ages and literacy levels;

B) the instructional techniques afforded by The Color Vowel Chart, namely, by allowing teacher and learner to refer to the “color” of a given word based on the stressed syllable. (In this way, the word “amazing” is GRAY, while “astounding” and “powerful” are BROWN, and “beautiful” is BLUE.); and

C) the inclusion of glides and liquids (/y/, /w/, and /r/) at the top of the chart, which helps users understand and master vowel-to-vowel linking.

As much as your color recommendations make sense from a brain perspective, our color references allow for a simplified classroom discourse where learners and teachers can easily identify the “color” (stress) of a new word and move on in their lesson without having to use phonetic symbols or numbering systems to refer to vowels.

I am, however, experimenting with the use of movement and touch (inspired by your TESOL 2009 presentation) to help teachers and students acquire and produce vowel sounds not found in their native languages. Thank you for the work you do.

Karen Taylor
Co-Author, The Color Vowel Chart

Bill Acton said...

Good point, K. Sorry about the "based on" reference to Fingers (1985). Have used that article, myself, in teachers training for 20 years. Because of the close resemblance, I just figured it was a very "colourful" update. I assume that that citation/ acknowledgement will be posted on the CVC website. Karen's comment about the purpose of CVC, that it is for the classroom teacher, is a very valid one. It is a vivid mnemonic which works well. (Why and how it does is another question, of course.) My point in using it in this blog post--other than to just let more people know about it!-- was only to illustrate where the field, in general, is today, both in terms of understanding of the psycho-dynamics of color and the arbitrary positioning of the APA vowel matrix. HICP methodology also "works" in the classroom using only vowel numbers, too, but the ultimate goal is to teach pronunciation in virtual reality. There, the neurophysiological fit matters greatly.

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