The Linguist

The Linguist 59,3 - June/July 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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28 The Linguist Vol/59 No/3 2020 REVIEWS Books for the general reader on speech and pronunciation are quite rare, so I was looking forward to reading this. Written in an informal, matey style (the word 'sexy' has eight index entries), the book covers the rudiments of standard British English pronunciation, its phonemes, child verbalisation, speech synthesisers, overseas varieties and other features. Some of this is familiar terrain: George Bernard Shaw, social class, Pygmalion, and the life advantages accrued through speaking in a clear, easily understood way. Who knew? We learn that voice plus performance can successfully project a change of identity. Singing in a foreign language can help you to develop and refine the target accent; phrasing, rhythm and repetition aid the memorising of a song; and a rote recital allows the vocalist to concentrate on getting the pronunciation note perfect. Thus, singers can produce a polished performance in L2 even though they are L1-accented when speaking. When the vocal chords vibrate slower than normal, producing low-register, slow, croaky speech, the effect is called 'vocal fry'. This new feature of speech has been viewed as an attempt to sound authoritative. Others have remarked that it makes the speaker sound world weary. Female Kardashians give the full fry; Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has a mild form. Forensic linguistics is a burgeoning specialism, attracting judicial and media interest. Speech/auditory analysis isolates and characterises an individual's vocal features. Typically, these are fillers, discourse markers, terms of address, intonation patterns, voice quality (e.g. breathy) and idiosyncrasies (e.g. a whistly /s/ may indicate a denture wearer). A recorded police interview is the 'reference' sample and a recorded call-centre conversation or voicemail message may be the 'disputed' sample. A minimum of one of each is required for the involvement of a forensic linguist. It follows that a suspect who only says 'No comment' gives the police and the linguist little to work with. A final consideration is that the human voice is not unique, nor as unchanging as a fingerprint. So evidence of this type would, in itself, rarely (if ever) lead to acquittal or conviction. It does, however, add to the weight of evidence one way or the other. In Your Voice Speaks Volumes: It's not what you say, but how you say it, Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading, has produced a primer on some interesting aspects of the spoken word (e.g. stylisation, social identity and crime detection). Two things strike me though. First, the book might work better in a smaller, paperback format. Second, serious errors and inconsistencies litter the book (including phonemic symbols, the voiced-unvoiced distinction, place names and spellings). Sadly, its lack of proofreading speaks volumes. Graham Elliott MCIL Your Voice Speaks Volumes Jane Setter OUP, 2019 240 pp; ISBN 978-0198813842 Hardback £20 Over half of the world's population is thought to be bilingual, yet the phenomenon of bilingualism has not been treated as a subject of serious academic study until relatively recently. Thanks to the efforts of scientists such as the Spanish cognitive linguist Albert Costa, whose most spectacular findings have given rise to media headlines, bilingualism has gone from being regarded as an obscure learning impediment to being considered an intellectual advantage, broadening people's learning capacity and even helping to ward off degenerative diseases in the elderly. The Bilingual Brain: And what it tells us about the science of language provides an overview of the science behind current theories on bilingualism, analysing such areas as infant language learning, the differing mental processes of monolingual and bilingual people, and the physical modification of the brain's structure caused by bilingual activity. The book is full of surprises from the very beginning, when we are told that babies can discriminate between languages that sound different just a few hours after birth. By eight months, bilingual (but not monolingual) babies can visually distinguish between languages by lip-reading. We learn that researchers use various techniques for obtaining this information, which include measuring the strength of the baby's sucking – and hence its level of interest – by means of a pacifier with sensors cunningly concealed inside. From a broader viewpoint, Costa examines studies indicating that bilingual people show greater empathy and develop a "theory of mind" earlier than monolinguals, potentially providing them with a cognitive edge. He also discusses experiments that indicate faster vocabulary retrieval and a larger lexicon among monolinguals. The author is careful to point out that much of the research is new and far from definitive. What does seem to be clear, according to medical records collected over decades, is that bilingualism can reduce the negative effects of brain deterioration, sometimes by as much as four years. The reason for this, however, is as yet unknown. The Bilingual Brain offers a fascinating exploration of the mental processes involved in bilingualism. It is witty, erudite and highly readable, for which we must thank not only the author but also the translator, John Schwieter, himself a professor of Spanish and Linguistics. His translation from the original Spanish is outstanding. Ross Smith MCIL The Bilingual Brain Albert Costa; John W Schwieter (trans.) Allen Lane, 2020 176 pp; ISBN 978-0241391518 Hardback £20

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