Phonetic peculiarities of the popular science text

Modern sources of distributing information. Corpus linguistics, taxonomy of texts. Phonetic styles of the speaker. The peculiarities of popular science text which do not occur in other variations. Differences between academic and popular science text.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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Nowadays people are able to get information easily and, in fact, the mass media, especially the internet, are directly involved into it. Generally there are two means of transferring the information: audio means and visual means. Modern technologies allow us to combine these two means in a video format. However, up till now, the written text has been the main foundation for linguistic research. One of the latest trends is the corpus linguistics which uses statistical methods in the computer analysis of huge massives of texts. The methods of corpus linguistics are widely used in the different spheres and their opportunities of being the object of investigation can draw the attention of the researchers to the problem of the texts classification. There exist several approaches to taxonomy of texts. This paper concerns phonetic peculiarities of the popular science text which belongs to the style of prepared speech, as suggested by phonostylistics.

Thus, the object of the research is popular science text in a form of a popular science TV broadcast.

The aim of this paper is to study the science popular text in order to find its peculiarities which make it different from other variants of phonetic styles.

The paper consists of an introduction, two chapters (theoretical and practical parts), conclusion and bibliography list.


1.1 Modern sources of distributing information. The Internet

We are living in a post-industrial era, when the most valuable thing is information. A mere decade ago TV, radio and periodicals dominated the mass-media and the library was the main source of academic knowledge for students. Nowadays the situation has changed. The development of computer technologies has made PC an affordable device which established a digital era. Scholars even say that modern people tend to remember not the information itself but the key words needed to find it in the web. Traditional books gradually give way to e-books and scans and digitalised versions of various formats which are widely avaliable at hundreds of sites across the web. There are internet-radio, internet-TV and online magazines and newspapers. The internet offers its users almost any kind of information on the wide range of subjects, from politics to astrophysics or handycrafts. The services like Google and Amazon provide their users with perfect opportunities - the ones making the internet so popular and invincible: flexible and intelligent search engines which significantly simplify the process, documents hosting and sharing, online shopping, social network, mail, online dictionaries etc. As now the access to the web became much more cheap and easy, it has become the dominating channel of information distribution. In brief, the internet is handy, informative, easy-to-use and a respectful enough source of data.

To compete with great and growing popularity of the Internet, modern mass media had to develop a variety of content types which would attract the potential audience. They offer first of all news programs, soap operas, various contests, shows and, what is most interesting for our topic, popular science films. For decades they were equally successful among the people of all ages and now there even exist the channels like Discovery, National Geographic, Animal Planet, which are focused on this genre. In the next paragraphs of this paper the peculiarities of the genre will be discussed more closely and now we shall have a look at the means of transferring the information.

1.2 The means of transferring the information. Corpus linguistics

All humans have five senses: we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Yet scientists have not invented the devices which would be able to transfer the information using our ability to smell and taste (the braille, used by the blind people, can be regarded as a side-effect of the problem of adaptation of written speech for the means of successful integration of the disabled people into society). Thus, generally there are two means of transferring the information: audio means and visual means. The latter nowadays include written text and various graphs, diagrams and other types off illustrative materials. Up till now, the written text has been the main foundation for linguistic research.

One of the latest trends is the corpus linguistics which uses statistical methods in the computer analysis of huge massives of texts. Corpus linguistics is based on the idea that language is a completely social phenomenon and it can be described through data drawn from speech acts. As a social phenomenon, the language can be seen in texts, which can be written down, described and analyzed. The majority of texts appear to be speech acts. Corpus linguistics describes single natural languages, individual linguistic characteristics with the help of lingvostatistic methods. Corpora make thorough sources of data and can be used by various branches of linguistics. For example, they are used in semantics, grammar theory, intercultural communications theory. Corpus linguistics became the basis of modern lexicography; it is used to resolve complicated linguistic problems, i.e. machine translation, speech recognition and synthesis, automatic spelling and grammar checking. One of the interesting cases of corpora is Cambridge International Corpus. It includes over a billion words of real spoken and written English. A part of it makes the Cambridge Learner Corpus, a unique collection of over 90000 exam papers from Cambridge ESOL, which shows real mistakes students make and highlights the parts of English which cause problems for students.

Audio and visual means of transferring the information make relatively new fields of research as they became significant only in the past century. Since radio and TV have become a part of our lives they have brought the new specific trends into the language. Even ordinary people distinguish the language of news readers and the language of political debates or political propaganda. It is possible thanks to the differences in intonation and other prosodic features, which are the object of the research of phonetics and phonology.

1.3 Taxonomy of texts

It is quite obvious that the scientists needed to classify texts they worked with, so some research work has been done. There exist several approaches. For example, A.G. Baranov prefers a functional-pragmatic approach. He also mentions a sociolinguistic, a lingvosemiotic and psycholinguistic approaches. Not all of them are equally developed. Moreover, they include different massives of texts.

Sociolinguistic approach deals with the principles of selection and combination of linguistic means, their combinatorics, with regard to different spheres of communication, social status and the roles of participants of communication.

Intralinguistic approach is based on the different types and aspects of sign relation.

Psycholinguistic approach resorts to various characteristics of textual activity as basic factors, e.g. classifying texts by their degree of spontaneity or by the degree of algorithmicity \ heuristic character or by the degree of their explicitness \ implicitness in the exterioration of the ideas. Generally, the texts as speech acts may be classified by the form of transferring the information or by the aim of communication (by pragmatic aim of the speaker). For example, the aim of the text might be:

to inform

to entertain

to influence

to educate

Together with the internal (linguistic) factors go such additional external factors as speaker's social status, gender and age, the emotional state, attitude to the subject etc., these targets form a system of styles.

1.4 Phonostylistics. Phonetic styles and pragmatic aims of the speaker

Speaking about phonetic aspect of the problem, we should remark that phonetic styles are not the same as functional styles. Professor T.V. Medvedeva defines phonetic styles as "different ways of pronunciation determined by extralinguistic factors and characterized by specific phonetic factors". Thus, phonostylistics focuses on the phonetics means restricted to a particular situation or type of context.

T.V. Medvedeva distinguishes the phonetic styles of reading aloud, prepared speaking and spontaneous speaking, each of them further subdividing into an array of varieties (i.e. prepared speaking is presented by lecturing, interviewing, all kinds of discussion, etc.) Other scholars may classify the phonetic styles as informational, academic (scientific), publicistic and conversational, and that is closer to functional styles that we are used to in the terms of literature science.

L.K. Tseplitis speaks about "intonational functional styles", namely, four varieties (informational, scientific, publicistic and artistic (theatrical speech)). He puts forward an important idea: "Stylistically, intonation retains its relative autonomy and depends not so much on the verbal aspect of speech as on the kind of speech situation, aim of communication chosen by the speaker. <...> a fragment from a belles-lettres style text, read at the academic lecture, is intonated according to the norms of the informational or the academic styles." L.K. Tseplitis' findings are proved by the research carried out by J.S. Lebedeva and G.P. Kashkorova, who studied the types of intonational coloring of the text resulting from “the speaker's strategy”.

We prefer to use T.V. Medvedeva's classification of phonetic styles and would further resort to it when defining the place of the popular science text in the range of other variations.

1.5 Phonetic styles classification. Popular science text

The variations of phonetic styles are based on the typical speech situations. As far as prepared speech is concerned, there are several factors that distinguish these speech situations:

The audience

The setting

The purpose of speech

Here the setting can determine the degree of formality of the communication; the target audience determines the content, style and the `tone' of speech. According to the purpose set by the speaker texts belonging to different speech styles can be aimed:

To inspire or to motivate

To teach

To impart information

To explore or to debate ideas

To entertain

The majority of them, however, may include a combination of several purposes.

As far the spontaneous speech is concerned, it is in most cases a face-to-face interaction between two or several people. It also provides a variety of aims and situations, and the most common forms (or types) are these:

Question-answer interaction (interview)

Conversing (small talk, discussion)

Debating (dispute)

Each of them has “communication cooperation” as its underlying principle, its vehicle and a guarantee for successful communication.

Popular science text is one of the variations of prepared speech, it belongs to the neutral style of pronunciation. It combines some features that are characteristic of its co-variations: it gives factual information like the news-reading, but demands a higher degree of expressiveness to involve the listeners; it uses various manipulation techniques like the publicistic style text, but they are meant to improve the perception of information, and not to impose a certain point of view.

1.6 Features of popular science texts

Professor T.V. Medvedeva classifies a popular science text as belonging to a publicistic phonetic style. She compares it with news text. It would be useful to compare it with lecturing style as well. The main aims of popular science text are:

to impart information

to entertain.

To reach them, the popular science text must satisfy the following conditions: it should be informative, science intensive, trustworthy and listener-oriented. Thus, the basic rules for the presenter of such text are as follows:

The presenter must catch the audience's attention and interest and keep it till the end of the presentation.

As the popular science text is aimed at educated people (but not professional audience), the information should be audible, all the terms should be explained and thesis illustrated.

To reach the goals mentioned above, the presenters use the methods based on the psychological researches. For example, the peculiarities of human aural perception depend on the pitch alterations and the duration of the sound signal. Rhythm and pausation also influence the perception. The reasons for this lie in the mental peculiarities of the human subconscious and, therefore, such peculiarities are the feature inherent in any listener. The experimental data proves that a long, loud sounds and following a pause can draw the listeners' attention. The low pitch of the voice makes the perception of information easier. The raised pitch helps to draw the listener's attention.

Background noises are also important. E.S. Kudinova in her article "Verbal and nonverbal interaction in communication" remarks that "Sounds and their intensity also have significant effect upon the process of communication… Music can calm down or excite".

Referring to the examples of popular science discourse we could recollect the films produced by BBC or the Discovery channel and other companies which are known for their everlasting popularity among the viewers of all ages. In the majority of cased the text is read by male speakers (which improves the perception), it is accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack.

As live performances are concerned, when the lecturer is speaking directly facing the audience (and to some extent in the cases when the anchorperson or the interviewed person appears in the frame), there appears another factor affecting the perception of the informationто - facial expressions and gestures of the speaker. Non-verbal actions convey a significant amount of information; meanwhile, non-verbal and prosodic features of the speech are mutually determined. E.S. Kudinova writes: `In the communication process the kinetic means perform specific informational function.<...> The following functions of gestures have pragmatic meaning: establishing a contact, establishing the feedback, self-presentation, social orientation, motivating function, regulating function. <...> Expressive functions are: emphatic, emotive and adaptive functions' A remarkable thing is that the quality of aural recognition of different types of linguistic manipulation (order, request, begging, threat etc.) is worse than when videorecordings are used.

Gestures have emphatic, emotive and regulative functions. The nature of interaction of kinetic and prosodic means is determined by the aim of the utterance. One of the interesting points of this interaction is the opportunity to discern lies if prosodic and kinetic signs do not match: even a trained person is unable to control micromotion of facial muscles and some minor gestures, what is immediately noticed by our subconcious.

The next goal is to make information easily understandable. It is realised mostly through lexical and grammatical means. Yet intonation has specific functions that make the text easy to be perceived by the non-professional audience. O.F. Kryvnova says that `Under the terms of semantic and syntactic complexity, diversity and linearity of the scientific text, syntactic and organizing functions of intonation obtain a particular functional importance for the perception and understanding of the text. T.M. Nikolaeva has noted an increasing amount of the instances of accentual highlighting in the reproduced scientific discourse and points out the fact that general system of accentual highlighting in oral scientific discourse is a coherent system where the limits are drawn the highlighting of the initial syntactic words and establishing the informational reference points and giving qualification statements.

One of the most important problems is division into paragraphs. Professor T.I. Shevchenko writes: `The leading role in the division into paragraphs is played by the contrastive pitch alteration and the long pause'. According to her point of view, the paragraphs' boundaries are explicitly marked by prosodic means, those primarily which attract the listener's attention more effectively.

1.7 The peculiarities of popular science text which do not occur in other variations

Among all variations of the prepared speech popular science text is the most similar to lecture. On one hand, the pragmatic aims of the both variations coincide (to educate, to entertain, to impart information), but on the other, the priority of these aims is absolutely different. For the lecture the main pragmatic aims are to educate and to impart information while entertaining is auxiliary and serves for keeping the audience involved and absorbed by the subject. For the popular science text, especially in the case of TV programme, the main aim is indeed to entertain. It is supposed that one could evoke the viewers' interest to the informational-didactic content of the text and motivate them to the further studies of the subject. Hence popular science texts, as opposed to lectures, may fail to contain serious data, but focus our attention on the most vivid and fascinating aspects of the subject.

A popular science style text should have an easily-read structure. It brings about the simplification of the utterance at all linguistic levels. If we compare academic text, presented to the professional audience, and popular science text, we will find the following differences:

peculiarity popular science text

Tab. 1

Academic text

Popular science text

Is full of abstract notions

Is arranged in a logical pattern

Extensive use of terms

Complex sentences with branched syntactic linking prevail

A more simple syntax

All terms are defined

The sentences are topically divided, phrasal emphasis falls at the terminology units

The length of the syntagmas is reduced and the length of pauses - increased

In addition the text can be often supplied with illustrations and other graphic means. As far as the TV programs are concerned, their format allows to use audio and graphics simultaneously and that results in a radically new quality of data presentation. The details of it would be further revealed in the second chapter of this work, while generally we could only say that this new level provides a deeper interaction between the viewers and the subject in the emotional sphere.

Here we could recollect the words of N.I. Mironova who says that `A man's emotional state strongly determines his perception, attention and ideation. It is proved that the people pay attention first to the information, the emotional coloring of which corresponds to their own emotional state'.

And to influence the emotional state of a person there is nothing better than proper music background. Indeed, the popular science broadcasts always have a beautiful soundtrack which is carefully fitted to the sequence of key frames and evokes the needed feelings in the viewers. It would not be a hyperbole to say that none other variation - whether it be lecture or news - requires so extensive, almost obligatory use of soundtrack.


For the purpose of the analysis we have chosen two video recordings (total duration of about min). These were two episodes from the BBC popular science films `Allergy' and `Animals - The Inside Story'.

As a result of the auditory analysis we have observed the following peculiarities of the popular science texts:

Factual information is logically structured and organized in phonetic paragraphs.

The paragraphs are delimited by a pause. Such pauses are filled only with music.

Music serves to connect parts of the text containing factual information. It may also serve to delimit one part of the test from another. In such cases the music is different.

The combination of music and reading is used to mark the transition from one topic to another. In such cases no new information is given (and the music is combined with the text).

Music is used to enforce the effect of reading.

Important information in the film is accompanied by a loud and a more dynamic music. In such cases the fractional division of the text into parts is different. The reader uses short and abrupt sense-groups. Such a manner of reading in combination with the music creates the atmosphere of tension and helps to involve the audience.

To transfer factual information the video and audio perception channels are involved. Thus, every part of factual information given by the reader is illustrated by a picture.

The reader uses all phonetic means to manage the attention of the audience. Temporal and pitch variations are accompanied by the changes of loudness and voice quality. The most important words are highlighted by the reader.


After an overview of modern taxonomy of texts and analyzing the materials offering the clear instances of the object of our research we have succeeded in reaching the aim of this paper.

Firstly, we have validated that popular science text has particular characteristics that make it different from other variations of prepared speech phonetic style. Its main aim is to entertain; lexically and syntactically it is simpler than lectures or oral presentations of science proper texts; phonetically it is more vivid and casual.

Secondly, we consider it to be an important fact that the prosodic features of popular science text are closely connected with kinetic means of non-verbal communication. Moreover, the use of special background music effects in order to influence the audience and its perception of information might be employed and it is a unique feature not present in other variations of prepared speech.


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