Monday, December 10, 2012

Giving pronunciation a bad name?

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
What you call it does, of course, make a difference, e.g., EHIEP or HICPR! But how's this for a concluding line to an abstract: "This work demonstrates the potency of processing fluency in the information rich context of impression formation." There are, of course, a plethora of potential reasons that a name or term may appeal or stick quickly, other than just "easier to pronounce," the focus of the 2012 study by Laham, Koval and Alter in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. That effect was evident irrespective of " . . .  name length, unusualness, typicality, foreignness, and orthographic regularity." In other words, if subjects (simply) reported that a name was easier to pronounce, for the most part that seemed to be based on ease of articulation and  perhaps a bit of "sound symbolism" thrown in.

The more interesting implication of the study, however, is the claim that ease of articulation translates into ease of processing fluency--and more favorable impressions or ratings for the bearers of the names, whether of a person, place or thing. So how is that for a criterion for vocabulary selection and sequencing? Begin with more positive words that are easier and more pleasurable to pronounce; hold off on the nasty consonant clusters and idiosyncratic intonation contours until later: what can be more easily pronounced will be encoded and recalled . . . better.

 At least it suggests that in the  process of targeting a specific vowel or consonant that, all things being equal, the anchoring and practice should not dwell on words that are overwhelmingly negative or which contain problematic articulation, despite the intrinsic "vividness" and affect "punch" involved. I had a somewhat "cynical"  colleague who taught pronunciation almost exclusively in the context of pollution--and who was always puzzled that his students were not more positive about the improvement in pronunciation that (should have) resulted. Based on this study, I suspect that the something of the combination of the grim topic/presentation and encountering terms such as "environmental" or "toxic" early on may have helped give his class a bad "name" . . .

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