Orlando R. Kelm's Course Materials for Practical Phonetics - SPN 346

The University of Texas, Austin


First off, welcome to our course wiki for SPN 346, Practical Phonetics, taught here at the University of Texas at Austin. For many of the students in this class, this is the first introduction to Spanish phonetics. As part of this course we learn about the characteristics of the sounds of Spanish. For those of us who are non-native speakers of Spanish, part of the reason why we study this is to improve our own pronunciation of Spanish. At the same time, another objective is to learn about various regional dialects of Spanish. In this class we focus on the characteristics of Spanish in Mexico, Argentina, Spain, and in general terms "el caribe" (the Caribbean), which is enough to get a sense of how different the regional dialects can be. My experience is that most students in Texas have been exposed to more of a Mexican-style of Spanish. In this course, however, we don't think of one dialect as being more correct than another (although clearly in society there are varieties that are more prestigious than others). In order to study Spanish phonetics, there are a few "tools of the trade."

1. Phonation - To study sounds, students need to learn about how the vocal chords vibrate, how breathing, lung pressure, and air flow all affect speech. In this class we'll learn about how speech is produced.

2. Phonetic Symbols - The regular alphabet helps to spell words, but it doesn't always help to describe the actual sounds of speech. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is comprised of symbols that represent sounds. It is essential that students know the symbols that are used to represent Spanish. And in this class we also learn a lot about the symbols that are used to represent sounds in English too. Memorizing these symbols is an important part of this course.

3. Phonetic Transcriptions - Using the IPA symbols, and a number of other diacritic markers, there are conventions on how to transcribe the speech that we hear, including accents, intonation, and suprasegmental features of speech. Students in this course will get a lot of practice in writing phonetic transcriptions.

4. Analyzing Speech Samples - A very large part of this course is dedicated to listening to speech samples and performing an analysis of the characteristics. Many of the speech samples are provided for students, others the students are required to find and analyze on their own.

Note: This wiki contains all of the background information about the course. However, in the past we also have used a course blog that maintains a collection of the samples of speech that we analyze in class. Here's the URL for that blog and I'll add the URL to my homepage as well:

SPN 346 blog: http://spn346.wordpress.com/ Homepage: http://orlandokelm.wordpress.com/