Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Phonetic (or phonemic) gesture revisited (in the classroom)

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
In the development of our understanding of speech perception, one of the terms used by some researchers was "phonetic gesture." It essentially referred to the process by which sounds are perceived--the articulatory, not the acoustic properties. The key question was just how much one's ability to articulate a sound determined ones's ability to perceive it. What subsequent research has shown is that it is a mixed bag; the relationship between external properties of sound and our internal processing of it is very complex and developmental as well. In short, ongoing perception of speech turns out to be more a matter of our conceptual systems "expectations" than it is with the actual physical properties of what we hear. That is not to say that the felt sense of the bodily "mechanics" is not important and cannot contribute both to understanding and learning. I like the term, phonetic gesture, as relating to the somatic, physical side of sound production and perception. In our work, a better application of that idea might be "phonemic gesture," that is pedagogical movement patterns that represent key meaningful units of sound within English, including vowels, rhythm patterns, stress assignment and intonation contours. As noted earlier, one of my first, informal research studies was to sit in classes of my colleagues and take notes on the use of gesture they used to accompany pronunciation instruction. Those observations got me started on this line of thinking about 20 years ago. That language instructors adapt gesture for many purposes was the subject of this research by Stam and Teller. (Their work is reported in other publications as well.) One interesting finding was the expansion of the range and depth of field of motion of gesture used " . . . an equivalent of shouting in gesture form." So, what is your current pedagogical "phonemic gesture inventory?" What do you mean

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