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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
01/03/2016Discussion of People Speaking 36#510
15/02/2016Eating Choices People Speaking 36#509
11/02/2016Weakforms (xiv) him#508
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 PS 48#503
07/08/2015Variant Word Forms#502
28/07/2015Journalists under Fire PS 34#501

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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 nə `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 a 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’ an expression I find quite inscrutable.

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’ (p.vi), 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 so 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 /sk.ses/ 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/.


Blog 510

The 1st of March 2016

Discussion of People Speaking 36



The People Speaking transcribed passages are offered for study to fairly advanced users of English as a for·ren language. Readers of these Blogs are reminded of the caution included at the introduction to·o them that they may contain from time to time experimental unorthodox spellings. These are usually better or more appropriate spellings which have been current variants up to the seventeenth century but subsequently became rejected in the first place by editors of printed matter. When publication of such matter became easier and cheaper to produce and hugely increased in quantity these editors found it much more convenient to them to prescribe to their typesetters a single spelling for every word. The choices made were not for many words always good ones but, being the only ones on offer, have become universally accepted as the only ‘correct’ ones. The variants I use here may often remind the advanced EFL student to be aware that a ‘correct’ spelling may suggest an incorrect pronunciation. Examples have occurred in our first sentences above. The word /`fɒrən/ was earlier often spelt with no <g>. This was inserted rather pointlessly as a reminder of its presumed original form. The word ‘to’ has /tu/ as its strongform and /tə/ as its usual weakform in GB. Its strongform /tu/ occurs unaccented but rhythmically strest at our wording ‘the intro`duction ˌto them’

You see that our text begins with the word transcribed /wɛ/. Those who mark vowel lengths in their transcriptions, wd show it as /wɛː/. Most transcribers of the General British accent (from 1926  widely called Received Pronunciation) in the first half of the last century and earlier rightly took this vowel to be diphthongal and accordingly transcribed it /ɛə/ or latterly simplified to /eə/. However, from the middle of the last century its diphthongal pronunciation cou·d be heard to be becoming less and less usual except when it was employed by some speakers at stressed word endings. The result was that phoneticians may now simply recommend a completely non-diphthongal pronunciation for the phoneme as the most suitable target for EFL users, notably among them the authors of the leading undergraduate textbook Practical Phonetics and Phonology by B. S. Collins and I. M. Mees. If you know John Wells’s 2006 book English Intonation, you’ll see that the intonation notation used here follows the same broad tradition as that book did but attempts to give less rudimentary indications of falls and rises and their compounds. On the other hand it takes it for granted that the climax (aka nuclear) tones are easily identifiable without underlining.

1. Where can I get a good meal here?
   / ˈwɛ | kən aɪ get ə ˈgʊd ˎmil hɪə/

2. That depends how much you’re willing to pay.
   / ˈðat | dɪpen(d)z ˈhaʊ ˈmᴧʧ | jɔ ˈwɪlɪn tə `peɪ/
Symbols in brackets indicate sounds that may not be present or audible. The word ‘willing’ usually ends with /ŋ/ but here assimilating anticipation of the alveolar articulation required for the following /t/ has caused the speaker to convert the final nasal of the word from velar to alveolar. 

3. Naturally! But I mean not costing the earth. You know.
  / `naʧrəlɪ | bət aɪ ˏmin | ˈnɒt ˈkɒstɪŋ ði `ɜθ | ˈju ˏnəʊ /
The older longer form /naʧərəli/ with two schwas is nowadays much less usual. It’s not very unusual for a speaker who normally wd end such a word with /-i/ to use /-ɪ/ by way of producing the ‘paralinguistic’ expressive effect of briskness. The final /t/ of the word but is articulated very quickly so that the aspiration that characteristically accompanies a GB /t/ isn’t to be heard. This makes it, so to speak, half way to a /d/. GB speakers do this sort of thing mainly only with monosyllabic function words like ‘but’. GA speakers do it with all kinds of words and not necessarily so quickly so that it’s become so indistinguishable from a /d/ that that's how it's become represented in the Webster dictionaries. British pronunciation dictionaries have adopted [t̬] (with the IPA subscript voicing indicator  ̬ ) for this American sound. GB often, at medium tempo in a few such words, converts the /t/ not into a /d/ but an /r/. It's better for the EFL speaker not to adopt this.

4. Well! There’re some very nice Italian places if you like your pasta.
  / `wel | ðɛ sm ˈveɪ ˈnaɪs | ɪ`taljən ˏpleɪsɪz | ɪf ju `laɪk jɔ `ˏpastə/
This speaker very colloquially not only omits the word ‘are’ (shortened to ‘re’ here) but also the final /r/ of ‘there’. And in the very next word omits the /r/ of ‘very’! Not so very uncommon a thing to do.

5. Good! How about more exotic still?
  / `ɡʊd | ˈhɑˈbɑʊt | mɔr əɡzɒtɪk ˎstɪl /
Here the two words ‘how’ and ‘about’ have in effect coalesced into a single word. Many words such as ‘hour’ containing the sequence /aʊ+ə/ smooth it out into a central variety of /ɑː/.
The word ‘exotic’ is in OED /ᵻɡˈzɒtɪk/, /ɛɡˈzɒtɪk/. The notation // is non-committal about whether /ɪ/ or /ə/ is the more usual version.

6. Hmm. We’ve got one of the best Chinese places north of London. Called the Jumbo.
   [ʔhᴧm] / wiv ˈɡɒt  | wᴧn ə ðə  ˈbest ʧaɪ`niz ˏpleɪsɪz | nɔθ əv `ˏlᴧndən | kɔld ðəʤᴧmbəʊ.
As it’s a phonemic transcription,  I’ve shown the beginning of her turn with /h/ but it's no ordinary    aspirate but more like gentle growl or throat clearing with some friction back enuff to be pharyngeal.
It’s very usual for the phrase one of the to contain the weakform /ə/ of its of.

7. Strange name! I’d’ve thought it was Indian or African with a name like  that.
 /ˏstreɪnʒ ˎneɪm | `aɪdəv θɔt ɪt (w)əz `ɪndiən | ɔ `afrɪkən | wɪð ə neɪm laɪk `ˈðat /
One wd usually expect the phrase ‘or African’ to contain a linking /r/ unless the speaker was making a slight pause between the two words. Its absence here feels like a sort of ghost of a pause. The notation / `ˈðat / indicates a fall but an incomplete one that only goes about half way down.

8. It’s a genuine Chinese name, apparently.
    /ɪts ə `ˏʤenjuɪn | ʧaɪniz `neɪm | əˏparntli /
Many people say that you never get an /r/ before a consonant in GB. Here’s an example of a common type of word that contradicts them where a schwa has dropt out before the /n/ of apparently.

9. And you recommend it?
    /and ju rekə`ˏmend ɪt / The conjunction and here by its strongform suggests very slight hesitation.

10. Absolutely. Simple setting but excellent cooking.
   /ˏapsə`lutli | ˈsɪmpl ˎˏsetɪŋ | bət `ˏʔeksələnt ˎkʊkɪŋ /
    This form of absolutely with /p/ instead of /b/ is a very common.The [ʔ] glottal stop strictly speaking has no bizness in a phonemic transcription.

11. Haven’t you got any Indian restaurants?
     / ˈhavnt ju ˈɡɒt | eni `ɪndiən ˏrestrɒ̃z / This last word is commonly often naturalised to forms  like /`restrɔnt/ etc. 

12. Yes, indeed..  A few..  In fact.. Well.. You know the story about the Indian who wasnt
    / `jes ɪn`did | ə  `ˏfju | ɪn ˈfakt  | ˎˏwel | ju ˈnəʊ ðə ˈstɔri | abaʊt ði `ˏɪndiən | hu ˎwɒznt
    exactly a success at his exams and gave his qualification as ‘BA Lucknow Failed’?
       ɪɡˎzakli ə səkˎses ət ɪz ɪɡ`ˏzamz | ən ɡeɪv ɪz kwɒlfɪ`keɪʃn əz ˈbi ˈeɪ `ˏlᴧknɑʊ `ˏfeɪld /

    Notice the elision of the /t/ of exactly and that of the first /ɪ/ that occurs in any dictionary representation of the word qualifications.

13. Oh, yes. / ˈəʊ ˏ jes /.

14. Well. This place could be called ‘Good Food Guide:Failed’
       / `ˏwel | ˈðɪs ˈpleɪs | ˈkʊd ˈbi ˈkɔld | ˈɡʊd ˈfud ˎˏɡaɪd | ˎfeɪld /

15. You mean they were examined but didn’t get in.
       / ˈju ˈmin | ðeɪ wər ɪɡ`zamɪnd | bət dɪd n get ˎɪn /

16. No. They were actually in a year or two back, er but they’ve been dropped since.
      / `ˏnəʊ | ðeɪ wər ˈakʧli `ɪn | ə  jɜr ɔ tu `ˏbak | ə bət ðeɪv bɪn ˎdrɒpt | ˎsɪns /

17. Why? / `waɪ /

18. Well… Don’t think it was the food. More likely disapproval of the decor, I imagine.
     /ˏˈwel | `dəʊn θɪŋk ɪt wəz ðə `ˏfud | ˈmɔ ˈlaɪkli | ˈdɪsəˈpruvl | əv ðə `dekɔr | aɪ ɪˏmaʤən /

Speaking very colloquially, she drops the I that speakers usually begin such a sentence with and also drops the /t/ from the word dont.


Blog 509

The 15th of February 2016

Eating Choices People Speaking 36


1. Where can I get a good meal here?
     / ˈwɛ | kən aɪ get ə ˈgʊd ˎmil hɪə /
2. That depends how much you’re willing to pay.
    / ˈðat | dɪpen(dz) ˈhaʊ ˈmᴧʧ | jɔ ˈwɪlɪn tə `peɪ /
3. Naturally! But I mean not costing the earth. You know.
    / `naʧrəlɪ | bət aɪ ˏmin | ˈnɒt ˈkɒstɪŋ ði `ɜθ | ˈju ˏnəʊ /
4. Well! There’re some very nice Italian places if you like
    your pasta.
  /`wel | ðɛ sm ˈveɪ ˈnaɪs | ɪ`taljən ˏpleɪsɪz | ɪf ju `laɪk jɔ `ˏpastə /
5. Good! How about more exotic still?
  / `gʊd | ˈhɑ ˈbɑʊt | mɔr əgzɒtɪk ˎstɪl /
6. Hmm. We’ve got one of the best Chinese places north of
            London called the Jumbo.
   /ˌhɜm | wiv ˈɡɒt  | wᴧn ə ˈbest ʧaɪ`niz ˏpleɪsɪz | nɔθ əv
                `ˏlᴧndən |  kɔld ðə `ˏʤᴧmbəʊ /
7. Strange name! I’d’ve thought it was Indian or African with a
        name like  that.
  /ˏstreɪnʒ ˎneɪm | `aɪdəv θɔt ɪt (w)əz `ɪndiən | ɔ `afrɪkən | wɪð ə
         neɪm laɪk  `ˈðat /
8. It’s a genuine Chinese name, apparently.
    /ɪts ə `ˏʤenjuɪn | ʧaɪniz `neɪm | əˏparntli /
9. And you recommend it?
    /and ju rekə`ˏmend ɪt /
10. Absolutely. Simple setting but excellent cooking.
   /hˏapsə`lutli | ˈsɪmpl ˎˏsetɪŋ | bət `ˏʔeksələnt ˎkʊkɪŋ /
11. Haven’t you got any Indian restaurants?
     / ˈhavnt ju ˈɡɒt | eni `ɪndiən ˏrestrɒ̃z /
12. Yes, indeed..A few../ In fact..Well..[Yes/jes/] You know the
        story about the Indian who wasnt
    / `jes ɪn`did | ə  `ˏfju | ɪn ˈfakt | ˎˏwel | ju ˈnəʊ ðə
                    ˈstɔri | abaʊt ði `ˏɪndiən | hu ˎwɒznt
      exactly a success at his exams and gave his qualification as
         ‘BA Lucknow Failed’
       ɪgˎzakli ə səkˎses ɪn hɪz ɪg`ˏzamz | ən ɡeɪv ɪz kwɒlfɪ`keɪʃn
         əz bi eɪ `ˏlᴧknɑʊ `ˏfeɪld /
13. Oh, yes. / ˈəʊ ˏ jes /.
14. Well. This place could be called ‘Good Food Guide:Failed’
       /`ˏwel | ˈðɪs ˈpleɪs | ˈkʊd ˈbi ˈkɔld | ˈɡʊd ˈfud ˏɡaɪd | ˎfeɪld /
15. You mean they were examined but didn’t get in.
       / ˈju ˈmin | ðeɪ wər ɪg`zamɪnd | bət dɪd n get ˎɪn /
16. No. They were actually in a year or two back, er but they’ve
         been dropped since.
      / `ˏnəʊ | ðeɪ wər ˈakʧli `ɪn | ə  jɜr ɔ tu `ˏbak | ə bət ðeɪv
         bɪn ˎdrɒpt | ˎsɪns /
17. Why? / `waɪ /
18. Well… Don’t think it was the food. More likely disapproval
         of the decor, I imagine.
     /ˏˈwel | `dəʊn θɪŋk ɪt wəz ðə `ˏfud | ˈmɔ ˈlaɪkli | ˈdɪsəˈpruvl |
         əv ðə `dekɔr | aɪ ɪˏmaʤən /



Blog 508

The 11th of February 2016

Weakforms (xiv) him

The pronoun him was included in 1885 by Henry Sweet in his Elementarbuch des Gesprochenen Englisch supplying the original list of sixty-five words he included under the heading ‘gradation’ giving ‘the most important weak forms ranged under the corresponding strong forms’ at pp 23 to 25. It is of course one of the most frequent words in the English language. Altho its spelling begins with aitch, it is, from its nature as an objective pronoun, relatively infrequently accented so that its usual form is aitchless /ɪm/ unless used contrastively. The corresponding reflexive pronoun himself is even less often heard with initial /h/. The usual unselfconscious pronunciation of He’s hurt himself wd be /iz `hɜt ɪmself/. (Stressed /h/ begins the word immediately following Hes so that here pref·rence for DISSIMILATIVE ELISION of /h/ operates with the effect that the aitch is omitted from Hes. The word himself is usually unaccented and mostly has no aitch).

OED has an entry at ‘hisself’ saying ‘Probably a variant or alteration of another lexical item… Probably an alteration of himself pron., with substitution of his adj. for the first element, after myself pron. and thyself’. It gives the pronunciations Brit. /hɪzˈsɛlf/ , /hᵻˈsɛlf/ , U.S. /hɪzˈsɛlf/ , /hᵻˈsɛlf/  accompanied by an audio for only the second supplied British form. The transcription is /hᵻˈsɛlf/ whose second symbol barred small capital ᵻ ‘represents free variation between /ɪ/ and /ə/’. The speaker opts for the schwa variant which, as it happens, produces a version identical with the usual pronunciation of ‘herself’. Cruttenden, in the latest (2014) edition of his acknowledgedly classic revisions of Gimson’s Pronunciation of English at page 274 newly includes, besides the well known unaccented form of himself /ɪm`self/ a variant /ɪz`self/ the use of which he illustrates with ‘(he did it himself /hi dɪd ɪt ɪz`self/)’. One welcomes this realistic account of what may be taken to be a not uncommon variant. No dou·t similarly common is /ɪ`self/ a slightly further reduced form. I can imagine eyebrows raised by those who associate the spelling ‘hisself’ only with illiteracy. OED far from condemning it labels it as ‘Chiefly colloq. and regional in later use’.


Before I leave the word him and its derivatives, it seems desirable to mention a matter that may be problematic for many observant users of the Wells LPD if they come to contemplate the entry him strong form hɪm, weakforms hɪm, ɪm etc. To understand why hɪm has been given at the same time in both categories without visible differentiation of the two forms they have to know that Wells has adopted a theory which views forms of English such as General British as containing strong and weak vowel systems under which it classifies ɪ as belonging simultaneously in both of these categories so that it might be sed that it does have a weakform, but that it happens to coincide phonetically with its strongform. It’s not clear why more similar LPD entries arent given the same treatment. By contrast with these forms for him, LPD at her gives as ‘weak formsonly hə, ɜː, ə but no hɜː. For he it gives as ‘weak forms’ only hi, i but no hiː. At in it apparently seeks to avoid a nonsensical-looking parallel to the above ɪn: strong form ɪn, weak form ɪn by remarking: ‘There is no separate weak form in RP’ .

Personally I find this approach puzzling and neither intuitively satisfying nor practically useful. Among the respected writers in this field I have yet to come across anyone who has listed weakform words with any of them classified after the style of the LPD entry for him. Neither have I come across in any of them a definition of the word ‘weakform’. Understandably, I suppose, they all prefer to teach weakform words by the easier process of giving examples of their uses. I have found it pref·rable to define a weakform as ‘an alternant form of a word so reduced in its articulation that it consists of a diff·rent set of phonemes’. More on this topic may be seen in the Homepage division of this website at §4.7.

PS A pronunciation of him that can’t really be sed to belong to either GB or BA but will have been heard at times by millions of enthusiasts for the acting of John Wayne. An originary of southern California, his habitual form of the pronoun was with the /i/ vowel /im/. This variant was admitted by Edward Artin, its pronunciation editor into the mighty Webster 1961 Third New International edition as \ ēm \ but didnt appear in the Webster New Collegiate editions. Compare Blog 231.




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.

Comments:

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  http://public.oed.com/the-oed-today.


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 PS 48

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:
‘7.2.3.2 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 under Fire 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.


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