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Rina Kreitman visits UIT (24-26. October 2022)

The SALT project is glad to welcome Rina Kreitman (University of Kent), who will be with us next week, will give two talks during her stay.

On Monday, 24. October at 12.15, Rina will give a talk about “Clusters, Sequences, Sonority and Voicing  and everything in between”. The talk will be held in C1006 in the SV-HUM building.

On Wednesday, she will talk about “The Conundrums of Teaching Less Commonly Taught Languages”  at 10.15 in room UB244 in the university library.

The abstracts of both talk are included below.

Clusters, Sequences, Sonority and Voicing  and everything in between.  

The Sonority Sequencing Principle (Selkirk 1984) states that in word initial consonantal clusters, there is a strong cross-linguistic tendency for sonority to rise toward the nucleus and fall towards the margins. However, many languages have been documented to violate this principle. Many attempts have been made to reconcile violations with the SSP. In this talk, we are going to pick apart several aspects of the SSP to further question both phonetic and phonological principles. 

Two main aspects of the SSP are of interest in this talk. First, the phonological reality of word-initial clusters and their phonetic implementation. Secondly, the phonology of sonority and its phonetic realization.  

By and large, consonantal sequences are treated as clusters in the literature and their internal structure is frequently overlooked (Yin, 2022). But the actual phonological representation of consonantal sequences varies widely cross-linguistically. Some are real onset clusters while others contain a syllable or a morpheme boundary. That means that sequences are not always clusters, and sequences with a morpheme boundary may be subject to different phonological restrictions than those without such boundaries, as noted in the work of Zhakun and Krämer (to appear). Distinguishing between clusters and sequences is paramount, especially when seeking to understand the differences in their phonetic implementation. Further, the phonological membership of two members of a cluster, may shed further light on the SSP.  

The second point of interest is the notion of sonority and its phonetic correlates. In all discussions of sonority, voicing is always listed as a correlate of sonority. However, as Kreitman (2008) has shown, the phonological features [sonorant] and [voice] are not good predictors of behavior of consonants within a cluster. Hence, in this talk, we will also explore these two features and how their relation impacts the SSP in word-initial consonantal sequences.

The Conundrums of Teaching Less Commonly Taught Languages

Currently, the most prevalent approach to teaching a foreign language is The Communicative Approach to language teaching. This approach prescribes that the learners’ communicative abilities should be the top priority for language teachers and the way to reach this target is by maximally immersing the learner in the target language environment. 

Among other issues, this also means that grammar is to be taught immersively, in a deductive way, rather than inductively. These methods that espouse strict avoidance of the use of the learners’ own native language for the learning of the target language, make the job of the language teacher quite challenging, and often, the students themselves also find it a struggle to learn a language, an already quite complicated task.

Many of the methods and techniques used in the language classroom make basic assumptions about the learners’ abilities. For example, some methods assume that the learner can instantly read the new language. Further, there are assumptions about the learners’ process of language acquisition, that is, that certain aspects of foreign language learning are similar to those of first language acquisition, and therefore, grammar can be learned deductively. These assumptions and subsequent pedagogical approaches stem from the fact that much of foreign language pedagogy is conducted in the realm of Commonly Taught Languages (CTL) such as French, Spanish and German, and are then extrapolated to and adopted by other languages.

However, the question that concerns teachers of foreign languages teaching Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) is whether the approaches and methods used for teaching CTL are suitable to teach those that are less commonly taught? 

From the teachers’ perspective, the struggles in the space of LCTL vary, from lack of teaching materials to the range of skills required of a language teacher and to decisions about grammar versus vocabulary teaching. Teachers looking to optimize their learners’ outcome need ways to balance their teaching along all necessary linguistic skills, something for which there is no roadmap.   

In this talk, we will explore issues of language learning and teaching, with a focus on less commonly taught languages and how to tackle some of the challenges faced by teachers of such languages. First, we will pose the question “why”. Why learn a Less Commonly Taught Language? The answers to this question will lead us to understand that the targets and paths we set to achieve these goals may be different from those adopted by Commonly Taught Languages. 

We will also address the common intuition among many teachers of LCTLs that their own individual languages require slightly different approaches to and methodology of language teaching than the practices commonly adopted by more commonly taught languages.

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