Visits to this Blog

Monday, October 27, 2014

EwR Speaking - The Musical Sounds of the English Language

What is the MUSIC of the English language?

What are the components of the musical sounds of English
that help second language learners to learn better?

The music of the English language is very rhythmic and depends on how it is spoken by a native person. It depends on how words are pronounced together in a sentence or a question, and which words are stressed and which ones are not stressed. Intonation is the rise and fall of a person’s pitch of voice which manifests the rhythm in which someone speaks, and this is what defines the “music of a language”.

One of the most surprising ways a second language learner of English can improve his/her pronunciation is to understand what the rhythmic nature (the music of the language) is. For example, a new student of the English language is usually cautious to pronounce each word in a sentence very carefully in order to sound correct. However, this way of speaking is artificial and unnatural sounding to a native speaker.

The reason for this is that not all words are spoken in English with the same amount of stress or accent. Some words are stressed more than others, and other words are not stressed at all. This is the secret behind the authentic rhythmical sound of the English language. For this reason, a second language learner of English should practice listening to the music of the language and recognize which words are more important to stress. Words that are stressed are known as Content Words and non-stressed words are called Function Words.

Words that “can” be stressed are called Content Words. Their content and emphasis are very important in understanding the underlining meaning of what someone is saying. Content words include nouns (e.g., names of people, places, things and ideas), most main verbs (e.g., words that express existence, action, or occurrence), negative auxiliaries (e.g., negative verbs that go before a main verb), adjectives (e.g., words that describe people, places and things), and adverbs (e.g., words that answer “how”, “when”, “where” and “how much”).

Words that are generally “not” stressed are called Function Words. These words have the function of connecting content words in a sentence (or question) together in a meaningful way. Function words include determiners (e.g., word(s) that introduce a noun including articles, demonstratives, and subjective/objective/possessive pronouns), auxiliary verbs (e.g., modal and non-modal helping verbs), interrogatives (e.g, question words), prepositions (e.g., words that show the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence), conjunctions (e.g., words used to connect phrases, clauses, or sentences), and pronouns (e.g., words that replace nouns)."

When someone makes a verbal statement in English, and places special emphasis on a particular word, the underlying meaning of the sentence can change depending on which word is stressed. Look at the following example: I have a new red truck. This simple sentence can have many different levels of meaning depending on which word is stressed in the sentence.

Consider the meaning of the following sentences with the stressed word in quotation marks. Read each sentence out loud and place more emphasis when pronouncing the stressed word. You should be able to detect a change in meaning for each of the following sentences by simply stressing the different words in quotation marks.

"I" have a new red truck.
Meaning: I - not you, not my brother, not my friend, etc.

I "have" a new red truck.
Meaning: have - possess, not rent, not borrow, etc.

I have a "new" red truck.
Meaning: new - not an old one, not a secondhand one, etc.

I have a new "red" truck.
Meaning: red - not a green one, not a black one, not a white one, etc.

I have a new red "truck".
Meaning: truck – not a car, not a motorcycle, not a van, etc.

From the examples above, it is easy to see that there are many different ways a statement in English can be understood when someone is talking. The important point to remember is that the true meaning of a spoken sentence is not only expressed through the words that are used by the speaker, but also by the particular word that the speaker chooses to stress within the sentence.

It is evident that a second language learner of the English language can benefit greatly from the general understanding of sentences and questions, by increasing his/her awareness of the musical rhythm and phrasing of the English language.

The meaning of what one says, is not only included in the words that one uses, but also in how you say them and phrase them together. Stress on a single word in an English sentence can completely change the meaning of what one wants to communicate to someone else. This happens in the English language, but not in many other languages.

No comments: