Su Luopei (Robert Spence) Phonetics with Listening Practice (British), WS 2023/2024

Last update: 2023-11-20 14:19 UTC+01:00

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Phonetics with Listening Practice (British), WS 2023/2024

In this course we are concerned with certain aspects of what the British linguist J. R. Firth called “the noises we make with our faces in order to live”.

You will learn how the sounds of English differ from the sounds of German, both in terms of the way they are produced and in terms of the way they relate to other sounds in the system(s) of the English language. You will practise producing individual English sounds and will also practise what the 18th century phonetician Joshua Steele called the “melody and measure” of English speech, i.e. its intonation and rhythm. Rhythm will provide a context in which to practise some other very important aspects of English, such as weak forms (the reduced, simplified way in which short function words like “should” or “some” or “than” are typically pronounced in normal speech), linking (running your words together smoothly into larger units, so that “an apron” sounds the same as “a napron”), and clipping (of which there are two types: 1) pre-fortis clipping, or shortening the length of the middle of a syllable if the end of the syllable is to be pronounced with more force, as in “search”, where the vowel is somewhat shorter than the vowel in “surge”, and 2) rhythmic clipping, or shortening the length of a stressed syllable if it is followed by unstressed ones, as in “search” – “searching” – “searchable”). In addition, you will have opportunities to review what you already know about the complicated relationship between sound and spelling in English.

The course includes a series of listening exercises, which are designed to provide a sample of all the major varieties of English. We will learn, among other things, why so many people misheard Neil Armstrong’s famous first words from the surface of the moon, why Australians and New Zealanders misunderstand each other’s short vowels (e.g. pan–pen–pin–pun), and what the underlying rhythm of Indian English is that presents speakers of other Englishes with so many hurdles when they try to understand what is being said. We will also listen to a recording of what English is predicted to sound like in 100 years’ time.

During the first two weeks, students have a choice: they can work at their own pace in asynchronous online mode, or attend the classes in person (building A2_2, room 1.22). From week 3 (Tuesday 07 November) onwards, students can choose between following the course in synchronous online mode (via MS Teams meetings) or attending in person (building A2_2, room 1.22). There will be other tasks for you to work on between the weekly (virtual or face-to-face) meetings. Some time soon after the beginning of the course, if possible, I would like to arrange a brief individual meeting with each student, either online or face-to-face, for the purpose of assessing everyone’s level and deciding which exercises we should work on together.

At the end of the course, there will be a brief (20 minutes) online oral exam, which will involve reading a text aloud, speaking spontaneously, and demonstrating at least a passive knowledge of the phonetic symbols used for transcribing English sounds.

There are two groups.
Group 1 meets Tuesdays from 10:15 to 11:45
Group 2 meets Tuesdays from 14:15 to 15:45

Students can attend whichever meeting they want, but please let me know in advance if you are switching groups just for one week.

The course will be structured in a number of blocks:

The first block will involve exchanging contact details and making decisions about communication channels and frequency of virtual or real contact, as well as providing a general overview of free online resources available for doing phonetics.

The second block will involve you sending me a voice message in which you read aloud two paragraphs of English prose. You can then tell me what aspects of your pronunciation you think you need to work on, and I can tell you whether I agree with you or whether there are other things I think you should work on. I will then point you to the resources you will need to practice with.

The third block will involve becoming more familiar with the basic concepts and terminology of Systemic Functional Linguistics and of phonetics and phonology; there will be reading material as well as slide shows. This block will also involve weekly exercise sheets and listening exercises.

The fourth block will consist of practice in describing and producing the individual consonant and vowel sounds of English and putting them together to form syllables.

The fifth block will involve becoming more aware of what happens when syllables are strung together to form larger rhythmic units.

The sixth block will consist of practice in English intonation, based on material by M.A.K. Halliday.

The seventh block will involve assessment. Students will demonstrate that they can read IPA transcriptions, and will read aloud the same passage as at the beginning of the course, as well as discussing a topic of their own choosing.

For links to the course materials, see below:


Week 01: Tuesday 24 October 2023 — Unit 00a

First of all, some slides from the Contact Point for Studying with Disability, which is part of the university’s Equal Opportunities and Diversity Management Unit. If you are living with disability or chronic illness, the university can provide various forms of support.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any kind of special needs.

Second, I will from time to time use the phrase CONTENT WARNING to alert you to the fact that some of the material may be offensive or triggering to some students, because it contains sexual innuendo, or references to drugs, or violence, or something else that could prove to be unsettling.

Third, you should all have received, as an email attachment, a one-page document containing all my contact details. If you haven’t received those contact details, please check the spam folder of your uni mail account and/or contact me directly.

You should also have received a four-page document entitled Initial Survey, containing a number of questions. These are not didactic questions, i.e. I’m not asking you questions to see whether you know something that I already know, I’m asking you questions because I want to find out something that I don’t yet know. If you haven’t already sent me your answers to these questions, could you please do so soon:

The most important questions are the ones concerning previous experience with IPA symbols, whether you have already taken a lecture course in phonetics, and how easily you can work online. Just ignore any questions that you feel are too personal. All information will be treated in the strictest confidence and will be destroyed as soon as it is no longer needed (viz., once your results have been received by the examinations office).

Here is the plan for the course, showing what we will be doing each week:

A more detailed version of the plan will be published shortly. It will detail the work to be done before and after each session, as well as showing which activities we will be engaged in during each (virtual or face-to-face) meeting.

Here is the official chart of phonetic symbols published by the International Phonetic Association, together with an extended version that contains additional symbols that are in widespread use:

You don’t need to know all of those symbols, but it’s probably a good idea to have constant access to a full IPA chart.

Here is the text I would like you to read aloud, so that I can work out which pronunciation problems you need to work on in this course:

Here are the slides for today’s session, plus a printer-friendly version containing their content in a more compact format:

If you like working on paper, you could print out the printer-friendly version of the slides and use it to take notes while looking at the slides and/or watching the screen recordings of me working through the slides.

Here are some screen recordings of me introducing the course and going through the slides:

Note: I have only included recordings of the second half of the first week’s presentation – and these parts are recycled from a previous semester; the information contained in the slides has not substantially changed since then, however.


Week 02: Tuesday 31 October 2023 — Unit 00b

In week 2 you can continue to work in asynchronous remote mode if you want. Your work for week 2 depends partly on how familiar you are with the International Phonetic Alphabet.

1) If you are not at all familiar with the IPA symbols used for transcribing English, start here:

(This is from the introduction to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, edited by John Wells.)

2) Regardless of how familiar you are with the IPA, have a look at the contents of these two directories (transferred from last semester), and/or watch the screen recording (recycled from an even earlier semester):

(the contents of that directory show the form in which I will give you feedback on your recording)

(the contents of that directory show you how the Concise Oxford Dictionary used to indicate pronunciation before they started using their own bizarre variant of the standard IPA symbols for English; there is also a nice summary of the relationship between sound and spelling in English, from a work published by the late Professor Albrecht Neubert of Leipzig University).

Here’s the screen recording in which I discuss (an older version of) the documents referred to above:

(Note: The relevant part of the video is from timecode 1:45 to timecode 6:25, i.e. it’s slightly less than 5 minutes in all.)

3) If you feel reasonably confident with the IPA, and you want to dive deeper, read the following chapter from Arnold und Hansen, "Englische Phonetik”:

If you attend in person, we can devote the first twenty or thirty minutes to discussing the listening exercise introduced on the last slide the presentation from week 1. The rest of the lesson could involve discussing the English spelling system, and/or making recordings of you reading aloud the text for the initial assessment. This can get rather boring, however, if everyone wants to do it that way, rather than sending me an audio file via email or SMS or WhatsApp.


Week 03: Tuesday 07 November 2023 — Unit 01

This is the first session that we will attempt to conduct in hybrid mode. There may be some initial technical difficulties in setting up the internet connection and opening the MS Teams meeting for those who are participating online.

By now you should have sent me a recording of yourself reading aloud the text Dialectal Differences. You will receive written feedback, plus a recording of my own loud-reading of the text, by email, before the class.

Most of the session in week 3 will be devoted to a slide presentation. Rather than investing time to update the slides, I have devoted more time to giving you individual written feedback on your recording of the Dialectal Differences text.

The slides (unchanged from summer semester) contain an introduction to some of the most basic concepts we will need to rely on throughout the rest of the course. There is also a printer-friendly version; it contains all the information from the slides, but in a more compact form, and it has space to take notes in the margin. So if you like working on paper, you can download the printer-friendly version and have it with you while attending (whether online or in person).

The slides , and the printer-friendly version of them, are here:

What if you miss the class?

Here are some screen recordings (recycled from an even earlier semester) of me going through the slides, just as I would do if I were presenting them in a face-to-face class or a live online meeting:

Finally, here is the homework for next week:

You can either send it to me before the next meeting, or else be prepared to read it aloud in class.

Week 04: Tuesday 14 November 2023 — Unit 02

This week we will begin by checking that the course leader can remember who you are. :-)

We will then turn to the Pronunciation Poem that was set for homework.

I will refer to the most important points in the slides and/or screen recordings from the first three weeks, and proceed to the slides for week 04 (unit 2). These slides conclude the introduction to the basic concepts we will need in this course. The slides, and a printer-friendly version of them, are here:

Note: I am using the slides from last semester, as the course is due for a major restructuring.

Below are some screen recordings (recycled from an earlier semester) of me going through the slides, just as I would do if I were presenting them in a face-to-face class or a live online meeting:

– these screen recordings may be of use to anyone who is unable to take part in the meeting this week.

There is an additional handout, which contains some material that will be needed in week 5:

In preparation for week 5 you are asked to make sure that you know the adjectives that refer to the various places of articulation in the vocal tract:


Week 05: Tuesday 21 November 2023 — Unit 03

You can find all the materials for week 5 here:

I am recycling the materials from last semester, but I plan to use them in a completely new way :-)

It might be a good idea to have a copy of the IPA chart with you during the lesson:


Listening Practice: Links

Local copies of videos for listening can be found here: – ask the course leader to send you your login details.

Any local copies of the texts of those videos would be here:

The worksheets for some of the videos are here:



Marvellous England Commentators – Fry and Laurie


Bertrand Russell: Face to Face Interview (BBC, 1959)


M.A.K. Halliday was born into a middle-class family in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1925. Like most British academics of his generation, he spoke in an accent that contained few, if any, indications of which part of the U.K. he was born in.

M.A.K. Halliday presenting his paper ‘The grammatical construction of scientific knowledge: a historical view of the framing of the English clause’ at the International Conference on Languages of Science, University of Bologna, Italy, PART 1 and PART 2
(19:49) and (19:37)
also here: (PART 1) (PART 2)

This paper is available as:
Chapter 4 of Volume 5 (The Language of Science) of The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday
See also: Similar ideas are put forward in Chapter 5 of Halliday and Martin 1992, Writing Science.

Michael Halliday: ‘Language Evolving: Some systemic functional reflections on the history of meaning’
(the sound cuts out for 30 seconds at t11m02s)

Yes, Minister S01E04 Big Brother
Yes, Minister S01E05 The Writing on the Wall
Yes, Minister S01E06 The Right to Know

A speaker of RP reads aloud the text of Bertrand Russell’s lecture ‘Why I am not a Christian’ (first delivered on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall)

03-04-OXFORD DEBATE 1860
A dramatic reconstruction of the debate between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley at Oxford on 30.6.1860 in which Wilberforce attacked and Huxley defended Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species”.
(The first character appears to speak Scottish English; with the exception of one American academic, the other characters – including Darwin – speak RP or something very similar.)


Anna Russell: Wagner’s Ring Cycle
–VERSION 1 (1984 – pink dress, at piano, no slides):
–VERSION 2 (1953 – better sound; slides as illustrations)
NYC 1953-04-23

Rowan Atkinson: The School Master (roll call)
Version 1 (earlier/original: “Ainsley, …”)

Version 2: (later/more formulaic: “Anus, …”)

04-03 ALAN BENNETT (in his stage revue voice)
Alan Bennett: ‘Take a Pew’ (“My brother Esau”) from “Beyond the Fringe”
(version 1) (stills)

(version 2) (motion)

The text of a different version of this sketch is available here:


05-01-OWEN JONES (born in Sheffield (South Yorkshire); raised in Stockport (Greater Manchester))
Owen Jones interviews Jonas Nay (Deutschland 83 actor):
“Chavs” author Owen Jones returns to Stockport
Owen Jones interviews Jeremy Corbyn again
(Corbyn is from Wiltshire)
Owen Jones meets Sir Ian McKellen – ’No one regrets being honest about their sexuality’
(McKellen speaks RP)


School Of British Accents – WEST COUNTRY


07-01-PROFESSOR IAIN STUART: “Men of Rock” (documentary series about the history of geology):
Ep. 1: Deep Time
Ep. 2: Moving Mountains
Ep. 3: The Big Freeze



08-01-DAVE ALLEN (born and raised in Ireland)
Dave Allen (TV comedian) – religious jokes (but only some are linguistically relevant, as his on-stage dialect varies)

08-02-ALAN JOYCE (CEO of Qantas, from Dublin):
CEO of Qantas airways on his airline’s partnerships, and the strategic importance of IATA’s AGM, at 72nd IATA AGM:

08-03-ALAN DUFFY (Astrophysicist; born in Peterborough, England; raised in Ballyclare, County Antrim, Northern Ireland):
The Future’s looking up: Dr Alan Duffy about careers in astronomy

08-04-MARY ROBINSON (President of Ireland, 1990-1997):
Why climate change is a threat to human rights (TED talk)
(with subtitles)

Are you fat-thin... or thin-fat?


School Of British Accents – WELSH ENGLISH


On the Buses (British TV comedy series):
‘Radio Control’ (23:51)

The Rag Trade (British TV comedy series about garment workers):
S01E03 (1961)

Ben Cohen on his campaign to stop homophobia:
Ben Cohen – Homophobia is where racism was 20 years ago
Ben Cohen – Bullying begins in playground, teachers ingore homophobic slurs

David Bowie (David Jones) at 17 on “The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men”:

David Beckham on retirement:


Countdown: Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan from ’Neighbours’ (1986)

A generic bit of “Neighbours”:

Guy Pearce early acting in Neighbours:

Kylie’s first scene in Neighbours:

Young Kylie in Neighbours (ca 1986)

Kylie’s last scene in Neighbours:

Neighbours – Mike (Guy Pearce) in Speedos

(Terence Stamp is British and speaks with an educated southern English accent here; Hugo Weaving is British-Australian and speaks with an Australian accent here; Guy Pearce was born in Britain but raised in Australia and speaks with an Australian accent here)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Trailer: Priscilla – the ABBA edit

11-03-HEAD ON
Head On (Ana Kokkinos, 1994) – Trailer
(I can lend you the whole film on VHS or DVD; it has a wide variety of first- and second-generation Greek Australian speech.)

Barry Humphries Dame Edna Everage (1975):

Bob Hawke (Prime Minister of Australia 1983-1991):

Paul Keating (Prime Minister of Australia 1991-1996):
Tony Abbott Character Slam by Paul Keating
Abbott Wanted to Wreck the Place - Paul Keating

Julia Gillard (Prime Minister of Australia 2010–2013):
Julia Gillard’s "misogyny speech" in full

Personal Trainer:


To move from Australian to New Zealand English, watch this video explaining the rotary dial on a telephone first: (1:08)

(Bertrand Russell “rang off” at the end of his conversation with the Danish journalist – his was a pre-rotary-dial generation of telephone technology!)

Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand 2017-)
New Zealand’s New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Is The World’s Youngest Female Leader
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pregnant

12-02-DECK ADS
All three New Zealand deck ads:


South African English:

Invictus (2009) – Official Trailer:

Nelson Mandela revisits his Robben Island prison cell: (1:41)


– combine with a look at Wikipedia

Shan Antonia: How To Speak Like An INDIAN

Asian Boss: Do Indians Know How Their English Accent Sounds?

15-SINGLISH (Colloquial Singaporean English – an English-based creole spoken in Singapore)

Learning Singlish (Singaporean English) - Xiaxue’s Guide To Life: EP178


16-01-NEIL ARMSTRONG (from Central Ohio)
Interview with Neil Armstrong:
Neil Armstrong interview, BBC 1970

see also:

16-02-HOW TO (1)
How To Do A General American Accent In Under Two Minutes

16-03-HOW TO (2)
How to Master a General American Accent - Part One

Frank Zappa, Moon Unit Zappa: “Valley Girl”


Bette Midler (playing Janis Joplin): The Rose – concert monologue
(there are mistakes in the transcription)


18-01-JARED DIAMOND (born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts):
Why do societies collapse?

18-02-BERNIE SANDERS (born and raised in Brooklyn, NYC, NY):
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Amazon has gotten too big


19-01-CHRIS HADFIELD (astronaut, former I.S.S. commander)
Chris Hadfield Brushes his Teeth in Space

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