Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Expressiveness in pronunciation instruction

Clip art: Clker
A few blog posts back I assembled a set of musical terms that could be used to characterize speaking performance. For example, as part of a set up for the mood of a dialogue, you could indicate something like "con spiritu, a placere" (with spirit, but need not follow strict rhythm pattern). Another term, espressivo (expressively), appears (as "expressiveness") commonly, for example, in rubrics used in public speaking or classroom presentations, etc. I have over the years done several workshops with titles like "Expressive pronunciation," the idea being that if you can get learners to be more "expressive" (however that is defined) you should be better able to move them to fluency and integration of focus-on-form targets. What is "expressiveness?" Here is 2005 a study by Fabian and Schubert that looked at how that concept was unpacked and used in a study of listener judgment of two versions of a Bach violin concerto. Some of the parameters of expressiveness and related criterion used in the study were:
Clip art: Clker
  • Phrasing (Continuous, Legato, Articulated, Detailed)
  • Tone Production (Vibrato, Intensity, Straightness, Lightness) 
  • Rhythm (Grouped, Strict, Measured, Flexible)
Subjects were also asked to rate each performance on more global criteria : Romantic Expressiveness  and Baroque Expressiveness. Not surprisingly, each of those two correlated quite directly with very differing subsets of the three "linguistic" categories. The point of the study was to demonstrate that expressiveness can be understood from a set of parameters such as those and that its realization in any piece or context will depend upon the style in which it is situated. The same goes for oral production or interpretation of any text used in pronunciation-focus work: By systematically and explicitly varying those or similar parameters, learners can be assisted in speaking "expressively" within their own personal L2  expressive style or identity, whether more "Baroque-like" or more "Romantically." Just because the learner seems relatively over-"buttoned down," rigid or emotionally constrained does not mean that he or she cannot develop genuine, authentic expressiveness. In other words, If it's Baroque, don't (be too quick to try to) fix it!

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