English as a second language/Pronunciation
The vocal organs are the parts of the body used for speech. Everyone uses their vocal organs differently. In English as in other languages, the way a word is spoken by one person can be different to the way it is spoken by another person.
Differences are greater between people who speak different dialects. A dialect is a type of language spoken by a group of people. Like the differences between individuals, the way a word is spoken in one dialect can be different to the way it is spoken in another dialect. This is because the speakers of different dialects use their vocal organs differently (e.g. in the English language, British English is spoken differently to American English).
The main vocal organs are in the mouth (e.g. the tongue, the lips, the teeth) and in the throat (e.g. the vocal cords). The lungs are also called 'vocal organs' because they are parts of the body used for speech. When you speak, your lungs breathe air through the vocal tract, where the vocal organs are.
This chart shows the similarities and differences in British, American, Australian and New Zealand English.
RP: Received Pronunciation
GA: General American
AuE: Australian English
NZE: New Zealand English
English Phoneme Production
English Language Timing
Language timing is the rhythmic quality of a particular type of speech, in particular how syllables are distributed across time. There are two types of language timing: stress timing and syllable timing.
In a syllable-timed language, every syllable is thought to take up roughly the same amount of time when pronounced, though the actual length of time of a syllable depends on situation. Finnish and French are commonly quoted as examples of syllable-timed languages. This type of rhythm was originally metaphorically referred to as 'machine-gun rhythm' because each underlying rhythmical unit is of the same duration, similar to the transient bullet noise of a machine-gun.
In a stress-timed language, syllables may last different amounts of time, but there is a constant amount of time (on average) between two consecutive stressed syllables. English, German, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese are typical stress-timed languages. Stress-timing is sometimes called Morse-code rhythm. When spoken faster, a stress-timed language usually shortens, obscures, or drops vowels to carry more syllables between two stresses without changing its rhythm so much.
Origin of differentiation This difference comes from the human's two senses of rhythm. When a human hears a fast rhythm, typically faster than 330 milliseconds (ms) per beat, the series of beats is heard as one solid noise. For example, a human can imitate a machine gun sound, but hardly count its beats. Conversely, when a slow rhythm is heard, typically slower than 450 ms per beat, each beat is separately understood. The speed of a slow rhythm can be controlled beat by beat, such as hand clapping in music.
If a language has a simple syllable structure, the difference between the simplest and the most complicated syllables in the language is not wide, and it is possible to say any syllable in less than 330 ms. This includes languages that have very few consonants in each syllable. Thus we can use the fast syllable-timed rhythm. If a language has complex syllables such as ones with consonant clusters, the difference between syllables can be very wide, such as the words a and strengths in English. In this case, the language has slow stress-timed rhythm.
English Sentence Stress Rules
Stress Content Words
Content words carry meaning. Content words are:
- Main Verbs
- Negative Auxiliaries
Do NOT Stress Structure Words
Structure words support grammar and are of secondary importance, so they are not stressed. Structure words are:
- Auxiliary Verbs
English allows you to intentionally emphasize what is otherwise a structural word. For example:
- When in yours you can do what you want, but do not smoke in my car.
Meaning that it is not anyone else's car. By changing the normal pattern of stress, you draw attention to this word.
I WANT to HOLD your HAND.
You DIDN'T TELL her the TRUTH.
PLAYing on the ROAD is NOT a WISE CHOICE.
- Wikipedia Stress Timing
- Roach, Peter (1998). Language Myths, “Some Languages are Spoken More Quickly Than Others”, eds. L. Bauer and P. Trudgill, Penguin, 1998, pp. 150-8
- BBC Stress Timing Exercises
- English Club Sentence Stress Exercises
- English Club Word Stress and Sentence Stress Overview
- About English Word Stress Changing Meaning
- English Club Sentence Stress Rules
- How To Pronounce Dates and Numbers in English