Su Luopei (Robert Spence) Phonetics with Listening Practice (British), SoSe 2024

Last update: 2024-06-23 22:26 UTC+02:00

Home > Courses > Phonetics with Listening Practice (British)

Phonetics with Listening Practice (British), SoSe 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 30 April) 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.

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. You will give me information about your previous experience and the goals you wish to achieve in this course.

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. The central unit of the sound system of English is the syllable, so we will take the syllable as the point of departure for our explorations. We will look at the internal structure of the syllable, and at the larger units in which the syllable functions. We will also look at the more abstract phenomena that the sound system of English helps to “realise”, and at the more concrete phenomena that the sound system helps to organise and structure.

The fourth block will consist of practice in describing and producing the individual consonant and vowel sounds of English as they occur in syllables. We will begin with the material world: the anatomical organs of articulation, and the physiology and physics of sound. We will then study the differences between the sound systems of English and German. These differing systems are projected onto the material world of anatomy and physiology and physics to create the actual phonetic differences that you will need to master: you will learn to hear, and become able to produce, the difference between the English word “happy" and the German word “happy” (which is the same as the difference between the English word “jam” and the English word “gem”) and you will learn to “speak with one voice” in English.

The fifth block will involve becoming more aware of what happens when syllables are strung together to form larger rhythmic units. Syllables rub against each other at their edges; sometimes sounds adapt to the new environment, sometimes they are simplified or lost. Some syllables stand out more than others. We will study the functions of these differences and practise their physical manifestations.

The sixth block will consist of practice in English intonation, based on material by M.A.K. Halliday. Intonation is understood in the broader sense, where it includes all the consequences of deciding how to chunk information into digestible bits and how to assign degress of importance, as well as the interpersonal and logical functions of rising or falling pitch.

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 16 April 2024 — Unit 01

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 as soon as possible – preferably before the first class.

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:

I would need to have the recording of you reading this text aloud by the weekend before the second class. You can send it as an audio file attached to an email, or as a voice message via any platform you like. Many students choose WhatsApp, but I’m on all social media platforms; so take your pick.

Here you will soon be able to find the slides for the first week’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 on while looking at the slides and/or watching the screen recordings of me working through the slides.

Here there will be some screen recordings of me introducing the course and going through the slides:

Note: There will probably only be recordings of the second half of the first week’s presentation – and those parts will have been recycled from previous semesters; the information contained in the slides should not have substantially changed since then, however.

In this directory you will find subdirectories containing photos of some of the people (linguists, phonologists, phoneticians ... ) whom you will become acquainted with during this course:

For one of the people — in all likelihood the most brilliant of them all – there is no photo available on the Internet. The main reason for that is probably that she was a woman. This notwithstanding, her students universally thought that she was awesome. If you are very keen, I can provide you with a link to a paper about a paper she delivered to her colleagues at a staff meeting once. “The rest is silence.”

The following directory contains handouts:


Week 02: Tuesday 23 April 2024 — Unit 02

All of the materials for this week can be found here:


Week 03: Tuesday 30 April 2024 — Unit 03

All of the materials for this week can be found here:


Week 04: Tuesday 07 May 2024 — Unit 04

All of the materials for this week can be found here:


Week 05: Tuesday 14 May 2024 — Unit 05

We managed to get one full week behind, so students are urged to look at the material for this unit on their own. There are screen recordings from an earlier iteration of the course, which cover most of the material on the slides. All of the materials for this topic can be found here:


Here are the two extra documents that I referred to in class over the previous few weeks:

1) a document explaining pre-fortis clipping and rhythmic clipping:

2) a document explaining how to make certain difficult consonant sounds:

3) Here are two lists, not yet in their final state:

The first is a list of all the vowels and diphthongs of English, with advice from Eckert and Barry on differences between English and German and what to pay particular attention to:

The second is a list of all the consonant phonemes of English, with all their major allophones of each one. The list is based on Sauer, with additional information taken from the Internet. When the list is finished, it will contain, on even-numbered pages inserted between the current pages, further information about typical spellings and other things to pay attention to. The list also shows which section in Sauer contains the relevant exercises, in case we don’t manage to do all the exercises in class:

4) Here are some screenshots containing information that I regret having left out of previous units:

1) Systemic functional linguistics reverses the pattern of non-functional linguistics, by i) treating lexis purely formally (measuring, for example, the tendency of items such as sleep and furiously to collocate, with no concern for the meanings involved) and ii) treating syntax semantically, rather than formally:

2) When systemic functional linguists say “Semantics” they mean more-or-less what non-functional linguists call “Pragmatics”:

3) Systemic functional linguistics invests a lot of time and energy in providing detailed descriptions of paradigmatic relations. Originally the starting point for a paradigmatic description was a particular place in the structure of a unit; later, the unit as a whole was taken as the starting point, which meant that the description could become more abstract:

4) Firthian prosodic phonology. Linguistics in the UK developed independently of linguistics in other parts of the world (Professor Erich Steiner made Firthian linguistics known to the German-speaking world as “Der britische Kontextualismus”). The phonological part of Firthian linguistics has become known as ‘prosodic phonology’. Instead of phonemes, it uses a combination of ‘phonematic units’ (more general than phonemes) and ‘prosodies’ (suprasegmental ripples of palatalisation, velarisation, etc., which act on the syllable as a whole or on parts of it to produce the actual sound flow). Firthian prosodic phonology was decades ahead of its time.

i) Here is an example of a classic Firthian prosodic analysis – Eugénie J. A. Henderson’s description of the sound system of Vietnamese:

ii) Here is Michael Halliday’s system network that specifies all the options available when producing a syllable in Mandarin, first the short version, then the full version:

and here is a listing of the outputs of Halliday’s system network:


Week 06: Tuesday 21 May 2024 — Unit 06

In this unit, we will practise the vowels and diphthongs of the Received Pronunciation of British English. In two weeks’ time, we will return to the topic of vowels and diphthongs to work on them in even more detail. I have not been able to “tease out” the various strands in the way that I hoped, so phonetics and phonology will be all mixed in together for the coming four weeks.

Week 07: Tuesday 28 May 2024 — Unit 07

In this unit, we will do more work on English consonants. We will concentrate on the (for German-speakers) classically difficult consonants ð r w v.

As we are still half a week behind, the work for weeks 8 and 9 will most likely be a pot pourri of leftovers from various topics related to vowels and consonants.

Week 08: Tuesday 04 June 2024 — Unit 08

In this unit, we will do more work on English vowels and diphthongs, concentrating on differences between different dialects of English and the difficulties that native speakers of other languages typically encounter when trying to learn to English vowel system.

Week 09: Tuesday 11 June 2024 — Unit 09

In this unit, we will practise any remaining problems with English consonants and consider in particular the consonant clusters of English.

Week 10: Tuesday 18 June 2024 — Unit 10

In this unit, we will carry on from the work of the previous week and practise the kinds of simplifications that occur when syllables rub up against one another.

Week 11: Tuesday 25 June 2024 — Unit 11

In this unit, we will look at the phonetics of word morphology, including the role of word stress.

Week 12: Tuesday 02 July 2024 — Unit 12

In this unit, we will be concerned with the rhythm of English.

Week 13: Tuesday 09 July 2024 — Unit 13

In this unit, we will be look at the role of TONALITY and TONICITY: how speakers decide how much information to pack into one information unit, and how they indicate where the most important ‘new’ information is located.

Week 14: Tuesday 16 July 2024 — Unit 14

In this unit, we will be study and practise the primary tones of English.

Week 15: Tuesday 23 July 2024 — Unit 15

In this unit, we will be study and practise the secondary tones of English, and discuss the arrangements for the oral exam.










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:

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.)

03-05-WAYS OF SEEING (John Berger, BBC, 1972)

An influential television documentary, in four half-hour episodes, on ways in which images (and their production, reproduction, presentation …) shape our unconscious worldview:

Ep. 1:
Ep. 2:
Ep. 3:
Ep. 4:

The text of the accompanying book, with illustrations, can be accessed here:

Many of the ideas in the first episode are taken from Walter Benjamin’s famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.



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)


06-01-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?


The film Nowhere Special tells the story of a single father (a Belfast window-cleaner) who only has a few months to live. He is trying to find a good adoptive family for his three-year-old son. The actor playing the lead role, James Norton, is English. One critic wrote: “Norton’s performance dominates, with a battered, hangdog demeanour and the most syllable-perfect Belfast accent since Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father.”

International trailer for the film Nowhere Special:

If you watch the whole of this film, you will be crying so much that you will need an entire box of tissues.


09-01-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:

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 (CONTENT WARNING: sex, drugs, violence)

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 2017-2023)

New Zealand’s New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Is The World’s Youngest Female Leader:

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pregnant:

It appears that women, however good they are at their job, are judged by the media primarily in terms of their youth and their reproductive status :-(

12-02-DECK ADS

All three New Zealand deck ads (CONTENT WARNING: cringeworthily crude innuendo that goes way beyond the level of even the worst Dad Jokes!)


13-01-South African English:

13-02-Invictus (2009) – Official Trailer:


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


– combine with a look at Wikipedia:

14-01-Shan Antonia: How To Speak Like An INDIAN

14-02-Asian Boss: Do Indians Know How Their English Accent Sounds?

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

15-01-Learning Singlish (Singaporean English) - Xiaxue’s Guide To Life: EP178


16-01-NEIL ARMSTRONG (from Central Ohio)

Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon:

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; a more accurate transcription will be provided)


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

Home > Courses > Phonetics with Listening Practice (British)

Copyleft © 2006-2024 Robert Spence    Impressum    Terms of Use

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Valid CSS!