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Problems of Phonostylistics


A speaker uses a great number of varieties of the language according to the situations he finds himself in. As he/she moves through the day, so the variety of the language he/she uses is moving. It is changed instinctively or consciously at home, with friends, at work, so on. An educated speaker is multilingual. Functional stylistics studies certain aspects of language variations. The aim of it is to analyze language habits and identify the linguistic features which are restricted to certain social contexts, to explain them and to classify them.

It is important to realize what kind of English is used in the process of teaching. We all agree that we are to teach the norm of English. But there isn't much agreement as far as the term "norm" is concerned. This term is interpreted in different ways. Some scholars associate “norm” with the so-called "neutral" style. According to this conception all stylistically marked parameters do not belong to the norm. More suitable, however, seems to be the conception which considers the norm as a complex of all functional styles.

There are 3 so called levels of functional stylistics: lexical, syntactic and phonetic. We shall deal only with phonetic stylistics or phonostylistics.

Phonostylistics studies the way phonetic means of the language function in various oral realizations of the language. The choice of the phonetic means suitable to this or that situation depends on a number of factors, among which extra-linguistics ones are very important as they result in phonostylistic varieties.

The most important extra-linguistic factor is the aim of utterance, which is a sort of strategy for the language user. People speak in order to inform, persuade, instruct, narrate, etc. In each particular case speakers select a number of intonational means that serve his/her purpose and make his/her speech more effective. That is why the aim of utterance is considered to be a style-forming factor, whereas the rest are style-modifying ones.

The nature of intercourse or the form of speech can also influence the choice of a phonetic style. It suggests listening, speaking, or exchanging remarks and may be a lecture, a discussion, a conversation, etc. Depending on the number of participants it may be a monologue, a dialogue or a polilogue. The last factor sets the degree of speech spontaneity or preparedness. An utterance can be qualified as fully spontaneous, when the verbal realization of speech is simultaneous to reproduction of the idea in the mind of the speaker. Speech is half-prepared when the speaker has thought over what he/she is going to say (for example, a teacher giving explanations at a lesson). Speech is fully prepared when the speaker prepares the reading of a piece of prose (or poetry) or when he/she quotes. In this case the speech is prepared in advance, is written on paper and is generally read.

Other style-modifying factors include social and psychological situations. The occupations of the speaker and the listener, the social status, age and gender determine the degree of formality of speech and the attitudes expressed (it may be a friendly talk, a formal conversation, public or non-public speech, etc.). If the situation is formal the speaker will tend to articulate more slowly and carefully. Individual sounds will be given their full forms, none will be omitted. In a very informal situation, on the other hand, he/she will be more likely to speak quickly, less carefully, and some sounds will either change their form or be omitted entirely.

All these factors are interconnected and interdependent in everyday life situations and it’s normally the combination of several of them that characterizes the phonetic style.

The task of phonostylistics is firstly, to identify the set of phonetic expressive means, which are stylistically significant; secondly, it must outline a method of analysis, which would allow to arrange these features in such a way as to facilitate the comparison of the use of one language with any other; thirdly it must decide on the function of these features by classifying them into categories, based on the extra-linguistic purpose they have.

One of the most urgent problems of phonostylistics is the classification of phonetic styles. Different scholars name different styles according to the principle the classification is based on. We give preference to the classification suggested by the phoneticians of our faculty. Taking the aim of utterance as the main principle of their classification they distinguish the following phonetic styles:

  • Informational
  • Scientific or academic
  • Publicistic
  • Declamatory
  • Familiar or conversational

Any of these styles has a great many varieties in accordance with style-modifying factors. Besides any of these styles may be realized either in the form of reading or in the form of speaking.

Speaking and reading are two different psychic processes in which the sounding utterance is generated in different ways. When a person reads a text, he/she has a ready piece of information, written on paper. So he/she doesn't have to think what to say. The only thing he/she has to think of is how to say, how to make it sound proper, according to the norm of the language, suitable for the situation. As a result the usage of phonetic means is characterized by a high degree of regularity.

When a person produces a spontaneous text, that has not been written or prepared beforehand, he has to think of both: what andhow to say. When such a person starts speaking he/she has only an intention to make an utterance. In most cases he/she doesn't even know how long the utterance is going to continue. The speaker has to decide spontaneously how to express what he intends using proper lexical, phonetic and grammatical means. The main thing that differs reading and speaking is the segmentation (or delimitation) of speech into phrases and intonation groups. In reading a phrase corresponds to a written sentence. The end of the phrase is marked by a pause with a complete stop of phonation and by the falling nuclear tone. Intonation groups in the text which is read coincide with syntagms. Each intonation group has a semantic centre.

Intonation groups of a spontaneous text may be syntactically complete or incomplete (they may lack a semantic centre). The end of the intonation group is characterized by the absence of any pause and often is pronounces with the mid-level or even rising nuclear tone. While reading a person makes mainly syntactic pauses, those which mark the end of a phase or an intonation group. Sometimes a reader makes emphatic pauses too, to emphasize the following part of utterance. While speaking a person makes three kinds of pauses - syntactic, emphatic and hesitational, among which hesitations prevail. Hesitation pauses are characteristic of spontaneous speech belonging to any style.

In spontaneous speech semantic centres are more prominent, they are much louder, pronounced at a much higher pitch and are much slower compared to the rest of the utterance. We can say that rhythm in spontaneous texts is often non-systematic, variable and unpredictable.

Normally, each act of communication is addressed at a listener, so it’s important to understand what perceptional characteristics of an oral text have a style-differentiating value for him/her. The most important ones are considered to be delimitation (or segmentation), the accentuation of semantic centres and the speaker’s timbre.

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