Monday, October 1, 2012

The bread and butter of pronunciation use and homework: units of change and practice

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
There is virtually no systematic published research on what goes on outside of class when learners practice their L2 pronunciation assignments  or work on their own. (There was a blogpost earlier based on a study by three linguists who talked about their own self-directed pronunciation strategies and practice but the concept of what size of unit or speech string was the focus was not specifically adressed.) A very interesting study by Christiansen and Bod at Cornell, summarized by Science Daily, "How hierarchical is language use? brings into question the idea that language production relies on a seemingly multi-layered deep structure, analogous to that proposed 50 years ago by Chomsky and friends. Specifically:

" . . . language is actually based on simpler sequential structures, like clusters of beads on a string . . . What we're suggesting is that the language system deals with words by grouping them into little clumps that are then associated with meaning," he said. Sentences are made up of such word clumps, or "constructions," that are understood when arranged in a particular order. For example, the word sequence "bread and butter" might be represented as a construction, whereas the reverse sequence of words ("butter and bread") would likely not."

Any number of models of language use and instruction rely on a similar core constructs, relatively "shallow" structure and meaning "circuits" involved in moment by moment language production. EHIEP, for example, is based on the idea of using only noun and verb  phrase "length" units as vehicles of pronunciation change focus--not word-length or longer than phrase-length sequences.

Not doing enough pronunciation work? You may be doing too much . . .

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