Pronunciation and physiognomy | IELTS Academic Reading Sample Question

The passage contains the following question types from IELTS Reading Question Types:

  • Matching information
  • Yes No Not Given

Pronunciation and physiognomy

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-13, which are based on Reading Passage below.

Imagine the scene: you are sitting on the tube anti on guts someone you instinctively feel Is American, To make sure you ask them the time, fend are light, but how did you know?

When we say someone “looks American”, we take into consideration dress, mannerism and physical appearance- However, since the Americans do not constitute one single race, what exactly is meant by “look”? In fact, one salient feature is a pronounced widening around the jaw, a well-documented phenomenon.

The writer Arthur Hues tier onto remarked that friends of his, whom he met thirty years after they emigrated to the United States, had acquired an “American physiognomy”, i.e. a broadened jaw, an appearance which is also prevalent In the indigenous population. An anthropologist friend of his attributed this to the increased use of the jaw musculature In American enunciation. This “change of countenance” in immigrants had already been observed by the historian M. Fishberg in 1910,

To paraphrase the philosopher Emerson, certain national, social and religious groups, such as ageing actors, long-term convicts and celibate priests, to give just n few examples, de­velop a distinguishing “look”, which is not easily defined, but readily recognised, Their way of life affects their facial expression and physical features, giving the mistaken impression that these traits are of hereditary or 11 racial” origin. All the factors mentioned above con­tribute, as well as heredity, lint the question of appearance being affected by pronunciation, as in the ease of American immigrants (including those from other English speaking coun­tries) over the course of many years, is of great interest, and calls for further study into the science of voice production. This can only benefit those working in the field of speech ther­apy, elocution and the pronunciation of foreign languages, and help the student from a purely physiological point of view, Naturally, the numerous psychological and socio-linguistic factors that inhibit most adult learners of foreign languages from acquiring a “good” pronunciation constitute a completely different and no less important Issue that requires separate investigation.

The pronunciation of the various forms of English around the world today is affected by the voice being “plated” in different parts of the mouth, We use dui- speech organs in cer­tain ways to produce specific sounds, and these muscles have to practise to learn new pho­nemes, Non-Americans should look In the mirror while repeating “I really never heard of poor reward for valour1’ with full use of the USA retroflex hi phoneme, und note what happens to their jawbones after three or four repetitions. Imagine the effect of these move­ments on the jaw muscles after twenty years! This phoneme Is one of the most noticeable features of US English und one that non-A merit an s always exaggerate when mimicking the accent, Likewise, standard British Rl5 is often parodied, and its whine of superiority mocked to the point of turning the end of one’s nose up as much as possible. Not only does this enhance the “performance”, but also begs the question of whether this look is the origin of the expression “stuck up”?

On a Birmingham bus once, a friend pointed to a fellow passenger and said, “That man’s Brummie accent is written all over his face.” This was from someone who would not nor­mally make crass generalisations. The interesting thing would be to establish whether thin lips and a tense, prominent china are a result of the way Midlands English is spoken, or its cause, or a mixture of both. Similarly, in the case of Liverpool one could ask whether the distinctive “Scouse” accent was a reason for, or an effect of the frequency of high cheek bones in the local population.

When one “learns” another accent, as in the theatre for example, voice coaches often resort to images to help their students acquire the distinctive sound of the target pronunciation. With “Scouse”, the mental aid employed is pushing your cheekbones up in a smile as high as they will go and imagining you’ve got a very slack mouth full of cotton wool. The sound seems to spring off the sides of your face – outwards and upwards. For a Belfast accent, one has to tighten the sides of the jaws until there is maximum tension, and speak opening the lips as little as possible. This gives rise to the well-known “Ulster jaw” phenomenon, Learning Australian involves imagining the ordeals of the first westerners transported to the other side of the world. When exposed to the merciless glare and unremitting heat of the southern sun, we instinctively screw up our eyes and grimace for protection.

Has this contributed to an Australian “look”, and affected the way “Aussies” speak English, or vice versa? It is a curious chicken and egg conundrum, but perhaps the answer is ulti­mately irrelevant, Of course other factors affect the way people look and sound, and I am not suggesting for one minute that all those who speak one form of a language or dialect have a set physiognomy because of their pronunciation patterns. But a large enough num­ber do, and that alone is worth investigating. What is important, however, is establishing pronunciation as one of the factors that determine physiognomy, and gaining a deeper in­sight into the origins and nature of the sounds of speech. And of course, one wonders what “look” one’s own group has!

Questions 1-3

Use the information in the text to match the People listed (1-3) with the Observations (1-vii). Write the appropriate letter in Boxes 1-3 on your answer sheet. Note that there are more Observations than people, so you will not use all of them. You can use each Observation once only.


1) Koestler
2) Fishborg
3) Emerson


i. Americans use their jaw more to enunciate
ii. Immigrants acquire physiognomical features common among the Indigenous population
iii. Facial expression and physical features arc hereditary
iv. Lifestyle affects physiognomy
v. Americans have a broadened jaw
vi. The appearance of his friends had changed since they moved to the United States
vii. The change of countenance was unremarkable

Questions 4-9

Do the statements below agree with the Information in Rending Passage?
In Boxes 4-9, write;

Yes                 if     the statement agrees with the  Information In the passage
No                   if  the statement contradicts the information in the passage
Not Given       if there is no information about the statement in the passage

Example:         Appearance is affected by pronunciation.
Answer: Yes.

4) Further study into the science of voice production will cost considerable sums of money.
5) The psychological and socio-linguistic factors that make it difficult for adult learners of foreign languages to gain “good” pronunciation arc not as important as other factors.
6) Speech organs are muscles.
7) New phonemes are difficult to learn,
8) People often make fun of standard British HP,
9) Facial features contribute to the incomprehensibility of Midlands English.

Questions 10-13

Choose one phrase (A-I) from the List of phrases to complete each Key point below. Write the appropriate letters (A-I) in Boxes 10-13 on your answer sheet.
The information in the completed sentences should be an accurate summary of the points made by the writer.
There are more phrases (A-I) than sentences, so you will not need to use them all. You may use each phrase once only.

Key point

10) Voice coaches
11) The Scouse
12) Whether the way we look affects the way we speak or the other way round …
13) It is Important to prove that pronunciation …

List of Phrase

A.  an be achieved by using a mental aid
B.   is irrelevant
C.   is worth investigating
D.  use Images to assist students with the desired pronunciation
E.  is a chicken and egg conundrum
F.  get the target
G.  can affect appearance
H. Is not as easy as a Belfast one
I.  makes you smile

Answers for IELTS Reading Sample Question

1) Answer: vi. The answer is in the third paragraph in the first sentence, i is incorrect, because it was an anthropologist friend of Koestler who said this, ii is not correct, because Koestler was talking about his friends rather than Immigrants In general; and v is not stated as a general principle.

2) Answer: 11. The answer is in paragraph 3, in the last sentence, vl is incorrect, because Plshberg was talking about immigrants in general, not his friends.

3) Answer: lv. The answer can be found In the fourth paragraph, In the second sentence. Ill Is incorrect, bccausc Emerson says this is a mistaken impression.

4) Answer: Not Given. The text does not mention anything about this statement.

5) Answer: No. The answer can be found in paragraph 4, in the last sentence: a com­pletely different and no less important issue, which means, in effect, equally Important.

6) Answer: Yes. The answer is In the second sentence of paragraph 5, The word these refers back to speech organs.

7) Answer: Not Given. The answer is in the same place as question 33. The passage says that practice is needed to learn new phonemes, but does not mention whether or not they are difficult to learn.

8) Answer: Yes. The answer is at the end of paragraph 5. The words parody and mock are synonyms of make fun of.

9) Answer: Not Given. The text does not mention anything about this statement.

10) Answer: D. The answer is in paragraph 7, and is a paraphrase of help their students acquire the distinctive sound of the target pronunciation.F is Incorrect, as it is incomplete.

11) Answer: A. This answer can also be found In the seventh paragraph. A mental aid is said to be employed. used. It is incorrect, because the cause and effect arc the wrong way round. H is not correct, because there is no mention of which of the two accents is easier.

12) Answer: E. The answer is in the first part of the last paragraph. B is Incorrect, because It is the answer to the question that is said to be irrelevant.

13) Answer: G. The answer Is in the second part of the last paragraph. C is Incorrect, because It Is not pronunciation that Is worth Investigating, but the link between pronunciation and physiognomy.