A PHONOLOGICAL STUDY OF ENGLISH CONSONANT DIGRAPHS IN THE UTTERANCES OF SELECTED PUPILS IN OLUYOLE LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA
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1.0. Background to the Study
Over the past few decades, the study of second language speeches (L2) has emerged as a rapidly growing area of inquiry, the ramifications of which extend across a diverse range of disciplines including linguistics, psychology and education. Forge (1988) who credits Locke (1983) with using the term “speech learning”, employs the expression, especially, to refer to the processes by which a language learner comes to ” articulate or perceive a speech sound differently, (after, as compared to before) massive exposure to a foreign language. ” (P. 226).
L2 speech can be studied from a wide range of perspectives. It is clear, for instance, that many aspects of L2 speech learning can be explored in terms of phonological and phonetics factors that are tied to the similarities and differences between the sound systems of the L1 and L2. At the same time, speech learning is influenced by a complex interplay of learner variables that may include age related developmental factors, quantity and quality of exposure to the second language, use of the first and second language over time, second language instructions and individual differences in motivation and aptitude. Still another perspective concerns the effects of non-native patterns of perception and production on L2 learners’ participation in the target linguistic community. Such social ramification of L2 speaker status are related to success in acquisition, as well as to community perceptions of an attitude towards L2 accents.
In Nigeria, our L2 is the English language and this leaves our individual mother tongues as L1. An aspect of English Language speech learning which is extremely important and appears in our everyday use of the language, but is relatively excluded from the phonetic study curriculum in Nigeria is the study of digraphs. According to the Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language (2005), digraph is a term in orthography for two letters that represent one sound, such as ‘th’ in ‘this’ and ‘sh’ in ‘ashes’. If three letters together represent a single sound, they constitute a trigraph, such as ‘tch’ in ‘catch‘ and ‘sch’ in ‘schmaltz’. When letters form digraphs, they surrender their independent sound values so as to stand as a group for a single phoneme, usually because an alphabet has no letter to serve that purpose. In such cases, there may be some phonetic motivation in the combination (‘sh’, ‘dg’ roughly suggesting the sounds in ‘dash‘ and ‘dodge’), though this may have vanished as pronunciation has changed (for example, the ‘gh’ in ‘tough‘ and ‘through‘). Sometimes letters that happen to come together may look like (and be mistaken for) digraphs: for example, the ‘t’ ‘h’ in ‘posthumous’ being interpreted as the ‘th’ in ‘asthma’. Because English has more phonemes than letters, digraphs are used to represent sounds for which no original Roman letter would serve: for example, the initial sounds in ‘three’ and ‘this’ and the final sounds in ‘rich’ and ‘ridge’. There is a greater degree of consistency in English in the use of consonant digraphs and trigraphs than in vowel digraphs.
The focus of this study is on consonant digraphs, but we should not totally leave out vowel digraphs. Because the vowel sounds of English greatly out number the symbols available, digraphs are widely used to represent them. A few are fairly regular, such as ‘ai’ in ‘fail’, ‘pain’, ‘maintain’, but most can represent several vowels (as with ‘ea’ in bead, bread, break, hear, hearse, heart ) and many vowels can be represented by a variety of digraphs. Most problematic is the spelling of the long /i:/sound, as in the patterns be, bee, eve, leave, sleeve, deceive, believe, (BrE) anaemia, (BrE) foetus, routine. Some digraphs representing a vowel combine vowel and consonant letters (sight, sign, indict), while others vary within the same root (speak/speech, high/height). In addition, vowel digraphs are well known for their use in a number of highly irregular, sometimes unique spellings, such as quay.
According to the Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language (2005) Most English consonant digraphs consist of a single letter followed by h, modelled on the Latin digraphs ‘ch’,’ph’,’th’ used to transcribe the Greek letters ‘chi’, ‘phi’, and ‘theta’. Consonant digraphs include: ‘ch’ as in ‘chair’, ‘charisma’, and ‘loch‘; ‘sh’ as in ‘shout’; ‘th’ as in ‘three’ and ‘these’; ‘wh’ as in ‘whale’; ‘ph’ as in ‘philosophy’; ‘gh’ as in ‘tough‘ and ‘daughter’; ‘ng’ as in ‘longer’ and ‘singer’; ‘ck’ as in ‘track‘; ‘dg’ as in ‘judge’. Although ‘zh’ is not a conventional digraph in English, occurring mainly in loans from Russian (Brezhnev), it is well understood and is sometimes used to give a spelling pronunciation of a word (measure as ‘mezher’).
Consonant digraphs pose a bunch of problems to L2 learners of English Language especially in the area of reading (conversion of visual perception to audible utterances) and writing (conversion of audible signals to textual representation) as certain digraphs have varying pronunciations in similar situations. E.g. The combination ‘ng’ works as a blend and a digraph in the same word. Words like ‘bringing and singing’ have the combination working as a blend in its first occurrence and one can hear the /n/ and /g/ sounds separately. In the second occurrence however the sounds seem merged and a nasalised /n/ sound is produced. The difference between a blend and a digraph is simple, a blend is two phonemes articulated with a smooth glide from the first sound to the other but the two sounds can still be perceived separately e.g. ‘nk’ in think.
Possibly, the most problematic digraph for second language learners would be the digraph ‘CH’. According to Wikipedia (2004) this digraph has 3 distinct pronunciations.
- The most common is the sound /t /which is its pronunciation in words like: check, chair, chicken, chop, chuckle, much, rich, such.
- However in words taken into English from Greek ‘ch’ sounds as /k/: character, chemist, chorus, ache, echo, school.
- The third group drawn from French, if written as it sounds, would be articulated as / / as in machine (ma-sheen). I.e. in words taken into English from French, ‘ch’ sounds as ‘sh’: Chef, Chauffeur, Chaperone, Machine, moustache and
These inconsistencies are the root of certain reading and writing errors amongst primary school learners of English and could plague them till they grow old. Other errors could be traced to items in their native languages and insufficient exposure to the English language. First language speakers of English too find it hard to articulate digraphs in other languages such as ‘GB’ in the Yoruba Language, which commonly pronounced as /b/ because of the absence of such a consonant digraph in the English sound bank. This study places its focus on primary school pupils as their educational level is basic and would allow for consistency in the observation of patterns while they articulate and transcribe consonant digraphs in the course of their reading and writing.
1.2 Aims and Objectives
The aim of this long essay is to show how social factors affect the production and perception of consonant digraphs by a learner in ESL context. The specific objectives are to:
- identify the observable patterns in the subjects’ rendition of consonant digraphs
- describe the observable patterns and
- determine the social implications of the patterns in ESL context
1.3. Research Questions
Through the study, this paper will find out the possible answers to the following questions:
- What are the observable patterns in the subjects’ rendition of consonant digraphs?
- How would these observable patterns be described?
- What are the social implications of these observed patterns in ESL context?
1.4. Contribution to Knowledge
Different scholars have studied and analyzed consonant digraphs and digraphs generally in the speech of ESL learners with various mother tongues, their studies have shed more light on how social factors affect the learners’ perception and production of digraphs. This study will contribute its own quota by further studying consonant digraphs in the utterances of young Nigerian ESL learners, specifically pupils from Oluyole local government, thus shedding light on how social factors affect their perception and production of consonant digraphs. The findings of this study would provide data for future research.
1.5. Organization of Work
This work has been divided into five chapters, and as already explained above, the present chapter is a general introduction to the entire work. Chapter Two is an attempt to review the relevant literature. Chapter Three explains the principles that guided the collection and analysis of data. The findings are discussed in Chapter Four and Chapter Five holds the conclusions and suggestions.