Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pronunciation "Vowel-age"

Clip art: Clker

Clip art: Clker
Caveat emptor: This is a long post. Turn back now, O ye of little faith or short concentration span--or those who find discussion of bodily energy fields disorienting or otherwise!

As described in earlier posts, the types of vowels in the EHIEP system are characterized using "textural" terms, for example: "rough" (for lax vowels), "smooth" (for tense vowels), smooth-dynamic (for diphthongs) and "rough-dynamic" (for lengthened lax vowels preceding voiced consonants.) General phonetic descriptions of English consonants often use terms with obvious "textural" qualities such as fricatives, affricates, liquids, glides, etc.

 Within each of those vowel types, the felt sense of different vowels can be productively described for students in terms of a system or circuit of energy flow, intensity or "voltage," (aka "vowel-age!") in several senses. (There are some other "mystical" senses as well which will be avoided here, of course!)  The configuration or locations of the vowels in the visual field (a general mirror image of the IPA vowel chart for English) involves a set of nodes, one for each vowel, where the hands touch on prominent syllables.

Each node represents a point in the visual space in front of them where the nexus of texture, intensity (voltage) and vowel formants (resonance) of the vowel (and/or word) are anchored.  The analogy I have often used is Kirchoff's circuit laws: (a) the total energy going into a node in a circuit is equal to that leaving it. (A node does not absorb energy, only transfers for redirects it.) and (b) the sum of voltage around a closed system is zero.

The analogy to EHIEP work, taken largely from Lessac, for the learner is this: First, voltage or energy is redirected, expended and captured by performing a pedagogical movement pattern. The action is both communicative and energizing. (You use energy and intensity to perform/say the vowel but it is simultaneously "replaced" or balanced by the voltage experienced and "stored" in anchoring in memory.) Second, although different vowels have different inherent "vowel-ages" or vividness (see posts on the inherent phonaesthetics of vowels, for example, this recent one), the key is to experience them as a system, a whole, not as individual, isolated elements.

That is especially important when the learner's L1 appears to have vowels similar to the L2. One way to demonstrate that, for example, is to do a vocalizing "tour" of the "universal" vowel space, moving a hand slowing throughout as the vowel quality changes accordingly--done admirably by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, of course! So check your "vowel-age" regularly. It is certainly worth the time--and energy!

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