Initial Hypothesis Critique
An analysis of the hypothesis “people pronounce words differently depending on how the words are presented” reveals several problems that would prevent a researcher from successfully completing a concise and adequate research report. First off, the hypothesis itself is far too generalized, the statement “pronounced differently” neglects to specify the degree of difference that would result from having a subject pronounce a certain set of words.
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For example, “differently” can encompass diction, dialect, slowly, quickly, incoherently, coherently, whether a person is an ESL student or not as well as a whole slew of dozens of possible alternatives in how a text can be pronounced. It encompasses far too many possible variables that it would be impossible if not highly improbable that a researcher would be able to create a report that encompasses all possible amalgamations related to the term “differently”.
Secondly, the phrase “how it is presented” is ambiguous and creates a similar problem to the previously examined statement. A certain piece of text can be presented in what can only be dozens if not hundreds of possible methods. For example, it can be embedded within a paragraph, made into a list of words, be translated into a different language, utilize local dialects, placed nearer or farther away from the student or be presented in a hardcopy or softcopy format.
From this it can be seen that the term “how it is presented” is far to ambiguous in that it cannot be sufficiently utilized in a research report since it can be interpreted in any manner of ways, all of which would be applicable given the generalized nature of the previously aforementioned text.
Based on the examination of the initial hypothesis, it can be seen that it is both highly ambiguous and far too generalized to be adequate for a research report. What is needed in this particular case is a hypothesis that focuses on a specific subject and concise method of application in order to create a statement that leaves little confusion as to the type of examination that will be conducted.
“People speak in a more prestigious form when reading from a list as opposed to a passage”
Evaluating the Revised Hypothesis
Compared to the old hypothesis, the revised one is far less generalized and more specific in outlining the assumptions made by the researcher. For example, unlike the previous hypothesis which had the phrase “pronounce words differently” which could encompass any manner of different means and methods of pronunciation, the new hypothesis utilizes the term “speak in a more prestigious form” which is indicative of a specific way of speaking.
This enables the researcher to immediately determine what course of examination to follow and what to look for when examining the research subjects for this project, unlike in the previous hypothesis which made it difficult for the researcher to determine what “different” method of pronunciation was to be examined.
In the previous hypothesis the phrase “on how the words are presented” was utilized in order to indicate the criteria to be utilized in the study. As mentioned before, this phrase is far too ambiguous and vague and can encompass any manner of potential criteria to be used.
This vagueness has been addressed in the new hypothesis through the phrase “when reading from a list as opposed to a passage” which is indicative of a particular criteria to be utilized by the researcher in the examination of the prestigious form of pronunciation utilized by the research subjects.
It is based on the various arguments and facts presented in this section that it can be seen that the new hypothesis addresses the problems and concerns found in the initial hypothesis and as such would result in the creation of far more concise, direct and above all less ambiguous study as compared to what would have resulted from the previous hypothesis.
The design for this particular project was actually quite simple, in order to accomplish the test for this hypothesis the researcher focused on how a few words are pronounced when presented in list form or when read from a passage. As such, this consisted of the researcher creating a list of the following words: “SOMETHING”,” LIFE”,” FORTH”, and “WATER” and placing them within a textual arrangement of various randomly chosen words in order to create a certain degree of variability to the test.
Prior to the start of the experiment, the researcher had the assumption that people would pronounce these 4 words in a more prestigious pronunciation/form when reading them from a list as compared to the way they would be pronounced when read from a passage. The reason behind this is due to another assumption by the researcher that when reading from a list, words are more focused and isolated therefore people tend to pay more attention to their pronunciation thus resulting in a more prestigious form of speaking
What is Prestigious Pronunciation?
Prestigious pronunciation is the method in which a particular word or phrase is pronounced without an altered vernacular. Meaning that it is stated based on the way it is written, the way it appears on paper and the rote manner in which it is supposed to be pronounced based on established standards of pronouncing that particular word or phrase.
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From a certain perspective, it can be stated that prestigious pronunciation is the complete opposite of “slang” wherein grammatical rules pertaining to shortcuts, pop culture methods of stating that particular word or phrase and even commonly held (though at times incorrect) methods of statement are eschewed in favor of a “higher” form of word/phrase utilization (Lefkowitz & Hedgcock, 2002: 223-344) Various studies have in fact observed that the utilization of prestigious forms of pronunciation are more often than not utilized by individuals of higher intellectual bearing or class (this constitutes individuals who are commonly known as “geeks”, are part of the academe, or those originating from a higher social standard).
The reason behind this is due to their commonly held assumption that by speaking in this particular manner they distinguish themselves as being “superior” to a certain extent. On the other hand, other studies which have examined its usage state that its use is more commonly utilized in situations where a certain degree of professionalism and academic competence needs to be established (i.e. by lawyers during court cases, the defense of a doctoral thesis, the presentation of study findings to an audience of peers etc.)
Testing the Hypothesis
Within the Middlesex University community 20 random native English speaking participants were chosen in order to test out the hypothesis. The participants were not chosen based on either race, income status or any other distinguishing features rather the researcher made sure that all those involved had no association whatsoever with the researcher and were not briefed about the study prior to their involvement.
This ensured that the results of the study were beyond reproach for being unduly influenced by the researcher beforehand. The individuals involved in this study were all asked to read from a prepared softcopy of relevant text for this study while their voices where recorded by the researcher. All research subjects were assured of their anonymity should the research results be presented in a public forum (barring their voice being recognized by someone they know of course).
Only 20 participants were utilized for this particular study due to the limited time given by the University in order to gather the necessary research subjects and acquire the needed data. If more time had been given this study would have been able to accumulate at the very least 200 to 300 people which would have resulted in better research results given the diverse amount of data to work with.
Unfortunately since an insufficient amount of time was given the researcher followed the indicated instructions given by the professor and did the best that could be done given the circumstances and the time constraints involved.
The 20 research participants were all asked to read from both a passage and a set of enumerated text in order to determine the degree of “stress” given to a particular word. This was done as a means of examining whether they stated a word in a more “prestigious” manner (meaning that the degree of pronunciation has greater stress and far more emphasis) if it was presented to them in a list or in a passage.
The words in bold text seen in both the passage and the selection of text indicated below were not placed in bold font in the samples given to be read out by the research participants. They are merely in bold text for the benefit of the readers of this report and as such should be utilized as indicators as to the placement of the key words used in this study.
The Passage that was given to the 20 participants to read it out was the following:
“Nature is one of the beauties of life. The presence of ancient oak trees, the blossoming of wild flowers and fruits every forth-coming season is something we humans take for granted. Water is considered to be an essential nutrient for plants. Because of easy access, we take water for granted and do not realise the importance of proper hydration.”
The selection of text read by the 20 participants:
Once the researcher was able to gather all 20 audio recordings from the research participants an examination of the results was then conducted in order to determine the degree of stress or rather “prestige” placed on certain key words used within the experiment.
- “SOMETHING” read from the passage: 20% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 80% in non- prestigious pronunciation.
“SOMETHING” read from the list: 40% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 60% in non- prestigious pronunciation.
- “LIFE” read from the passage: 45% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 55% in non- prestigious pronunciation.
“LIFE” read from the list: 50% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 50% in non- prestigious pronunciation.
- “FORTH” read from the passage: 85% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 15% in non- prestigious pronunciation.
“FORTH” read from the list: 95% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 5% in non- prestigious.
- “WATER” read from the passage: 15% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 85% in a non- prestigious.
“WATER” read from the list: 35% have read it in a prestigious pronunciation and 65% in non- prestigious.
Evaluation of Study Results
As it can be seen in the result of this examination, the experiment showed that when presented with both a list and a passage most of the research subjects involved had a greater likelihood of pronouncing the words with prestige when they were placed within a list as compared to the instances where they were asked to read them from within a passage. As such, this validates the hypothesis indicated by the researcher and shows the accuracy of the earlier assumptions involving prestigious forms of pronunciation.
One way of figuring out why this occurred is from the study of Simon & Taverniers (2011) who indicated that pronouncing a set of words from a list is far less confusing for a reader as compared to those within a passage (Simon & Taverniers, 2011: 896-922). The reason behind this is connected to the fact that readers need to take into account the varied intricacies involved in reciting a passage (commas, periods, shifting tenses, word agreements etc.) while at the same time having to determine the meaning behind the passage itself.
This is also related to the fact that most people don’t speak in a prestigious manner at all times due to social norms involving slang and shortcuts in speaking and as such they tend to fall into such habits when reading from a passage since this enables them to read and pronounce a select piece of text while at the same time internalize what they are reading (Laham, Koval, & Alter, 2012: 752-756).
When it comes to reading from a list, a reader doesn’t need to concern himself/herself with internalizing the meaning behind a passage nor do they have to take into consideration the intricacies involved with proper pacing, shifting of tenses, word agreements, comma, periods etc.
Thus this enables them to “slow down” so to speak their method of thinking enabling them to better recognize particular words and say them in a manner that is in line with their “proper” method of pronunciation which is devoid of the non-prestigious methods commonly utilized in everyday conversations (Wieling, Margaretha, & Nerbonne, 2012: 307-314).
Critique of the Project
Overall, I would have to say that while the outcome of this project was “sufficient”, in my opinion, there are numerous changes I would make if I had the opportunity to do so. Should I be given the option of starting this particular project again I would make sure that the university gave me enough time to actually obtain a sufficient amount of participants for the study.
While 20 people were able to give me an “adequate” amount of data in order to comply with the requirements of the project, this amount of participants is insufficient given the fact that most studies of this particular nature have well over a 100 participants or more.
The limited number of people used would call into question the validity of the study given the fact that a small research subject population ensures that only a limited number of possible study outcomes can be examined.
Aside from the limited number of research participants, I would have liked to include more keywords into the project details with a far more varied amount of tenses, conjunctions and methods of pronunciation in order to see whether the results of “prestigious pronunciation” remained constant given a more varied word set.
Furthermore, another experimental outcome I would have liked to test out would be if the way in which people heard a particular word pronounced via a recording would affect the way in which they themselves said it. This would involve having the participants first reading from a selection of words, then hearing that same set of words from a recording and have them read the set of words again from the same paper.
I anticipate that the addition of this particular aspect to the project would show that the way in which people hear words, despite their own internalized method of stating them, would affect the way in which such words are pronounced.
Evaluation of Work
When examining what has been done for this particular project, it is my opinion that despite the lack of sufficient research subjects the project was more or less a success since it was able to prove my hypothesis. Taking this into consideration, other possible paths this type of project could pursue in the future could entail an examination of how cultural influences (i.e. pop culture) influence the way in which prestige communication is utilized (Gibson, 2011: 603 – 626).
For example, if a particular singer said a word in a particular way (ex: country singers from the U.S. extending the word “there” to absurd degrees) would this also affect the way in which people utilize the word and if so would this be a temporary phenomena based on the popularity of the artist’s songs or would it continue to exist far beyond that?
Gibson, A 2011, ‘Flight of the Conchords: Recontextualizing the voices of popular culture1’, Journal Of Sociolinguistics, 15, 5, pp. 603-626, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.
Laham, S, Koval, P, & Alter, A 2012, ‘The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun’, Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 3, pp. 752-756, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.
Lefkowitz, N, & Hedgcock, J 2002, ‘Sound barriers: influences of social prestige, peer pressure and teacher (dis)approval on FL oral performance’, Language Teaching Research, 6, 3, pp. 223-244, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.
Simon, E, & Taverniers, M 2011, ‘Advanced EFL Learners’ Beliefs about Language Learning and Teaching: A Comparison Between Grammar, Pronunciation, and Vocabulary’, English Studies, 92, 8, pp. 896-922, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.
Wieling, M, Margaretha, E, & Nerbonne, J 2012, ‘Inducing a measure of phonetic similarity from pronunciation variation’, Journal Of Phonetics, 40, 2, pp. 307-314, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.