A study of the English postposition ago in the speech of adult native speakers in advanced EFL recordings
Tiziani, José María
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Of the three aspects of intonation normally taught at EFL teacher/translator training colleges, namely the ‘chunking’ of speech into tone groups, the location of a main prominence or nucleus, and the behaviour of the pitch of the voice, or tone, it is the area of nucleus placement which has suffered from considerable neglect and insufficient training. The right contextual placement of the nucleus in English has proven to be quite a challenge for EFL teacher/translator trainees, a generally much more daunting task than when faced, for example, with having to make an appropriate tone choice. Consequently, when having to assign prominence to phrases containing elements such as ago, whose classification into lexical and non-lexical varies greatly in the literature, learners generally end up producing faulty accentual patterns which tend to deviate from native speaker norm. In the case of the elusive postposition ago, students almost invariably make it prominent in speech and in transcription, contrary to what is felt to be the case in native speaker English. This may be largely due to the misleading ‘adverbial’ nature assigned to it by most grammar books. The present research endeavours to shed light onto the prosodic behaviour of ago in a corpus of recordings from advanced EFL textbooks. The findings show a high percentage of occurrence of the intonational nucleus in the complement of the postposition ago, which seems to support the researcher’s view that phrases containing ago, if nuclear, will by default bear the intonational nucleus on the complement of the postposition rather than on the postposition itself –unless stronger psycholinguistic principles such as rhythmic alternation and rhythmic optimisation come into play, which may cause ago to become prominent. This prosodic behaviour also would support treatment of ago as a non-lexical item in the grammar of English. Further research with a larger and more varied corpus might provide a clearer picture of the prosodic behaviour of ago, a neglected deictic item which has long straddled between its adverbial and prepositional personalities in grammars and intonation manuals.
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