A real common core


Bryan Jenner (Vienna)


The original idea of the Common Core  (Jenner 1989) was based  on the belief that the only conceivable model of pronunciation for  the learner was provided by some sort of native speaker, but that  we should only be able to achieve that if we changed our priorities  and refrained from spending all our time on details of vowels.


This idea was taken up and modified (e.g. by Jenkins 1996, 2000)   on the basis that most learners did not want or need to interact  with native speakers, and the important thing was that they should  be able to communicate with and understand each other: Jenkins  therefore proposed a  reduced common core .


In practice, however, both of these notions are based on the idea  that the learner can either imitate native-speaker norms or deviate  from them, in certain approved ways. It seems to me that neither  Jenkins nor I went far enough in the direction of finding a true  phonology of International English, in that   like most British  phoneticians   we have been pre-occupied with details of  realisation, rather than with systems.


What is now needed is an attempt to determine a 'real'  phonological common core underlying L2 (and possibly also L1)  realizations, based on data from fluent EIL performers rather than  learners. Such a model would be at a very abstract or 'reference'  level, and would in some respects resemble a model for grammar.  Actual pronunciation variants would then be seen simply as  alternative exponents of this.


Such an ultimate phonology of English might contain, for   example, a very small number of vowels (perhaps 6), with no  central vowels at all; and few, if any, diphthongs. It would be  rhotic in principle; and length contrasts would be largely  redundant.