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13/01/2017People Speaking 41 News at When?#529
02/01/2017More on Weakforms (xix) Let, Mrs, Monday, my#528
29/12/2016Names for a Dictionary#527
24/12/2016Hobby Horse#526
06/12/2016DOP by RAI#525
22/10/2016Some Nonsense Verses#524
23/08/2016Statistics Can't Lie. People Speaking 42#523
10/08/2016Weakforms (xviii) madam, many & me#522
01/08/2016People Speaking 40 Englishman in Russia#521
17/07/2016People Speaking 39 Name Dropper#520
16/07/2016Weakforms (xvii) it, January, just#519
29/06/2016No Glory for the Lory#518
09/05/2016People Speaking 38 Film Critics#517
03/05/2016Weakforms (xvi) I, if, I'll, I'm, in(to)#516
26/04/2016A Peculiar New Pronunciation Dictionary#515
18/04/2016People Speaking 37 Discord#514
16/04/2016Early Spelling Reform#513
25/03/2016KEYWORDS for English#512
09/03/2016Weakforms (xv) hundred#511

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Blog 529

The 13th of January 2017

People Speaking 41 News at When?

1.   ˈwɪʧ ˈdju | prəˎfɜ |  ˈbi bi ˈsi | ɔr aɪ ti ˎen.
       Which d’you prefer?  BBC or ITN?
    (ITN stands for Independent Television News)

2.   ðə `njuz proʊgramz ju ˈmin.
    The news programmes you mean?
    Books on English intonation aren’t likely to mention interrogative sentences ending with level tones but there’s clearly no pitch movement on the word mean here tho it sounds quite natural.

3.   `jes, ˏʧifli.
      Yes. Chiefly.

4.  oʊ aɪ doʊnt `maɪn wɪʧ.
     Oh I don’t mind which.
    Words ending /-nd/ very often lose the /d/ when a consonant follows.

5.  ˈaɪ ˈlaɪk | ðə ˎridəz ˏbest | ɒn ˈbi bi `si.
       I  like the  readers best  on B B C.

6.   ˈi ˎes | bət `naɪn ə ˌklɒks | ə ˈbɪt ˎɜli | fə ðə meɪn ˏnjuz |
     Yes, but nine o’clock’s  a bit  early for the main news.
    The ‘semivowel’ /j/ of yes being hesitatingly stretched becomes the vowel [i].

7.   ə ˎkwaɪt | aɪd `rɑðə hav ɪt ət ˎˏten| bət aɪm ˈglad | tə hav ðə ˎʧɔɪs |
     Er. Quite. I’d rather have it at ten, but I’m glad tə have the choice.
    Our vertical bar ‘|’ doesnt necessarily indicate any interruption where the speaker makes no sound but it does record a discontinuity, usually very slight, in the smoothness of the rhythmical flow. Here after glad the next three words don’t belong rhythmicly with the word they follow but with the ones they precede.

8.   ɪt ˈsoʊ ˎsɪli | havɪŋ ˎboʊθ əv ðəm ˏɒn | ət ˈten | tə ˎsɪks |
      It’s so silly having both of them on at ten to six

    ən ˈoʊvəˈlapɪŋ | wɪð bi bi si ˎˏsaʊnd.
    and overlapping with BBC sound.

     Any dictionary will correctly show the verb to overlap as having stresses on its first and last syllables, minor on the former and major on the latter. This will only be invariably true if the word is uttered in isolation. Here we hear that relationship reversed because, in the context of the word’s initiating the head to a falling-rising climax (aka 'nucleus') tone, the speaker chooses to give major stress to the former of the two stressed syllables.

Blog 528

The 2nd of January 2017

More on Weakforms (xix) Let, Mrs, Monday, my

Let: In very casual speech a form of Let with its final /t/ elided often occurs before 'me' or 'us' as in /'le mi `si/ Let me see or /'les av ə `goʊ/ Let's have a go.

EPD has always given only /`mɪsɪz/ for this. So has LPD except for including a ‘non-RP’ variant /`mɪsəz/. They have both ignored the existence of the common weakform /mɪsz̩/ and its assimilatory variant /mɪss̩/ which occur in sequences like Mrs Jones and Mrs Smith. This must at least in part account for the hard to explain commonness of the orthographic form ‘Missus’ which can hardly have mostly reflected a spoken form /`mɪsəs/. That wd be the common form in Ireland but very much less usual in the rest of the British Isles. 
Until modern phonetic analysis of English, notably by Henry Sweet, in the late nineteenth century there was hardly any awareness of syllabic /z/ or /s/, but the spelling Missus wdve fairly effectively represented what they were encountering when people actually heard /mɪsz̩/ etc. The spelling missus cd simply have become so common elsewhere that it was employed even when the unreduced form /`mɪsɪz/ was intended. For speakers in some non-southeastern parts of England and most of America the spelling does accord with a schwa value for the latter vowel. 
Henry Bradley, who edited the OED for M-words in 1907, entered missus only as a second spelling of the headword missis. He gave the pronunciations as (mi·sis, mi·sɒ̆s) /ˈmɪsɪs/ /ˈmɪsəs/. OED3, revised in 2002, listed at ‘missus’ the historical spellings ‘17–18 missess, 18 mizzes, 18– mis'ess, 18– mis's, 18– misses, 18– missis’ some of which were very likely to have been employed by writers who had heard /mɪsz̩/ or /mɪss̩/.  It currently gives the pronunciations Brit. /ˈmɪsᵻz/ and U.S. /ˈmɪsᵻz/, /ˈmɪsᵻs/. ODE (for this abbreviation see my Blog 527) gives only the one transcription /ˈmɪsɪz/,  The female who demonstrates it for OED3 has /ɪ/ in both syllables. The Longman Dictionary (LDOCE) at ‘missus’ gives only /ˈmɪsɪz/ which is clearly heard so spoken for British English. The same goes for the ‘Cambridge Dictionary’. (These days OALD sadly no longer gives free access to audio.)

Besides /məs(t)/ there is a common casual form /ms/ eg in I must go as /aɪ ms `goʊ/.

Like all the days of the week this has the extremely common weakform with final /-eɪ/ reduced to /-i/ as in Monday morning /ˈmᴧndi `mɔnɪŋ /.

The forms /mi, mɪ/ and /mə/ are now very casual, old-fashioned or humorous.
Examples are: Shiver my timbers! (a mock oath attributed in comic fiction to sailors’ OED) as /`ʃɪvə mɪ ˎtɪmbəz/, I’ll help myself /ɑl ˈhelp mə`self/ and I’m on my own /əm ˈɒn mi ˎoʊn/.

Blog 527

The 29th of December 2016

Names for a Dictionary

I’ve been finding it rather difficult to understand why Oxford University Press a couple of years ago took to referring to their principal single-volume printed dictionary in its online incarnation almost exclusively by the clumsy medium of Uniform Resource Locators the least expansive of which is the twenty-two-keyings-long ‘’. It’s very hard to see any value in this practice which is far less convenient than the three-letter abbreviation ‘ODE’ which they formerly used to refer to the work. The alternatives and require sev·ral more than twenty-two keyings. What’s more, OUP refer to the work in an unexplained variety of ways.

Anyway, whichever URL you use leads to a page with the words


followed by ‘sign in’ and icons for Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram. Then the next line begins with the latest Oxford Dictionaries ‘signature’. This has, white on a pale blue background, a bullet enclosed in a circle ⦾ with a break at its northeast. Letters to its right spell ‘English’ and below them thinner fainter ones spell Oxford Living Dictionaries (a feeble motto suggesting questions like ‘As opposed to Oxford lifeless dictionaries?’. Next we have THESAURUS again and a pointer which when selected discloses below choices saying                                   


To the right we see a slot with the invitation ‘Type word or phrase’ followed by a miniature keyboard ⌨ with on its right which being clicked opens up to offer

à á â ä ã ç è é ê ë ì í î ï ñ ò ó ô ö õ ù ú û ü æ œ ß.

Clicking on an arrow mainly converts these symbols to their upper-case forms (presented now for no apparent reason in a vertical line)

À Á Â Ä Ç È É Ê Ë Ì Í Î Ï Ñ Ò Ó Ô Ö Õ Ù Ú Û Ü Æ Œ SS   

[Only three of these are IPA authorised symbols but many of them are used in non-IPA systems of showing pronunciations used eg in American dictionaries.]

At the end of the slot where you type there is a red magnifying-glass icon clicking on which brings up definitions and explanations of items entered.

[Around these items various rather numerous commercial advertisements appear. The price we pay for the welcome ‘free’ use of the dictionary.]

Pronunciations may be heard by clicking on loudspeaker icons. There is an etymological section labelled ‘origin’ and another headed Pronunciation where phonemic transcriptions are supplied. A question mark in a circle when clicked brings up ‘Key to pronunciations (British and World English dictionary)’ What can we guess this bracketed designation to be but an alternative or substitution for ‘Oxford Dictionary of English’(ODE).

    A note next comments with some extremely unacceptable wording that ‘The pronunciations given represent the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England (sometimes called Received Pronunciation or RP), and the example words given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech’. Among scholars in general there are very few who accept the application of the term 'standard' to an accent of English. The word 'sometimes' as used here is an absurd understatement.

    At the dictionary, again identified by a URL, we see a historical note, under a heading Oxford Dictionary of English, saying ‘In 1998 a completely new title appeared: a new single-volume dictionary larger than the Concise… Access to large databases of language and new ways of looking at the English language’ prompted production of ‘a new dictionary, the New Oxford Dictionary of English now called simply the Oxford Dictionary of English’. This reached its third edition in 2010. It’s the ‘main source of the current Oxford range’. They dont mention that something very like this had appeared in 1995 with the title Oxford English Reference Dictionary. It’s likely that ‘ODE’ was too like OED not to cause confusion. A better solution wdve been to rename the ODE as the Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary English: ‘ODC’ wdve been less likely to’ve been a problem.]
    Then we see ‘'  a division that ‘focuses on current language and practical usage’. By contrast the OED, it tells us, shows how words and meanings have changed over time but this new dictionary (ODE) makes use of ‘real-world sentences derived from the ten-billion word Oxford English Corpus ... a huge databank of 20th and 21st century English’.
    This is followed by illustrated inserts on various popular entertainment topics more or less in the field of English dictionaries and clearly directed very largely at junior readers containing various items like ‘Quizzes and Games’. Their Blog, which can respond in detail to readers’ queries has a great deal of interesting content: it sports the motto ‘Oxford Dictionaries’. Finally, cross references are provided at ‘Help’ to other OUP materials. And other questions may be asked via ‘Contact us’.

Blog 526

The 24th of December 2016

Hobby Horse

I shd like it to be known by newcomers to these blogs that, by contrast with my practice on most of the ‘Homepage’ part of this website, I choose to treat these entries much as I have offen been accustomed to treat my diary, that is I spell as I please. This means that I often use unorthodox, rationalised spellings and abbreviations. I do so with no regular attempt at consistency because I like to experiment with how I feel about the appearance of various spellings. I invite readers to consider how they react to these unorthodoxies in the light of the consideration that if ever English spelling is to be reformed some of these types of reactions will probably be of importance. I refer readers to my blog 102 of the 11th of June 2008 and to the following:
Wise Words on Our English Spellings
I don’t go in for long quotations in these blogs but a lecture given long ago in America in September, 1909, at Columbia University, by the great Danish linguistic scholar Otto Jespersen  (1860-1943) that I’d no dou·t long forgotten but anyway have recently come across has to be an exception.
     ‘Everywhere the educated classes have more or less systematically for the last few centuries been doing everything in their power to prevent that readjustment of spellings to sound that is indispensable if the written language is to remain, or is again to become, what it was everywhere to begin with, a tolerably faithful picture of the spoken language. The present situation is one of a clumsy and difficult system of spelling that causes a miserable loss of time in all schools (and out of schools, too); much valuable time which might be used profitably in many other ways, is spent upon learning that this word has to be spelt in this absurd manner, and that word in another equally absurd way, and why? For no other apparent reason than that such has been the custom of a couple of centuries or more.
     Each new generation keeps up faithfully nearly all the absurdities of the preceding one, and as each new generation is bound to change the pronunciation of some sound and of some words, the gulf between the spoken and the written word is constantly widening, and the difficulty of learning how to spell is ever growing greater and greater. Now I know very well that it is not every phonetician who is a spelling reformer tho a great many are; but what I do maintain is, in the first place, that only a good phonetician can show what is to be reformed and what is to be the direction of change, because he alone knows what sounds to represent and how best to represent them’.
    He added some further very wise words I don’t remember seeing before I began my spelling experiments in these blogs:
    ‘Much would ... be achieved if scholars of renown, philologists, students of literature, and writers of books in general, would indulge in some individual spellings, ... These individual spellings need not be very numerous, nor should they be necessarily consistent, and the author need not give any other reason for his special heterodoxies than that they just suit his fancy. This would educate readers by showing them that different spellings need not always be marks of illiteracy, and that there may exist difference of opinions in this as well as in other respects without any fear of human society falling at once to pieces on that account’.
    I consider that instant total spelling reform that various cranks have advocated in the past wd simply bring about chaos but I do like to remind readers that very many spellings much more logical than many we use need not be inconvenient. My inclination is to rationalize the spellings of words only insofar as their ready recognition isnt impeded. I try to be helpful to readers of these blogs these days by using a pritty unobtrusive dot [·], something at least less obtrusive than ‘sic’, to reassure them that the irregular spelling they see is not an unintentional ‘typo’. I choose to avoid any respellings that stop readers in their tracks because they hinder comfortable comprehension of what I’m saying.
    I use this ‘middle’ dot occasionally when I prefer a spelling that unites two words that are usually divided because the spelling I prefer recognises their phonetic unity as when I prefer ‘not a·tall’ to ‘not at all’.
Sometimes I use a dot where I wish to indicate that my preferred pronunciation omits some sound that’s represented by the prescribed spelling but people dont use. An example is ‘solem·’ whose orthographic final ‘n’ is never normally used. Warning dots may not be used in cases where the spelling, altho unorthodox, is instantly and effortlessly comprehensible (as with sed for ‘said’, pritty (for traditional ‘pretty’ etc). I retain many phonetically obsolete spellings because they help to make words that contain them instantly recognisable eg ‘know’ cd be very inconvenient if ritt·n ‘no’.
Spelling Matters have also been delt widh at these postings:
010 Happy New Year etc
047 Spelling Reform
102 Spelling Reform - Feasible or Futile?
129 The Rigidity of English Spelling
172  Handwriting, Spellings and Sounds
173 Spelling Reform Experiments
224 The Future of English Spelling (i)
225 The Future of English Spelling (ii)
302 Rational Spellings
304 Free Spelling
370 Spellings in these blogs

Blog 525

The 6th of December 2016


I’ve long been rather int·rested in the Italian language for sev·ral reasons. My earliest exper·ence of it came from liss·ening with my father to our collection of gramophone records of fav·r·te music of which a good number were operatic arias sung in that language. It was also natural for someone who spent eight years studying Latin to be rather fas·nated to le·rn about what it turned into in its ‘home’ c·untry. While I was serving in the British Army and stationed within easy distance of Oxford I managed to enrol in a weekly ev·ning course on Italian given by a don whose name I have unfortunately long forgotten. I vividly remember how, when referring to various Italian words, he’d quote the forms that their Latin originals had taken in Spanish or Portuguese or French and even, if I remember rie·tly, on occasion Romanian. I found that wonderf·ly stim·lating.

    As a Cardiff undergraduate back in the postwar days when it was on·y 'University College' and a fraction of the size it's become, I opted to take courses in Italian. I cdnt say that they were well tau·t becoz the sole rather agéd lecturer seemed to throw us strai·t into Dante and Leopardi and I don’t remember any mention of anything of any sort of c·nsideration of Italian linguistics. Many ye·rs later, when I’d come to work at Leeds University, I was very happy to be ‘lent’ weekly to our Department of Italian for six years to give classes in its pronunciation to their undergraduates.
    I found two books in particular of great help to me in devising those co·rses. The main one was the work of pers·n who·d been a member of the Un·versity College London Department of Phonetics, my phonetic alma mater. She was Marguerite Chapallaz whose 1979 book ‘The Pronunciation of Italian: A practical introduction’ I found invaluable. The other was the 1969 edition of the ‘DOP’ ie the Dizionario D’Ortografia e di Pronunzia published by Radiotelevisione Italiana in the first place for guidance of their radio presenters and announcers. Its editors were Bruno Miglorini, Carlo Tagliavini and Piero Fiorelli leading scholars at Italian Universities. It was a substantial volume of over 1400 pages of clearly printed double columns. Fairly impressive tho it was, it became replaced by or rather evolved into, a far more ambitious version that was very much a library item that was so enlarged in form that it became two large handsome he·vy volumes really comf·tably handled on·y by laying th·m out flat on one’s desk. And we have to wait for a third such volume to see how they treat non-Italian entries.
    John Wells referred to that 1969 book in the preliminary Acknowledgments as the sole Italian one among the various pronouncing dictionaries he·d ‘frequently consulted’ in preparing his Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, which has inc·dentally long been the one book of any sort that I consult more of·en than any other except possibly the OED. Anyway —

                                                    ‘un dizionario enorme’ 

was the startlingly forren title of the Wells blog posting of the 19th of July 2010. This referred to ‘an unsolicited and unexpected package … A massive 5kg in weight …two volumes of a pronunciation dictionary from Radiotelevisione Italiana, entitled Dizionario italiano multimediale e multilingue d’Ortografia e di Pronunzia, or DOP for short…With 133 pages of introduction and 1253 pages of dictionary proper — large pages, almost as big as A4 — it’s an enormous work. The two volumes already published are claimed to cover 92,000 Italian lexical words and proper names; the third will cover 37,000 proper names and other words from some sixty different languages’. Admitting that he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, he continued saying ‘Why oh why don’t they use IPA? Instead, they use an idiosyncratic mishmash of a transcription system
    Like John, I felt some immediate dismay at the thau·t of having to face age·n the typographicly inferior set of symbols of the orig·nal RAI diction·ry in this reworking of this very worthy enterprise. I hazarded the comment following his posting that I suspected ‘that Piero Fiorelli the original junior collaborator ‘…who had been ‘a regular supporter of the IPA’, might well·ve been ‘outvoted on a proposal to use the IPA alphabet’. I was wrong but I think that praps the next piece of this story had best be saved for a later one of my pres·nt postings except praps to explain one small matter that puzzled me lit·rally for ye·rs namely the simple fact that ev·rywhere you see the comp·ny responsible for the this diction·ry referred to as RAI or Rai or La Rai unless as at length Radiotelevisione Italiana. The reason I speculated for a time was that inste·d of reducing it to RI they felt it more recognisable in a reduction of Radiotelevisione to ‘Ra’ using also the second letter of the long word as well a its initial letter. Yes, I was wrong agen. What’d happened was that when they changed the company name from Radio Audizioni Italiane to Radiotelevisione Italiana the initialism formed from the older name must obviously have become so ‘popular’ that they simply carried on using it.

Blog 524

The 22nd of October 2016

Some Nonsense Verses

The ˈsun was ˈshining ˈon the ˎsea,                 ðə sᴧn wə ʃaɪnɪŋ ɒn ðə si
      Shining with ˈall his ˎmight:                               ʃaɪnɪŋ wɪð ɔl ɪz maɪt
He ˈdid his ˈvery `best to make |                     hi dɪd ɪz veri bes tə meɪk
      The ˏbillows ˏsmooth and ˏbright |                      ðə bɪloʊz smuð əm braɪt
And ˈthis was `odd, because it `ˏwas |             ən ðɪs wəz ɒd bɪkəz ɪt wɒz
      The ˏmiddle ˏof the `night.                                  ðə mɪdl əv ðə naɪt

The `ˏmoon | was shining ´`sulkily, |               ðə mun wə(z) ʃaɪnɪŋ sᴧlkəli
      Because `she ˏthought | the `ˏsun|                       bɪkə(z) ʃi θɔt ðə sᴧn
Had ˏgot no ˏbusiness | to be `there |                (h)əd ɡɒt nou bɪznəs tə bi ðɛ
      After the day was ˏdone —                                ɑftə ðə deɪ wz dᴧn
It's `very ˎrude of him, she said,                       ɪts veri rud əv ɪm ʃi sed
      To come and spoil the ˏfun.                                 tə kᴧm ən spɔɪl ðə fᴧn

The ˈsea | was ˈwet as ˈwet could ˎbe,                ðə si  w(ə)z wet əz wet kəd bi
      The `ˏsands | were ˈdry as ˎdry.                         ðə san(d)z wə draɪ əz draɪ
You ˈcould not `see a `ˏcloud,| be`ˏcause          ju kʊdn(t) si ə klaʊd bɪkɒz
      ˈNo ˈcloud | was in the `sky:                               noʊ klaʊd w(ə)z ɪn ðə skaɪ
ˈNo ˈbirds| were `ˏflying | over`ˏhead |              noʊ bɜdz wə flaɪ.ɪŋ əʊvə hed
      There `were no birds `to fly.                             ðɛ wɜ noʊ bɜdz tu flaɪ

The ˈWalrus and the ˎCarpenter                        ðə wɔlrəs ən ðə kɑpɪntə
      Were walking close at ˏhand;                          wə wɔkɪŋ kloʊs ət hand
They ˈwept like `anything to see                       ðeɪ wept laɪk enɪθɪŋ tə si
      Such `ˏquantities of `ˏsand:                             sᴧʧ kwɒntətiz əv sand
If `this were `only `cleared a`way,'                   ɪf ðɪs wər oʊn(l)i klɪəd əweɪ
      They ˏsaid, | ˈit ˎwould be ˎgrand!'                    ðeɪ sed ɪt wʊd bi grand

If ˈseven ˎmaids | with seven `ˏmops                 ɪf sebm meɪdz wɪð sebm mɒps
      ˎSwept it for ˎhalf a `ˏyear,                                 swept ɪt fə hɑf ə jɪə
Do ˈyou supˈpose, | the ˏWalrus said, |                də ju səpoʊz  ðə wɔlrə(s) sed
      That they could get it `ˏclear?                            ðət ðeɪ kəd get klɪə
`I ˎdoubt it, said the ˏCarpenter, |                      aɪ daʊt ɪt sed ðə kɑpɪntə
      And ˌshed a `bitter `ˏtear.                                       ən ʃed ə bɪtə tɪə

These lines are offer·d for study. The ones on the left are provided in ord·nary spellings but accompanied by simple tone markings so th·t attention c·n be concentrated on the intonations used which in this case are rather diff·rent fr·m what you hear if the speech is ord·nary conversation.

The last line of the third stanza shows the peculiarity of the preposition ‘to’ being strest & consequently taking a strongform in a uniquely English way becoz emphasis is being put on this essentially meaningless ‘to’ which is nothing but a prefixal unattached adjunct identifying the grammatical fact that the verb ‘fly’ is here automaticly being used in its infinitive form. The choice of emphasis on this occasion is becoz it’s such a strong feeling on the part of English speakers that any of them at any time might well feel it totally inappropriate to be re-accenting a word that’s already been accented so very little earlier. On the other hand many speakers wd ignore the ‘rule’ and, preferring a more satisfying rhythm, say

There `were no birds to `fly.

The lines on the right show pronunciations without the sim·ltaneous distraction of prosodic markings. The symbols in brackets indicate omissions th·t’re very common in conversational speech tho not invar·ably made. Other elisions shown are what you usu·lly hear in conversational styles of speaking. The brackets around the ell of the word only in line 5 of the third stanza are there becoz it’s perficly common in an ell-less form. See my Blog 397.

Blog 523

The 23rd of August 2016

Statistics Can't Lie. People Speaking 42

The Intonation Notation

Readers are cautioned that speakers are so imprecise in the way that they operate their use of pitch patterns that transcribers are constantly obliged, in order to produce a reasonable degree of simplification, to represent them in ways that make arbitrary choices between diff·rent possible representations.

Those not familiar with the tone marks used here might like to note that the unmarkt word (or syllable) beginning any (new) tone phrase is to be taken to be pitcht at the ‘neutral’ level ie at the top of the bottom third of the speaker’s ordinary vocal range. This might be referred to as ‘lowish’ as opposed to ‘very low’.

A level tone in the speaker’s top third range is represented by the mark / ˈ / which, placed before for example an ‘m’, shows like this / ˈm /. This tone I find it convenient to call an Alt, pronounced /alt/.

When a tone phrase is felt to have been completed, because there isnt a completely smooth flow in the rhythmic transition to any next word, the rhythmic-break mark “|” is interposed before what follows.

The tone-mark /ˎm / I call a Slump. It denotes a descending movement approximately confined to the speaker’s lowest-third of voice range.

The mark /ˏm/, called a Rise, denotes an ascending movement starting within the speaker’s bottom third range and ending above that range without reaching as far as its top third.

The ascending tone which also begins in the bottom third but remains within that low range I call the Rise-Bass /beɪs/ shown as /ˏˌm /.

1. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time.
    / ðeɪ ˈhadn | ˎsin  iʧ ˏᴧðə  |  fər ə ˈlɒŋ ˎtaɪm /

2. The first lady said to the second, she said,
    ðə ˈfɜst ˏleɪdi | sed tə ðə ˏˌsekənd | ʃi ˎsed |

3. ‘My dear, I’m being awfully silly
      maɪ ˈdɪə | aɪm biŋ ˈɔflɪ ˎˏsɪlɪ |
The ‘complex’ final tone here is the combination Slump-Rise.

4. but how many children have you got?
   ˈbət |ˏhaʊ meni `ʧ(ɪ)ldrən hav ju gɒt |

5. I’ve quite forgotten.
    aɪv ˏkwaɪt fə`gɒtn |

6. And the other one ... er ..  said,  er .. I’ve got three.
      ən   ði  `ᴧðə  wᴧn | [ˈɜ] | ˎsed | [ˈɜ] | ˈaɪv ˈgɒt `θri /
Here, of two Alts, as usual the second Alt is slightly lower than the first.

7. I’m not going to have any more.
  aɪm ˈnɒt  gəʊn (t)ə | hav eni `ˏmɔ /
We see that the Fall and the Rise occur together in a combination (called a ‘Fall-Rise’) even on a word of one syllable.

8. And er .. oh  first lady said Well that is surprising!
    and [ᴧ] | ˎəʊ | ði [ᴧ] `pfɜs ˏleɪdi ˈsed | ˈwel ðat ˎɪz səpraɪzɪŋ |

9. From what you used to tell me, I always imagined you were going to
      frm `wɒt | `tju | `justə ˏtel mi  | `aɪ ɔlwɪz ɪˏmaʤɪn | ju wə gəʊɪŋ tə

10. have a really large family’.
      hav ə rilɪ `lɑʤ famlɪ
The /ɪ/s arent old-syle GB but slight regionalisms from this speaker. Non-regional (ie GB) usage is /i/ at these word endings,

11. Oh, yes. That’s quite true.   
       ˈəʊ ˎ jes | ˈðats ˈkwaɪt `tru | The second of these two Alts is again lower.

12. But you see I’ve just been reading
       bət  ju `si |  aɪv ˈʤᴧs ˈbin ˎridɪŋ |

13. some sta`tistics ..  and I see by them that
      sᴧm | stə`tɪstɪks | ˎan aɪ `si baɪ ˎðem | ðət

14.  every fourth child born is a Japanese!
        ˈevri  `fɔθ   ʧaɪl  ˏbɔn | ɪz ə ˎʤapə`niz/

Regarding being in line 3, one sometimes hears it sed that English phonology doesnt permit /i/ preceding /ŋ/ in the same syllable but that isnt true of this form of being. It’s braut about by elision of the /ɪ/ of its lexical form.

In line 7 the bracketed (t) wd be expected to be a /t/ but isnt like an ord·nary one but as much like a /d/.

This passage shows a variety of the forms taken by the conjunction and. Its  usual form when unstrest is /ən/ which we see at the beginning of line 6. Its rarest form unstrest is its strong form phonemicly /and/ which occurs at the beginning of line 8 where its unusual occurrence is clearly explainable as having more of a function as a hesitation signal than as a conjunction. It also quite often occurs in the form /an/ even when strest as at line 13.

The transcription is phonemic except where square brackets surround the phonetic symbols ᴧ and ɜ to convey hesitation noises that only roughly resemble the phonemic values of those symbols. In line 8 the speakers attempt to say first involves a slip of the tongue in which a [p] precedes its articulation resulting in his normal /f/ being replaced by a [pf] sequence reminiscent of the German bilabial affricate consonant.

Blog 522

The 10th of August 2016

Weakforms (xviii) madam, many & me

Very few uses of the term of address ‘madam’ are to be heard these days except in relation to mature customers in relatively upmarket shops etc where no weakform of the word is normal. The case of addressing the Queen, as /mam/ seems to be a unique exception. At least this is what those meeting her are recommended to use by palace authorities.

Not a General British usage but a quotational borrowing from popular American parlance is ‘Wham (alternatively ‘slam’) bam thankyou ma’am’. This somewhat improper saying is of linguistic int·rest because, tho usually so spelt, it is not uttered with the long vowel that the two a’s might be taken to betoken but regularly as /mam/ as its rhyming confirms.

When Henry Sweet came to make the historic first-ever identification of English ‘weak forms’ his list of 63 items in his 1885 Elementarbuch des gesprochenen Englisch didnt contain those of either ‘any’ (on which see our Blog 436) or ‘many’. Daniel Jones in the first edition of his Outline of English Phonetics (1918) at Section 497 for ‘many’ gave two ‘weak forms’ for it illustrating its use in  How many more as / ˊhauməni ˊmɔ: / or / ˊhaumni ˊmɔ:/ but neither he nor subsequent editors have included mention of such forms in any editions of the EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary) or the CEPD  (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary). Nor has the OED. Gimson (1980:263) remarked of any and manythat ‘reduced  unaccented forms may be heard in rapid speech’ (a regrettable term because the phenomenon is not characterised essentially by rapidity but the stylistic feature one might better identify as relaxation) but he didnt include them when he revised EPD. By contrast the Wells LPD has from its 1990 first edition included the comment ‘There are occasional weak forms məni, mni (esp. in how many)’.

There’s gen·ral agreement to include ‘weak forms’ of me in pronunciation dictionaries but there has sometimes been some confusion regarding their notation. This has been because over the same mid twentieth-century  period there was a change in predominant notational practice of GB and a change in its pronunciation which were quite distinct from each other. The change in pronunciation was exemplified in a word like city which by General British types of speakers for the generations of successively Jones and Gimson that word was by the majority perceived as having exactly the same vowel (phoneme) in both of its two syllables. That vowel was transcribed by Jones in his EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary) as in /'siti/ but preferred by Gimson in the notation /'sɪtɪ/. Both spoke the word in the same way.

From the middle of that century onward GB speakers came to increasingly tend to make the final vowel of such words and other comparable ones more like the fleece vowel, so that they came to be markedly diff·rent.   Jones assigned the vowel of his ‘weak form’ of me, which he transcribed as /mi/, to the vowel phoneme which latterly people are most accustomed to see with the /ɪ/ with which Gimson replaced Jones’s /i/ in his extensively revised thirteenth edition of the EPD of 1977, the relevant entry containing ‘mɪ freq. weak form’. When in 1990 J. C. Wells’s LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) first appeared, by contrast with the EPD the newly predominant vowel of the final syllable of words like happy was transcribed not with /ɪ/ but the now more appropriate phonemically diff·rent /i/.

At the 1997 fifteenth edition of the EPD, for the first time edited principally by Peter Roach, the notation that appeared for the ‘weak form’ of me was  \mɪ\. However,  by the seventeeth (C)EPD edition, the single ‘weak form’ given had been brought up to date as \i\. This was not a mere change of preferred symbol for the same sound but a well justified if slightly belated bringing in line of this word with happy-type words of the CEPD.

The OED gives Brit. /miː/, /mi/, /mɪ/ not very unreasonably suggesting that it’s possible to recognise a second ‘weak form’. The audio illustrations for the ‘Brit.’ strong and first weak forms seem to differ in nothing but speaker and no audio is given for the second ‘weak form’. The 2001 Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (which is after some considerable time about to reappear renamed and from a diff·rent publisher) gave /mɪ/ as the only weak version which will perhaps now be changed to reflect more current usage.




Blog 521

The 1st of August 2016

People Speaking 40 Englishman in Russia

 / ˈɪŋglɪʃmən | ɪn ˎrᴧʃə /  

The vertical bar ‘|’ in any of these transcriptions indicates a discontinuity in 'prosody' (a word meaning essentially rhythm-&-intonation) of either an interval of silence which may at its briefest be so short as to be barely sensed, or a break in the smooth flow of consecutive pitches with no necess·ry silent interval whatever. Our title would quite offen be spoken in one of these ways ie in two prosodic phrases. The more marked the interval, the more likely it is to sound rhetorical.

The text that the actor performed from was noted down from the words of a well-known broadcaster as follows:

I went in to the bathroom late at night — no clothes on — to take an Alka-Seltzer after far too many vodkas. And there, sitting in my bath, was an elderly Chinaman washing his toes. So I said ‘Hi!’ in English, and he said ‘Hi!’ in Chinese — which sounds much the same. Of course I hadnt realised that these bathrooms serve two bedrooms. Unless you lock the door on the other side, the chap can get through. Well the next day, unfortunately, our interpreter said that the President of the Outer Mongolian People’s Republic had been insulted in his bath by a drunken nude.

    In line 1 of this monolog you can hear at the word bathroom that it’s being spoken in what is called (as I prefer to use the term) a ‘weakform’ ie a variant pronunciation that has come about by speakers’ uttering it with reduced articulatory effort. LPD (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) gives the word as most often used with the weakly stressed vowel of its latter syllable the /u/ phoneme but records also the existence of a weakform where speakers replace that vowel with the shorter and less closely rounded /ʊ/. These days, especially among younger GB (General British) speakers, we increasingly hear a further weakened form with, as here, the schwa vowel — if not something in between /ʊ/ and /ə/.

    Our transcription uses / ˈ / to indicate a (level) upper pitch and / ˌ / for a (level) lower pitch.
It leaves a middle level pitch unmarked. The word ‘late’, beginning the second prosodic phrase in line 1, is thus to be taken as uttered at a level pitch that’s not markedly high or low.
The tempo of this narration is quite brisk.

    1. aɪ ˈwent ɪn tə ðə ˎbɑθrəm | leɪt ət ˏnaɪt | nəʊ ˏkləʊðz ɒn |

    2. (tə) ˈteɪk ən ˈalkə ˎseltsə | ɑftə `fɑ | tu ˏmeni `vɒtkəz | ən `ˏðɛ |…

The absence of the grammaticly required word ‘to’ /tə/ at the beginning of line 2 sounds like an elision tho it cou·d possibly have been articulated without being audible. Curved brackets around any sound transcribed indicate that it’s so unclear that it’s guessed rather than he·rd. Successive Alts (upper level tones) are to be taken as slightly stepping downwards. The vowel of the word ‘far’ is quite long which is a common value of segments preceding a break.

    The pronunciation of the word ‘vodka’ clearly has no phoneme /d/ corresponding to its orthographic <d>. In fact it’s a /t/ though not in the most characteristic realisation of that phoneme (which has aspiration following it). Of course, that realisation isnt to be expected here because we normally only get an ‘incomplete’ /t/ before a plosive consonant. Only /d/ and no variant form such as we find here is recorded for the word ‘vodka’ in any of even the major pronunciation dictionaries, yet this /t/ sounds hardly at·all unusual. It’s obvi·sly the result of an anticipative asssimilation.

    The final phoneme in line 2 is one that most dictionaries of GB still represent as /ɛə/. Diphthongal [ɛə] was its usual Victorian value very widely to be heard also in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Some older speakers such as the BBC television wildlife presenter David Attenborough (now 90) can still be he·rd to use it. However, by the second half of the century it was mainly only he·rd as a diphthong when strest and word final. We can hear that it was non-diphthongal [ɛː] even on a strest bi-directional (fall-rise) tone from this actor who was speaking in 1977.

    3. ˈsɪtɪŋ ɪn maɪ ˏbɑθ | wəz ən ˈeldəli ˎʧaɪnəmən | wɒʃɪŋ ɪz ˎtəʊz |

    The word ‘chinaman’ is no longer used to refer to a chinese person except quite disrespectfully. Here its use indicates the speaker’s irritation. The vowelled weakform /wəz/ is the normal form of ‘was’ before a following vowel. Before a consonant, as in for instance ‘He was cross’ /hi wz `krɒs/, the vowelless form is quite usual.

    4. səʊ aɪ sed `haɪ | ˈɪn ˏɪŋglɪʃ | ən ˈhi sed haɪ ɪn ʧaɪ`niz |

The second prosodic phrase in line 4 has a humorous effect because its combination of Alt plus (Low) Rise is strongly associated with reassuring someone as typically in expressions like ‘Don’t worry’ or ‘As you’d expect’.

    5. (ɪt) saʊn(z) (laɪk) ðə ˎseɪm. | ə `kɔs ˈaɪ ˈhad (ə) `rɪəˏlaɪz |

At this brisk pace it’s not surprising that certain sounds are utter·d unclearly or omitted altogether.

    6. ðət ˈðiz ˏbɑθrʊmz | sɜv tu `bedrʊmz. | ənˈles ju `lɒk | ...

The break after ‘lock’ here is a marked rhetorical effect rather characteristic of socially conspicuous (aka ‘posh’) speech.

    7. ðə ˎdɔr | ɒn ði ᴧðə `ˏsaɪd | ðə ˈʧap kən get `θru |

The word ‘chap’ is usable, like ‘fellow’, as an informal synonym for male person.

    8. ə(n) ðə ˈneks `deɪ | nˏfɔʧənətli | ˈɑr ɪn ˎtɜprəˏtə |

The word ‘our’, is little used in the form its spelling suggests /aʊə(r)/ even when accented. GB speakers use /ɑ(r)/ or less offen /ɑə(r)/. 

   9. ˈsed ðət ðə ˈprezədənt | əv ði ˈaʊtə mɒŋˈgəʊliən |

   10. ˈpiplz rɪˎpᴧblɪk | əd bin ɪnˈsᴧltɪd ɪn ɪz ˏbɑθ |

   11. baɪ ə ˈdrᴧŋkən `nju(d) |

The last two words of line 11 are no dou·t utter·d with their rather falsetto quality to reinforce the humorous suggestion of indignation. The final /d/ of the word ‘nude’ is unusually articulated by not being audibly released. Its alveolar closure is probably made by the speaker tho hardly detectable.

Blog 520

The 17th of July 2016

People Speaking 39 Name Dropper

/ `neɪm drɒpə/

1. / ´hav ju ˈsin ðə ˏpleɪ /   Have you seen the play?

2. / `wɒt pleɪ. ði ɪmˈpɔtns əv biɪŋ `ˏɜnɪst /  What play?  The Importance of Being Earnest?

3. / `nəʊ. ˈə ˏweɪst | əv `mᴧni /    No. A Waste of Money.

4. / ðəz ˎnəʊ pleɪ kɔld  ˎˏ ðat. /  There’s no play called that.

   /  `nɒt ə ˎweɪst | əv ˎˏmᴧni. /   Not A Waste of Money.

     / ju ˈmᴧs ˈmin | ə ˈteɪst əv `hᴧni/. You must mean A Taste of Honey.

5. / ˈəʊ | `ðats (ð)ə neɪm ɒv ɪt, ˏɪz ɪt /  Oh! That’s the name of it, is it?

      ˈhu | `rəʊt ðə θɪŋ/   Who wrote the thing?

6. /ə ˈjᴧŋ `manʧəstə gɜl./  A young Manchester girl.

      /ɔr  ət eni reɪt ʃi `wɒz wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt. /  Or at any rate she was when she wrote it.
    /´`veri jᴧŋ | ˈstɪl ɪn hə `tinz  aɪ bəliv ɪn fakt. /  Very young. Still in her teens, I believe, in fact.

7. /ˎrɪəˈli | ju ə`meɪz mi./  Really? You amaze me.

The title is a feeble pun on senses of the verb ‘ to drop’. One refers to the man’s failiure to ‘catch’ the proper name of the play ie he fails to perceive or hear it properly. The other sense refers to a person who draws attention to the fact that he/she personally knows certain important persons by ‘dropping’ ie ‘casually’ bringing into a conversation their names.

The play referred to in the second speaker-turn is of course the famous comedy by Oscar Wilde which itself is another demonstration of the Englishman’s weakness for punning.

Turn 4 begins with a weakform of ‘there’s’ which is a reduction of the phrase  there is /ðɛr ɪz/.

At Turn 5 the bracketed /ð/ means that the sound is either so weakly articulated as to be too difficult to hear or has been omitted completely.

At Turn 6 the pronunciation /`manʧəstə/ may be for this speaker a choice of a weakform of the word for greater rhythmical ease in this context when otherwise she sez it as /`manʧestə/ as her regular pronunciation of the word. This latter probability is the less likely.

At Turn 6 with non-advanced students one might’ve thaut it most helpful to transcribe ‘when she wrote it’ not like this /wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt/ but like this /wen ʃi `rəʊt ˏɪt/ because not marking the word ‘it’ as rising mightve been puzzling. ‘It’ does rise but not coz the speaker wants to emphasise ‘it’. She wants to emphasise ‘wrote’ but at the same time wants at least to hint that there is another idea she has in mind which she doesnt want to go into at the moment.

Blog 519

The 16th of July 2016

Weakforms (xvii) it, January, just

The LPD comment at ‘it’ that there is ‘no distinct weak form in RP’ is fair enuff. But occasionally it’s possible to hear it in casual GB speech as simply / ɪ /. I’ve noted it before /w/ in ‘It was…’ and it can occur before some other consonants as a reduction of an assimilated sequence /ɪt ˈmeɪɪm ˈmeɪ ɪ ˈmeɪ…/. It does seem capable under minimal stress of weakening to /ɪd/ but not to [ɪɹ] that is with the approximant [ɹ], the ordinary GB /r/, that’s increasingly often heard in casual utterances of get, put and a few other monosyllabic function words ending with /t/ after a short vowel.

For any new readers, or old ones that forget, I shd mention that I prefer to use the word ‘weakform’ not for an unaccentable form of a word but for a variant (which may well be accented) that has developed from the original form of the word by reduction of its articulation.

For comments on expressions like it is as /tɪz/ and it was as /twɒz/ I refer the reader to my Blog 238. Occasionally it becomes very weakly articulated losing its vowel /ɪ/ and so becoming sentence-initially simply / t / eg in  /tɒvɪsli `msnt/ It obviously mustnt. Sentence-initial, so strest as to be accented ’Tis /ˌtɪz/ and ’Twas / ˌtwɒz/  are markedly archaic in style as in eg Jabberwocky
/ ˈtwɒz | `brɪlɪɡ | and ðə ˈslaɪði ˈtoʊvz |…etc
But if the style is very casual and the stress is of the weakest kind then one can hear eg I knew it wasnt true as /aɪ `nju twɒzn tru/.

January, when the first months of the year are spoken briskly and casually. may often take a bisyllabic weakform as in / ˈʤanri, ˈfebri ˏmɑʧ…/ ie January, February, March...

Just is recorded in LPD as an adverb with three strongforms /ʤᴧst, ʤəst & ʤest/ and with two weakforms /ʤəst/ and a second /ʤɪst/ which last is ‘sectioned’ (with §) so that we gather Wells doesnt classify it as a GB usage. I agree that from urban speakers it sounds rather markedly southeastern-regional. Of course any word ending with /-st/ will have a common weakform with the /t/ elided before most closely following consonants. What you cannot count on findng at just any dictionary entry is the fact that the adverb, in any of its three forms, may elide its /t/ even before some (weakly strest) vowels.
Examples wd be Just as I say… as /ʤəs əz aɪ `seɪ…/ or Just ask him as / ˈʤəssk ɪm/.

The very common adjective little can be he·rd from GB speakers with its /t/ articulated sometimes in a manner comparable to a typical General American way which some US dictionaries (not uncontroversially) and OED transcribe as /lɪdl/ something in LPD termed ‘voiced t’ and in CEPD ‘flapped t’, both books transcribing it with  t accompanied by a subscript ̬.

Anything like a fully strest word such as middle and a very weakly strest little wd not be felt to be a very natural rhyme by most GB speakers.
A notable occurrence in GB is of very weakly strest  use of the adjective little as a sort of emotive enclitic, rhythmically attached to adjectives like nice, dear, lovely etc.
I ˈdont ˈmind a `small ˏhouse | but it ˈmust ˈbe a `nice small house. ˈNot ˈjust `any small ˏhouse |
They live in a very `nice-little house. — It’s a `lovely-little house, I a`gree.

Blog 518

The 29th of June 2016

No Glory for the Lory

Our old fr·end Tami Date has written to some of his colleagues as follows:

Many teachers concur that drama is a very useful means of practicing English intonation, but non-native teachers often experience a big problem with expressions said with set or idiomatic intonation, one of which is “I beg your pardon!” as in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland Chapter 3.
At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out,
“Sit down, all of you, and listen to me... ”
”Ugh!” said the Lory, with a shiver. [A lory is a kind of parrot.JWL]
I beg your pardon!” said the Mouse, frowning, but very politely. “Did you speak?”
“Not I!” said the Lory hastily.
“I thought you did,” said the Mouse.
As far I know, the phrase in question, in addition to the standard falling tone, can be said with three other approximate ones but when it comes to the above passage, it seems to me that (iii)  is the most appropriate one. What do you think?

(I imagine that by‘standard falling tone’ Tami means: I ˈbeg your ˎpardon)

A set of impressionistic drawings he supplied I interpret, in my usual broad notation, as
 (i) I ˏbeg your ´pardon   (ii) I ´`beg your ˎˏpardon   (iii) ´I  `beg your ˏpardon
A rebuking manner can of course be produced by various effects of voice quality, loudness and/or tempo accompanying any of the four intonations mention. And a serious rebuke wd gen·rally be uttered with a rather ‘tight’ voice quality and with a ‘deliberate’ rhythm. But, assuming a maximally neutral style with no such features:

(ii) seems the most appropriate because of the wide range of its pitches giving a very emphatic effect, quite vehement at the high climbing-and-falling tone on beg.

Next most likely is:

(iii) on account of the slightly surprised effect of the first (high climbing) tone on I and
    also coz that first word has rather special prominence since it’s usually toneless in such a phrase.

For good measure here’s the excerpt with a full set of intonations and a phonemic transcription:

ˈAt ˏlast | the `ˏMouse, /at lɑst ðə maʊs,
who seemed to be a person of au`thority aˏmong them,
| ˈcalled ˈout, |
hu sim(d) tə bi ə pɜsn əv ɔθɒrəti əmŋ ðm, kɔld aʊt
“ ˈSit ˎdown, `all of you, | and ˈlisten to ˎme... ”
sɪt daʊn ɔl əv ju ən lɪsn tə mi
“ `Ugh” said the Lory with a shiver.

[ɵɣ] sed ðə lɔri wɪð ə ʃɪ  
“I `beg your `ˏpardon!” | said the ˏMouse, `ˏfrowning,
but `very po`ˏlitely.
aɪ beg jɔ pɑdn sed ðə maʊs fraʊnɪŋ bət veri pəlaɪtli
“ ˈDid you ˏspeak?”
dɪd ju spik
“ `Not `ˏI!” | said the ˏLory | ˎˏhastily.
nɒt aɪ sed ðə lɔri heɪstɪli
“ ˈI ˏthought you `did,” said the Mouse.

aɪ θɔt ju dɪd, sed ðə maʊs /

Blog 517

The 9th of May 2016

People Speaking 38 Film Critics

1.  / ˈdɪʤu ˈevə ˈsi  | ˈkat | ɒn ə hɒt tɪn ˎˏruf /

     Did you ever see Cat  On a Hot  Tin  Roof?

In ordinary conversation, such coalescence of the final /d/ of did
with the the initial yod of you to produce /ʤ/ is completely normal.

The Alts (upper level tones) form a sequence with two steps down.
The break ‘|’ before cat means that we begin a new tone phrase
whose single word therefore moves to an upper level pitch that is
higher than the previous stepped-down Alts but in this case happens
not to be such a very high pitch as she used for her first word.

The rhythmic break after ‘cat’ is very slight.

2. / ðə ˈfɪlm ˈvɜʒn | əv ˈpʊsɪz rɪˎven(ʒ) | baɪ ˈklɔd ˏhænz /

   The  film version  of  Pussy’s  Revenge by Claude Hands?

The word version hasnt been recorded earlier than the 16th century.
As a loan from French it initially retained a voiceless value /s/ for its ess.
Eventually the sequence /sj/ coalesced into /ʃ/. It then remained only
as /`vɜʃn/ for Walker (1791) and Sheridan (1780) in the 18th century and
also for OED editor Craigie in 1917 and in the same year for Jones in his EPD1.
In the course of time, an apparent anticipatory assimilation to the voicedness
of the final /n/ by some speakers began converting the /ʃ/ to a /ʒ/. This variant
was first recorded for GB by Gimson in the 1967 13th EPD. British
lexicographers have since all included the /ʒ/ variant in second place.
Kenyon in 1944 and the subsequent Webster dictionaries have all indicated
it as the usual choice of GA speakers.

    The (genitive/plural type) second vowel of /`pʊsɪz/ which was predominant
in GB in the first half of the last century now seems to’ve  become the less usual
choice than /`pʊsiz/.

The man is making a jokey pun here based on the fact that
the name /klɔd/ coincides in pronunciation with the past tense
of the verb ‘claw’ ie ‘scratch’ which cats are notorious for.
The simplification of /handz/ to /hanz/ is completely normal.

3. / `veri ˏˌdrəʊl | `ɪt wz baɪ | ˈtenəsi `wɪljəmz ɪn fakt /

      Very droll!      It was by   Tenessee Williams, in fact

Her ‘Rise-Bass’ (as I call it) tone at the word droll isnt a common one.
Unlike the low-to-mid ordinary Rise, which  usually sounds fr·endly,
this rise hardly moves at all from the gloomy ‘Bass’ register indicating
her displeasure which might’ve even amounted to irritation.

4. /aɪ rɪ`membr ɪt | ˈəʊld`wɒtsəneɪm wz verɪ ˌgʊd ɪn ɪt |

      I   remember it. Old What’s-her-name  was very good in it.

The elisions here of the third vowel of ‘remember’, the aitch of ‘her’
and vowel of ‘was’ are all in completely normal conversational style.

     ˈðats |  ði ˌəʊnli ˌgʊd ˌθɪŋ  | ʃi ˈevə `dɪd /

    That’s  the  only  good thing she ever  did.

A phonetic transcription of this very simple (‘broad’) type really only
tells you what phonemes the speakers have used. It wou·dnt be practical
to go beyond stress marking to indicating how strongly an expression is
uttered or how very weakly as is the case with the very the first one here.
If you’ve studied intonation it’s no dou·t been pointed out to you that a
succession of Alts (aka upper level tones) steps downward but you’re very
unlikely to have he·rd the reverse process of upward stepping in low heads
of successive Basses (aka low level tones) mentioned. The movement is
usually less marked than in the other type but you’ll find it happening
here at ‘only good thing’. It also happens in the first sentence of Turn 5.

5. /[?] ˌwʊdn ˌseɪ  ˈðat |  ʃi  wəz `eksələnt |

     (I)  wouldn’t say that.  She was  excellent

     ɪn ˌhuz əˌfreɪd | əv vəʤɪnjə ˎwʊlf /

    in  Who’s Afraid   of  Virginia  Wolf.

On grammatical grounds the first word she utters needs
to be ‘I’ but actually she has a sort of articulatory mishap
which means that the noise she produces can’t be that.
It’s most suitably termed a ‘splutter’.

This first tone phrase ends with a climax tone on ‘that’
which is unusual by reason of being level. It serves to
suggest quite positive lack of sympathy and /or concern.

 The word wouldn’t and others ending in the suffix
 -n’t are very often indeed to be heard with elision of their
 final /t/ when they are not completely final in a sentence.
Another example is wasnt in Turn 6.

6. / ˈˏ jes | (aɪ) səpəʊz ʃi   wɒzn ˎtu bad | ɪn ˏðat /

        Yes.    (I) suppose she wasn’t too bad  in  that.

Books like Wells’s 2006 English Intonation, admirably
tho it achieves the largely prescriptive goals which it set
itself, displays very liittle int·rest in any representation of
varieties of tone. The first tone occurring here provides
an example of a tone type which such books make no
attempt to discuss and even have no title for. It’s what I
call an Alt-Rise. Its initial level element tends to suggest
lack of concern etc. The high-to-low-to-mid movement of
a usual Fall-Rise suggests  by its initial wide movement
some degree of emotive involvement.

Blog 516

The 3rd of May 2016

Weakforms (xvi) I, if, I'll, I'm, in(to)

I: LPD3 sez of I, This word has no true weak form in RP, though in rapid, casual speech it may become monophthongal a. In Gen Am it is sometimes weakened to ə’. It’s my impression that this [a] form can sometimes be long enuff to suggest identification with the PALM lexiset. It has (as GA has) a fairly common schwa form in casual GB eg in /(ə θɪŋk) ə `nəʊ wɒt tə ˏdu/ (I think) I know what to do.

if: LPD sez ‘In RP this word has no separate weak form; but in some other varieties, including Gen Am, it may have a weak form əf’. I’m inclined to think that /əf/ is far from totally absent from markedly casual GB speech as in eg /ˈwɒt əf wi …/ What if we
There’s also an occasional casual variant /f/ in GB. It was recorded as occurring in GA in a 1944 article by Lee Hultzén on The Pronunciation of Monosyllabic Form-Words in American English. He gave the example I’ll see f it’ll fit which wd surely not sound at all impossible in a GB casual style. Casually GB speakers are also perfec·ly capable of saying If I were you as /`faɪ wə ˎˏ ju/. No British dictionary includes this /f/ weakform but this isnt surprising when we remember that GB phonetic dictionaries are mainly patronised by and very much compiled with in mind EFL users.

I’ll: The LPD representation of I’ll as only \aɪᵊl\ has been amazingly in contrast with my observations made before and since my 1972 Concise Pronouncing Dictionary. I’ve found the form /ɑl/ of extremely frequent occurrence accented as often as unaccented. See my  Blog 401 which includes an explanation of my dissatisfaction with the common definition of weakforms as unaccentable.

I’m: By contrast with the common and accentable GB weakforms /ɑl/ of I’ll, weakforms like /ɑm/, [am] or [m] of I’m are pritty unusual and not really accentable.

in(to): LPD sez ‘There is no separate weak form [of in] in RP; but in some other accents, including Gen Am, there is a weak form .. ən’. Casual GB has the syllabic weakform /n̩/. This cd be he·rd from Princess Anne saying ‘I did that in [n̩ ðə] the Girl Guides’. The distinguisht actor Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder in the famous 1981 Granada tv serial Brideshead Revisited said ‘I should get into bed’ with /... ɡet n̩ tə bed/. Other examples of casual vowelless in are late in the evening as /ˈleɪt n i `ivnɪŋ/ and the man in the street as /ðə ˈman ɪ ðə `strit/.

The Early Modern English weakform /ɪ/ for in can hardly be sed to survive in current GB. Even when the text is spelt i’, Shakespearian actors seem to feel free to substitute /ɪn/. There are situations where current types of elision produce what can hardly be viewed as re-inventing the EME weakform as with in my view becoming /ɪ `maɪ ˏvju/. And there is a vocalic-only fully nasalised form quite often occurring in non-casual GB especially in the sequence in which.

Blog 515

The 26th of April 2016

A Peculiar New Pronunciation Dictionary

CUBE Current British English
 searchable transcriptions

is the title of a new online-only English pronunciation dictionary. It is credited jointly to Péter Szigetvári, Head of the Department of English Linguistics in the School of English and American Studies of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest and Dr Geoff Lindsey who  is based in the UK where he has an association with University College London which includes the Directorship of the famous annual Summer Course in English Phonetics. He is one of the most outstanding and original scholars currently operating in the field of English phonetics.

'CUBE' is highly unconventional in a variety of ways. A rather tiresome minor one is how they refer to it as ‘cube’ denying it the conventional initial capital even when it begins a sentence. Altho it has the appearance of an abbreviation derived from initial letters of a full form there’s no trace of any second constituent beginning with U. A drawing of a hollow wooden cube accompanies the title.

Acknowledging that it’s ‘core database is drawn from a transcription dictionary by Ádám Nádasdy and Szigetvári (Huron’s English Pronouncing Dictionary)’ the authors, who regularly refer to themselves as 'CUBE' , declare rather turgidly that Its focus is on allowing the user to find and explore pronunciation patterns in English which are phonetically up to date and presented in a flexible way for both practical reference and research purposes’.

Examination of it will certainly soon dash the hopes of anyone looking to find as practical reference’ a more user-fr·endly alternative to the rather user-challenging LPD (the Wells Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), or CEPD (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) or the cumbersome and less adequate tho more user-comf·table ODP (Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English) now ominously unrevised in fifteen years. 'CUBE' ‘give only one recommended pronunciation per entry’ saying ‘no attempt is made to indicate variability of pronunciation’. This policy seems unfortunate in an online work where pressures upon space sh·d be no problem. ‘However,’ they add, ‘inflected forms are shown, by means of separate entries (eg live, lives, living, lived; life, lives)’ a feature whose utility strikes one as mimimal. They also say ‘There are many complex forms (generally compounds), and words may occur in several forms, eg new, brand-new, New Orleans... All such forms are given separate entries rather than being grouped in any way’. This again seems of dubious usefulness.

They say that 'CUBE' ‘does not give definitions; however it does contain extensive and searchable grammatical information’. It unfortunately ‘also has no audio component; users are recommended ‘as far as possible to hear words in context, eg through news media and YouTube’. This may seem to be a somewhat discouraging comment for many prospective users in view of the consideration that YouTube’s content exemplifies by far for the most part American speech when 'CUBE' are ‘at present restricted to British English’. That statement is followed in the same sentence by the remark ‘but its transcriptions are phonetically appropriate to the contemporary accent’ a wording I find a bit nerdy-wordy.

However, it’s certainly excellent advice that they offer to students to familiarise themselves with the extremely valuable wealth of material that YouTube has to offer to those who wish to cultivate their ability to grasp what English speakers are saying in all sorts of accents and styles of speaking, especially where they are presented with their invaluable word-by-word transcriptions in their series entitled youpronounce in which ‘You type in a word and it goes through all the subtitled videos on youtube and provides you with that bit of the video where the word turns up… Type in an ordinary word and there are thousands of tokens of it’. A YouTube site called YOUGLISH lets you ‘hear the pronunciation of English words by viewing videos of native speakers, spoken by real people and in context. Type in a single word or phrase, choose UK, US, or all pronunciations, then a captioned video appears in the results and starts playing automatically’.

Most dictionaries’, 'CUBE' say, ‘only allow the user to input a full word in its normal spelling, in order to find its pronunciation [but they permit the user] not only to enter part-words, but also [to] search for word beginnings and word endings. Eg you can find all the words beginning with th by entering #th in the spelling box; you can find all the words ending in th by entering th# in the spelling box; you can, in fact, find all the words beginning and ending in th by entering #th.*th# in the spelling box’. In case you’re wondering, I think that’s thirteenth, thirtieth, and thousandth unless they extend their definition of ‘word’ to include hyphenated compounds. Indication again that their content isnt aimed at the vast majority of EFL students.

They say they currently have 102,871 entries, each of which includes spelling, phonetic transcription and also information on grammar, frequency and syllable count…You may list all the words ending in a diphthong followed by two consonants by entering !d!c!c# in the transcription box, you may even find words that have all the voiceless plosives in any order by entering p, t, k in the transcription box’. This seems likely to be of some value to some researchers and some game players but one wonders who else.

A uniquely impressive feature is their Note: if a ‘full word’ search gives no result, an automatic notification is sent to us; and if the word exists, we will add it to cube, generally within 24 hours. You can actually request the addition of words which are missing from cube by searching for them with the ‘full word’ box ticked. There are some aspects of pronunciation which can be symbolized in more than one established way, and 'CUBE' ‘allows a range of options. So you can change the way long vowels, diphthongs, the consonant r, and affricates are represented in the phonetic transcriptions, as well as the symbols of ‘fronted’ vowels. These options may help some users to better understand the intrinsic imprecision/flexibility of phonetic transcription (where the wide usage of the now ageing traditional system may have given a false sense of ˈabsolute truthˈ)’.

I have to apologise that the degree of novelty and complexity of what CUBE offers has only totally inadequately been sampled in the present very brief posting. One last feature that must be mentioned is ‘Transcription searches must be input in ascii characters’ for which a key chart is supplied. I do propose to return to discussion of CUBE soon if only in order to consider separately the kind of phonetic transcription they offer.

Blog 514

The 18th of April 2016

People Speaking 37 Discord

1. /səʊ jɔ ˈnɒt veri `kin ɒn mjuzɪk, ðen /
    So you’re not very keen on music, then.
Notice that this transcription is mainly the usual Gimson one but that it omits the optional, not  to say superfluous, length marks as here from /ɔ, i & u/.

2. / ˈmjuˏzɪk | ˈju ˈkɑn ˈkɔl ˈðɪs ˈpɒp ˈtraʃ ˏmjuzɪk /
      Music? You can’t call this pop trash music.
There’re an unusual six successive upper level tones here. Remember that in a tones-indicating transcription like this its to be understood that successive upper tones proceed in slight downward steps. A sequence of so many reflects the very insistent quite bullying style this speaker adopts. The dropping of the t from the end of cant is commonplace in colloquial styles.

3. / ˈwɒt də `ju kɔl mjuzɪk, ðen
   What do you call music, then?
The word then has two very diff·rent meanings:‘at that time  and  ‘in that case.  In the first sense  it will usually be found to be strest /ðen/. In the second sense, as we find it here, its most often unstrest and may take a weakform /ðən/ but not if its final — hence its strongform here and in Turn 1.

4. /´`eniθɪŋ | bət ˎðɪs rɔkəs ˏʤᴧŋk /
    Anything but this raucous junk.
The Climb-Fall tone (´`aka high rise-fall) is more emphatic than a simple Fall. To suggest being startled, it
s offen adopted by speakers whore being sarcastic.

5. / ˈgəʊ ˏɒn ðen | ˈtel əs ˈsᴧmθɪŋ ju ˏlaɪk /
     Go on, then. Tell us something you like.
She sustains the upper level tone on go and relatively also on the word something which can have the effect of suggesting that shes (reluctantly) being patient.

6. / `ləʊdz əv θɪŋz | `handlz ˎlɑgəʊ | ˈɑveɪ məˎriə | `ʃubəts ᴧnfɪnɪʃ ˎsɪmfəni | `beɪthəʊvnz ˎfɪf |             `eniθɪŋ wɪð ə disnt `tjun tu ɪt /
     Loads of things. Handel’s Largo. Ave Maria.Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Beethoven’s Fifth.
     Anything with a decent tune to it.
The drawn-out emotive intonations suggest pride in and/or admiration and/or sentimental reverence for the items he quotes. Another minor departure from the Gimson transcription here is my pref·rence for /iə/ rather than /ɪə/. The elision of the final /t/ of 'unfinisht' which reduces the sequence /ʃts/ to /ʃs/ isnt at·all unusual. The apparently elided final /θ/ from 'fifth' may have been articulated but too weakly to be audible.

7. / `´tjun | `kɑnt kɔl `beɪthəʊvnz `fɪfð ə ˏtju(n) | ˈfɔ ˈnəʊts | ən ˈθri əv ðəm ɔl ðə `ˏseɪm /
      Tune? Can’t call Beethoven’s Fifth a tune. Four notes and three of them all the same.
The Fall-Climb (aka fall-rise) on Tune is both exclamatory and interrogative. Omission of you before can’t is a very common colloquialism. The weakform of them is here followed by a vowel sound so it tends to keep its fuller form with a schwa.

8. /ˎɑ `wel | ɪts wɒt hi `dᴧz wɪ ðəm ðət ˏkaʊnts | and ðɛ ˈdu | hapən tə bi `ᴧðə ˏmelədɪz | əz wel əz ðə         `feɪməs ˏbɪt /
       Ah! Well! It’s what he does with them that counts. And there do happen to be other melodies as         well as the famous bit.
The elision of the /ð/ of with before the /ð/ beginning them is quite usual. The word and is rarely pronounced /and/ except occasionally, as here, when it begins a sentence. The monophthongal /ɛ(:)/ replacing Gimson's /ɛə/ is becoming preferred becoz [ɛə] suggests too strongly old-fashioned markedly diphthongal versions of this phoneme. As with the other Gimson long-vowel representations, the length marks are optional. Another  revision is to replace /æ/, which over 50 years ago accorded with the IPA Cardinal Vowels system, with /a/ which accords better with twenty-first-century GB values.

9. / ˈju ˈnəʊ | `aɪ dəʊn θɪŋk juv evə prɒpəli `lisn tu a gʊd ˏgrup /
        You know, I don’t think you’ve ever properly listened to a good group.
The first two words were uttered very lightly so much so that it isnt very clear whether the first one wd be better transcribed as its casual weakform /jə/. Its a rather meaningless expression that very offen seems to be used to give the speaker a moment to decide how to begin. The elision of the /d/ from the sequence /lɪsnd tu/ probbly happens more offen than not.

10. / ˈlɪsˏnd | ju `kɑnt lɪsn tʊ ðm | ju get bɒm`bɑdɪd baɪ ðm/
        Listened! You can’t listen to them.You get bombarded by them.
The syllabic /n/ of listened is particularly drawn out here for expressive effect.
Unstrest them tends to take its fuller weakform /ðəm/ when another syllable follows.

11. /aɪ `bet | ju kʊdnt ivn `neɪm | ə ˈsɪŋɡl ˎgrup /
      I bet you couldn’t even name a single group.  
12. /aɪ kə(d) tel ju `hips ɒv ðm /
       I could tell you heaps of them.
The brackets around the /d/ of could is a confession by the transcriber of inability to decide whether the d is present or not. This time them has no immediately following sound so has no schwa.

13. / ˈgəʊ ˏɒn ðen | `tel əs ə fju /
       Go on, then. Tell us a few.

14. / [ʔ] ˈɔˎraɪt. `nɔɪzi | ən ði `iə splɪtəz /
        All right. Noisy and the Ear-splitters.
        The glottal plosive is a noise not a phoneme: hence the square brackets. In informal speech the phrase all right offen has no /l/.

15.  /ˈgəʊ ˏɒn /
        Go on.
Once again the prosody of a quite low variety of Alt (aka upper level tone) and markedly narrow slow Rise tone is indicative of suppressed impatience.

16. / `grɒti | ən ðə ˎsəʊp səʊp ʃᴧnəz /
        Grotty and the Soap Shunners.
 His quite wide pitch ranges suggest enthusiasm and/or enjoyment.

17. / ɪts ˈnəʊ ˈgʊd | ɑgjuɪŋ wɪð ˏ ju /
       It’s no good arguing with you.
Her only moderately high upper level tones and slowish low Rise climax (aka nucleus) tone reinforce the effect of reluctant patience.

18. /`stɪŋki | ən ði `ɛ bifaʊləz | `snɒti | ən ðə `nəʊz pɪkəz/
      Stinky and the Air-Befoulers. Snotty and the Nose-Pickers.
His continued lively prosodies end with a rallentando victorious cadence.     

Blog 513

The 16th of April 2016

Early Spelling Reform

Phonetics as a modern science in Britain began in the middle decades of the nineteenth century with the work of a mere handful of scholars. Outstanding among them was Alexander John Ellis (1814-1890). One of his many int·rests was spelling reform. This enthusiasm he shared with Isaac Pitman the inventor of the famous system of shorthand. Their collaboration was presumably facilitated by their both happening to live for a while in southwest England in the Bath area. Both produced publications in phonetic spelling among which were quite a variety by Ellis including his 1849 version of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He used a notation for it which he claimed to admit of the sounds of words being accurately expressed. The introduction of such an alphabet constitutes the [sic] Spelling Reform, the object of which is to render the education of the poorer classes possible, by making the art of reading pleasant, and easy to acquire’ (p.ii)

His notation used 40 letters 24 of which were ‘the same as those of the romanic alphabet’, as he termed the traditional English set. His letters were to be understood to sound exactly and only as in saying them in isolation. Thus ‘a’ was to be always and only /eɪ/. For /a/ he used italic ‘ɑ’. Two ancient letter shapes employed by Ellis and Pitman, ʃ and ʒ, were later in the nineteenth century to become items in the set of symbols adopted into their alphabet by the International Phonetic Association. Unlike the designers of the IPA alphabet, Ellis employed a set that was provided with the unfortunate complication of capital forms for all its symbols, included among the less bizarre of which were Σ for capital ʃ and its mirror image for capital ʒ. The letter ‘o’ was assigned to the sound /ɒ/ and a symbol ‘ɷ’ stood for /əʊ/. The Greek ɛ was used for /ij/ and a barred o-letter ‘ɵ’ for /ɔ/. For /aɪ/ a letter ‘į’ was created by adding to ‘i’ a subscript hook. The symbol set also included the use of an apostrophe signifying that a following consonant was syllabic as in \sev’n\ and \dev’l\. This device was incorporated into Murray’s set of symbols for the OED from its first edition in 1882 and continued so to be used until 1989.

The very optimistic claim to be providing an accurate reflection of spoken English was distinctly odd in the light of his decision to represent every word as it is spoken carefully in isolation. In fact in some cases he produced a pronunciation found in no variety of English as when ‘equal’ was given as pronounced /ikwal/. At other times he produced pronunciations some of which suggested Scottish English better than the southern English of the rest. Examples were allegory, assured, church, ecstasy, persist, serene, whip & word being shown as \ alijgᴧri, a`ʃurd, ʧᴧrʧ, ekstesi, persɪst, sijrijn, hwɪp & wᴧrd \. All r-letters were given a pronunciation even if, in many positions in the words in question, they were hardly at all heard any longer in most of the southern speech of Ellis’s day.

The text being quoted from is Ellis’s 1849 phonetic version of that famous allegorical book of Bunyan’s. Its author’s original calling wdve been known as ‘tinker’ tho he preferred the more dignified ‘brazier’. However, he became a most prolific writer. He lived almost all his life, 1628 to 1688, in the south of England in or near the county of Bedfordshire. Pilgrim’s Progress became an amazingly popular book so much so that some of its expressions have become part of the English language, notably the ‘Slough /slau/ of Despond’.

Cert·n int·resting indications of Ellis’s own speech crop up in the introductory matter. They include the aitchless ‘the umbler classes’ (, which was praps rather old-fashioned already by 1849. The use of /z/ rather than /s/ in the word ‘disorder’ was another variant now presumably obsolete but then common enuff to be the only one recorded in Thomas Sheridan’s General Dictionary of 1780 and John Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1791 a book which Ellis and Pitman knew very well. Ellis publisht a book he called Phonetic Walker. A new pronouncing  Dictionary.

Among others of Ellis’s well over thirty early phonetic publications were a Phonetic Primer, a ‘Horn Book or Sunday-school Primer’ (‘a leaf of paper containing the alphabet...protected by a thin plate of translucent horn, and mounted on a tablet of wood with a projecting piece for a handle’ OED). Many others were also religious materials. There was a weekly Phonetic News and The Phonetic Friend which was a monthly miscellany. There were also various stories, poems and plays he transcribed and very importantly his early book The Essentials of Phonetics (1849).

My most hearty thanks are due to our colleague Paul Carley for so kindly furnishing me with the handsome copy of this little book thus enabling me to offer the above remarks.

Blog 512

The 25th of March 2016

KEYWORDS for English

I’m afraid I need to apologise for having been tempted into what praps too greatly amounts to re-riding an old hobbyhorse in what follows by a circumstance mentioned in last December’s  Blog 506 where I referred to the excellent new feature that the great OED then had newly begun providing for our delectation in the form of frequency-of-occurrence indications for its 600,000 words.

Many publications make use of IPA symbols these days and the ones they apply to transcribing English now increasingly tend to use the Wells ‘lexical sets’ as keywords for vowels. This is surely quite a welcome harmonious development. People are tending to find it convenient to write for example ‘the kit vowel’ without having to conjure up a phonetic symbol. And this has come about to quite an extent by chance. John ‘dreamt [them] up over a weekend’, as he candidly admitted. What surely he didnt dream at the time was how widely popular they’d become. They now appear not merely in his own LPD (Longman Pronuncation Dictionary), as they have from its first appearance in 1990, but in recent years as keywords in the CEPD (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary), and they are even popping up in leading instructional books such as the Collins-&-Mees Practical Phonetics & Phonology (2013) and various other textbooks.

They were an idea he hit on when he was planning how he shd carry out his ambitious aim of describing as many as possible of the world’s various forms of native-speaker English. He took as a basis the two forms for which there were the fullest existing descriptions. One of these was ‘General American’, the well-known convenient label for the educated speech of the non-coastal northeast and the northwest of the USA. As title for the other, he chose to retain the expression ‘Received Pronunciation’ which had been adopted apologetic·ly in 1926 by Daniel Jones the founder of the University College London Department of Phonetics where Wells had studied and was by then working. In an earlier book he had preferred the also unsatisfactory term ‘Southern British Standard’. An expression to which there are paps fewer disadvantages is ‘General British’.

Wells concluded that he cd ‘successfully match the vowels’ in these two varieties in relation to forms ‘of particular words for the vast bulk of the vocabulary’. This furnished for him the framework for what he decided to call his ‘standard lexical sets’. These he set about using for the comparison not only of ‘RP and GenAm’ (as he regularly abbreviates them) but also for describing the lexical incidence of vowels in all the accents he de·lt with. It turned out, he remarked at pp.122-3 of Volume 1 of his Accents of English, that there were twenty-four ‘matching pairs’ of strong vowels in his two ref·rence varieties. He chose to identify the representative of each pair which ‘exhibited the correspondence in question’ by a keyword always given in that text in small capitals. These keywords were devised so that ‘clarity is maximised: whatever accent of English they can hardly be mistaken for other words’. As far as possible they were chosen ‘so as to end in a voiceless alveolar or dental consonant’ in order to preclude any deflection from the characteristic form of each vowel.

He made an exception in the choice of ‘trap for the /æ/ phoneme, where no items in /-t, -s, -θ/’ seemed to him to be ‘altogether suitable’. He didnt detail his reasons why for example the more appropriately terminated gas was rejected or why hat or even sprat shd not have been preferred to trap. Final consonants in all words chosen were always simple ones tho clusters were freely admitted word-initially. In fact initial consonants had no prescribed requirements. In our Blog 445 in April 2013 we referred to the word-count quoted in the English Universities Press 1948 publication the Thorndike English Dictionary. Since December 2015 the OED has begun supplying information on the frequency that each word has in modern, meaning post-1970, English as derived from ‘Google Books Ngrams data cross-checked against data from other corpora’. These, like the Thorndike figures, generally confirm the validity of his choices. Certain further unstated pref·rences seemed to be detectable in th·t almost all the chosen keywords were nouns most of which represent relatively concrete rather than abstract identities. An exception was near where a noun alternative beer exists with an equal OED frequency rating. None of them are proper nouns. The keywords are mostly of high incidence the notable exceptions being  fleece, kit and strut for the choice of which explanations were given.

The OED frequency figures, with which Wells’s judgments gen·rally compare well, are presented in eight ascending bands. None of the Wells keyword choices occurs in any of the bottom three bands of least common words. Nor did one have a place in the top-frequency eighth category. His choice fleece was in Band 4 (compare street which is found in Band 6). His strut 4 (cf shut in 6 and but in 8). His kit was placed in Band 5 (cf sit in 7). The choices goat and goose we also find in Band 5 (cf note in 7 and boot in 6). The band for dress was 6 (cf set in 7) as also for lot (cf spot in 6), bath (cf pass in 7), cloth (cf loss in 7), nurse (cf verse in 6), palm (cf calm in 5 and half in 6), thought (cf taut in 5), mouth (cf house in 7 and out in 8), near (cf clear in 7), square (cf care in 7), north (cf short in 7) and cure (cf pure in 6). The band for foot was 7 (cf put in 7) as also for force (cf court in 7), for start (cf part in 7), and for choice (cf voice in 7). The anomalous trap figured in Band 6.

On a forgotten occasion I once askt John why he’d chosen to call them ‘Standard’ lexical sets upon which he confessed that offhand he wasnt able to recollect why. I believe I was privately somewhat inclined to think that he was rather ‘jumping the gun’. Some decades on, it now seems that he was simply being prophetic. Actually, later, in reply to a question from one of his blog readers as to why he called the set ‘Standard’, he wrote in his blog of 1 Feb 2010 I called them “standard” lexical sets because they were based on my two 'reference' accents of English, RP and GenAm.

"Readers who’d like a look at an earlier slightly diff·rent account of this topic shd go back to our Blog 445.  

Blog 511

The 9th of March 2016

Weakforms (xv) hundred

For our final weakform word beginning with aitch, ‘hundred’, the Wells LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) gives \ˈhᴧndr əd -ɪd\. British /hᴧndrɪd/ is the old-fashioned usage of a small minority. It is not the latest developed weakform of the word. Historically speaking, rather the reverse: the current almost universal /-əd/ was evidently the final weakening in the sequence /-ed, -ɪd, -əd/. The LPD American version \ˈhᴧnd ᵊrd\ shows an intresting contrast with the way the WNC (the Webster New Collegiate Dictionary of 1983 which Wells ‘regularly explored’ as he remarks at LPD3 p.ix) gives \ˈhᴧn-drəd, -dərd\. In its own transcriptional style, the Cambridge EPD gives exac·ly the same story as LPD. OED offers only Brit. /ˈhʌndrəd/, U.S. ️/ˈhəndrəd/ apparently regarding the Brit. /-ɪd/ variant as too unusual to be worth including. The GA audio by a rather y·ung-sounding female displays a markedly closer schwa than the GB, so much so that in neutr·l circumstances one might easily have taken it for /ɪ/.

There is no transcription of the sequence ‘hundred and one (etc)’ from any of the dictionaries. OED has an entry for the sweetmeat hundreds and thousands but in its parsimonious way in matters of pronunciation supplies no indication that it is he·rd normally only with a syllabic /n/ for the and.

It will be convenient here to  repeat paragraph 7 from our Blog 335:
A fact I havnt noticed any ref·rence to in the lit·rature is the consid·rable frequency with which the /h/ is elided in phrases in which the word hundred isnt accented such as `two hundred and, `three hundred and etc. Only a day or so ago in March 2016 I was reminded of this observation by hearing  an instance of its use by the GB speaker Justin Webb currently functioning as a BBC Radio 4 news presenter.

There exists an even more especially notable weakform, among GB speakers at least, for these expressions hundred-and-one etc. This takes the form of the very unusual occurrence of a syllabic plosive consonant /d̩/ as in /ˈhᴧn.drd̩.n̩`wᴧn/. The Wikipedia article ‘Syllabic consonant’ overlooks this and various other items, saying the ‘only time obstruents are used syllabically in English is in onomatopoeia, such as sh! [ ʃ̩ː] (a command to be quiet), sss [s̩ː] (the hiss of a snake), zzz [z̩ː] (the sound of a bee buzzing or someone sleeping), and tsk tsk! [ǀǀ] (used to express disapproval or pity)…’

Readers might like to look at our Blog 239 with its comment on John Wells’s phonetic blog of the 25th of Nov 2009 about “constraints on diacritics”, in the course of which he askt himself: ‘Is “syllabic” only for consonants? Normally yes, and then only for nasals and liquids. Some students imagine that looked should be transcribed lʊkd̩ (with “syllabic d”), but they are confusing phonetics with morphology. Syllabic plosives are a no-no.’ This last sentence wd be quite understandable in the context of the teaching of transcription to beginners but isnt su·table for work with advanced students. LPD itself lists the variant weakform \ʃd\ of should. So did the 1917 first edition of the Jones EPD. That work also gave the voiceless variant \ʃt\, in all the editions Jones himself was responsible for, with the added note ‘only occurs before breathed [Gimson 1977 ‘voiceless’] consonants’.

Our blog gave other examples of syllabic plosives including /sp.praɪz/ surprise and / success, and /ʃd.nt/ shouldn’t which is notably a two-syllable word with no vowel. Another very common sentence with two syllables but only one vowel is the unceremonious routine expression /`k.kju/ ie Thankyou with its first syllable ‘inaudible’, as it were, ‘except retrospectively’. There are also other words besides hundred /ˈhᴧn.drd̩/ with which one can easily feel it possible to produce a natural sounding articulation while feeling clearly that the tongue remains at the alveolar ridge thruout the final syllable which consists of the affricate /dr/ followed by syllabic simple /d̩/.