Saturday, 26 May 2012

Medical English pronunciation

One of the courses I teach in Rome is called ‘Medical English Pronunciation’. It is a course designed to help medical students prepare for an attachment in an English-speaking country as well as medical professionals who want to work in English or take part in conferences conducted in English. It is, I think, the only course of this kind that we have in Italy.

The textbooks I use in class are Peter Roach’s English Phonetics and Phonology (2009; 4th edition. Cambridge, CUP) and Collins & Mees’ Practical Phonetics and Phonology (2008; 2nd edition. Routledge). My students also own a copy of J. Wells’ LPD.

It being a medical English pronunciation course, when I started in April I recommended that my students also have a book covering a wide variety of medical vocabulary in English. After spending almost a month thinking carefully about a suitable one, I chose Professional English in Use: Medicine by Eric H. Glendinning and Ron Howard (2007. Cambridge, CUP). The book has 60 two-page units and “topics include diseases and symptoms, investigations, treatment, examining, and prevention”. As far as I know, this is the only medical English textbook which contains a glossary with the pronunciations of most of the words/phrases/idiomatic expressions mentioned in the units. 

Having been using the book for nearly two months now I’ve realized I should have warned my students at the beginning of the course that some of the IPA transcriptions provided in the index are not always consistent or are indeed entirely wrong. Have a look at the following expressions (pp.168-175):

approximation əˈprɒk.sɪ.meɪ.ʃən

blood culture ˈblʌd ˌkʌltʃa

book into ˌbʊk ɪnˈtuː

bowel baʊ.el

cadaver kəˈdæv.ər, kəˈdaːv.ər

chiropodist kɪrˈɒp.ə.dɪst

coeliac disease ˈsiː.liː.æk dɪzˌiːz

empty the bladder ˌemp.ti ðə bˈlædər

example ɪgzˈɑː

malabsorption ˌmæl.əˈbzɔːp.ʃən

metastasis ˌmətæˈstæsɪs

orthotist ɔː.ˈθə.tɪst

persistent vegetative state pəˌsɪs.tənt ˈvedʒ.ɪ.te.tɪv ˌsteɪt

pins and needles ˌpɪnz ənd ˈniː.dlˌz

prosthetist ˈprɒ.θə.tɪst

purulent ˈpjʊəruːl.ənt

stitches ˈstɪtʃiz

One of the difficulties students encounter when dealing with English pronunciation is the stressing of compounds. My students know that, for example, medical history usually has late stress, ˌmedical ˈhistory, but medical school is different since it is early-stressed: ˈmedical ˌschool

What about the expression terminally ill, as in the phrase a hospice for the terminally ill? Glendinning & Howard give ˈtɜː.mɪ.nə.li ˌɪl in the index (p.175), but I suppose this is incorrect. Don’t English native speakers say the ˈterminally ˈill?  

And what do you make of panic attack, transcribed as ˈpæn.ɪk əˌtæk (p.172)?