Saturday, September 1, 2012

Better looking pronunciation of L2 English vowels

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
 Have done many blogposts that review research related to the nature of the visual field. Most accord with Casasanto of the University of Pennsylvania's comment that "Up equals good, happy, optimistic; down the opposite. Right is honest and trustworthy. Left, not so much. That's what language and culture tell us." Other research uses the parallel terms: bright~dark~hot~cool or external~internal~change~stability.

In EHIEP the standard vowel chart used in pronunciation teaching (based on the IPA system) is flipped around so that the front vowels are in the right visual field and the back vowels are in the left visual field. That was done, in part, based on marketing research that demonstrated that the phonaesthetic character of vowels fits much better with the right to left presentation, that is the "hot" vowels are the front vowels (and consequently should be in the right visual field, etc.)

Casasanto's research seems to shed new "light" on why we represent the visual field with such spatial metaphors. According to Casasanto,  given two identical objects or people, standing side by side, right handers tend to judge the one to the right more positively--and left handers tend to favor the one on the left. And furthermore, using techniques that change the felt sense of fluency in the "other" hand, a subject's response can be altered to become more positive (or negative). In other words, to some degree, the "body" dictates our immediate evaluation of both phenomena in the visual field and in our value system itself. And furthermore, ". . . those linguistic tropes? They probably enshrine the preferences of the right-handed majority." Interesting.

Perhaps we could set about retraining the roughly 10~15% of our students to feel more like right handers. Or we could do the same for the 85-90% of the right handers to get the "right" felt sense from the standard left to right IPA vowel chart. Have new sympathy, by the way, for left handers who have difficulty with the system--and for right handers who find learning (left to right) phonetics such an ordeal.

The two fluency-based pedagogical movement patterns of EHIEP (one resembling TaiChi; the other, boxing) probably work to create some balance between left and right. But, clearly it is time to figure out how to "give the other 15% more of a hand" as well! 

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