Embodying phonetics: The Story of Arthur the Rat – Dr. L. van Buuren

Drs. Hein Tak (r) and Dr. Luc van Buuren (l) lifelong colleagues and friends teaching grammar, phonetics and other things, seen here at Hein’s barbecue in 2010. Courtesy of Dr. Luc van Buuren

The university teacher of English phonetics should lay out all the vocal patterns learned by one representative speaker of English and teach his students how to produce them. That was the philosophy behind the Amsterdam University English phonetics courses since 1969. Naturally, this entailed a (still unusual) exhaustive-not-eclectic and a parametric-not-segmental embodied approach.

After the first year, students had to demonstrate their phonetic expertise by reading out and discussing a phonetic transcription of The Story of Arthur the Rat, adapted from Henry Sweet’s Primer of Spoken English (1890:66). Even now, it is still nostalgically remembered  by those who sat the test. Many hundreds of Amsterdam students of English passed it convincingly, in professionally respectable near-native to native English accents. It was discontinued at Amsterdam in 1994, but still survives in the teaching of some former students, at universities in Indonesia and elsewhere. Read more about Arthur the Rat here.

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