Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts

Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Kristýna Šrámková

Czech and Slovak Pronunciation of English: Sonority and Articulatory Energy

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: PhDr. Kateřina Tomková, Ph.D.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Author’s signature

I would like to thank my supervisor, PhDr. Kateřina Tomková, Ph.D., for her priceless advice, helpful guidance, kind encouragement and support in the process of writing this thesis. I would also like to thank all the volunteers who participated in the research.

Table of contents

Introduction 7

  1. Acquisition of correct English pronunciation 10

  2. Description of vowels 12

3. Sonority and articulatory energy in English, Czech and Slovak 14

3.1 Sonority 14

3.1.1 Aspiration 15

3.1.2 Devoicing of the post-alveolar approximant /r/ 16

3.1.3 Devoicing of the lateral /l/ 16

3.1.4 Devoicing of the labial-velar semivowel /w/ 17

3.1.5 Devoicing of the palatal semivowel /j/ 17

3.1.6 Glottal fricative /h/ 18

3.2 Voicing of final consonants 19

3.2.1 The role of vowels 20

3.2.2 Bilabial plosives /p/, /b/ 20

3.2.3 Alveolar plosives /t/, /d/ 21

3.2.4 Velar plosives /k/, /g/ 22

3.2.5 Labio-dental fricatives /f/, /v/ 23

3.2.6 Alveolar fricatives /s/, /z/ 23

3.2.7 Dental fricatives /θ/, /ð/ 24

3.2.8 Affricates /tʃ/, /dʒ/ 26

3.2.9 Velar nasal /ŋ/ 27

3.3 Assimilation of voicing and linking 28

3.3.1 Assimilation of voicing 28

3.3.2 Linking 30

4. Research section 32

4.1 Analysis 35

4.1.1 Czech speakers 36

4.1.2 Slovak speakers 37

4.2 Results of the research 38

5. Conclusion 42

Reference list 44

Summary 46

Shrnutí 47

Glossary of terms 48

Appendices 50

A Original text of the excerpt and the questions 50

B Error spots in the original text 51

C IPA Chart 53

D Contents of the enclosed CD-ROM 54

E Audio CD 55

List of tables

Table 1: Numbers of cases of linking, final lenis consonant voicing and aspiration contained in the text 39

Table 2: Numbers of cases mispronounced by the Czech speakers 39

Table 3: Numbers of cases mispronounced by the Slovak speakers 40

Table 4: Individual and average error rates of the Czech speakers 40

Table 5: Individual and average error rates of the Slovak speakers 41


Correct pronunciation is one of the important skills students have to master when learning a foreign language. It is an essential factor when one wants to communicate and be understood. However, teachers of English in Czech and Slovak primary and secondary schools often do not draw the attention of their students to correct pronunciation owing to the limited number of lessons of English teaching in schools. The curricula usually put emphasis rather on extending students’ vocabulary and enhancing their skills of grammar. As far as the voicing and sonority is concerned, the differences between English, Czech and Slovak pronunciations are substantial. Every student of English is endowed with different individual skills in acquiring good pronunciation but it is the task of a teacher to stress the contrast between the pronunciation of a student’s mother tongue and English and point out the importance of the two specific areas of English pronunciation analyzed in this thesis and the misunderstandings which can arise from neglecting of them.

The author of this thesis is concerned with the importance of teaching students correct habits when speaking English by drawing their attention to the mistakes which might be made by devoicing final consonants, not aspirating initial consonants, and assimilation of two adjacent consonants and assimilation across word boundaries, which are aspects common in Czech and Slovak pronunciation. Typical Czech and Slovak students’ mistakes in devoicing are for example words such as pick and pig, and face and phase which are often pronounced in the same way by students, i.e. as [pɪk] and [feɪs], respectively. Another aspect which learners find difficult (or rather, are oblivious of its importance) is aspiration. Czech and Slovak languages do not aspirate the initial consonants /p, t, k/ and not aspiring these consonants in English often leads to confusion with the consonants /b, d, g/. Thus, pronouncing the word pat with no aspiration sounds to native speakers as the word bat. Students often make mistakes in assimilation of two adjacent speech sounds across the boundaries of words. This aspect involves incorrect coarticulation, such as pronouncing the words a nice day as [ə ˈnaɪz ˈdeɪ], where the voiceless consonant often incorrectly influences the pronunciation of the preceding consonant in the speech of Czech and Slovak speakers. The correct pronunciation should be [ə ˈnaɪs ˈdeɪ]. Problematic is also devoicing of a voiced consonant at the end of a word which is followed by a word starting with a vowel, such as frequent incorrect pronunciation of the expression first of all as [ˈfɜːst of ˈɔːl], while the correct pronunciation should be [ˈfɜːst əvˈɔːɫ].

The phonological systems of the Czech and Slovak languages are very similar, considering that both are Slavic languages, but they show noticeable differences in treating certain consonants in final positions. The objective of this thesis is to determine how Czech and Slovak speakers differ in their execution of sonority and articulatory energy when speaking English and what the most common mistakes are in these two particular areas. The results might help Czech and Slovak students and teachers of English to realize whether they transmit the pronunciation habits of their mother tongue to English pronunciation, and help them avoid the most common mistakes. The thesis may also be of benefit to teachers of English who would like to help their students with this particular weak point, and exploit the knowledge of Czech or Slovak sound systems for improving the teaching of English pronunciation.

The theoretical section of the thesis deals with the differences in English, Czech and Slovak sound systems concerning sonority and articulatory energy. It will be analyzed to what extent these three languages differ in treating voicing and aspiration.

In the practical section, recordings of three Czech and three Slovak students of English at Masaryk University will be analyzed and assessed. The participants of the research have been chosen by their level of English appropriate for that of an average student of English. The participants are expected to avoid the typical Czech or Slovak pronunciation mistakes peculiar to beginners; however, there is room for improvement in their pronunciation.

Recordings are based on an extract from a book which is followed by a short questionnaire regarding the extract and the participants’ knowledge of the term “voicing”.

Leaving the suprasegmental features of speech aside, the hypotheses of the thesis are that students make most mistakes in neutralization of final consonants, incorrect coarticulation of two adjacent consonants, and to a certain extent, they also have difficulties with aspiration of voiceless plosive consonants in initial positions in stressed syllables.

The predictions based on the analysis of the English, Czech and Slovak sound systems will be either confirmed or disproved by the assessment of the participants’ speech recordings.

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