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Phonology is the study of the sound features used in a language to

communicate meaning. In English these features include phonemes, word
stress, sentence stress and intonation.

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that can make a difference to meaning
in a language.

The phonemes of a language are represented in writing by phonemic symbols:

Each individual sound in English (or any other language) is called a phoneme. These
can be written down using phonemic symbols. The TKT exam makes use of the IPA –
the International Phonetic Alphabet. There are phonemic symbols for vowels,
diphthongs and consonants. This question tests your knowledge of the first two of

When we write a phoneme, we add oblique lines like this // on either side to indicate
that what we have written is a phonemic transcription rather than ordinary spelling. For

example, compare the spelling and phonemic transcription of this word: cough /kɒf/.

There are six different symbols in this question.

/ʌ/ is a vowel sound. It is the vowel sound in the words cut, love and mother when they
are spoken in the accent called RP as spoken by some people in the South East of
England. (You might be interested to learn that it isn’t the normal pronunciation of these
words when said by people from some other parts of the UK.)

/ɜ:/ is also a vowel sound. This is the vowel sound in the words bird, fur and her in RP.
The two dots indicate that it is a long sound. When you say /ɜ:/ (or any other long
vowel sound) you can extend it for as long as you have enough breath. Try it!
Say: her..................... keeping the sound going until you run out of breath. (NB in RP

the /r/ sound isn’t pronounced!)

/ə/ is possibly the most interesting English phoneme. It’s the most common vowel
sound and is the only phoneme to actually have a name! It’s called the schwa. The
reason it’s heard so frequently is that it often appears when a syllable is unstressed.
So, for example, in the word agenda the second syllable is stressed, the first and last
syllables are unstressed and the vowel sounds in those unstressed syllables are both
schwa. It’s curious that there isn’t one single alphabetic letter to represent such a
common sound, isn’t it? But that’s probably because even the most ‘perfect’ speakers
of English have no idea that they are even using it. If you ask them how they
pronounce the word to in the sentence Give it to me they would probably

reply /tu:/ whereas in fact they will almost invariably pronounce it /tə/!

The other sounds in the question are all diphthongs. These are sounds formed when
two vowel sounds are said very close together, with the first sound changing into the

second. So, for example, /eɪ/ is made from the sound /e/ and the sound /ɪ/ - with the

first sound lengthened a little. Example words with /eɪ/ are lake, grey and train.

Example words containing /aɪ/ are night, tie and why. The diphthong /əʊ/ comes
in go, sew and low. The letters of the alphabet A, I and O are pronounced using just

these three diphthongs: /eɪ/ /aɪ/ /əʊ/. NB - Warning: don’t

confuse /əʊ/ and /aʊ/ (they are often mixed up!)


TKT Module 1: Describing language: Phonology – Participant’s

Worksheet 2
Phonemic Chart

iː ɪ ʊ uː ɪə eɪ

e ə ɜː ɔː ʊə ɔɪ əʊ

æ ʌ ɑː ɒ eə aɪ aʊ

p b t d tʃ dʒ k g

f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ

m n ŋ h l r w j
Match the symbols you have been given with the underlined letters in the words in the

1. joke 11. fun 22. bat 33. two

2. play 12. measure 23. put 34. do
3. sit 13. bit 24. think 35. cat
4. read 14. about 25. pet 36. for
5. sing 15. air 26. yes 37. the
6. car 16. man 27. pen 38. ear
7. bird 17. shoe 28. go 39. hat
8. church 18. who 29. zoo 40. or
9. boy 19. live 30. dog 41. no
10. life 20. now 31. watch 42. gone
21. hard 32. right 43. long
44. cruel

Stress is a vital part of both speaking and listening in stress timed languages.
As English is a stress timed language, we have to take the stress in
consideration while examining it. The stress can occur on both syllables in a
word and words in a sentence. So we can divide stress as word
stress and sentence stress. I will focus on a type of sentence stress which
is called contrastive stress in this paper because this aspect of the
language can cause problems for learners in both their speaking and perhaps
more importantly listening. This paper attempts to explain what contrastive
stress is, how this type of stress occurs and shifts in sentences, how it changes the meaning in
spoken English, and it consists suggestions for English language teachers how to teach
contrastive stress to their students with exercises.

If you want to sound more natural English when you speak, you should learn how stress affects
the meaning of the sentence.
What is Stress?
Before writing about contrastive stress, we have to mention about what stress isand
what features stress syllables or words have. Stress can be divided in two as word
stress and sentence stress.

Word Stress:

If we mention about the stress within a word, we define the term ‘stress’ as syllable
prominence. Prominence may, of course, derive from several phonetic factors such as
increased length, loudness, pitch movement or a combination of these aspects (Ball
and Rahilly, 1999:105). Roach (1983:73) identifies the four characteristics that make a
syllable stressed. A stressed syllable;

1. is louder,

2. is longer,

3. has a higher pitch and

4. contains a vowel different in quality from the neighboring vowels.

Sentence Stress:

When mentioning the sentence stress which means the stress in sentence;

The stresses that can occur on words sometimes become modified when the words are
part of sentences. The most frequent modification is the dropping of some of the
stresses (Ladefoged, 2001:98). English words have the stress on their first syllables
when they are used alone. But when used in a sentence, the stress shifts. It is clear in
the example that Ladefoged mentions: There is a stress on the first syllable of each of
the words ‘Mary, younger, brother, wanted, fifty, chocolate, peanuts’ when these words
are said in isolation. But there are normally fewer stresses when they occur in a
sentence such as ‘Mary’s younger brother wanted fifty chocolate peanuts’. If we put the
stress on the first syllables of all the words in the sentence, it will not sound nice and
the meaning may be hardly understood.

The sentence should be ‘Mary’s younger brother wanted fifty chocolate peanuts.’
The first syllables of ‘younger’, ‘wanted’ and ‘chocolate’ are pronounced without stress.

The place of the stress in sentences is indicated according to such reasons as

emphasis or contrast in the meaning. So, we can divide sentence stress into some
types of stress which are tonic stress, emphatic stress and contrastive stress. This
paper will focus on contrastive stress and its features in a sentence.

Contrastive Stress
There is one word in most phrases that receives the phrase (sentence) stress under
ordinary occasions. However, the stress can always be shifted from this normal place
to some other place in the sentence. This shifting always changes the meaning of the
phrase somewhat or makes it fit into some special context. As Çelik (2003:58) indicates
that when a choice for contrast is not intended on a contrasted item or notion crops up
in conversation, the contrasted item or notion should be intelligible to the address. In
other words, the contrasted item should make sense in the context of discourse at the
time and place of speaking.

The simple sentence below can have many levels of meaning based on the word you
stress according to the contrastive choices. The stressed words are written in bold.

1. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Somebody else thinks he should get the job.

2. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: It’s not true that I think he should get the job.

3. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: That’s not really what I mean. Or I’m not sure he’ll get the job.

4. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Somebody else should get the job.

5. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: In my opinion it is wrong that he is going to get the job.

6. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: He should have to earn that job.

7. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: He should get another job.

8. I don’t think he should get the job.

Meaning: Maybe he should get something else instead.

As we see in the example, the meaning changes when we shift the stress in the phrase
according to our contrastive choices.

In an answer statement, a word has the stress on it when it is contrasted with an item
in the question statement. It is more clearly understood with the examples below:

A) Would you prefer coffee or tea?

B) Tea, please.

The answer shows which option you choose in respond to the question, so ‘tea’ has the
contrastive stress.

A) Did you go to the campus yesterday or not?

B) I went to the campus yesterday.

The verb ‘went’ appears to be the old information and it has the meaning of

A) Did you park your car inside the garage?

B) No, I parked my car outside.

‘Outside’ is contrasted with ‘inside’. The meaning is: the car is parked outside, not

Contrastive stress does not only appear in response statement; it can also be seen in
the speech of one speaker. Let’s look at the example:

‘Tom is very good at football whereas he is really bad at doing other sports.’

We can give many more examples to explain the subject of contrastive stress.
Put the words into 4 categories based on which syllable in each word carries
the main stress..

unlucky bananas qualification

angry congratulations literature

possibility paper examination

lemonade finger photography

magazine photographic comfortable

first syllable

second syllable
third syllable

fourth syllable

Suggestions for Teachers to Teach Contrastive Stress

Teachers should try to teach the contrastive stress with exercises after giving the main
points of the subject. The exercises below can be efficient for teaching contrastive

Exercise 1:

Make your students say this sentence aloud using the stress word marked in bold. And
have them match the sentence version to the meaning below.
1. I said she might consider a new haircut

2. I said she might consider a new haircut

3. I said she might consider a new haircut

4. I said she might consider a new haircut

5. I said she might consider a new haircut

6. I said she might consider a new haircut

7. I said she might consider a new haircut

a. Not just a haircut

b. It’s a possibility

c. It was my idea

d. Not something else

e. Don’t you understand me?

f. Not another person

g. She should think about it. It’s a good idea

Exercise 2:

Have students write 10 FALSE sentences. They could be about anything, as only as
they are not true. Next have students read the statements to their partner. The partner
must correct each of the incorrect statements.
For example: "Christmas is in July." - "No, Christmas is in December."

Exercise 3:

Put students in pairs. Give student A a list of questions or statements. Give student B a list of
replies. Student A should hum the intonation patterns of his utterances. Student B should reply
with the correct response.

Student A Student B
I like pizza, pickles, and
Not all together, I hope.
Student A Student B
Would you prefer coffee or
Tea, please.
Would you like some ice
No, thank you. I'm not hungry.
cream and cake?
Next week we are flying to Really? How long will you be
Rome. there?
Is he going to the dentist? Yes. He has a toothache.