Saturday, April 12, 2014

Haptic solutions: [i] versus [I] - Not even close to a close vowel!

Clip art: Clker
Got any students who have difficulty making or hearing the distinction between [i] and [I] or [u] and [U]? In articulatory and perceptual terms, those two pairs of vowels are problematic for learners from many different L1s. Phonetic descriptions refer to [i] and [u] as close vowels; the other two are said to be done with the tongue "not so close" to the roof of the mouth.

Advice to learners on how to produce the differences ranges from "Smile more on [i]" or "Round your lips more on [u]," to "Tense your jaw more on one," etc. Vowel charts typically have them located very close together visually, often in the same high-front or high-back box. (Why the IPA chart or something close to it is used for learners has always been a mystery to me. Probably something to do with the linguists who set it up?) As explored in several earlier blogposts, even the choice of the left to right (front to back) lay out of the vowel chart is apparently arbitrary--and from a phonaesthetic perspective, probably backwards. (EHIEP does go right-to-left, in fact.)

The importance of spatial positioning in anchoring conceptual and emotional "closeness" has just been highlighted in a new study by Maglio at the university of Toronto-Scarborough and colleagues, briefly and informally summarized by our friends at " . . . something that feels close in one way, such as physical distance, will also feel close in time, probability, and social similarity." 

In the case of haptic vowel positioning, the opposite should apply; those perceived as more haptically dissimilar should be easier to distinguish and produce. In the EHIEP system, those pairs of vowels are experientially "distanced" by: 
1. Being visually distinct: [i] is represented as [iy]; [I], as [I]
2. Pedagogical movement patterns that are very different. On [iy] the left hand had brushes by the right hand (positioned at 1 o'clock in the visual field) and continues on to just above the middle of the forehead at the hair line. On [I], the left hand lightly taps the right hand, positioned at 2 o'clock. 
3. The typical student reaction to learning the haptic distinctions between close and non-close vowels  involved being something like "Those vowels are really not that close at all!" Exactly. 

See demonstrations of double smooth (tense vowel + off-glide) and single rough vowels (simple lax or tense vowel) there on or on the AH-EPS website. If a demo is password-accessible only by the time you go to look at it, email for temporary access.

Stay close; keep in touch. 

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