Phonology and Technology

Working with the International Phonetic Association (IPA) this week. I am certainly not an expert in phonology or phonetics, but it doesn’t take much to get a generative conversation going when you put up a chart on a wall and say, “Hey, let’s study this.”

Here is the picture of the chart I put on the currently blank bulletin board:


We started working with the voiced (purple) consonant phonemes and adding some examples of words that have those phonemes. We never talked about sounds. We talked about spellings and graphemes that can represent the phonemes, sometimes digraphs and sometimes single letter graphemes. The chart clearly shows that there is no one-to-one sound-symbol correspondence in English. Just look at proof in the voiceless (green) alveolar fricative /s/ in the words sat, missand city. 

I asked my students to describe the phonemes when they partnered up to choose a symbol to explain in a video. The requirements were that they had to explain 1) the place of articulation 2) the manner of articulation and 3) use examples. They used their IPads to create the videos and they came up with a lot of their own examples. A few favorites were the voiced post-alveolar fricative /ʒ/ in the example genre and the voiceless labio-dental fricative /f/ in Sophie.

After students finished video-taping themselves, they got to share their videos in a shared Google Drive and upload them in one space. We made QR Codes and printed them out to add to the wall. With a QR Reader app, students can scan any code to get an explanation of any of the phonemes on the wall.

As if this wasn’t enough to get me excited about using phonology, I have one student that speaks Amharic and another learning Vietnamese. They took this and ran with it.

Here is what my student studying Vietnamese did:


I learned from my student that only in Saigon do they have a retroflex, whereas other parts of Vietnam don’t. We will have to fact check that at some point.

Here is a screenshot of some collaborating I did with the student who speaks Amharic:

Collaborating with Kidus

His final (for now) product:

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 5.55.25 PM

We aren’t looking for all the right answers, but we are looking to understand, compare and contrast languages to see what hypotheses we can come up with and falsify.

In addition to consonants, we got into discussions using the vowel quadrilateral. We talked about how vowels glide and the movement of the jaw and tongue. “What do you feel?” rather than “What sound do you hear?” was a common adjustment to our language when describing the vowel quad.

Finally, the vowel quad discussions led to talking about stress, polysyllabic words, parts of speech and connected text! WOW! That is a lot of generative discussion and a lot of different routes to go.

Consider the word object. How might we describe the stress in this word? Well, it depends on the context. Consider it as a noun in the sentence: I placed the object on the table. Now consider it as a verb: I object, your honor. Is there a difference in stress? Why is that important? It certainly has an effect on spelling conventions. Try some examples with inference and if you don’t believe me, check out the word sum: in + fer + ence -> inferrence.*

I suppose this is all to say, how would you discuss all of these connected parts of language if all you do is talk about a “sound rule” and juxtapose it with an “exception?”

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