phonology

Phonology

Probably the most prominent feature of the ‘Life on Earth’ in phonological terms is the frequency of short pauses; there are only three instances of pauses longer than two seconds within speech, and two further instances separating blocks of speech. The majority of silence, therefore, is made up of the momentary pauses in continuous speech- the purpose of which is to promote the absorption of information through giving facts sufficient time to sink in. Without these pauses, a listener might easily become lost and simply pick up the odd fact here and there- illustrating the secondary purpose of the pauses, which is to allow the audience to comprehend grammatical and discursive structures which they might otherwise find confusing. Key words, especially items of special lexis, are also given space; this has the effect of not only drawing attention to the key word and thus making it memorable, but also lending a sense of drama to the proceedings which constitutes a rudimentary form of entertainment; the entertainment springs from the learning of new information.
The use of accentual devices- pitch and emphasis- is also an interesting feature of the text’s phonology; prominently, heightened pitch is used to maintain a sense of energy throughout periods of speech that might otherwise lose the audience’s interest- hence, again, entertaining features come into play, but only in order to support the text’s didactic motives. Pitch and emphasis are also used to highlight dramatic elements, such as vast distances in time or space- promoting an interest in learning, and hence introducing an element of entertainment to an otherwise informative text.
One of the key contrasts between ‘Life on Earth’ and ‘Realm of the Alligator’ is the use of music to cover extended periods of speech that might otherwise lose the audience’s interest, and to emphasise the mood of the speech, adding a dramatic element to the piece- through the creation of tension, for instance. Parallel to the features of ‘Life on Earth’, we can see that the use of short pauses to encourage the absorption of facts and the pauses surrounding the various ‘key words’ of the text are still evident; however, during periods of extended speech from an unseen narrator, much less intonation is used- this could simply be due to an ineffective narrator, or it may be that the extended periods of direct narration are made intentionally toneless, in order to make such periods seem as though they will be shorter. This seems a feasible option when put into context- in ‘Life on Earth’, the narrator uses intonation to vary their speech in periods of extended direct narrative. Hence, when intonation is absent, the audience might be expected to presume that periods of narrative will not be extended, and see such areas as a passing distraction, rather than assuming that they constitute the body of the program; information gives way to entertainment. Later on in the text, during a period of what is apparently unplanned dialogue, intonation comes into its own; it is used to create humour, engagement with information, and a sense of wonder- although these devices are purchased at the cost of many utterances becoming inaudible.
Similarly, in ‘Polar Bears with Ewan McGregor’ there is frequent use of ‘unplanned dialogue’, and so intonation is again used to great effect- furthermore, the loss of utterances to inaudibility has been greatly palliated by the development of recording technology. By this point, the focus has shifted to entertainment; music is in use once more, and intonation is used to create humour and a sense of amazement at nature- and so leading again to drama, humour and tension, key elements of entertainment. The inclusion of McGregor’s own regional dialect creates the impression that an audience is undertaking a personal journey with Ewan McGregor, an effect which all the other features seem to further as well- indeed, it is interest in Ewan McGregor that leads an audience to polar bears, rather than the other way around. The majority of phonological features in the text spring from the amount of ‘unplanned’ speech- in this piece both monologue and dialogue are used, to create the impression that the audience has a personal relationship with McGregor. There are isolated instances of emphasis on key words- a variation on the established method of surrounding key words with pauses; emphasis creates the impression that the speaker is unfamiliar with the word as well as the audience. Rather than a learnèd narrator imparting knowledge to an ignorant audience, an ignorant audience is enticed through the prospect of entertainment into sharing a ‘journey of discovery’ with a similarly ignorant narrator.
Meerkat Manor, the most recent text, is positively rife with phonological features, all serving one purpose to a greater or lesser extent: drama. Emphasis was placed on several areas of speech; adverbs, for example, which are the key to tension, were used as intensifiers- and also emphasised. Elements of lexis which indicated stress, tension and discomfort- such as ‘infested’ and ‘dangerous’- were also emphasised, again to heighten the sense of tension and drama. The names of three rival factions are named and emphasised in the opening lines- assuring from the very outset that an audience is aware of the conflict that will form the majority of the program. These faction names- which, interestingly, seem to have taken the place of ‘key words’- are also frequently the subject of both intonation and surrounding pauses; rather than information about meerkats, the author seems to be eager that an audience should grasp the names of the meerkat ‘characters’ and their respective ‘gangs’- the documentary has become a narrative, a ‘performance’ which simply uses animals in the place of human actors. However, in terms of phonology, the text does use some of the most complex constructs; pauses and emphases, or changes of intonation, are frequently used in combination to create interesting effects; the use of intonation or emphasis before a pause, for example, is often used to create suspense, or simply to prompt the audience into a more attentive engagement with the text- features of which the earlier texts might show rudimentary aspects, but certainly nothing of this complexity.

phonology

Fyfe

Joined February 2008

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