Cultured English And Rhetoric

Writing a new course — or textbook for the University students of English (especially the students of the humanities) invariably presupposes both new materials and innovative methods. As compared with what has been done along these lines so far, this book is designed specifically to support language teaching and learning in the present-day Global English environment.

As is well known, English is in a state of constant flux, as it responds to social, political, and technological challenges. That is why the main problem which we had to face while working out the new approach was the proper choice of the proper target. It is the target which could meet the requirements of humanities at large, not philology only, although this is certainly within its scope.

This being the case, the choice of the material was guided by the following principle: the texts belonging to the style of intellective communication were selected with respect to a broader range of interests (including social and political ones), which distinguish Global English learners the world over. Moreover, these texts are no longer phonetically uniform. Some of them represent different varieties of English currently used by cultured BBC announcers. This gives us the means to make the book even more relevant to the needs of its users. We thus raise and develop the learners' awareness of Global English phonation, as well as their perceptive and productive skills.

The fact is that it is impossible nowadays to confine ourselves solely and exclusively to the one-sided British English-oriented pronunciation teaching. It is American English that is now becoming increasingly welcome and influential in different spheres of life, especially politics, economics, business, technology, etc. All these, clearly, cannot be discarded from the English we, philologists, are supposed to use. The question however is how to implement the new phonetic reality in class. Does this mean that we have to give up the former deeply-rooted university tradition of focusing on the British English diatopic variant?

The answer is an emphatic 'no'. A good and fluent command of British English syllabification, rhythm, melody and voice remains our guiding principle. These phonetic characteristics have been thoroughly described and standardised by several generations of University scholars and can be easily incorporated into the teaching-learning process. American English, on the contrary, is still open to further systematisation and elaboration in ELT terms.

That is why the target texts in the coursebook are arranged in the following order: first come the materials based on what can generally be described as British English standard pronunciation. Seeing, however, that the English sound form is no longer what it used to be, it might be prudent to qualify the so far accepted metalanguage so that it could go well and fit in with the present-day linguistic reality.

We suggest that the traditional terminological 'hierarchy' — the King’s English, the Received Pronunciation (RP) and its main varieties (the 'general', 'conservative', 'advanced') — has to be further extended by introducing a more 'democratic', broader concept of cultured or cultivated, 'educated and unmistakably English voice'. This is the indispensable foundation of the University students' phonetic education, and unless it is mastered and brought home to the learner from the very start, there can be little hope of coping with the new tendencies.

At the same time, as our book is meant for the early stages of the University course, we by no means insist on a full-fledged, thorough study of all the niceties and subtleties of American phonation. It would be hypocritical to pretend that the whole wealth of phonetic particulars pertaining to the two diatopic variants could be amassed and made fully operational in so short a time. The new BBC texts by which the bulk of ELT materials has been extended are to develop, first and foremost, the learners' perceptive skills. They increase the students' ability to comprehend the kind of enunciation, which is not entirely independent of the growing influence of other variants, American among them. In view of this, the coursebook is supplied with audiomaterials which are available here, on the official website.

A series of special exercises has been introduced to tune the ear to the changes in modern English contour. We thus pave the way to the elements of global rhetoric with its emphasis on variability as the essential requisite for effective communication and intercultural linguistic behaviour. As is usually the case, we begin with the syllable as the main articulatory unit of speech which involves both the perceptive and productive properties of Global English. Thinly and tentatively these exercises are scattered about the pages of the coursebook where the key points of BBC English are highlighted. They draw the learners' attention to those parts of the text which fall out from the more general British English environment.

The students' task is perfectly within the traditional requirements of this kind of activity. First come pre-listening exercises which involve answering questions relevant to the main subject of the unit imposed by the Target text. Then listening exercises proper (available online, on the official website), which include the first encounter with the Target text and the discussion of its central issues. These are followed by the exercises which imply a deeper penetration into the material both on the content and expression plane. The former are designed to promote listening comprehension by supplying the learner with the ready-made Target-based ultimate syntagmatic sequences for further analysis and understanding. The students are to comment on the broader context within which these sequences occur in the text.

Only after we have made sure that the overall lexical-phraseological and morphosyntactic arrangement of the text is briefly and broadly outlined, can we turn to the expression plane proper and the 'deviant' cases conditioned by the present-day 'Global English rhetoric'.

So much then for the fundamental principles of choosing and processing the target materials in the Global English space. As we have already indicated, these texts are now much more diversified and complicated than ever before, since the main criterion of modern cultured English speech is its rhetorical acceptability. That is why the idea of rhetorical orientation of ELT occupies an important 'privileged position' in the coursebook.

For one thing, it is rhetorical phonetics proper with its emphasis on variability and extensive use of all the parameters of one’s speaking voice. For the other, it is a special skill of holding and maintaining a dialogue on the currently important issues. In doing so the students are supposed to advocate and defend their views, facing and challenging their opponents openly and effectively, and promoting the discussion successfully. This doesn’t imply only the lexical-phraseological and morphosyntactic aspect of communication. What comes to the fore here is primarily and predominantly the speechological (or neo-macro-phonetic) approach and moulding one’s speech in a civilized, polite and sensible way. Hence the additional material of BBC debates, as well as special tasks and exercises, which enable the students to shape their own performance before the audience.

To make the process more effective, the students are given a set of 'formatting' phrases which are meant to provoke and spark off the discussion. The sequences help both to formulate questions and express opinions.

On a larger scale this can be viewed as an all-important step towards the debates proper. The course book contains the material of BBC debates which students are to analyse and process rhetorically. The students are to make their own speeches in an imaginary debate on any of the topical issues or the subjects raised in the target text.

All the exercises of the coursebook aim at making this material operational as part of the students' active vocabulary and, which is most important, the indispensable foundation of their phonetic expertise. For example, one of them invites the students to think of the way their introductory speech can be presented to the public, making sure that they can arrange it in terms of pauses, accents, loudness, and tempo, following the target principle.

The major aspects of the new coursebook that we have outlined couldn’t be introduced, let alone exploited successfully, unless each student’s general educational background is taken into account and considered separately. This is of special importance with first years, although, strictly speaking, the same applies to senior students as well. Unfortunately, as far as their preparatory level is concerned, the students audience today can hardly be described as uniform. There are successes and profound disappointments here which have to be dealt with and balanced, delicately and carefully, almost every day.

This is another reason why this coursebook should have been written. Our task was quite challenging and demanding. The selected authentic material (the Target texts) had to be pragmalinguistically processed and modelled so that some of the fundamental properties of modern cultured English came to the fore and could be brought home to the students. This includes a special skill of studying the entry of the English explanatory dictionary: its definitional part and, most importantly, its illustrations — the samples of living English speech. Both can be immediately transposed and profitably used in the student’s own linguistic performance. It turned out a great asset in class as the way to correct and eliminate the existing discrepancies between the students' initial knowledge of the language. For this purpose pragmalinguistic modelling tables have been worked out, which help the learners to master the dictionary material and make it their own.

The students' task is to fill in the blanks and complete the tables with the help of the dictionary definitions, illustrations, new dictionary- and target-based contexts (their own ones among them) and their Russian equivalents. The tables are available online in the electronic workbook.

There is another point to be made here. As we have said before, the present day students' audience is extremely difficult to place in terms of the standard scale ranging from elementary to intermediate (let alone upper-intermediate or advanced) levels. Unfortunately, nowadays, more often than not we have to deal with the students whose knowledge either does not lend itself to any general evaluation or is very poor indeed. That is why we found it necessary to introduce a separate section in the book titled Revising Grammar.

It goes without saying that our task here is not to begin from scratch — we are simply not in a position to do so. The only way out is to focus upon and highlight what we have described as 'danger zones'. By these we mean the aspects of English grammar which present special difficulty for the Russian learners, cause some standing mistakes, and pose serious obstacles over which they invariably stumble or run into.

At the same time, we always remember that what we are doing is Cultured English and Rhetoric (and so the textbook is titled). This explains why in our search for the pragmagrammatic material we again had to rely on English dictionaries — especially this time on Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. This enables us both to model this or that property of English grammar and to process the linguoculturological aspect of the dictionary entry with the help of the lexical sequences mentioned above.

The coursebook is organized in two big blocks: Block One Cultured English — The Highlightsand Block Two Cultured English — The Particulars. Each of them falls into three big parts. Block One is designed to introduce and activate some of the basics of English phonetics, rhetoric, and grammar.

Part I — Cultured English: Phonetics, Lexis, Phraseology — is meant to highlight and bring home to the students some of the key points which distinguish modern English intellective communication. It falls into four sections (units) which are centred around four target texts. The latter are arranged so that we could show the new tendencies in British English, which cannot be disregarded in the new Global English environment.

Part II — Cultured English: Rhetoric, Elocution, Debates — focuses on the main principles of public speaking, which can make speech informative, convincing, and pleasant to listen to. It also consists of four units. Each of them introduces a new kind of target material — from classical samples of Shakespearian monologues up to modern BBC political debates.

Part III — Cultured English: Grammar, Phraseology, Realia — deals with the danger zones of modern English grammar which are worked out on the basis of the illustrative material of the dictionary entries, specially elaborated from the linguoculturological point of view. As in the first two parts, it is also subdivided into four units, which revise the more difficult aspects of the English noun, article, adjective, and numeral.

Block Two aims at making the acquired knowledge even more productive and operational. It supplies the learners with the optimal solutions of the tasks set in Block One. Its structure therefore is almost identical to that of Block One, but for some slight alterations concerning the subdivision of the Units into Sections.