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27/01/2016Pronunciation Matters#507
19/12/2015OED gets Great New Features#506
20/11/2015Intonational Considerations#505
24/09/2015Words with Changing Stresses#504
23/08/2015A Trifling Detail of Orthography#503
07/08/2015Variant Word Forms#502
28/07/2015Journalists underFire PS 34#501
11/07/2015English Phonetics from Spain (ii)#500
07/07/2015English Phonetics from Spain (i)#499
26/06/2015Take-Off of Pilot PS33#498
16/06/2015GB not come by in England#497
25/05/2015Mooching and Mi(t)ching#496
02/05/2015Suburban Supershopping PS 32#495
24/03/2015Sounds Interesting#494
19/03/2015Weathermen PS 31#493
20/01/2015The Roach Heresy#492
04/12/2014Foreign Place Names (ii)#491

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Blog 507

The 27th of January 2016

Pronunciation Matters

This title is given without any intonation marking because, like so many others of the titles of the People Speaking passages, it involves something called a ‘play on words’ (or ‘pun’) depending on the fact that there are two (if not more) possible interpretations of it in order to make a very mild little joke. Pronounced with accentuation only of the first word thus /prəˈnᴧnsi`eɪʃn matəz/ it is a compound consisting of two nouns uttered with normally no interruption of the rhythmic flow uniting them, the meaning of which may be exprest as ‘things associated with pronunciation’. The alternative interpretation spoken eg as /prəˈnᴧnsi`ˏeɪʃn | `matəz/, with a slight interruption of its smooth rhythmic continuity occurring after the Fall-Rise tone ending the first word, is not a compound of two nouns but  a noun followed by a verb  amounting to a short sentence meaning ‘pronunciation is important’. This item is taken from my Homepage §4.1 at which it is Passage 35.
Go to it to hear it spoken preferably via Firefox.

The transcription used for the most part follows the Gimson phonemic  type that   has been popular for representing GB (General British) pronunciation throughout the last three or more decades except that it dispenses with the length marks (which may be considered optional) and brings it more up to date by changing /æ/ to /a/ and /eə/ to /ɛ/. The style sounds rather less relaxed than in most conversations which is hardly surprising when their topic is correctness of speech.

  1.  ˈwaɪ | də ðə ˈbibiˈsi | əlaʊ ˈsəʊ ˈmeni | mɪsprənᴧnsiˎeɪʃn(z)

  2. ðeɪ `dəʊnt | ðeɪ teɪk ˈgreɪt ˎkɛ | tə səplaɪ ˈfʊl ɪnfəˎmeɪʃn | ɒn prənᴧnsiˏeɪʃn| tu `evrɪˏbɒdɪ | ˎwɜkɪŋ fɔ ðm
  3. wl ˈwaɪ də ðeɪ əˈlaʊ | ˈɒbviəsli | ɪnkəˎrekt prənᴧnsiˏeɪʃnz | laɪk `dɪspjut | tə bi juz(d)
  4. ˈhaʊ | kən ju seɪ ðats ən ˈɪnkəˈrekt | prənᴧnsiˎeɪʃn
  5. jud ˎnevər əv ˎhɜd ɪt | ten ˎ jɜz əˈgəʊ
  6. ju `kʊd ˏhav | ɪn ðə ˎ´nɔθ
  7. ɪts ˎdaɪəˈlekt ðen
  8. ˎnɒt `naʊ ɪˏtɪznt
  9. ˈʃəʊ mi ə ˈdɪkʃnri | ðət ˈsez ɪts kəˎrekt
  10. ɪts ˈtu ˎnju tə bi ɪn məʊst ə ðəm | bət `nəʊ daʊt ɪt ˎwɪl ˏbi | ɪn dju ˏkɔs.


Occurrences of the vertical bar ‘|’ indicate at least very slight breaks in the smooth rhythmic flow of the utterance.

Sounds in brackets were, if articulated by the speaker at all, so weakly uttered as to be more or less inaudible.

Speaker-Turn 5 ends with a fairly unusual feature that can be regarded as a rhetorical variant of the falling-rising type of complex tone which I call a Slump-Alt. After the Head tones ie the two successive Falls on never and heard the climax tone is a combination of a Slump (ie a low fall) and an Alt (ie a an upper level tone). Its brisk dismissive effect ending on high short level pitch is one of the indications of the fact that this dialog is not an ordinary conversational exchange but an argument. This type of complex tone occurs again at Turn 7 with the final word then very weakly uttered.

In Turn 6 the response also contains falling-rising tones. The first is a classic  Fall-Rise in this case with the unaccented word have taking its (praps slightly more formal) full form rather than its weakform /əv/. The second, on the word north, is what we may call a Fall-Rise-Climb because its rising second element continues from her Low into her High range.

Turn 8 shows the speaker treating it isn’t as if it were a compound word whose second syllable begins with the /t/ of it as its being aspirated suggests. This is the completely normal way in which this phrase is pronounced as is also the phrase it is. The /t/ of the adverbial phrase at all very often receives the same treatment.

At Turn 10 note that the speaker says the phrase most of them so rapidly that she uses the very common extra-weak weakform of of with no /v/.

Blog 506

The 19th of December 2015

OED gets Great New Features

I’ve always been fortunate to have a good dictionary available to me. The earliest one was a copy my father bought, when I was about six years old, of the 1932 edition of the New English Dictionary edited by Earnest A. Baker (1869-1941) which had been first published in 1919. Baker, born in Bath and a UCL graduate, was a librarian and also a prolific writer whose works included a ten-volume History of the English Novel and the popular Cassell’s French Dictionary first published in 1920. He ended his career as the first Director of the University of London School of Librarianship. I still have that copy of his New English Dictionary. It was rather larger than the Concise Oxford English Dictionary of its day. It had quite good etymologies and a very effective simple system of indicating pronunciations in the long tradition of superscribing letters with disambiguating diacritics (dots, breves, macrons and a diaeresis) still commonly used especially in America.

For my sixteenth birthday I was given a copy the of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, a splendid work in two very large volumes, shorter only by comparison with the great Oxford English Dictionary whose first completed edition was issued in a set of thirteen hefty volumes in 1933. This set of the unabridged OED was my parents’ gift to me on my twenty-first birthday. These volumes were so heavy that when I moved into a home of my own I had a mahogany bookcase made to take them. The width I decided on for it left me with about nine inches free at the end of the deep shelf they occupied. I had nothing specific in mind for that extra space at the time but it turned out to be oddly prophetic. Twenty years later under the editorship of friendly Robert Burchfield, with whom I had stimulating discussions in the seventies, there began to appear a further four large major supplementary volumes (between 1971 and 1986). Curiously enough they turned out quite exactly to fill that remaining shelf space. The next versions of the OED I was to come by were on computer discs. Nowadays my almost daily resorting to its treasure house of now over 600,000 words has happily become really  comfortable via the internet.

At one stage of the preparations for the digitising of the OED text I asked John Simpson (who became Chief Editor from 1993 to 2013) at his office in the OUP’s Oxford Walton Street premises whether it was intended that the new edition would incorporate access to Murray’s original, admittedly very complicated, phonetic transcriptions after they had been substituted with something more suitable. I could hardly say that I was surprised to hear that there were no such plans but my disappointment was subsequently somewhat mitigated when I found that at times entries did quote actual original Murray versions.

There were other far more important advances that I have been hoping would take place. Most desirable of all, I’ve been inclined to think, would be added ‘audio’ versions along with the phonetically transcribed pronunciations. This would be a massive undertaking but was beginning to look a bit more of an eventual possibility when from the earlier nineteen-nineties a growing number of EFL dictionaries were providing audio first from discs and finally in the present century online. (See my article ‘Phonetics in advanced learner's dictionaries’ ⁋⁋18-22 of section 5.10. on this website.) The Concise Oxford Dictionary had in some editions been accompanied by a disc and in the last year or so audio pronunciations had become a feature of a new online dictionary with the gratuitously confusing title of Oxford Dictionaries. It has concerned itself exclusively with current forms of the language and should surely be given some such title as declares that fact as did the presumably now abandoned 2001 ODP in its full designation The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English.

I had been aware that for a year or two some words were from time to time appearing with audio pronunciations on a web page I only come across occasionally headed Oxford Dictionaries/Language Matters. They didn’t seem to have been extracted from any existing dictionary. Then only a week or two back I unexpectedly, suddenly, incredulously but delightedly actually came upon numbers of very generally distributed entries in OED3 online equipped with audio pronunciations. Their spoken versions may be heard by clicking on the right-pointing white triangle inside a dark blue square which precedes at least one of the corresponding phonetic transcriptions for each word.

Another welcome new feature is the provision of strips of eight dots indicating which frequency-of-occurrence band the word belongs to. The higher the frequency (in current use since 1970) the more of the bullets are coloured red from left to right like this: •••••••• 
Neither of these features can be copied into a manuscript as yet at least. If you try to, you get useless bits of mainly unintelligible code. There are fully detailed explanations of the design of the occurrence bands.

Yet another feature that one has often regretted the unavailability of has now been very effectively introduced. It is the ‘Did you mean’ question, which one has been so pleased to profit from in Google, now capable (when a typo or misspelling has occurred) of replacing the old often irritating e.g. No dictionary entries found for ‘definately’ with the welcome
Did you mean:
•   definitely
•   delicately
•   feminately
•   definable
•   definite
It’s rather surprising to see no fanfares heralding the arrival of these excellent new features. No doubt some will appear soon.

Not long after my writing the above my attention was drawn by Petr Rösel to 300-plus words undated Release Note on the new audio prounciations from the OED 'Head of Pronunciations' Dr Catherine Sangster via

Blog 505

The 20th of November 2015

Intonational Considerations

An old fr·end of this blog, Tami Date, has as·t about the intonation of B’s first sentence in the following exchange:

A: You know, you shouldn’t smoke so much.
B: You can talk!  You used to be a heavy smoker yourself.

He remarks ‘I presume the fall-rise tonic goes on You?’ His suggestion/question is right:  the likeliest idiomatic tone choice wou·d be a Fall-Rise.

While we’re about it, lets mention what intonation A is likely to use.
You know, you shouldn’t smoke so much. /ju noʊ, ju 'ʃʊdnt ⎥ `smoʊk soʊ  mᴧʧ/

A’s first three words are unaccented so they constitute a ‘prehead’ ie they’ll all be spoken at the same neutral lowish pitch.

I’ve shown by the vertical bar (ie ‘|’) that I’ve inserted next that it’s quite likely that A will make (possibly but not necessarily) a more or less short break in the rhythmic flow here.

If he does, it may suggest a slight hesitation praps with the effect of making a careful choice of word to come next. That’d tend to suggest judiciousness soffening any possible impression of ‘hectoring’.

The word /smoʊk/ is the likeliest climax (aka nucleus) word. The final two words /soʊ  mᴧʧ/ are most likely to (become a ‘tail’ ie) remain at the low pitch that the Fall tone has ended at (and carrying no accent of their own).

If the speaker had chosen to, he cou·d’ve accented /mᴧʧ/ as well with a Fall or Slump (aka ‘low fall’) but this wou·d’ve made it very emphatic.

B: `You can ˏtalk!  `You used to be a `heavy `smoker your `(ˏ)self.
Yes, Tami. The usual choice on B’s reply wd be a complex Fall-Rise tone: /`ju kn ˏtɔk/ where the rise on /tɔk/ is to be understood as not accenting that word.

Some transcribers prefer to put both the Fall and the Rise symbols together eg as / `ˏ / or  less explicitly as / `´/. These are less helpful to a reader but they are me·nt to make it clear that the rise is not accentual.

An alternative choice for the speaker wd be to put the climax on the word ‘talk’ like this / `ju kn ` ˏtɔk /.

A simple Fall with no Rise / `ju kn tɔk / wd be perf·cly possible, but more ‘cutting’ coz Rises have a soffening effect.

B’s further comment neednt necessarily have a Fall on ‘You’.

The word ‘heavy’ wd norm·ly have a Fall here.
But ‘smoker’ and ‘-self’ cou·d both have either Fall or Fall-Rise.

Tami added ‘What other similar expressions would you think of ?’

The best book to ans·er him that’s readily available — or should be— in any place where English is tau·t at intermediate or higher levels is the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Go to the word ‘talk’ and look for its section headed ‘IDM>’ and you’ll find
Look who’s talking | you can / can’t talk | you’re a fine one  to talk
explained as employed to tell somebody that they shd not criticise somebody else for something because they do the same things too’.

If you’re working in a university department of English, even better. With reasonable luck, they shou’d have available the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) online.

That wou·d give a patient enquirer at the entry for the verb ‘talk’:
“In various colloq. phrases stating or implying that someone is in no position to criticize another, exemplified by the types: you cant talk!; (look, hark) whos talking!; who am I to talk?; I should talk!

And after this you get eight examples of the uses of such expressions by great and not so great writers including Kipling and Thackeray.

Blog 504

The 24th of September 2015

Words with Changing Stresses

Graham Pointon’s latest ‘Linguism’ blog posting ‘English under stress’ comments on the shifting stressings of various words. He now, rather surprisingly to me, thinks that ‘we can safely say that the battle for second syllable stress on contribute and distribute is now lost’. I can’t say for my part that I’ve ever felt any inclination to join those who say `contribute rather than con`tribute but I very much belong with the oldest generation. I also find it puzzling that no-one seems to want to stress the verb attribute in the same way. Graham records having recently heard, obvi·sly rather unexpectedly, contri`butory from a BBC Radio reporter, but charitably tends to account for it as influenced by fluster. I have this very day he·rd ‘contriˈbutory `factor’ from a reporter on BBC Radio 4’s early morning ‘Today’ programme discussing with presenter Sarah Montague the University of California neurologists’ achievement of enabling a paraplegic patient to walk sev·ral steps by ‘reconnecting brain signals’ to his legs. Roach & Co  recorded contri`butory from their  1997 takeover of EPD. In his LPD Wells has included it since his 1990 first edition. OED3 has only /kənˈtrɪbjuːtərɪ/ with the rather heavily-vowelled post-tonic \juː\ in a usually weak syllable which LPD sections as ‘not RP’. This is copied from OED2 where it reflected Murray’s OED1 rather unsatisfactory treatment of what is now, I feel, best regarded as simply the /u/ phoneme in a weak syllable.

When Graham mentions kilometre, controversy, trajectory, aristocrat and exigency as having alternative pronunciations with first or second syllable stress, I’m reminded of being somewhat surprised at never actually having he·rd the stressing `trajectory. Neither apparently had Murray when he came to the word in OED1 in 1914. On the contrary, in his first EPD of 1917 Jones gave `trajectory priority. Nor had he changed his mind at his last EPD in 1963; and Gimson didnt depart from this in the EPD of 1977. However, Ramsaran justifiably gave priority to tra`jectory in the EPD of 1991. In its entry in OED2 in 1989 by its editors J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner the ordering ‘/trəˈdʒɛktərɪ/ /ˈtrædʒɪktərɪ/’ was given without comment. It’s perhaps surprising that the penult schwas wer·nt bracketed. Compare factory which is given in OED3 as ‘Brit. /ˈfakt(ə)ri/ , U.S. /ˈfækt(ə)ri/’. LPD3 has the variant with forestress `trajectory. Merriam-Webster online currently gives only the tra`jectory stressing with audio pronunciation, a very welcome facility. Sadly it no longer offers any phonetic transcriptions.

Of sev·ral three-syllable words discussed, on orchestra Graham notes the OED mention of Byron’s stressing the second syllable. Murray in 1903 did indeed say so in a one-line note at the end of its etymology. Graham also quotes a couple of dictionaries (not ones reco·nised by me) saying ‘a 1798 edition of Johnson’s dictionary stresses the first syllable, a later one edited by John Walker (1810) has second syllable stress’. Actually, Walker, knowing that various other authorities didnt agree with him, plumpt for the second syllable on the shaky ground that it had been long in Latin. Regarding the dictionaries mentioned, Walker had died in 1807 and Johnson had in 1784. Graham might also have quoted Murray’s 1885 remark on ‘balcony’ which, modernised to OED3’s choices of  phonetic symbols, was ‘Till c1825 the pronunciation was regularly bælˈkəʊnɪ; but ˈbælkənɪ (once in Swift), ‘which,’ said Samuel Rogers, ‘makes me sick,’ is now established’. Poor sensitive Rogers!

A third trisyllable he interprets as having changed from se`cretive to `secretive in the same way. It may be rather more complicated than that. In its initial uses most of its associations may’ve been chiefly with the verb ‘secrete’ which, later at least, became a much less familiar term than the adjective ‘secret’. That adjective’s increasing familiarity may well have influenced speakers’ inclinations to match ‘secretive’ to it. No-one seems to’ve  wanted to convert ‘ex`pletive’ to *`expletive’.

Finally he discusses the two trisyllables ‘communal’ and ‘integral’ which he finds are ‘now commonly heard in the UK with second syllable stress’. OED3 in fact got to this word as recently as 2009 and showed confirmation of his observation saying sensibly ‘The stress appears to have been variable at least since the mid 19th century, but 19th- and 20th-century British and U.S. dictionaries vary as to which they give as the main or sole pronunciation’. OED gives these reasonable notations: ‘Brit. /ˈkɒmjᵿnl/, /kəˈmjuːnl/ , U.S. /kəˈmjun(ə)l/, /ˈkɑmjən(ə)l/’. The /ᵿ/ here is a cover symbol indicating variation between schwa and /ʊ/ with (unhelpfully) no commitment to saying which is considered the more usual. The /u:/ is not to be taken as anything but transcriber pref·rence with no necess·ry suggestion that the British length value differs from the American.

The Pointon comment on ‘integral’ is that it’s ‘going the other way: integral and communal are now commonly heard in the UK with second syllable stress ... Integral ... is simultaneously showing another, different, change: possibly by analogy with the word intricate, the /r/ is being shifted to the second syllable, leading to the pronunciation /ˈɪntrɪgəl/’. CEPD has no record of /ˈɪntrɪgəl/. The ever-inclusive LPD has had it since its 1990 first edition but awards it a warning triangle as not being an accepted usage. Metatheses of this sort have been pritty common in English over the years. A variety of other examples of the process may be seen at our Blog 232.

Blog 503

The 23rd of August 2015

A Trifling Detail of Orthography

This is from my book People Speaking Passage 48: click here for the soundfile.

It has been accorded more than usually full length marking especially to provide examples of how vowel lengths vary. And to show what a difficult job it is to decide just what the relative length of any vowel is.

It’s obviously unscripted and spontaneous because of all the hesitations, omissions, mistakes and non sequiturs. The speaker is myself.

1.] ən wi kəd ˎmeɪnli `laŋwɪʤ tiʧɪŋ ˏðɛˑ |

     and we could mainly language teaching there.

By an apparent ‘slip of the tongue’, I sed ‘cou·d’ rather than ‘did’. I used the common GB weakform of the word / `laŋɡwɪʤ / with its medial / ɡ / elided. This variant of the word is not recorded in CEPD. It is given in LPD3 but astonishingly  quite unjustifiably ‘sectioned’ thus § as ‘not RP’.

2.] bət aɪ ˈmɪsˏɡaɪdli | ˈtʊk ˈɒn |

    but I misguidedly took on

The word /mɪsgaɪdɪdli/ was ‘telescoped’ by a process of elision which in the first place loses an /ɪ/ and additionally reduces the remaining double /d/ to a single one in an articulation which was rather an accidental stumble than a conscious articulation.

3.] ɜ ɜ ˎtɜmz ˎwɜˑk wɪ ði | ɜ | ðə lɑˑst jɜˑ ˏstjuˑdn̩ts

    er a a term’s work with the er the last-year students

The elision of the final /ð/ of ‘with’ before a following /ð/ is very common.

4.] ˈɒn `draːɪdn ̩| and ɜˑ | ˈðeɪ | ˈðeɪ ˈwɜ

     on Dryden. And er  they they were

The /aɪ/ diphthong of ‘Dryden’ is distinctly long. Hence its internal full-length mark.

The fact that 'and' occurs in its strongform wd be classified as abnormal except that in fact its form indicates hesitation just as much as ‘er’ does.

5.] `sɒt əv ˏstjudn̩s | veɪ ˏnaɪs ˎˏstjudn̩s |

      sort of students — very nice students

The word ‘sort’, instead of being clearly /sɔt/, is being uttered so casually and hurriedly
that it makes it seem that the different word ‘sot’ might be being used. Unlike the way the word ‘students’ was ‘fully’ articulated in line 3, it is here both times spoken less precisely with the elision of its second /t/. The weakform /veɪ/ of ‘very’ is fairly casual and a very common GB variant of the word.

6.]  ðeɪ meɪd evri `pɒsəbl məˏsteɪk |

      They made every possible mistake

The word ‘mistake’ never appeared in Jones’s own editions of his EPD (up to 1963) with a variant having the schwa I used here. Nor does the current CEPD but LPD  acknowledged it from its 1990 first edition. The position of the rise tonetic stress mark before the /s/ rather than after it is counter-etymological but before the /t/ it wou·dve suggested aspiration that doesnt occur.  

7.]  ju kəd ɪ`maʤn̩ | ən əv `kɔ·s |

you could imagine. And of course

Both CEPD and LPD record the variant of ‘imagine’ with elision of its final /ɪ/, as here, or its replacement with a schwa.

8.] ði ɪ`nevətəbl̩ θɪŋ `hapm̩ |

    the inevitable thing happened

It’s not often easy to decide whether a speaker begins the second ie stressed syllable of the word ‘inevitable’ with its /n/ or after it, even about one’s own speech. The dictionaries only give the obvious second possibility. I feel that I begin it with the /n/ here and usually do so. I don’t imagine myself ever saying /ɪn`ʔevɪtəbl̩/. The LPD gives /`hapm̩/ as a variant of the word ‘happen’ such as I use here. My elision of the final /d/ that wd normally mark the past tense here amounts to very casual style.

9.]  we wen ðeɪ hat tə `raɪt |

      whe .. when they had to write

It’s not in the least unusual to assimilate the /d/ of ‘had’ to the following /t/ in the sequence ‘had to’.

10.]  abaʊt draɪdn̩z ˈʧif ˏwɜˑks |

       about Dryden’s chief works

The diphthong in the first syllable of ‘Dryden’ is not even accorded half-length marking here.

11.]  ən ˈwᴧn əv ðm̩ `ˏwɒz | ˏkɔˑld |

       And one of them was, called

12.]  ðə jɜˑr əv ˏwᴧndə | `anəs mɪˏrɑ·bələs |

       the Year of Wonder, Annus Mirabilis

My intentional target pronunciation of ‘mirabilis’ is with /ɪ/ in both of its last two syllables but, tho I don’t make any conscious effort to avoid turning the first /ɪ/  into a schwa, I was surprised to hear that I was being so casual as to have let it happen to the final one too.

13.] ən kɔs | ɪnˈsted raɪtɪŋ wɪð `tʰu· ˏenz |

      and of course, instead of writing with two n’s

Eliding the word ‘of’ from the phrase ‘of course’ is very casual. Even more so was the omission of ‘it’ after the word ‘writing’ if we regard it as a stylistic rather than accidental feature.. The word ‘to’ is emphasised very clumsily giving its /t/ extremely strong aspiration and making it sound rather like /tʃ/.

14.]  ðeɪ rəʊt `eɪnəs mɪrɑˑbələs.

       they wrote Anus Mirabilis.

The word ‘anus’ is the formal or medical term referring to that lower rear part of the human body colloquially called one’s ‘bottom’ or ‘behind’ or less informally ‘buttocks’.

Blog 502

The 7th of August 2015

Variant Word Forms

Departures by words from the lexical ‘shapes’ of their isolate occurrences to become variants that arise in the course of  connected or continuous speech have long been referred to in terms of the alterations or reductions that they undergo chiefly by use of on·y the two terms ‘assimilation’ and ‘elision’. Henry Sweet in 1888 introduced the specific term ‘smoothing’ for the type of reduction he defined as ‘the levelling of the two elements of a diphthong under a monophthong’. In writing about these variants to be met with in uninterrupted speech, I came to feel the need of another term for types of reduction diff·rent from elisions. I introduced my proposal for such an expression at page 34 of my Guide to English Pronunciation of 1969. This book was reissued (in facsimile) in 2013 in the Routledge series Logos Studies in Language and Linguistics incorporated in a volume entitled ‘English Phonetics:Twentieth Century Developments’ under the editorship of the late Beverley Collins, Inger M. Mees and Paul Carley.

The wording I employed ‘what we shall call..compressions’ made it pritty evident that I was introducing the term as something new rather than taking over an existing usage. It offered wider coverage than Sweet’s ‘smoothing’ and was defined as essentially occurring ‘when a diphthong is reduced to a simple vowel or a vowel reduced to an approximant’. Examples given included any other reduced to /enj ᴧðə/, following reduced to /fɒlwɪŋ/ and railwayman reduced to /reɪlwɪmən/.

The present account has been prompted by reading a comment by Sidney Wood on a posting at the nine·th of July in ‘Kraut’s English Phonetic Blog’ in which ‘Kraut’ defined and illustrated five types of compression. Sidney as·t Who uses [that term] today, Petr, or recently? I took a quick look at Gimson 1962, he seems to have preferred reduction. And that’s my own preference too. Wells 1982 has a brief paragraph where compression is phoneme omission generally (another form of reduction, his example lit’ry for literary)’.

The 1962 edition of Gimson doesnt seem very relevant to today’ or recently’ but, anyway, for something by way of ans·er to his queries I first suggest to Sidney that he looks at my Blog 406 of the 25th of June 2012 on ‘Smoothing and Compression’. Then he might like to look at the ‘panel’ headed ‘Compression’ at pages 173-4 of the 2008 edition of the invaluable Wells Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, and also to its final page (922) where there is an explanation of his very extensive use of the IPA symbol [ ‿ ] for ‘Linking (absence of break)’ This, in Unicode terminology ‘combining breve below’, is glossed by Wells as indicating  ‘possible compression (two syllables become one) etc of adjacent syllables’.

As to Sidney’s other question to Kraut ‘Could compression originally have been a prescriptive term? i.e. slow down, decompress and improve comprehension?’, I can assure him that, as far as I was concerned, the aim in introducing that term was simply and solely descriptive.

It was int·resting to see the ‘Kraut’ quotation from Notes on Spelling Reform of 1881 by W. R. Evans referring to ‘the expansion of simple vowels into diphthongs, and the compression of diphthongs into simple sounds…’ which must obviously be regarded as an en passant choice of expression rather than the quotation of an establisht usage. [All I can find on Evans, Petr, is this from the wonderf·ly useful MacMahon Analytical Index to the Publications of the International Phonetic Association: ‘[EVANS, W R: death, June 1888 < Phonetische Studien.] 1888.Dec.495/95 [Rev] VIËTOR, W [ed] (1888-89) Phonetische Studien. II Band. 1889.83-84 [Q & A (Q): degree of support for phonetic theories of EVANS, W. R.1899.91]

Patricia Ashby’s remarkably impressive recent book Understanding Phonetics (2011) may clearly be seen to be treating compression as an establisht term notably at its page 114:
‘ Compression
The process known as compression often reduces the number of syllables in a particular word or phrase. Compression is effected by either deleting a vowel altogether (vowel elision), or by changing the class of the sound ... or by collapsing two vowels into one in a form of coalescence (meaning two adjacent sounds come together to form one diff·rent but related sound…’

John Wells’s recent (2014) Sounds Interesting: Observations on English and General Phonetics has half a dozen pages on the topic beginning at his page 40 with a section, 2.5, headed simply ‘compression’. Then he has ‘2.6’ on compression in hymnody, ‘2.7’ GOAT compression, ‘2.8’ analogical decompression and ‘2.9’ compression anomalies.

Let’s hope that these examples along with Kraut’s quotation from the current Maidment Speech Internet Dictionary convince Sidney that the term ‘compression’ is reasonably to be described as an expression in current use.

Blog 501

The 28th of July 2015

Journalists underFire PS 34

The transcription you see below uses a basic system of indicating how words are spoken known as ‘phonemic’ Other types which are more complicated becoz, inste·d of on·y representing just the speaker’s basic ‘system’ of pronunciation they include at least some details of how the words were pronounced, are called ‘phonetic’.
The particular set of phonemic symbols used below differs very slightly from the most popular British types, seen for example in the LPD (Longman Dictionary of Pronunciation) and the CEPD (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary), in three respects which are, except the first, modernisations.
Firstly, it doesnt add colon lengthmarks to the ‘uncheckt’ vowels /i, ɑ, ɔ, u, ɜ, ɛ/. This pref·rence is motivated by the consideration that these vowels are so very frequently not long as eg in our first sentence where there's an occurrence of /i/ and two of /u/ all of which are quite short. Secondly, it adopts /a/ instead of /æ/ for the ash vowel. Thirdly, it accepts that the older diphthong /ɛə/ (though not sounding old-fashioned or conspicuous in all its variants) is no longer ‘mainstream’ GB (General British) usage and consequently adopts a monophthongal representation /ɛ/ for the phoneme. This is in accord with the latest (2014) edition of Alan Cruttenden’s Gimson’s Pronunciation of English except only in dispensing with length-colons.

This dialog was first publisht as an item in my book People Speaking.

Please click here on Item 34 to go to the sound file of it in Section 4 §1 of this website.

Slant brackets ( / ) enclose phonemic transcriptions of speech within which a vertical bar ( | ) indicates an interruption of the rhythmical flow. See Section 8 § 3 etc for information on the tone marks used.

1. /aɪ ˈdəʊnəʊ ˈhaʊ | ju kn ˈweɪst jə ˎtaɪm |
  I don’t know how you can waste your time
  ɒn ðiz `stjupɪd ˎnjuspeɪpəz/
    on these stupid newspapers.
At /dəʊnəʊ/ it’d be inappropriate to leave a space between the transcriptions of the two words don’t and know because it can’t be sed that the elided /n/ has been lost from one of them rather than the other. The word your is so indistinctly uttered that /jʊ/ and /jə/ are equally feasible representations. The choice between them was made in favour of the commoner weakform of the word.

By the way:
It may come as a slight surprise to some readers to hear ‘newspaper’ pronounced with /s/ rather than /z/. William Craigie (1867–1957) the OED editor who came to the word in 1906 didnt seem t’ve been aware of such a form but Daniel Jones (1881-1967) in his EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary) of 1917 recorded it as only heard with /s/. By 1963 he’d also heard it with /z/ but only ‘rarely’. J. C. Wells in 1990 recorded the /z/ form as a less usual variant. However, a decade later, after he’d seen various British volunteers’ reponses to a questionnaire which included the word, he gave the /z/ form priority. P. J. Roach in the CEPD hasnt followed suit in 2008. An understandable reluctance.

2. /ˈaɪ laɪk | tə bi `riznəˏblɪ | wel ɪn`fɔmd |
    I like to be reasonably well informed
    tə ˈkip `ᴧp | wɪð ˈwɒts ɡəʊɪŋ ˎɒn ɪn ðə wɜld /       
   to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

One example of how it may be seen that the intonation marks of this (‘tono-phonemic’) transcription are ‘tonetic’ rather than ‘tonological’ is the fact that it shows explicitly that a low rising tone occurs on the final syllable of the word /`riznəˏblɪ/. If it’d been tonological the transcription wou·d’ve taken the form / `ˏriznəblɪ/ since, as the final syllable is not accented, the pitch movement is to be analysed as a Fall-Rise complex tone

We notice that, as the disagreement becomes more ‘heated’, the speakers both raise their voices not much in volume but strikingly in pitch. Hers shoots up suddenly at “to keep up” but later at “Come, come” she has dropt back down to something more normal. His goes above normal at ‘Well informed’ but comes back down to his more normal ‘key’ for ‘I most certainly do’.

3. / ˈwel ɪnˏˈfɔmd | ɪts ɔl `laɪz | ɔl `rᴧbɪʃ/
      Well informed? It’s all lies! All rubbish!
The tone mark /ˏ / by itself stands for a rise from low to mid but the combination /ˏˈ/       indicates a rise from low to high.

4. / `kᴧm ˎkᴧm | ju ˎdəʊnt `sɪərɪəsli min ˎˏðat/
      Come, come. You don’t seriously mean that.
Her choice of the rather old-fashioned rhetorical expression ‘Come, come’ has the effect of a rather teasing response to his excitability. The tonemark at the final word stands for a forced guess at her target value rather than a detection of something clearly audible.

5. /aɪ məʊs ˎsɜtnli `ˏdu | njuspeɪpəz dɪ`ˏstɔt | ən `trɪvjəˏlaɪz |
    I most certainly do. Newspapers distort and trivialise
     ˈevri `sɪŋgl ˏθɪŋ | ðeɪ ˈleɪ ðɛ `hanz ɒn /
    every single thing they lay their hands on.

Elisions like the loss of the /d/ from the word ‘hands’ are so extremely common that one shou·dnt expect pronunciation dictionaries to bother to record them.

6. /wl ˈðat | simz ə ˈveri ɪk | ˎstrim | vju  tə ˏmi/
    Well that seems a very extreme view to me.
When the word ‘well’ is used as an interjection it may take a weakform with its vowel omitted, a fact apparently first recorded in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of 1972 and confirmed in LPD.

7. /ˎɪts ðə ˈtruθ | ˈhəv ju ˈevə ˈhad | ˈpɜsnl ˎnɒlɪʤ | əv ˈeni
        It’s the truth. Have you ever had personal knowledge of any
ˎmatr | ˈeni ˎɪnsədənt | rəˈpɔtɪd ɪn ðə ˎnjusˏpeɪpəz | ən ˈnɒt ˈfaʊnd |
   matter, any incident reported in the newspapers and not found
     ðeɪ gɒt ˎpraktɪkli | ˈevri ˎditeɪl ˏɒv ɪt | ˎrɒŋ /
     they got practically every detail of it wrong.

The first intonation phrase here constitutes a complete sentence yet ends with the word ‘truth’ on a level tone. This sounds more rhetorical than conversational by using a sort of sudden change of gear as a trick of emphasis. The speaker cd normally be expected to insert a rhythm break after the word ‘matter’ but he utters the word so hurriedly that he omits the schwa vowel reducing the word to one syllable. He makes ‘practically’ specially emphatic by having a rhetorical-sounding rhythm break between it and the following word — with which it’s usually as closely linked rhythmically as it is grammatically. The word ‘have’ is one of a number of function words which, as here, break some people’s untenable ‘rule’ that GB schwa can’t be accented.

8. / bət rɪˈpɔtəz ˏwɜk | ᴧndə ˈgreɪt ˎpreʃə | ðɛ ˈkɒnstəntli ˈhavɪŋ | tə  
     but reporters work under great pressure. They’re constantly having to
    mit ˎdedˏlaɪnz | ju `kɑnt ɪkspek | təʊtl ˎakjərəsi | ˎɔl ðə ˏtaɪm/
  meet deadlines. You can’t expect total accuracy all the time.

The word ‘You’ is almost totally inaudible but at least the rhythm suggests that she attempted a very weak articulation corresponding to it.

Blog 500

The 11th of July 2015

English Phonetics from Spain (ii)

Chapter 8.  Studies in the Intonation of English: A Critical Review by

Luisa Granato of the University of La Plata Argentina.

This is a forty-page description that has been carried out with remarkable thoro·ness and shd be of consid·rable int·rest to those who wish to read a comprehensive and up-to-date detailed account of the numerous diff·rent approaches that exist to the theoretical analysis of English intonation.

It has to be admitted that one fears that practical classroom teachers will find little that makes them any more enthusiastic about the topic. On the bright side of things one may reas·nably consider that purely pitch pattern matters in gen·ral present very few problems for the EFL teacher compared with matters of word and sentence accentuations. And see the next chapter for something more modest.

Chapter 9. Phonological Models of Intonational Description of English by
Eva Estebas Vilaplana
a lecturer at the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia of Madrid who gained her PhD at University College London and impressively has sev·ral other degrees to her credit. It’s illustrated by drawings of pitch traces thautfully slightly stylised to bring out cert·n points being made tho praps not quite successfully printed for her. They are borrowed from her book published in 2009 Teach Yourself English Pronunciation.
This paper is an outstandingly clear excellent explanation of the two best known approaches to analysis of the structure of English intonation the American ‘Tobi’ ie Tone-&-Break-Indices system and the usual British system sometimes called the ‘Configurational’. Whatever virtues the former one may have, readers can hardly be left in any dou·t that the pedagogicly more effective is the latter.

Chapter 10. A systemic functional model of the intonation of clauses in English. This is by Paul Tench who in his retirement is an Associate Researcher at Cardiff University. He’s widely known for his well respected 1996 book The Intonation Systems of English and various other pedagogical publications in the phonetics field. His present paper has the ambitious aim of producing a complete inventory of intonational forms for clauses in English spoken discourse’, each system being ‘illustrated comprehensively with examples of transcriptions of all the options .. possible at the level of the clause’. Its approach is markedly Hallidayan.

He mentions a certain new phenomenon with touching enthusiasm when he sez of the ‘high rising terminal’ that it’s a ‘very clever device by which a speaker can provide major information and at the same time check the addressee’s understanding of the importance of it’. Some  people find rather wearing its constant use by especially younger female speakers in cert·n communities around the English-speaking world.

His examples are lively ones in ev·ryday language. The concluding summary with justified pride declares ‘We have now considered exactly 100 ways of intoning a single, simple, short, straightforward clause in English..’ and he sez with similar satisfaction at his final section that ‘the purpose of this chapter has been to show the vast potential of the three systems’ which he has exemplified ‘in a way never before attempted.

Chapter 11: Connected Speech: Pronunciation of words in context is by Sylvie Hanote of the University of Poitiers. She begins by giving the conventional listing of General British function words and then concentrates on the phenomena observable ‘when the phonetic substance of lexical units is incorporated in a continuum’. It’s rather puzzling that she shou·d present such an unremarkable expression as an unattributed quotation, presumably as stylistic device of emphasis. Going over much traversed ground she deals with assimilations, palatalisations, elisions, smoothings and linkings etc in a treatment involving over two dozen acoustic illustrations carried out using the popular Praat open-source software.

She is very far from right in her comment suggesting that elisions of medial schwas in words like medicine and comfortable are limited to what can properly be called ‘rapid’ rather than normally paced speech, at any rate from British speakers.
Altho her conclusions are gen·rally simply confirmatory of well-known existing observations, what is valuably distinctive in her work is the extent of the comparisons she makes with similar phenomena in the French language. Of the twenty-six publications cited in her References ten are French.

Chapter 12. British or American English? A study of four phonological variables in Cliff Richard’s Songs and Speech over a period of 50 years is by Erika A. Larsen & Inger M. Mees. The second author is the distinguisht Dutch scholar famous especially for her series of collaborations with the late Beverley Collins (whose advice regarding earlier versions of this paper is acknowledged) including the magnificent biography of Daniel Jones The Real Professor Higgins and the leading undergraduate-level textbook on British English pronunciation, Practical Phonetics and Phonology.

The present paper acknowledges the inspiration of the 1983 Trudgill article ‘Acts of conflicting identity: the sociolinguistics of British pop-song pronunciation’ which had suggested that from around 1964 onwards British singers, rather unsurprisingly in that post-Beatles era, generally began trying less hard to sound like Americans. Being ‘interested in discovering whether this change .. continued in the intervening years’ the authors ‘decided to carry out a case study’. Following the Trudgill model, they examined ‘the pronunciation of intervocalic /t/ as a type of /d/ in words like matter, ..the choice of the TRAP vowel in BATH words, ..the use of non-prevocalic /r/, ..monophthongisation of the PRICE vowel /aɪ/, .. replacement of the LOT vowel by PALM, .. and centralisation of the STRUT vowel /ᴧ/’.

They quote Trudgill’s unastonishing observation that ‘the vast majority of singers who use these forms when singing do not do so when speaking’ and his even more obvious conclusion that, in gen·ral at least, ‘there can be no doubt that British singers are indeed trying to modify their linguistic behaviour when they sing’.

The authors decided to examine the progress of a singer ‘whose normal speech’ was a British non-regional type and had ‘remained popular since the advent of modern pop music in the middle of the 20th century.’ They were so fortunate as to find a perfect subject in the astonishingly successful Cliff Richard for whom there were fortunately plenty of interviews available for comparison. They were thus very well placed ‘to find out whether’ .. he ‘modifies his pronunciation when he sings’ over a period of half a century.

There’s very little to quarrel with in this very painstaking account of its topic unless I except its reference to so-called ‘Estuary English’ as ‘this ‘new variety’ of British English’ when the term has been so completely rejected as such by serious scholars. Something of a disqualification on my part from saying anything regarding this singer is that I am intensely devoted to most non-pop types of music, including classical, jazz and flamenco, so that I’m afraid that I find Cliff Richard’s performances quite painfully insipid. Anyone without such a hangup will no dou·t greatly enjoy this elegantly scholarly essay.

Chapter 13. Recent Changes in English Phonetics and Phonology and their representation in Phonetic Notation is by Brian Mott the distinguisht doyen of English and Iberian linguistics of the University of Barcelona who has just published the second edition of his Chistabino (Aragonese) dictionary. His paper is, he observes, a critical survey rather than an attempt to present new data. He discusses ‘the principal changes that have taken place’ in GB  (ie General British English or as he refers to it ‘RP or SSB’) over the past fifty years or so and discusses the question of how far the ‘vowel shifts’ involved are or should be represented notationally in the leading pronunciation dictionaries’ namely the LPD ie Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, the CEPD ie Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary and the ODP ie Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English and in his own teaching materials.

He begins by presenting the revised form of his diagram of the GB monophthongal vowels that, as he sez, ‘I use with students’. It incorporates cert·n ‘adjustments’ he’s made in the light of recent scholarship. This is certn·ly the best form of it he has yet devised but students may be reassured to see that the most striking changes involved concern welcome improvements in realism resulting from increased boldness of the target shapes rather than any worrying changes of target values. For example, the new position (still represented on the diagram with [æ] as in LPD etc but unlike ODP) suggests that we may say that Spanish students saying the English name Anna neednt make its strest vowel much if anything diff·rent from the one they use in saying the first syllable of the Spanish name Ana.

Additionally he takes new note of the variant /ɪ, e & æ/ may exhibit before dark ells borrowing for the purpose a couple of excellent diagrams from the Collins and Mees Practical Phonetics & Phonology by way of illustration. I'm personally inclined to dou·t that average Spanish-speaking students need be at very great pains to imitate such authenticly southeastern but not completely universal British tendencies. Also he notes the increasing frontness of the GB highest back vowels /ʊ & u/ and muses on the possible future replacement of /u/ with /ʉ/. However, he wisely in his own new chart preserves its traditional style.

On the question of whether it’s time to convert the transcription of the vowel of square to a monophthongal representation yet ‘even though the diphthongal glide is often only slight’, he sees ‘no reason to transcribe’ it /ɛː/ ‘for the moment’. This is a good hint to Spanish speakers to be sure that they dont make too much of any schwa element they may attempt to produce in such words. Pronunciations of square-type words with no schwa element at all have for a some time now sounded totally unremarkable.

On the matter of schwa ‘taking over from /ɪ/ in many words like family /ˈfæməli/ ~ /ˈfæmɪli/ and mistake /məˈsteɪk/~/mɪˈsteɪk/ he expresses approval of the ODP ‘composite symbol [ᵻ]. This ODP  move unfortunately omits to make clear the coarser presentation of the facts ODP adopts. British latter vowel sounds of words like horrible and possible with the barred symbol indicating that ‘it is to be taken that’ both schwa and ɪ are ‘acceptable’ (ODP p.x) provides no warning that the latter version is so extremely unusual in many such words as to be arguably classifiable as a regionalism.

I completely agree with his remark that Luisa García Lecumberri and John Maidment were ‘jumping the gun’ when they opted in their English Transcription Course for /-ə/ instead of /-ɪ/ for the British past and plural endings -ed and -es.

On the contrary I’m afraid it tends to trouble me when I see a scholar of Mott’s distinction saying that Wells’s LPD ‘preference poll for tune .. for example, shows that 54% of British English speakers prefer the pronunciation /ʧuːn/..’ This unfortunately disregards the circumstance that the poll’s voters were self-selected and thereby far from a safe group on which to base generalisations about the British population leave alone their GB speakers.
Despite these niggles, I found his learnèd provocative article stimulating, enjoyable and very perceptive.

Chapter 14. Some Recent Changes and Developments in British English by David Levey of the University of Cádiz. His introductory paragraph has a footnote ‘When describing vowels I have used Wells keywords which are ‘intended to be unmistakable no matter what accent one says them in’. Great numbers of writers these days make use of the keywords that Wells devised ‘to facilitate comparisons of the many diff·rent varieties of spoken English’ but in gen·ral they dont offer any acceptable reason why they shd be doing so. I can’t help asking myself what it is exactly that Levey is suggesting by this quotation from the Wells masterpiece Accents of English. Surely, in the context in which he’s writing here their unmistakability is completely irrelevant. To be fair to Levey, I dont remember offhand any other user of the Wells vocalic lexical set giving any convincing reason why they’ve used them either.

The fact is that all writers on English pronunciation who use a phonetic notation, including of course above-all lexicographers, are duty bound to supply explanations of what any symbols they use stand for. What a boon it wdve been if there had been agreement in past centuries on a universal ‘golden’ set of keywords instead of endless totally diff·rent sets of elucidatory words in ev·ry book one opened. In actual fact that problem was, as it were by accident, solved by Wells when, with no such intention, he happened to concoct for his own very specialised and limited purpose that inestimably valuable precious ‘golden’ selection of words we all hardly realised we needed — even if they were, as he has candidly sed, ‘dreamt .. up over a weekend’. See my Blog 445.

The second remark I’m inclined to make about this paper arises from another of Levey’s footnotes. He sez ‘There is a certain disagreement as to where and from whom the epithet ‘Received Pronunciation’ originated. I refer him and his dou·ters to Section 5 of my article ‘British non-dialectal accents’ originally publisht in 1985 in the Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 33/3 which pointed out that A J Ellis repeatedly used the lower-case letters ‘rp’ glossing them as ‘received pronunciation or that of pronouncing dictionaries and educated people’. No-one before him used that combination repeatedly as he did in his five-volume work On Early English Pronunciation 1869-89. John Walker isnt on record as using ‘received’ about pronunciation more than the odd time leave alone in an ‘institutionalised’ set combination. See §7.3 on this website for (a revised version of) my article. It had been in private circulation even earlier than 1985 having been referred to by Wells in his Accents of English.

Levey covers his topic pritty adequately. One small omission at ‘H-dropping’ is lack of any mention of Lynda Mugglestone’s interminable account of it in her 360-page book Talking Proper (2003) where it is by far the principal topic. And a minor disagreement I have with Levey is with his apparent suggestion that current GB pronunciation of either with /i/ has been introduced under American influence. The only new information for me in this article lay in its accounts of matters I confess not to have felt deeply troubled at having hitherto not assimilated. These included comments by Manchester University researchers on the increasing preservation of aitches in the speech of the footballer David Beckham since his sojourns in the United States. Among other data I have not felt unduly embarrassed regarding my ignorance of have been the names of various comedians who’ve ‘got comic mileage· out of imitating the upper-class accent’.

PS  In  book notices  like  this one doesnt  usu·lly comment on the technical handling of the text but I'd like to express my admiration for how clearly and effectively the work (with its complications of spectrograms, vowel diagrams and charts etc) was printed by presumably a staff who were not necessarily English speaking. One oddity that I willynilly was kept noticing scores of times I wou·dnt know who was responsible for was that, except in single case, the authors were obviously all obliged to submit to insertion into their copy the perfectly logical but completely un-English-style abbreviation‘et alii’ instead of the normal ‘et al.’

Blog 499

The 7th of July 2015

English Phonetics from Spain (i)

Last year, 2014, saw the appearance of a substantial volume of over 400 pages published from the Universitat de València’s Institut Universitari de Llengües Modernes Applicades whose title, it will be noted, is Catalonian. It is Readings in English Phonetics and Phonology edited by Rafael Monroy-Casas, the doyen of English language studies at the University of Murcia, along with his colleague Immaculada de Jesús Arboleda-Guirao who previously collaborated with him on Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English described at our Blog 364. The book’s three divisions are ‘segmental phonetics and phonology, suprasegmental aspects and new developments’. Its preliminary pages supply very welcome, tho in some cases rather inadequate, information on its contributors. The first nine pages of the text consist mainly of brief introductions by the senior editor to each of the papers. The book’s ‘aim’ is described as ‘fundamentally pedagogical’ intending ‘to provide students with reliable and up-to-date information on key issues’. The intention of this blog is to let readers know briefly what the book contains rather than to make any attem·t to ser·ously review it.

Chapter 1 The Status of yod in precentral (Gimson) position is by Luis Fernando Rodriguez of the University of Seville. The expression ‘precentral (Gimson) position’ makes for an extremely obscure title: exactly what is me·nt by it will be immediately understood by few, if any, readers. In the course of the paper the ‘status’ of yods in initial clusters such as a word like crew is discusst. This, it is suggested, is ‘usually mispronounced by Spanish students’ as /krju:/. From the year and a half (in total) that I spent teaching in Spain I dont recollect particularly noticing this but I suppose the numbers of words with the sequence wou·dnt be sufficient for such a thing to strike me.

It isnt satisfact·ry to say that items like this and /trju/ and /flju/ are 'not possible in English'. In fact certain regional varieties of English in Britain do exhibit such forms notably in parts of Wales. The remark that in GB (‘RP’) both /u:/ and /ju:/ seem [my italics] to coexist nowadays in such words as assume, lute, suitable and supermarket rather suggests an overlooking of the information on such matters to be had in the pronouncing dictionaries. My impression is that many younger people today wd be likely, on hearing yod-keeping in especially the last one of these words, to find it an occasion for mirth. The exception is assume, which in common with other words having such a latter element, is cert·ny predom·nantly heard with a yod.

Incident·ly, the term ‘yod dropping’ I adopted as ‘snappier’ than ‘yod deletion’ in an article publisht in (the journal) English Language Teaching in 1971 expecting frowns from colleagues who’d think it undignified. As it happened, it was taken up by Wells a decade later in his great Accents of English with the consequence that it’s since become the practically universal term for the phenomenon.

Chapter 2 ‘Syllabic Consonants vs Schwa in English’ by Immaculada de Jesús Arboleda-Guirau, the book’s co-editor, is an item whose ‘fundamentally pedagogical aim’ might perhaps be judged to be fairly limited but the procedures involved are carefully presented and commendably illustrated with pie charts and other diagrams. The main aim of the author had been ‘to study the production and perception of English syllabic consonants and schwa plus lateral/nasal in word final position at discourse level on a perceptual basis’ particularly in respect of rules devised by Rafael Monroy. ‘The corpus employed was the News Archives of .. the BBC Learning English website .. 1999-2008.’ Questionnaires were compiled and sent to participants by email along with the necessary sound files. The whole ambitious enterprise was, I’m afraid, too complicated to describe in detail here.

Chapter 3 ‘Fricatives Revisited’ by Silvia Barreiro-Bilbao of the Department of Modern and Foreign Languages of the Madrid-based Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia is a substantial instrumental disquisition. The ‘main core’ of her study was devoted to a program of comprehensive research on the ‘acoustic characterization of English fricatives in terms of place of articulation, voicing and, to a lesser extent, to manner of articulation — based on ‘the most significant, and recent, publications in the field’. As a ‘secondary goal’ she aimed to ‘point out those disputed areas in which more investigation is clearly necessary…’ Altho this remarkable state-of-the art paper is one of the hardest in the volume to which to assign ‘a fundamentally pedagogical aim’ of an EFL nature it has to be admired as indeed have her prodigious eight pages of References. Their dimensions cert·nly wou·dnt’ve disgraced a large book.

Chapter 4 ‘English Plosives: Beyond the [±voice] distinction’ is by Joaquin Romero of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Taragona, (whose doctorate is from the University of Connecticut) and Maria Riera who is a pre-doctoral student at Taragona. It sets out to provide ‘a more faithful description of the true nature’ of the plosives ‘than is presented in most current introductory manuals’ where the ‘oversimplified voiced/voiceless opposition’ is the order of the day. Among its major topics are Voicing, Phonemic vs phonetic descriptions, Flapping and Glottalization and (plosive) Deletion. Int·resting information is included on North American pronunciations. The authors are optimistic advocates of university students’ becoming familiar with narrow transcription as ‘a tool to help alleviate the problem of the inability of students to bridge the gap between the thoretical phonological description of the sound system and their own capacity to pronounce the language according to this description’.

Chapter 5 ‘Lexical Stress’ is by France’s celebrated authority on English phonetics Professor Emeritus Jean-Louis Duchet of the University of Poitiers. It aims to ‘formulate, and account for, the rules which determine word stress placement’ because ‘A word is recognized not only through its consonants and vowels but also through its stress pattern which plays a crucial role in its acoustic image and therefore its identification in the spoken chain’. Carrying on as it does the tradition of fine scholars like Roger Kingdon and Lionel Guierre, it is probably the most stimulating and practically satisfying paper in the whole volume.

Chapter 6 ‘Stress shift in English: the case of teen numbers’ by José Antonio Mompeán of the University of Murcia examined such numbers ‘in attributive position or as the first constituent of a compound’ using a corpus of spoken ‘RP’ English ‘gathered from newscasts available on the BBC World Service website’ for the period 1999 to 2009. His finding was that stress shift is the rule rather than the exception in compounds and noun phrases involving teen numbers. His corpus of about ‘250,000 words ranged thru 32 hours of audio material’ spoken by 258 newsreaders.

Chapter 7 ‘You got the beat: rhythm and timing’ by Robert Fuchs of the University of Münster offers discussions of various definitions of rhythmic syllables and feet and matters of syllable and stress timing. The very title of this chapter is puzzling as is not a little of its content. Readers may find it challengingly diff·rent from most discussions in the field of rhythm. His 2013 not commercially published PhD dissertation had been on ‘Speech Rhythm in Educated Indian English and British English’. His final int·resting if not exactly astounding conclusion is that ‘Southern British English is, on average, more stress-timed than other languages and other varieties of English’.

Blog 498

The 26th of June 2015

Take-Off of Pilot PS33

/ ˈteɪk ˈɒf | ɒv ˎpaɪlət /

The preposition of is normally unstrest in conversational speech before a noun and consequently takes its weakform /əv/ but in such applications as an announcement it’s very often uttered, after  a degree of pause, in a more deliberate style involving use of its strongform /ɒv/.

1. Good morning ladies and gentlemen!  / ˈɡʊd ˈmɔnɪŋ leɪdɪz n ˏʤentlmən /

Even speakers who’d usually say /leɪdiz/ rather than /leɪdɪz/ might well, in such a routine expression uttered at fairly high speed, use final /-ɪz/ or something so unclear that it might be either. The /-ɪz/ variant is now becoming increasingly associated with older GB speakers.

2. This is Captain Ferguson speaking. / ðɪs ɪz ˈkaptɪn ˎfɜgəsn ˏspikɪŋ /

3. I should like to welcome you / aɪ ʃəd ˈlaɪk tə ˏwelkəm ju |

4. on behalf of British Airways    / ɒn bəˈhɑf əv brɪtɪʃ ˏɛweɪz /

The transcription /ɛ/ or usually /ɛː/ is nowadays mostly used for words like air in pref·rence to the traditional /ɛə/. Cert·nly the pronunciation of a word like airways as [`ɛəweɪz] rather than the usual [ɛːweɪz] tends to sound very old-fashioned (and socially conspicuous) nowadays because speakers who had [ɛə] as the isolate form of the phoneme had mostly adopted monophthongal allophones in such situations by the latter decades of the last century. The only notable diff·rence between GB /e/ and /ɛ(ː) / these days is that the latter is markedly longer. They’re not very likely to be confused becoz /e/ always occurs in syllables closed by a consonant. As they’re represented with perfectly distinct letters, only beginning learners are undou·tedly better off using the length colon. I prefer not to bother with it.
Dictionaries have usually shown behalf as begun with /bɪ-/ or /bi-/ but schwa is at least as often heard in most such words these days.

5. on board this Trident Three Jet. / ɒn ˈbɔd | ðɪs ˈˈtraɪdnt ˈθri ˎʤet /

The doubled high level pitch mark before trident indicates emphatic and/or high pitch for this speaker.

6. We shall be taking off almost immediately. / wi ʃl bi ˈteɪkɪŋ ˈɒf | ɔlməʊst ə`midjətli /

7. We shall be cruising at a height of about    / wi ʃl bi ˈˏkruzɪŋ  |  ət ə haɪt əv əbaʊt /

The usual descriptions of English intonation say a lot about the Fall-Rise but ignore the existence of the common similar tone in which the first element is not a descent but a level pitch so that it produces a distinctly different semantic effect. My name for this neglected tone is Alt-Rise. We have one here on the word cruising sounding rather more reassuring to the passengers than wdve been the case if a Fall-Rise had been used.
The five words / ət ə haɪt əv əbaʊt / are all unmarked for pitch becoz they constitute a fairly unusually long pretonal (toneless) set usually referred to as a ‘prehead’. There’s another six-syllable one at division 19 below. Such long ones are less common in conversational speech.

8. twenty thousand feet. We expect to arrive   / ˈtwenti ˈθaʊzn ˎfit |  wi ɪk`spek tu əraɪv /

At thousand and expect we hear elision of a final consonant common in clusters at the endings of words followed closely by others beginning with a consonant.

9. at London Heathrow / ət lᴧndən `hiθ ˏrəʊ /

10.  in about three hours. / ɪn əbaʊt ˈθri ˎɑəz /

The word hours has no a [ʊ] element ie is not /aʊəz/, but undergoes smoothing which results in a completely ord·n·ry version of the word.

11. at one p.m. local time / ət ˈwᴧn pi ˎem | ˎləʊkl taɪm /

12. Lunch will be ˎserved in ˏflight.   / lᴧnʧ | ˈwɪl ˈbi ˎsɜvd ɪn ˏflaɪt /

Another rather neglected tone in the literature is the Fall-to-Mid heard here on the word lunch. Instead of going to the bottom of the speaker’s voice range (as in the Fall tone) it stops midway down. Hence our ‘middle dot’.

13. The weather there so far this morning   / ðə `weðə ðɛ | səʊ fɑ ðɪs ˏmɔnɪŋ |
14. is slight rain or drizzle.  / ɪz | ˈslaɪt ˏreɪn | ɔ ˎdrɪzl /

15.  Please read the instructions    / ˈpliz| rid ði ɪnˏstrᴧkʃnz |

16. in the safety leaflet in the seat-pocket    / ɪn ðə ˎseɪfti ˏliflət | ɪn ðə ˎsit ˏpɒkɪt |

17. in front of you.   / ɪn ˎfrᴧnt əv ju /

18. There’s a life-jacket under your seat  / ðez ə ˈlaɪf ˏʤakɪt | ᴧndə jə ˎsit /

The words you, there’s and your take weakforms, the second not recognised even in the Wells LPD. This woud not be unusual as the speaker was repeating things he frequently used which wd be very familiar to most of his passengers.

19. Please fasten your seat-belt  / ˈpliz | fɑsn jɔ ˎsitˏbelt /

20. and do not smoke until the light   / an du ˈnɒt ˏsməʊk | ᴧntɪl ðə ˈlaɪt |

21. comes on to say you may do so. Thank you.   / kᴧmz ɒn tə seɪ ju meɪ ˎdu səʊ. ˈθaŋk ˈju /

In remote or pre-remote speech the speaker’s delivery tends to suggest some physical distance (about to occur or already occurring) between the speaker and the person(s) addressed. The captain’s final tone choice is one that we generally use in saying goodbye: a high level pitch followed by another rather nearer to a mid pitch. This little monolog was, of course, jotted down on a flight in the bad old days of smoking in airplanes.

Some OED definitions relevant to noting that I was agen unable to resist 'a play on words'.
take off: To imitate or counterfeit, esp. by way of mockery; to mimic, caricature, burlesque, parody; to make a mock of.  aeronaut: Of a pilot, plane, etc. to perform the operations involved in beginning flight.

PS The letters PS before the number 33 refer to my book People Speaking item #33 where its sound file may be heard. If possible it shou·d be copied and put into Audacity for convenient study.

Blog 497

The 16th of June 2015

GB not come by in England

I’m an admirer of Peter Roach’s gen·rous devotion of so much of of his time on his blog dedicated to helping the work of the editor(s) of various phonetics articles in Jimmy Wales’s deservedly very successful Wikipedia. Peter has recently (6/9/2015) sed, under the heading “RP - beyond England?”, this:
Someone has just posted a question on the Talk page of the Wikipedia article on Received Pronunciation. Here it is:
The article seems to imply that RP is only used in England, or even specific to Southern England (though it discusses variant forms in Northern England), but I think accents very similar to RP are not unknown in Scotland and Wales among the upper social classes. (I do not know much about Ireland, but the 'Anglo-Irish' classes, in both North and South, in general seem to use RP.) In Scotland it is notorious that the aristocracy speak with an 'English' accent, supposedly as a result of an education in English boarding schools, but the practice seems to be somewhat more widespread, extending at least into sections of the 'upper middle' classes. Maybe someone with more knowledge of the subject could cover this?”

Peter added:
I have come across this question, in various forms, many times and it is not easy to know how to reply. On the one hand, there is a belief that there are British people who, though born and brought up in Scotland, Wales or Ireland, are speakers of RP (as traditionally described and as spoken in the south of England). If there are such people, I think they are very rare. On the other hand, some writers have suggested that there are accents that can be called "Scottish RP", "Welsh RP" and so on - accents which display some characteristics of the regional accent implied by the name but are otherwise similar to English RP. This just seems wrong to me - an accent either is, or is not, RP…Not that I like calling ANY accent RP!

As to “RP”, the fact is that what A J Ellis from time to time called ‘rp’ and Daniel Jones in 1926 decided to finally formally label ‘RP’ was something noted in the 17th century and increasingly cultivated during the 18th. From notably 1773 there was a move to record in dictionaries what were the pronunciations understood to be those current among the social élite. The purveyors of this information were not only Londoners but included Irish and Scottish lexicographers the best known of whom was Thomas Sheridan, a Dubliner who was famous for his Lectures on Elocution and his two-volume dictionary with very full attention to pronunciations. In the 19th century the most famous phoneticians included Alexander Melville Bell who, besides his groundbreaking Visible Speech wrote manuals on public speaking and, though braut up in Edinburgh used and promoted, as had his father, the GB of his day. John Walker had prefaced his famous 1791 Critical Pronouncing Dictionary with advice for Irish, Scottish, foreign and London people on the avoidance of their common “erroneous” pronunciations. Fortunately, the description of people who have less fashionable features in their speech as committing ‘errors’ is now universally regarded as preposterous.

Tho I dont suggest that the topic is of no interest whatsoever, I’m afraid I’m astonisht, at the attaching of any importance a·tall to whether or not anyone is a 100 percent speaker of GB or any other accent, a matter that strikes me as of total triviality. The most significant thing about the General British accent, as readers can see I prefer to term it rather than ‘Received Pronunciation’, is its enormous influence on all other varieties of British English.

I referred in my Blog 443 to how Peter Trudgill, originally for a simply practical reason of convenience, adopted a perhaps questionable procedure of eliminating speakers he found to have any degree of “RP” admixture in their speech. This was for the purposes of some dialect research he was conducting. It was quite tangentially, rather than having set out in the first place with the figure as a goal, that he arrived at his notoriously dubious estimate of 3 percent of UK speakers as using unmixt ‘RP’. This has been treated in various quarters with a seriousness quite beyond what no dou·t he or any of us wou·dve imagined likely.

In the twentieth and the present century there’ve been plenty of examples of speakers in public life who show no, or only very inconspicuous, traces of influence of Scottish or other non-GB youthful backgrounds. One thinks of ‘Ming’ Campbell, Alastair Darling, Michael Gove, (Lord) Norman Lamont, Neil MacGregor, Andrew Marr, (Lord) Harry Woolf. (Tony Blair was mainly educated in Scotland.) Fee-paying schools of Edinburgh and Glasgow seem to be particularly associated with GB speakers. With Welsh backgrounds there have been Arthur Lloyd James, Dylan Thomas, John Wing, Huw Weldon, Michael Howard, Rowan Williams, Jeremy Bowen and John Humphrys. An example of a virtual GB speaker is Huw Edwards whose Welsh background is evident almost solely from his prosodies.

I can’t recall any Irish GB speakers who were not mainly educated in Britain but it was notably the view of Henry Sweet when he publisht his phonetic disquisition The Elementary Sounds of English in 1881, the year in which incident·ly Daniel Jones was born, that there was a "class-dialect more than a local dialect" which was "the language of the educated all over Great Britain".

The speakers quoted above I happen to have noticed via the media can only be some proportion of the total. I hope there are enuff of them that meet his criterion for falling within his category of ‘RP’ speaker to persuade Peter to reconsider thinking in terms of “If there are such people” and to allow that at least they may not be ‘very rare’ birds.

Blog 496

The 25th of May 2015

Mooching and Mi(t)ching

My fr·end, colleague and fellow-bloggist John Maidment has for years maintained a wide-ranging series of disquisitions on some of which I’m quite off·en, as now, disposed to comment. At the sev·nth of May he began a posting by saying it’s gənə be ‘a tangled tale, which connects blackberries, a jazz singer, smoke and hares and rabbits’. He continued ‘To me the word mooch (muːtʃ) means to loaf about in a bored manner’. Being a conscientious phonetician he ensures that the reader has available the information that the word’s vowel is /u/ as in root. This is not an expression I myself actively use. I tend to wonder whether he gen·rally uses the verb more by itself or in a phrase such as ‘mooch about’ which I’d feel to be a bit less alien.

Continuing, he says ‘The word can also mean ‘to scrounge’, ‘to sponge off people’and that he assumes ‘this is the meaning intended in the song Minnie the Moocher by the US jazzman Cab Calloway’. The words of the song, which I’ve heard him use and checked online, dont really seem to me to support that conjecture. The OED has ‘hoochie mama. A young woman; esp. one who is promiscuous or who dresses or behaves in a sexually provocative or overtly seductive manner’. Dancing of that order was apparently Minnie’s profession. The lyrics tell us that ‘She was a lowdown hoochie coocher’, She was the roughest, toughest frail, But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale’. This awful rubbish became amazingly popular when Calloway, in singing it onstage, wou·d invite his audiences to echo his nonsensical ‘scat’ phrases, amusing them by making the ‘words’ for them to imitate of increasing difficulty so that their attempts at producing them created general mirth. His band received an entry in the hefty New Grove Dictionary of Jazz chiefly attributable, one supposes, to the fact that he gave employment to some genuinely talented musicians. His personal perfomances made true jazz lovers cringe.

It was the end of a Lord Mayor’s procession indeed when he took up the residency following that of Duke Elington at New York’s famous Harlem Cotton Club. (Wictionary mentions the proverb "After the Lord Mayor's show comes the dust-cart" or "donkey- cart", or "shit-cart"). Ellington, the greatest of all jazz composer-bandleaders, had in his repertoire for over forty years a number he called The Mooche. The best versions he recorded in 1927 or so with the participation of his sadly short-lived incomparable trumpeter Bubber Miley. It suggests a slouching, loping, shuffling sort of gait. Wentworth and Flexner’s 1963 Dictionary of American Slang has ‘to saunter’ but no record of a noun in Duke’s sense.

John continued ‘A third meaning is ‘to play truant’ and this appears to be connected to a now rare word mitch’. My first reaction to this was rather incredulous: the two vowels are so very diff·rent. But he’s in respected company. The OED speculates along such lines. At any rate, in the same way that John tells us he feels at home with mooch, I feel totally at home with mitch. It was the normal word in my Cardiff childood for ‘play truant’. ‘Truant’ was an expression that I imagine I first came across from perusing a ‘comic paper’ detailing the adventures of a public school boy named Billy Bunter. I was pleased to see the comment by John’s reader Kevin Flynn telling us that the word is alive in the Cardiff sense at Plymouth as well as in South Wales.

The word ‘mi(t)ch’ is well known among Shakespearian scholars for cropping up in Hamlet in the phrase ‘miching malicho’. OED’s ‘taken to be generally suggestive of dark deeds, mystery, or intrigue’ is a suggestion of the current editors. I’d prefer to say more simply ‘skulking evildoer’. Neither the original editor Bradley, who idiosyncraticly entered the phrase as if it were a single word in 1904 despite not even hyphenating it, nor Burchfield in 1976 originated that OED remark. Accompanied by the comment ‘its pronunciation [Uptonianly transcribed as (malˈetʃo)] does not account for the forms in the early editions’ (in ref·rence no dou·t to sightings before the 1623 First Folio like ‘mallico’. I expect the pronunciation to’ve been /ma`lɪʧou/ or something of the sort. The Spanish original ‘malhecho’ I take to be able to mean ‘wickedly constituted (person)’. Some producers of the play have accepted the pronunciation with /k/ but my guess is that the ‘-co’ versions were mistakes: I’m confident that Will wdve relisht coining a phrase with the double chiming of the sequences /m—tʃ/.

Finally, when John continued with ‘The next twist in the path involves the word meuse (mjuːs or mjuːz), OED: A gap in a fence or hedge through which hares, rabbits, etc., pass…’ I felt unable to accept the idea of any connection between these such phonetically diff·rent items from ‘mooch’. Nor have I, in regard to his last remark, ever associated mitching with skipping school in order to go blackb·rying. Or noticed anywhere any use of the word ‘mooch’ to mean ‘a blackberry’ as EDD reported from a Glo·ster source and a Devon one.

Blog 495

The 2nd of May 2015

Suburban Supershopping PS 32

     Go to § 4. 1. 32 to hear the sound file for this item.

1. / ˈhav ˈju ˈbin ˈraʊn | tə ðə nju ˎsupəˏmɑkɪt /
     Have you been round | to the new supermarket?
2. / ˈəʊ ˎ jɛs  | ˏɪznt ɪt ˎmɑvləs /
     Oh, yes! Isn’t it marvellous!
3. / ˈθaŋk ˎhev[ɱː] | nɒt tə hav tə ˈdraɡ ɔl ðə weɪ | ɪntə ˎtaʊn enɪ mɔ
     Thank heavens not to have to drag all the way into town any more!
4. / `wi us | tə gəʊ ˏəʊvə | tə ˈðat wᴧn | nɪə ði `ɛpɔt /
      We used to go over to that one near the airport.
5. / ˈəʊ ˎ jes | ɪts ˈkwaɪt ˎɡʊd | bət ɪt ˈsᴧʧ ə ˎweɪ /
     Oh, yes! It’s quite good. But it's such a way!
6. /ˏmaɪnʤu | ɪts ən `ɔfl njusns | ˈθredɪŋ jɔ ˈweɪ |
       Mind you, it’s an awful nuisance threading your way
     θru ɔl ðəʊz ˈhɑf fɪnɪʃt ˈrəʊdz | ɒn ðə ˈnju `haʊzɪŋ ɪˏsteɪt /
         through all those half-finished roads on the new housing estate.
7. /ˎ jɛs | `ðeɪ ʃd bi ˈprɒpəli ˎsaɪnpəʊstɪd | tə help ju faɪnd ðə weɪ `ɪn /
       Yes. They should be properly signposted to help you find the way in.
8. /ˎstɪl | aɪ ɪkˈspekt ɪtl bi ˈbetə | wen ðeɪ fɪnɪʃ `ˏbɪldɪŋ /
       Still, I expect it’ll be better when they finish building.
9. /ðə wəz ə `fɑm ˏðɛ| wen wi fɜst ˏkeɪm hjɜ /
      There was a farm there when we first came here.
10. /əʊ `jɛs | aɪ rɪ`membər ɪt
      Oh, yes! I remember it.
11. / ˈrɑðə ˈpɔ | ʧɔɪs əv `ˏʧizɪz |
       Rather a poor choice of cheeses.
12. / `wɛə/
13. / ˈɪn nə nju `supəmɑkɪt /
        In the new supermarket.
14. / `(h)əʊ ˎ jɛs | ən ˈnəʊ `səʊdə wɔtə | fə ˌsᴧm mɪ`stɪəriəs ˏrizn /
          Oh, yes! And no soda water for some mysterious reason.
15. / `∙stɪl | `hə | wᴧn `mᴧsn ˏɡrᴧmbl /  
           Still, one mustn’t grumble.   
16. / `[ʔ]əʊ ˎnəʊ /.
          Oh, no!


Turn 1  Note the completely ordinary elision of the /d/ of ‘round’ before a following consonant.
Turn 2  Notice that the word 'Yes' is transcribed not with /e/, which wd suggest a shorter sound         than we hear here. It seems better to represent it with the usually long monophthong of current     GB /ɛ/. This has recently for the most part replaced the formerly more usual diphthong [ɛə].         Note that our present transcription doesnt add the unnecessary length marks to any of the             usually rather long vowels /i, ɛ, ɑ, ɔ, u & ɜ/.
Turn 3  The word ‘heavens’ has no audible /s/and the /n/ has actually not the phonetic value [n]         but, under the assimilating influence of the preceding labiodental /v/, has become the                     labiodental nasal [ɱː]. The expected /z/ has been completely elided.
Turn 4  Note that the absence of any audible initial /j/ from the word ‘used’ in this context i.e. after     /wi/ is perfectly normal. As is the absence of any final /t/ of ‘used’.
Turn 9  The variant /hjɜ/ of ‘here’ and its homophone ‘hear’ during the middle of the last century     suffered a great drop in frequency in the words’ most prominent uses (they had somehow come     to sound old-fashioned in most situations). As a result Gimson removed it entirely from the         EPD in 1977. This was far too hasty. Unfortunately it has been similarly omitted from LPD and     CEPD but it is still quite often used in a more restricted set of situations such as we find here         and initially in various expressions like ‘Here we are’.
Turn 13  Most assimilations involve an anticipatory adoption of a characteristic of a later                     phoneme by an earlier one (what I like to call 'pre' assimilations) but at 'in the' here the                 change occurs to the later phoneme /ð/ which is converted to /n/ under the influence of the             previous /n/ at the end of the word 'in' (what I call a 'post' assimilation).
Turn 14  The exclamation [həʊ] presents a problem of assignment. Altho it’s common                         enough it’s most likely not to be regarded as an occurrence of the archaic                                         exclamation ‘Ho!’ but as a ‘breathy’ utterance of the  contemporary exclamation ‘Oh’.
Turn 15  The tone mark [ `∙] before ‘Still’ indicates a Fall only going from a high to a mid pitch.
    The sound between ‘Still’ and ‘one’ which I’ve represented as [`hə] is of course not a ‘word’             at-all but a (notably breathy) sigh which, as its force diminishes, creates an affect similar to a         falling tone.

Blog 494

The 24th of March 2015

Sounds Interesting

Book Cover

Like Peter Roach, who has since December 2014 been gen·rously charting for us the ups and downs of Wikipedia phonetics in a series of blog postings at with which I’ve on·y rather recently cau·t up, I’m an appreciative frequent user of Wikipedia. In its biographic article on John Wells, some of which is rather comicly clumsy, it does helpfully jog one’s memory with the following:
After retirement, Wells ran a regular blog on phonetic topics from March 2006 to April 2013. He announced the end of his blog on 22 April 2013 saying, “if I have nothing new to say, then the best plan is to stop talking.”
Of course we all knew that it was nonsense on his part to suggest that he had nothing new to say but th·t that remark was just modesty. I cert·nly found it something of a shock when John did decide to pack it in — partly I suppose from the amazing regularity with which he kept it up five days a week for seven years except when he was out of the country. I used to look for it daily first of all things online.

In a way, it cou·d be sed that John has returned the compliment coz he’s referred to me eight times in his text: at p.6 in his §1.8 diocese; at p.28 in §1.36 anglicised Welsh place names; at p.41 in §2.5 compression (what he didnt mention there was the fact that I introduced into the literature that term that he’s done so much to popularise in my recently reprinted 1969 Guide to English Pronunciation); at p. 49 in §2.13 gemination and degemination; at p.50 in §2.14 reductions in casual speech; at p.74 in §2.41 terraced attacks; at p.149 in §5.16 practicing (sic) wot I preach and at p.187 Welsh ll.

In fact John’s Blog was the direct reason for my opening up a website not least to be able to have a blog of my own. People quite offen, to my slight irritation, refer to my blog when they mean my website. Many of my posts were triggered by Wellsian topics of the day while he was still going.

Anyway, when it became known that he was going to produce a book based on his blogsite pronouncements, that was something to look forward to. It arrived from CUP at the 25th of September last year. No-one shd be disappointed. It’s of considerable dimensions: pages x+205. Hardback the now all too expectable stinging fifty quid, paperback a reasonable £15.99. It’s on the square-shaped side at roughly 25 by 17 cms quite like the Roach and Collins-&-Mees textbooks. Under its title ‘Sounds Interesting’ it has the gloss ‘Observations on English and General Phonetics’. It’s been, in the main nicely, printed by Cambridge University Press whose blurb writer’s remarks are thankfully restrained. The front cover has an essentially nondescript impression of a pair of spectacles and, to one’s relief, hardly the slightest hint of a tiresome distortion of an IPA symbol. Interspersed, are a dozen or so modest untitled drawings, each with some relevance to the text, including an aubergine, a goat, a (small) diplodocus, an albatross, a tortoise and two or three human beings. The artist’s surname is Davidson with a first name obvi·sly misprinted as ‘Lhinton’. PS I didnt ghess right there. In fact I liked the drawings so I  dropt the artist a line saying so... at the same time commenting on the literally peculiar spelling of his first name. As it turns out it, was quite intentional. He tells me that it was a whim of his parents to decide to make his name unique so that if he strayed away somehow he'd be easier to locate. Hence the silent aitch they inserted. Well why not? There've been loads of others in English spelling including in the better spelling of 'guess' that I just used. The OED records use of the spelling 'ghesse' for the word between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. It's quite a myst·ry how ghost got its perfec·ly pointless aitch. OED tries to blame Caxton. And there's a silent aitch possible at the hl in Alhambresque for which OED gives the second pronunciation. /ˌal(ə)mˈbrɛsk/. It's silent in Spanish Alhambra but the 'educated' English are so terrified of aitch dropping that they always put one into that Spanish name. And there's the name of Lhasa, capital of Tibet, south-western China.

    The text is divided into nearly 2,000 items in sections labelled 1. How do you say…? 2. English phonetics:theory and practice. 3. Teaching and examining. 4. Intonation. 5. Symbol shapes, fonts and spelling. 6. English accents. 7. English around the world. I was wondering what to say in brief about the book when I found that I agreed with and cou·dnt improve on the sentence by David Deterding on the back cover: “This delightful collection of fascinating anecdotes, keen observations about the ways things are pronounced and erudite reflections from his long and distinguished career as a phonetician will ensure that John Wells continues to be an inspiration not just for established linguists and students of phonetics but also for a wide range of readers with a general interest in language”. I shd on·y add that, tho it shou·d be okay for my usual readers, it might be at times tough going for anyone who hadnt got at least a moderate smattering of phonetics, as John cautions in his Preface. I was deli·ted to find numbers of things I'd somehow missed over the years. What a feast! Happy reading!

Blog 493

The 19th of March 2015

Weathermen PS 31

/`weðəmen/  People Speaking 31. Go to §3.1 on the main division of this website for soundfile.

1. /ˈhᴧˏləʊ. ˈhaʊ ˎɑ ju / Hullo. How are you?

2. /ˈaɪm `faɪn θaŋks|ˈhaʊ ə ˎ ju/ I’m fine, thanks. How are you?

3. /ˌɔlraɪt ˏrɪəli |bət ˌtu mᴧʧ tə ˈdu | an ˌtu lɪtl ˌtaɪm tə ˈdu ɪt ɪn |
            ˈaz -juʒuəl/.

Alright, really. But too much to do and too little time to do it in.
            As usual

The Bass (low and level) tones indicated are as much rhythmical as accentual. The two climactic Alts on the two occurrences of do are rather exceptional usages, as is the combination of Alt plus Mid in the final two-word phrase. Unlike all other climax tones, they are level not moving.

Describers of intonation have made rather heavy weather dealing with such level tones. The most popular way of referring to them is (after D. R. Ladd) as ‘stylised’ tones which isnt satisfactory. The problem is that there isnt a single unambiguous word in the English language that fits them simply because the ones that might’ve done so always immediately get twisted one way or another. As I see it, the nature of tones is that they convey not only information but simultaneously what may be called ‘emotiveness’. Moving tones indicate that we are (however slightly) ‘moved’: level tones that we are ‘unmoved’. But, as we see, as soon as we want a word for simple absence of any degree of emotion, however slight, the only existing words are all unusable from some degree of twisting. Apathetic shdve been okay from its etymology but it’s inescapably pejorative as are to some degree unmoved, uninvolved, unfeeling, listless, unconcerned, uninterested, detached etc or, at the other end of the scale, unperturbed, calm, serene, carefree etc.

(There are other level climax tones used for totally different reasons in remote speech, ie where one or both of the speakers are out of normal earshot, eg ˈYoo ˈhoo.)

Anyway, the attitudes referred to here arose out of the boring nature of a repeated routine activity.
4. /ˎ je[ː]s | ɪts ˈɔlwɪz  ə ˎseɪm ˎɪzn̩ ɪt|. / Yes. It’s always the same. Isn’t it.
        /`ˈ stɪl | ˈaɪm ˈglad | wiv gɒt ðə ˎwɪntə bəhaɪnd əs/.
        Still. I’m glad we’ve got the winter behind us.

5./ ˎjes/. Yes! This word is ‘muttered’.
                So, if a final /s/ is there at all,
                it’s so weak it might as well  be a /z/.
 / ˈwɒt ə ˏrɒtn | `sprɪŋ ðɪs ɪz | ˈðɪs ˎreɪn | tsəʊ `kəʊld/
                What a rotten spring this is! This rain. It’s so cold!
6. /`je[ː]s | ɪts ˈprɪti| ˎmɪzrəbl/  Yes. It’s pretty miserable.
        ./ `an ɪts | gəʊɪn tə bi ivn `kəʊldə | əʊvə ðə wik`ˏend | əkɔdɪŋ tə ðə `teləˏvɪʒn/
          and it’s going to be even colder over the weekend according to the telivision.

7. / ˈhu wz ˎðat| ˈʤak `skɒt | aɪ səpəʊz. Who was that? Jack Scott, I suppose.

8. / `jes |ˈhaʊ dɪd ju ˎges | /  Yes. How did you guess?

9. /ˎɑ ˎwel | ɪts ə ˈɔ(l)weɪz betə weðə | wɪð bɑbr̩ edwədz ju ˏˌnə/

    Ah! Well! It’s always better weather with Barbara Edwards, you know.

The /l/ is bracketed becoz it’s barely audible. The /r/ at the end of Barbara is so short it cd             equally well be shown as not syllabic.  The final word know has what I call a Rise-Bass tone ie a low rise that’s so narrow that it’s restricted to the bottom range of the speaker’s voice.

10 ˈn̩ɑ | ˈhᴧ ˈhᴧˈ hᴧ ˎhᴧ [These sounds of laughter are expressive but not words.]

Blog 492

The 20th of January 2015

The Roach Heresy

This is a reversion to the subject of my recent Blog 487 ‘The Walsh Stratagem’ which was about the consequences of the change of mainstream GB speakers’ target value in the middle of the last century fr·m [ɪ] to [i] for the final vowel of words like happy. I publisht a longish (over eight pages not including ref·rences) article entitled ‘HapppYland Reconnoitred’ in 1990 as a contribution to the ‘commemorative volume in honour of A. C. Gimson: Studies in the Pronunciation of English’ which was edited by Dr Susan Ramsaran who shortly afterwards transferred her allegiance from phonetics to theology. That article, very slietly revised, may be seen as Item 2 of Section 3 of the ‘Homepage’ main division of this website. At least it showed that the topic was far from a simple one. It was triggered mainly by a remark of Gimson’s at page 105 of the 1980 last edition he produced of his famous Introduction to the Pronunciation of English that “In final, unaccented positions as in city, Mary, lady, etc. /ɪ/ is increasingly replaced in the speech of the younger generations by a short variety of /iː/”. Over thirty years later that book is as invaluable as ever thanks to decades of adm·rable enlargement and development in the authoritative hands of Alan Cruttenden.

He makes a positive statement about the General British situation in the 2014 eighth edition of ‘Cruttenden’s Gimson’ at page 113 saying “A short /i/, i.e. a vowel nearer in quality to the long /iː/ rather than /ɪ/, is now the norm in GB finally in words like lady, .. donkey, prairie.” In his seventh edition at page 108 his opinion at that stage had been expressed cautiously saying that in final “unaccented positions e.g. in city, .. memory, coffee /ɪ/ is increasingly replaced by a short value of /iː/ by many speakers.” He had also added a comment on the fence-sitting position of ref·rence books saying “The latest editions of standard pronouncing dictionaries transcribe such words with [i] and thus avoid equating it with either /ɪ/ or /iː/.” In the new eighth edition he now joins them saying that, altho he prefers to treat it “as a word-final allophone of /ɪ/, it is nevertheless indicated in phonemic transcriptions, e.g. /`leɪdi/, and in the weak forms of he, she, we, me following the practice in the latest editions of the standard pronouncing dictionaries” (p.113). I sympathise with his not wanting to stay with disagreeable-looking strictly Gimsonian phonemic transcriptions like /`hapiː/ and /prəˈnᴧnsiː`eɪʃn/.

Altho Gordon Walsh, in 1978 Pronunciation Editor for the first edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, cunningly passed off as an economy his device of showing of the final vowel of happy etc as \-i\ allegedly because it cd be interpreted by pronunciational Americanists as [i] and Anglicists as [ɪ], he knew perfectly well that /i/ was rapidly becoming the mainstream GB value of that final sound. And that showing it as /`hapiː/ too uncomf·tably falsely suggested a diff·rent value which belonged with the final syllable of words like /`pedɪgriː/.

Anyway, I tend to think of Roach and Wells as having adopted the Walsh Stratagem. Roach, in 1983 in the first edition of his excellent popular textbook English Phonetics and Phonology, comparing (p.66) the alternative transcriptions \iːziː, bɪziː\ and \iːzɪ, bɪzɪ\ remarked that “Few speakers of RP seem to feel satisfied with any of these”. This adoption of the Walsh move he admitted went “against standard phoneme theory” and (showing how 'guilty' he felt) again emphasised that his recommendation was “no longer a true phonemic transcription in the traditional sense”. My feeling was that it was the superfluous colons that were the real cause of dissatisfaction when all the time they didnt even need to have them in their transcriptions. I suspect that, if people hadnt got accustomed to constantly seeing the colons Gimson saddled them with, the colon-free alternative transcription /`izi/ wouldntve bothered them. They’dve been able to acknowledge in their transriptions the fact that filigree and pedigree etc ended with a diff·rent value at their final syllables from what was to be heard in symmetry and mimicry by recognising that the diff·rence between them was prosodic rather than vocalic-phonemic. This cdve been simply conveyed by transcribing them /`fɪlɪˌgri/ and /`pedəˌgri/ with secondary stress marks by contrast with /`sɪmətri/ and /`mɪmɪkri/ without them. This is exactly what plenty of Americans actually do. Compare the two types of transcription in the online OED at pedigree: “Brit. /ˈpɛdᵻɡriː/, U.S. /ˈpɛdəˌɡri/”  and look at how the online Merriam-Webster shows filigree:  \ˈfi-lə-ˌgrē\”.

Item 5 of Section 5 of our Homepage wd give you even more on the topic of 'The Undesirability of Length Marks in EFL Transcriptions'. The only effect I think the colons have on learners is to be (in danger at least of) giving them a completely exaggerated impression of how long the vowels usually are to which people attach colons using the "standard" transcription. Learners dont get their pronunciations of vowels from dictionaries: they copy what they hear in their lessons etc.

It doesnt necessarily follow that GB speakers who usually say /`beɪbi/ will pluralise it as /`beɪbiz/. They may well say /`beɪbɪz/ or, at least in situations of emphasis, say /`beɪˌbiz/. I remember hearing that last very clearly from Richard Burton in the original British performance of Under Milk Wood and wondering whether people wd  perceive it as a General British pronunciation or as an appropriately Welsh regionalism. Cruttenden has newly mentioned, in the 2014 edition of his Gimson revision p.114, his impression that “When words with final /i/ take the suffix /-z/.. the /i/ usually changes to /ɪ/, e.g. memories /`memərɪz/, hurries /`hᴧrɪz/ but some speakers may retain the /i/, e.g. /`meməriz/, /`hᴧriz/, or the vowel may be intermediate between the two…” If this last suggestion is valid, it must be the pritty rare occurrence of speakers  making a three-way choice between the three such close-to-each-other close-front values /i, ɨ & ɪ/.

Blog 491

The 4th of December 2014

Foreign Place Names (ii)

The sixth of the LJ (Lloyd James) booklets reprinted photographically in the Collins, Mees & Carley Volume III of the series English Phonetics: Twentieth Century Developments, as we mentioned in our Blog 486, had a particularly long and int∙resting Introduction. One rather extreme remark in it was “…even casual observers cannot fail to notice that there is something ‘wrong’ with the average Indian’s pronunciation of English .. the general laxity of the performance, the absence of crisp articulation of consonants, and above all the astonishing difference in rhythm.” Little cou∙d he have imagined that a couple of generations later millions of people in Britain wd daily be having conversations by telephone with speakers (occasionally, one has to admit, more fluent than comprehensible) talking to them on various business matters from the Indian subcontinent. Certain remarks of LJ’s prompted the volume’s editors to comment with no exaggeration that he “reaches a degree of complexity probably far beyond the understanding of the majority of his readers”. One word choice of his, strange even to most phoneticians, was his use of the Sanskritist term ‘cerebral’ rather than the IPA ‘retroflex in ref∙rence to “the Aryans in India”.

LJ very sensibly recommended announcers tackling exotic words to aim for versions “as near an approximation to the native version as it is possible to perform when using speech-sounds that are purely English” but added quite rightly that exception “has to be made in the case of some foreign sounds that appear to be now within the capacity of the average educated speaker of English, viz., nasalized vowels not necessarily French in quality, and the ch sound in ‘loch’.” He went beyond that, one might say, when he prescribed in certain places “r must be pronounced” eg at Brno [ˈbərnou] and Trnovo [ˈtərnouvou], and [ʒ] and [x] to begin syllables eg at Rio De Janeiro [ˈriːou də ʒəˈneirou] and  Jerez [xeˈreθ].

LJ’s speech sounded quite like Daniel Jones’s (he was born three years later than him in 1884) but he didnt always, it seems, concur with Jones on what pronunciations were predominant in their day. He appeared to regard as the usual vowel of more the actually fast-fading diphthong /ɔə/, a version Jones observed, in his Outline of English Phonetics, that he personally never used at all. Wells in LPD1 of 1990 didnt even include it with a label like ‘old-fashioned’. It wasnt removed from the EPD until 1997 but it coudnt be heard from any BBC newsreader after the middle of the twentieth century except as a regionalism.

Some pritty surprising items among the ‘native pronunciations’ LJ gave included the information that Accra which we say as /ə`krɑ/ was by its citizens  uttered as [ŋkraŋ]! He noted that our /beŋ`gɔl/ for Bengal has rather diff∙rent vowels from the [bᴧŋgɑːl] of its inhabitants. We used at least get the stress right in our old version of Cadiz /`keɪdɪz/ but now we say /kə`dɪz/ for what Spanish people say as [`kaðiθ]. Another rather perverse-seeming stressing is our /alkə`zɑ/ for Spanish speakers' Alcázar [al`kaθar]. We similarly persist in saying Anda`lusia for Andalu`cia. We now, as its citizens do, usually stress the second syllable of Se`ville but we used to call it /`sevɪl/ and, as the Wells LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) remarks, still “usually” talk of ˈSeville `oranges. Modern media have made us familiar with the famous Galapagos Islands so we no longer presume from its spelling that it is /galə`peɪgɒs/ but have learned to say /gə`lapəgɒs/. LJ gave only the native-like front-strest version of Helsinki but it’s the stressing Hel`sinki which LPD and CEPD (the renamed Cambridge EPD) agree on showing first. Rather surprisingly the word was absent from Jones’s 1937 EPD. Other strikingly diff∙rently strest items we have include /valpə`raɪzəʊ/ for “[balparaˈiso]” ie Valparaiso and /vladi`vɒstɒk/ Vladivostok for “[vlədʲivaˈstok]” (in which I’ve replaced his now superseded symbol for a palatalised [d] with the modern IPA equivalent).

One item before which announcers must’ve quailed is the name of a port in the north of Portugal Leixoes which LJ gives as [ləɪ`ʃõɪʃ] with the ‘modified spelling’ version ‘layshó(ng)ish’ (with an acute accent over the strest vowel). Neither LPD nor CEPD contains this item nor even did ODP in 2001 tho it boasted a ‘Lusitanian Portuguese’ consultant. By the way, in respect of  /`laɪənz/ for the French city Lyon which we mentioned previously, I notice BBCG (the Olausson & Sangster Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation) in 2006 sed “..we have not recommended it for fifty years”. However, BBCG noted /rimz/ for Reims as an “established Anglicization”. Unknown today is LJ’s /tɪə`rɑn/ which was always Jones’s either sole version (even in his EPD new fourth edition of 1937) or his first in all the editions he was responsible for. It’s not to be found at all in either EPD or LPD today. Unsurprisingly LJ gave /mə`ʤɔkə/ for Majorca as did EPD until 1997. LPD1 in 1990 gave /mə`jɔkə/ first but has also always listed the variant /mə`ʤɔkə/ which cd well be labelled “old-fashioned” tho such a comment doesnt figure much in LPD, a kind of omission, like explicit grading of the degrees of commonness of variants, that’s one of the few desirabilities absent from that best of all English pronouncing diction∙ries.