Friday, December 23, 2011

The revenge of the canonical and "why the haptic in HICP?"

Clip art: Clker
On a pronunciation-related discussion board, Gary Carkin, Chair of the Spech-Pronunciation-Listening Interest Section in TESOL--and drama instructor, makes a very interesting point. (See the link to Gary's website on the sidebar.) The topic related to how to teach "attitude" along with intonation:

 " . . . Getting students to express that intent through their intonation and stress, slowly ingrains a habit. It takes a lot of repetition and is a slow process, but at least it is likely to stay with them more than when the problem is simply explained to them because they are feeling what they need to express (through character) and how that feeling will be successfully expressed . . . " 

One aspect of pronunciation teaching where explanation, good explanation, is critical is in working with the canonical in conversational discourse, that is the regular or expected locations in conversation where words are stressed and attitudes are relatively transparent. (See these examples of canonical poetry, that is basically more traditional poetry with regular rhythm patterning.) That generally indicates new or foregrounded information in English. Students' ability to even begin to interpret instances where sentence stress does not fall where anticipated depends, first of all, on having what Carkin terms a "feeling" for the canonical. 

One of the most serious shortcomings of much classroom work on focus and attitude today is the tendency to attend to explanation and the exceptions before the canonical is sufficiently established, creating a chaotic mix for the learner and no real basis on which to quickly identify the non-canonical, and, pulling back to the overall intent of the conversation momentarily, take a guess at what is up. That requires two things in tandem: First, as Carkin notes " . . . repetition" (exactly how much and when is the key question here) and an understanding of why it lands there. The latter can only be done in the context of a conversation, not in isolated sentences. Second, the feeling has to be anchored well. 

A clear (proactive, cognitive) framework for learners, along with haptic anchoring at least makes the process more efficient for those who do not learn as well inductively. (For those gifted "inducters" who can, drama is the only way to get it!)  With that balance "in hand," repetition, listening, drama--even habits(!), become more potent and engaging. So, ignore the canonical at your peril . . . most everything depends upon it. 

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