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Review of Phonological Analysis of English Phonotactics Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Dec 12th, 2019


Despite not being a native language to many, English has continuously dominated the international communication and diplomacy, and is currently present in many national curriculums across the world (Al-Saidat, 2009). Although gradually influencing learners of different languages and different nations to adopt this language, learning English has never been a simple task.

Reading, writing, and pronunciation are some of the major concepts of English that also pose great challenges to the non-native speakers (Hammond, 2004). The concept of the English phonology, which describes a linguistic branch concerned with the logical arrangement of sounds within languages, has existed for quite some time (Kessler & Treiman, 1997).

Phonotactics is a linguistic branch that deals with constraints in combination of language phonemes. According to Jabbari and Samavarchi (2011), all languages possess unique phonology that seems similar but quite different.

When the English words have a difficult phonological system, learners get complications in learning. Review of Al-Saidat’s case of the English phonotactics in the Arabic English learners can best explain this quandary.

Article Summary

The non-native English learners have always found themselves in speech lapses, with little being clear on the cause of such communication errors. Due to having dissimilar phonological rules in different languages, it may become essential to undertake a re-syllabification of the words learnt (Whalen & Dell, 2006).

Al-Saidat’s article of the phonological analysis of the English phonotactics among the Arabic English learners is a study that aimed at examining the phonotactic issues connected with learning the English language by the Arabic English students (Al-Saidat, 2009).

The study principally aimed at establishing the pronunciation difficulties encountered by the Arabic English learners and in specific, investigating challenges caused by the Arabic inter-languages. The article examined how the differences in the phonological rules in pronunciation influenced the re-syllabification of some consonant clusters to enhance the learning process in these students.

As noted by Jabbari and Samavarchi (2011) as well as Coady and Aslin (2004), differences in the phonological rules between the non-native English learners and the English phonological rules force re-syllabification of words learnt to match the phonological constraints of the learners.

Since English remains a foreign language in many nations, several factors may contribute to the phonological constraints that impel re-syllabification to enhance English learning among the non-native speakers (Estes, Edwards & Saffran, 2011).

In examining the phonological constraints hampering proficiency in learning English among the Arabic learners, Al-Saidat (2009) aimes at discovering, categorizing, and analyzing mistakes of insertion made in the realm of pronunciation by the Arab students. Moreover, the study is directed at examining the probable causes of errors eminent in the English pronunciation among the Arab learners (Al-Saidat, 2009).

Finally, the study provides or suggests possible teaching approaches and procedures that would help the instructors and learners to rise above such difficulties. It collects the empirical evidence from the students of 24 years old who speak the Ammani language, which is a sub-dialect of Arabic.

These selected learners engage in reading the English words designed by the researcher, in order to identify pronunciation difficulties encountered due to the phonological differences.

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) forms the major syllabic formulae that tend to influence patterns in articulation among the learners, and many phonological constraints occur in words of this language pattern (Chambers, Onishi & Fisher, 2010).

Before discussing the pronunciation errors committed by the participants, the study identifies some syllabic structural differences in the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and that of the Ammani dialects. The syllabuses differ in the arrangement of consonants and vowels within words.

Zamuner, Gerken and Hammond (2004) affirm that researchers have employed several approaches in testing sensitivities of the English speakers to examine the patterns of CVC non-words. In examining the errors associated with the pronunciation of the English words among the students, the researcher identifies three forms of errors committed by the participants in the communication.

These errors include the insertion errors, the substitution errors, and the deletion errors in the enunciation of the English words. In the declusterization process, insertion errors among the Ammani Arabic dialects receive the most research attention and the study assume the substitution and the deletion errors.

Within the issues concerning the insertion errors, the researcher discovers that vowel /ɪ/ is the sole vowel sound that constantly proves challenging and causes insertion errors within different positions of words (Al-Saidat, 2009, p. 128). In addition, certain consonants face insertion challenges within the Arabic English syllabuses.

The insertion of /ɪ/ in the onset is most evident in dealing with the English monosyllabic words where three consonants (CCC) cause challenges to the Arabic English learners, as the native Arabic speakers never allow these consonant clusters initially. Al-Saidat (2009) presumes that mother tongue, age, and personality greatly influence the English pronunciation.

In conclusion, the researcher notices that mother tongue greatly impels declusterization especially that involves insertion of vowels /ɪ/ in the English word’s pronunciation among the Arabic learners.

In suggesting the probable teaching procedures that would help with pronunciation difficulties, Al-Saidat (2009) proposes that teachers should first introduce syllable patterns of the student’s mother tongue, and then shorter followed by longer syllable patterns of English and finally compare syllable patterns of both languages to determine the differences. Instructors should stress more on the foreign syllabus patterns to eliminate pronunciation errors.

Article Critique

Al-Saidat’s (2009) article examines and analyzes the phonological issues revolving around the Arabic English learners, especially the issues concerning pronunciation difficulties encountered by the Arabic students. In this study, the choice of respondents may greatly influence the outcome of the study that only manages to identify vowel /ɪ/ as the most inserted sound in the English pronunciation.

Age of the participants – the study uses well-exposed old respondents, and the possibility of getting the ultimate mother tongue influence in pronunciation is quite diminutive.

Contrary to other researchers, including Jabbari and Samavarchi (2011) who include children aged between 4-6 years, Estes, Edwards and Saffran (2011) with the 18-month-old infants, and Zamuner, Gerken and Hammond (2004) who also opt for younger participants for better results.

Level of education among participants is another crucial aspect where the researcher somewhat fails. According to Whalen and Dell (2006), phonological dialogue mistakes reveal the levels of linguistic fluency present in the speakers. The participants are mainly public university finalists, hence educationally well exposed.

On the knowledge basis, there is a high possibility that despite learners being non-native English speakers, their educational exposure influences their word pronunciation. Environment can greatly influence the pronunciation of learners and hence, reading certain words while testing the English pronunciation of these learners can demonstrate environmental influence (Silverman, 2000).

The main participants of the study are the Ammani dialects representatives of the Jordanian Arabic community who currently seem to remain in the lexical influence of Turkish, French, and English. This Semitic language structure may not possess a big portion of the Arabic speaking group and there is a probability that these participants have different accents in pronunciation.

Since there is no portion of the study that explains how the researcher distinguished the native language background of the participants, it is easy to assume that the results could not generalize the phonological issues examined to the entire Arabic community.

Phonological constraints are rising from the mother tongue influence, something that needs a solution; by recommending that instructors should introduce syllable patterns of the learners’ mother tongue, will worsen the English phonological issues.


The inception of English as an international business, communication, and diplomatic language has posed great challenges to the non-native English speakers. While this language continues to dominate the international issues and appearing in almost every national educational curriculum, English learning is not an easy undertaking at all.

The Arabic learners have a different phonology just like other communities, and this makes it uneasy for the Arabic English learners to cope with the English word pronunciation. Words with differing phonological systems from individual’s native language create problems for the English learners, the reason why syllabuses differ globally.

Al-Saidat’s (2009) study aims at examining the English phonotactics among the Arabic English learners, where pronunciation issues protract from the participants. In the English word pronunciation, the study identified insertion, substitution, and deletion pronunciation errors as the major issues among the Ammani Arabic dialects.

However, the study by Al-Saidat (2009) only manages to ascertain the insertion errors linked to vowel /ɪ/ and some very few errors in the consonant patterns.

Among possible mistakes, that the researcher made that results in the invalidity of the study is that the participants have high educational experience that influences their pronunciation, are not typical Arabs, and are old enough to make possible pronunciation errors.


Al-Saidat, E. (2009). Phonological analysis of English phonotactics: a case study of Arab learners of English. The Buckingham Journal of Language and Linguistics, 3(1), 121-134.

Chambers, K., Onishi, K., & Fisher, C. (2010). A vowel is a vowel: Generalizing newly learned phonotactic constraints to new contexts. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn, 36(3), 821–828.

Coady, J., & Aslin, R. (2004). Young children’s sensitivity to probabilistic phonotactics in the developing lexicon. J. Experimental Child Psychology, 89 (1), 183–213.

Estes, K., Edwards, J., & Saffran, J. (2011). Phonotactic Constraints on Infant Word Learning. Infancy, 16(2), 180–197.

Hammond, M. (2004). Gradience, Phonotactics, and the Lexicon in English Phonology. International Journal of English Studies, 4(2), 1-24.

Jabbari, A., & Samavarchi, L. (2011). Persian Learners’ Syllabification of English Consonant Clusters. International Journal of English Linguistics, 1(1), 236-246.

Kessler, B., & Treiman, R. (1997). Syllable Structure and the Distribution of Phonemes in English Syllables. Journal of Memory and Language, 37(1), 295-311.

Silverman, D. (2000). Dynamic versus Static Phonotactic Constraints in English Truncation. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Whalen, C., & Dell, G. (2006). Speaking outside the Box: Learning of Non-native Phonotactic Constraints is revealed in Speech Errors. Retrieved from

Zamuner, T., Gerken, L., & Hammond, M. (2004). Phonotactic probabilities in young children’s speech production. J. Child Lang, 31(1), 515–536.

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