There were several interesting papers given at the EPSJ conference just over a week ago in Kochi, and I plan to discuss a few of them over the next few days.
Two of the speakers touched on the use of songs and nursery rhymes in the classroom as pedagogical devices to improve the teaching of pronunciation to EFL students. Both concluded that although they can be valuable they nevertheless need to be handled with caution. This is because the rhythm used in singing is not necessarily identical to the rhythm used by NSs in ordinary speech. (Neither of the two speakers furnished detailed preprints or handouts, so what follows is my own thoughts inspired by their presentations.)
Take the location of stresses. In singing these take the form of the rhythmical beats imposed by the music. Generally speaking, song lyrics reflect lexical stress well: where there’s a lexical stress you get a beat, where there isn’t you don’t. But the correspondence is by no means 100%.
ˈJack and ˈJill went ˈup the ˈhill to ˈfetch a ˈpail of ˈwaˈter
ˈJack fell ˈdown and ˈbroke his ˈcrown and ˈJill came ˈtumbling ˈafˈter.
But in ordinary speech we don’t double-stress water and after. On the other hand we might well stress went and fell.
In particular, rhythmic beats in singing are not a good guide to the deaccentuation of function words. Take this example.
ˈI’m ˈdreaming of a ˈwhite ˈChristmas
ˈJust like the ˈones I used to ˈknow
In these lyrics, since there’s no call for contrastive focus on I’m, in ordinary speech we wouldn’t accent it. (Compare ˈI’m ˈdreaming,| but ˈyou’re aˈwake.) So these lyrics would offer a bad model to those EFL learners who tend to accent pronouns inappropriately.
One speaker got into a terrible muddle with the Burns song Comin’ thro’ the Rye.
Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?
For the second body, the music imposes a longer, higher-pitched note on the second syllable than on the first. This led the speaker, if I understood him correctly, to conclude that in the song the word is wrongly stressed, as bɒˈdiː. On the contrary, I would say that it is correctly stressed, and neatly demonstrates the point that in English accent may on occasion be manifested by LOWER pitch than that of a following unstressed syllable, and that in disyllables with a short stressed vowel in the first syllable the second syllable may well be of greater duration than the first.
In any case, the stylized strathspey rhythm of the song is pretty different from the rhythm of ordinary speech. I agree that this song is unsuitable for pedagogical use (except possibly for advanced students), not least because it’s in Scots.
I hope I do not need to add that gin here is pronounced ɡɪn and means ‘if’. Perhaps I ought to add it to LPD.