Sunday, March 11, 2012

When you say "thneed"

Yesterday, we went to see the Lorax. I must say I felt rather conflicted about the plot. A. O. Scott captures what was wrong with the movie well when he writes in the New York Times,
"Despite its soft environmentalist message “The Lorax” is an example of what it pretends to oppose. Its relationship to Dr. Seuss’s book is precisely that of the synthetic trees that line the streets of Thneedville to the organic Truffulas they have displaced. The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension."
Despite watching with unease, I got goosebumps at the end, perhaps best described as plastic goosebumps, leaving me feeling manipulated.

So what does this have to do with English? Not much except that at the beginning, when the townsfolk of Thneedville come out to sing the town anthem, there's a close up of tongues extending well beyond their respective teeth, flapping in the wind as their owners draw out the initial th /θ/ of Thneedville.

Learners of English often have trouble with this sound and are often told to do as the Thneedvillians do, to stick out their tongue. Of course, it is possible to make the /θ/ sound with your tongue stuck out, but that's not how we usually do it, and it's probably not good pronunciation advice.

Speaking of pronunciation, Ron Thomson of Brock U is conducting a survey about teaching it.
 "We are seeking participants who are English language teachers, Speech Language Pathologists, or others with a university degree in an unrelated field to complete a survey examining beliefs and practices about second language pronunciation learning and teaching. The survey will require approximately 30 minutes of your time. After completing the survey, you may choose to enter a draw for ONE of FIVE $50 gift cards to To take the survey, click on the following link: or email for further information."

1 comment:

xcyus said...

If it's not good pronunciation advice, what would you consider good? I often start out with the tongue out, because it gets their attention and nobody can do it at the beginning anyway; with non-toddlers I try to get them to bite their tongues, with the appreciation that native speakers can make the sound without any such articulation. It also seems to keep it from turning into a flap in between vowels ('brother'). The caveat here being that the primary language of my learners has an aspirated dental fricative - the biting and sticking out is the only distinction I've been able to impress on non-slp-ists. I'm honestly asking here - I hope this doesn't sound snarky, just curious.