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01/01/2007Happy New Year etc#010
28/12/2006An Un-Empty Word and Linguistic Slumming#009
26/12/2006The Queen's English Again#008
20/12/2006Tone Symbols and Tone Idioms#007
04/12/2006The Queen's English's Development#006
18/11/2006IPA Symbols and Re-spellings in OBG#005
12/11/2006The Bleck Hendbeg Problem#004
10/11/2006The Pronunciation of ESCHEW#003
08/11/2006The HAPPY (final) vowel#002
01/11/2006English Dental Fricative Fronting.#001

Blog 010

The 1st of January 2007

Happy New Year etc

This style for the date is one I generally prefer to "1 January 2007" coz it's closer to the way it's spoken and I have a grumpy dislike of hearing people say things like "One January two thousand seven" to read it aloud. Incidentally, for anyone who'd like a nice example of a very frequently heard elision, the sequence thousand and is at least as likely to be heard without either /d/ as /θaʊzən ən/ as with them. Even the usually fairly self-conscious reading aloud by weather forecasters as often as not has no /d/ and the /n/ is about as likely to be unsyllabic /θaʊzn ən/ as syllabic /θaʊzn̩  ən/, so then we have "compression" as well.
    So I don't regard the  absence of /d/ from and as an ordinary elision because the weakform of and is normally, at least nine times out of ten, heard with no /d/ at all. It may even lead to misunderstanding if the /d/ is fussily added in some circumstances. Elsewhere on this website I've given the example Joe and Ann which is normally perfectly clearly distinct from Joe and Dan. People who fuss to say a /d/ to end and lose that distinction. See more on this website at ¶17 of the article on Weakforms and Contractions §4.5.

    Another – and on this occasion topical – example some of my EFL teacher readers may find interesting is the contrast between the General American and General British stressings of  Happy new year. While GB speakers say / 'hapi njuː `jɜː/  (or / `'jiə /), GA speakers, it seems, usually say / 'hæpi `nuː jɪr /. Anyway, accept the greeting from me. I'm pleased to record that my colleague at Re'ding University Linda Shockey, who is American in her speech origin, confirms my impression just quoted saying in a recent email I actually have heard people in the USA say 'happy new YEAR', but only occasionally. PS I have subsequently seen a film, set in the US, where a number of people in an office exchange this greeting with each other and both stressings were to he'rd repeatedly.

     Incidentally, I'm inclined to strike a tiny blow for spelling reform by refusing to employ the ambiguous spelling 'read' for both /ri:d/ and /red/ as forms of the verb 'to read' by using 're’d' when that conveys the auditory form unambiguously – which you've seen spills over into my spelling of the name of the county town of Berkshire. By the way, that's the beauty of having a website of my own which frees me from the necessity, which in the past I've frequently found irksome, of submitting to editors' unwelcome rulings over matters of spelling, punctuation etc.

    The other day my good friend Professor Masaki Taniguchi of Kochi University in Japan delicately enquired whether it was possible that my heading to these occasional jottings c'd possibly have been a typo (ie typographical error). As I replied to him, it was fully intended because I thought I'd like to head them with something a bit snappier than "Phonetic Blog". I considered "phonblog" but rejected that as too lumpish etc. As to "phonoblog" that seemed as likely to suggest music as speech sounds. "Phonetblog" also sounded clumsy. So I was very unsuccessful in finding something concise.
   
    I fell back on the example of a curious book Our Oral Word as Social and Economic Factor by M. E. DeWitt a no doubt wealthy New York American spinster amateur phonetician who in that 1928 volume used the term "phonetigraph". Eccentric tho she and it were, I found the book, which I picked up in a secondhand bookshop, in parts quite entertaining and especially enjoyed reading her "phonetigraphs" which were annotated narrow transcriptions of the speech of about sixty fairly prominent speakers of English including John Galsworthy, Edmund Gosse, Hugh Walpole, William Tilly and Henry Cecil Wyld. When I began myself to systematically collect information on the pronunciations used by individual speakers I found her term "phonetigraph" a handy one that filled a gap in the available terminology. It was not strictly a conventional combination in that perhaps "phonetograph" w'd've represented the more orthodox way of combining two Greek loanwords but I became used to her usage so adopted it. Hence my parallel combining of a root of "phonetics" with the shortened form of "web log".
    [This blog has been notably revised since its first appearance.]

Blog 009

The 28th of December 2006

An Un-Empty Word and Linguistic Slumming

Going back to Wells blogs, one of them (Tuesday 10 October 2006) says:
Tamikazu Date, having just read the section in my book English Intonation that deals with this point, mentions the greeting expression How are things?. Where would the nucleus occur? he asks. Probably on the question word how? Yet don't some native speakers put the nucleus on the empty word things?

    The problem is that the nucleus has to go \/somewhere, and if all the other words in the IP are function words then it will even go on a weak aka empty content word. In fact, this is the usual tonicity for this question. 'How are \things

      Actually, for reasons I cannot explain, people like me usually violate number concord here, and say 'How’s \ things ” though that is not relevant to the intonation. (Google shows about half a million hits for How’s things, as against about two million for How are things.)" 

    See also the Wells comments at his Monday 16 October 2006 blog. There he seemed to give up on deciding what contrast was involved by the nucleus placement in "There were a 'lot of \people in the room". I think one could imagine that the speaker may be implying (or only just thinking, possibly even fairly subconsciously, one can't know) something like "It wasn't just full of furniture..."

    I don't agree that the word things is an empty word in How's things? Things is often used in senses like possessions, equipment and most narrowly clothes. Here it means goings-on, activities, progress etc. Compare How's life?

     The explanation of the violation of concord lies in what has sometimes been called the "register" of the expression because, as with the stylistically similar How's tricks?, the speaker is not using a neutral or othodox style but a notably relaxed one usually employed to suggest things like intimacy or marked friendliness. Using orthodox grammar, speakers generally take the care to plan ahead to achieve proper concord but in highly colloquial, informal, dialect or slangy styles one hears frequently expressions like Where's my things?

Such linguistic slumming ranges from the very mildly humorous or shirt-sleeves-order types to the very slangy. Grammatical rule-breaking occurs with most items like a good'un, how come, Howzat!, curiouser and curiouser, if it ain't broke don't fix it, the biter bit, rules is rules, I says to myself, you pays your money and you takes your choice, we was robbed, what's the odds, she done him wrong etc. Give us a look is 'rough' style if only one person is involved. The words whodunnit and wannabe belong here too. All the above are transfers from orthodox grammar to basilectal usages but still genuinely native English. A more unusual item that quotes instead from the, at least putative, unorthodox usage of foreign-language speakers (praps especially Chinese) is Long time no see.

Geddit? (ie Understand?), gone bust, swelp me gawd (ie so help me God), unorthodox elision of /v/ in gimme and cor lumme (God love me) and of /t/ in lemme and /nd/ in (cor) blimey (though dammit is purely orthographical). Beloved of the red-top headline writers is Gotcha ie Got you with a weakform of you that sounds pretty rough to British ears at least. Most of these are the province only of some men and of few ladies.



Blog 008

The 26th of December 2006

The Queen's English Again

    What an incredible age we live in. I've spent what in relation to my academic's modest income I count a small fortune over the years to be able to make and play back conveniently recordings of interesting speakers. The Queen has been one of the chief people that I've made extensive recordings of. Like Professor Jonathan Harrington, whose work we touched on at the 4th of December, I've found the Queen's speech very fascinating. The reason for this is pretty obvious to any student of phonetics. She is probably a unique object of study in that we have numerous recordings of almost always good quality extending over her whole life after her earlier childhood, many of them visual as well as auditory, and we know in great detail exactly what've been the influences that have shaped the kind of English she speaks. Now anybody in the world who has an inexpensive computer can go to the website of the British Monarchy Media Centre and take into their machine a variety of recordings of her voice including her latest annual Christmas Broadcast (number fifty-three!). So you can go to your computer and hear, as often as you want to repeat them, the things I'll say a few words about now. Questions I could imagine you thinking you'd like answered are as follows.

    Does she sound old-fashioned? Well of course she does occasionally show the odd slight throwback to the usages of the much older people she was surrounded by most of the time in her youth. The most striking one is the Victorian way she seems usually to say often in no doubt exactly the same way as she'd say orphan. On the other hand she sounds what you might think is surprisingly up-to-date in that she prefers the more modern version of certain unstressed syllables than is suggested to be most usual in our pronouncing dictionaries. That is, she has not the sit vowel but schwa in the first syllable of words like divide, enormous, enough, remain, remember etc. She certainly regularly has a slight off-glide in words like care but we don't all agree with Professor Clive Upton who has caused the Concise Oxford Dictionary etc to represent such words as mainly monophthongal. And she's modern enough to have the general monophthongal allophone in such words as shared and baring.

    Does she sound posh? Not as much as some might think. She has a version of anxiety that has three syllables not four and the middle one is a long [a:] vowel but this isn't tremendously marked socially. Her most consistently upmarket vowel value is the slightly front of centre beginning to the diphthong in know. I have a feeling that it used to be more fronted but I could be wrong and before /l/ as in old it sounds quite mainstream General British. Perhaps her vowel in real is a little more like the one in rare than most people have. As to the subject of Professor Harrington's recently reported investigations, her last sound in words like baby occurs plenty of times in her recent broadcasts but doesn't sound at all a notably close value. It certainly gets no heavier than usual rhythmically. Being always unstressed it is, for anybody, less likely to be of a very consistent quality. It isn't markedly closer in lady of where the following vowel might induce a closer than average value from many speakers and it isn't prolonged so as to make it very obviously a sit-vowel value. However, that is what it is most like, certainly not like see. It's heard at its closest in easy where many speakers are inclined to produce a slightly closer value than their usual one by the action of the tendency called 'vowel harmony'.

    Does she sound like a Londoner? Well she is a Londoner chiefly so it wouldn't be surprising if she did occasionally to some slight extent show the odd London feature. I've often thought that if I were played recordings of her speech and from them she wasn't the recognisable individual she is, I would incline to think she might be from London. The kind of feature that strikes me in the present recording is her choice of vowel in the -ness ending of happiness which is the sit value not the schwa most GB speakers, no doubt even most Londoners, have today. (She uses that vowel in business too but in that word it's perfectly common.) She also seems to have that vowel in the final syllable of considerate. I remember being struck once by hearing her say what seemed to be the combination of close vowel and replacement of the / t / by glottal plosive in shortly that struck me as markedly a Londonism but there was nothing like that in the present recording unsurprisingly for something scripted and carefully delivered. 

Blog 007

The 20th of December 2006

Tone Symbols and Tone Idioms

    At the end of a year of phonetic blogging by John Wells I've been looking back at the remarkable range of topics he has dealt with. I see from his blog archive that he began by referring to what he called some "tone idioms" and I was interested to note that some of his impressions were quite different from mine.  In particular he said that "the interjection oops or whoops, used when you've fallen, or dropped something, or made a mistake, can only have a rise. You can’t say it with a fall."

     Maybe because I am thinking of a slightly different meaning of the expression from his,  I can and probably most often do say it on an Alt (for this and the other four most basic tones of English see The Recognition of Tones on this website) ie an upper level tone. As a warning I might also say it on the less "basic" tone I call a Drop (a high-to-mid movement). Where I'm sure Wells and I would agree completely is that the extended expression 'Whoops a ˏdaisy would regularly have the Alt plus Rise pattern. The initial Alt could for me be sometimes replaced by a Fall. Of course it’ll be obvious that any expression quoted rather than uttered spontaneously would receive the citational pitch pattern of Alt plus Slump (or, with only one tone, Fall). For example we are discussing the expression 'Whoops a ˎdaisy.

    Wells's second "tone idiom" was the phrase 'by the way', used in spoken English to introduce a side issue not connected with the main subject you were talking about before, which he said "seems (at least for me) always to have some kind of fall (high fall, low fall, rise-fall), never a rise or fall-rise". Here again I differ. In for example a possibly somewhat apologetic manner `By the `ˏway seems a perfectly ordinary way to intone that phrase and 'By the ˏway may tend to sound excessively ingratiating or patronising but far from impossible. That version would probably be unlikely without a tone on "by".

    When he goes on to talk about the not-ordinary-conversational expressions Hello, Hi and See you (tomorrow) I feel he's getting into rather deep water with his limited framework. The problem is that, as I see it, a different tonal system operates in "remote" speech from that of normal close-quarters conversation. When he says "You can say hello! with any tone. But its newer equivalent hi! seems to demand a fall" he seems to be skating over the considerable number of different senses and contexts in which they are used. "Hello" has a much wider range of applications.
  Besides the Fall to which he says "Hi" is limited it is very often to be heard on a Drop, the tone for which O'Connor and Arnold invented a sign (ie ) though never ventured to use it to represent remote speech. A Drop on "Hi" would connote routineness etc. These matters are deep waters when one considers how complexly rhythms intersect with pitches for a variety of semantic effects.

Blog 006

The 4th of December 2006

The Queen's English's Development

    This is the title of an item that has appeared in today's Daily Telegraph by a Mr Neil Tweedie who has heard of a new article in the Journal of Phonetics it seems returning to the topic of the Queen's speech characteristics. Professor Jonathan Harrington, who we gather is on leave from his appointment at MacQuarie University in Australia to occupy a chair of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing at the University of Munich, is the source of the piece. Much of what is said could well have been based on Harrington et al's JIPA article of 2000. Reference is made, as if it were new, to Harrington's team having "conducted a thorough acoustic analysis of all [sic] the  Christmas broadcasts during her reign". Actually that article dealt with nine carefully selected broadcasts from the 50s to the 80s and the new work does not cover the remaining 50 or so. The "study of Christmas broadcasts to the Commonwealth since 1952 suggests the royal vowel sounds have undergone a subtle evolution" Tweedie says. Fair enough, but so have the vowels of most of us who lived through that period. Think how odd newsreels and films from that period have sounded to us to since the 70s. Mr Tweedie's account of what Professor Harrington said to him deals with comments in the new article that don't reverse suggestions in the 2000 one but amplify them by extending examination to the vowels of certain unaccented syllables.

 He remarks that Harrington says that in 1952 the Queen would have spoken of "the citay and dutay, rather than citee and dutee" but these representations such as citee are likely to give most readers a quite false impression of how she speaks currently. The facts are, it seems, that instead of having more or less exactly the same sound in both syllables of a word like city, a type of quality which has become increasingly less favoured by most speakers with the General British types of accent over the last half century, she latterly tends to have joined the majority who have replaced this very centralised type of vowel with something noticeably closer to the quality of her /i:/ phoneme of words like see. This by no means implies that she gives such syllables the strong rhythmic value that could be implied by the ambiguous spelling citee.

    Apparently it was such an eye-catching piece of journalism that it prompted the editors of BBC's Radio 4 Today programme to quote from it but it's difficult saying in print anything about such things at all clear to people without some knowledge of phonetic matters. Anyway, half the piece deserts the Harrington comments for some pretty vacuous ones by the historian and royal biographer Kenneth Rose. He is quoted amusingly as saying "About two or three years ago I was sitting next to the Queen at tea and she remarked that some of her grandchildren talked Estuary. I think she was talking about the Phillips children — but then Princess Anne always sounded a little suburban." Not my impression of Anne, I might say.

Fascinating to see that what I think of as the rather inept term "Estuary English" has even caught the attention of the royals. It has been rather discredited by recent analyses of what the term might mean. I rather regret that John Wells took up the term and nearly gave it respectability. He could surely have suggested a better one for the phenomenon. It had been recognisable for over 50 years before its 1984 christening. I was accustomed privately many years before that to call it Metropolitanised or Londonised pronunciation which better described styles that stretched along the south coast at least as far a Portsmouth. Londinial? Praps not. Anyway John is now enjoying a well-earned rest in the Caribbean sunshine in his property on the British island of Monserrat. PS Perhaps "Londonish" as a noun as well as adjective would be quite effective especially for the types of this accent heard beyond the immediate London region. (This item has been notably revised.)
Refs:
Harrington, J. (2006) An acoustic analysis of 'happy-tensing' in the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts Journal of Phonetics, 34(4): 439-57.
Harrington, J., Palethorpe, S., & Watson, C. (2000). Monophthongal vowel changes in Received Pronunciation: an Acoustic Analysis of the Queen's Christmas Broadcasts. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 30, 63-78.

Blog 005

The 18th of November 2006

IPA Symbols and Re-spellings in OBG

    This new BBC Guide has several changes from previous practices by both OUP in its general dictionaries and by the Pronunciation Unit itself (see the now unfortunately out-of-print BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names of 1971, second edition 1983) as regards its English modified spellings. It has now largely deserted the original principle of retaining the ordinary spelling as undisturbed as possible so that it is hardly likely that the new style is as easy for readers to handle as the old one was. The advantages, the avoidance of use of diacritics over ordinary letters and of italics and underlining, are dearly bought. The use of italic th for /ð/ the first sound of this is an exception. This might better have been avoided by use of "dh" in the way "zh" has been employed for /ʒ/ the second consonant of measure. For the representation of /x/, the ch of loch, "kh" now replaces the previous BBC underlined ch. For the vowel sounds it probably rather confusingly generalises "uh" for schwa /ə/ instead of breves over "a, e, o" and "u" viz ă, ĕ, ŏ & ŭ; for long schwa it generalises "ur" (eg at Fermi and kirk) instead of previous alternating "er", "ur" and "ir". It does alternate "ah" and "ar" for the arm vowel /ɑː/.  

    Another less than happy choice is "uu" for the foot vowel /ʊ/. This is surely somewhat counter-intuitive: "uu" has almost never to my knowledge been used in this way before. Henry Sweet and Peter MacCarthy both used "uu" for the goose vowel /u:/. So does the Simplified Spelling Society whose proposals were thought out very carefully over a number of years by very highly qualified thinkers on such matters including Daniel Jones, Arthur Lloyd-James and Harold Orton. Only the Simplified Spelling Association of the USA (in 1947) has ever proposed such a usage. [Added Feb 07] Also unattractive are "y" for the price diphthong /aɪ/ and the perhaps potentially misleading bracketed "(ng)" to indicate a nasalised vowel in eg "oe(ng) bo(ng) va(ng) blah(ng)" for un bon vin blanc where a bracketed "(n)" would have better suggested, except perhaps in the fourth case, the common English-speaker's substitution for a French-style nasal vowel. Bracketed "(ng)" could well mislead some users into presuming that in eg en bloc / eŋ / was an acceptable pronunciation for the first word.

     The above re-spellings (for the phonetically unversed broadcaster) precede IPA transcriptions. In these one finds the usual consonants and one understands the way the Welsh fricative /ɬ/ symbol is used for the beginnings of the IPA versions of Welsh placenmames such as those beginning with the syllable Llan-.  After all, that's what  major pronouncing dictionaries show in such words. However, actually, the modified-spelling versions beginning /hl-/ are more realistic because the nearest a native speaker of English can manage for such words (unless he or she is one in more than a hundred thousand) is the un-Welsh /ɬlan-/ with the prop of a following non-fricative /l/ to lean on. Such words are perfect shibboleths for detecting a person who hasn't acquired Welsh in infancy. Another bit of likely misplaced optimism is the suggestion that any but a tiny handful of broadcasters are going even to be aware of the existence in German of a palatal fricative leave alone use one.

    One notes too that the vowel symbols adopted are the new modernising "improvements" of the non-EFL arm of the OUP. In particular the representation of the cry diphthong as /ʌɪ / was surely a misjudgement that should not be continued with. It's true that MacCarthy alone idiosyncratically used it (though never except alongside /ʌʊ/) but Gimson had /aɪ, ɑʊ/ for the pair of dipthongs of mice/mouse which he converted to /aɪ, aʊ/ for the EPD in the interests of simplicity. If the new OUP style had been /ʌɪ, ʌʊ/ it would have seemed unnecessary but just about tolerable; however, /ʌɪ, aʊ/ must surely strike those who respect the IPA recommendations for the use of its cardinal vowels as perversely the wrong way round for the first symbols in the two diphthongs.

Wells has expressed a similar view: "Upton's notation implicitly identifies the first element of price with the vowel quality of cut -- an identification that accords with the habits neither of RP nor of southeastern speech (Estuary English). His choice of [ʌɪ] is really very unsuitable." (Wells 2001) "IPA transcription systems for English" (first versions on Wells's personal website but printed in) P[honetics] G[roup] Bulletin 9, 3-8 Santiago, Chile (editor H. Ortiz-Lira).    

See also on this website "IPA vowel symbols for British English in Dictionaries" §10. [PS I've just noticed (26 March 07) that the BBC regrettably-internal-only data base doesn't use the above-discussed OUP re-spellings system.]

Blog 004

The 12th of November 2006

The Bleck Hendbeg Problem

    John Wells's interesting comments today on "the institutionalized perception in central and eastern Europe that English /æ/ is to be mapped onto a variety of the local short /e/ (phonetically [ɛ]) and not onto the local short /a/" have inclined me to offer some more examples of the way that the traditional German pronunciations of many of their loanwords from English and of English placenames produce awkward ambiguities for them. They are likely to have no distinction between the pairs Addison/Edison, Alice/Ellis, Alison/Ellison, Campbell/Kemble, Dan/Den, Maddison/medicine, man/men, Saxton/sexton etc and come close to saying belly-dancer when they mean ballet-dancer. (The late Princess Margaret used in her old-fashioned style to say ballet in very like the way in which she must have pronounced bally).

Other traditional German versions of English words they once naturalised may suggest to the English-speaker strange spellings like Kenterbury, mennidger and hendikep for Canterbury, handicap and manager – the latter two items taken into German use and spelt with /ɛ/ in pronouncing dictionaries of the German language. In the circumstances it's no wonder that so many German learners of English have had problems with the English ash vowel. I knew a number of British EFL teachers who comically referred to the problem as the "bleck hendbeg syndrome".

I attribute this phenomenon to the fact that in the nineteenth century the Germans led the world in EFL studies and that it may have partly at least spread from their example. It was in response to the demand from German EFL teachers that the very first phonetic textbook dedicated to EFL use was produced by the great Henry Sweet. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1885 and was written in German and called Elementarbuch des Gesprochenen Englisch. It was so keenly appreciated that within five years a translation of it into English had to be issued as A Primer of Spoken English.

 The nineteenth century "received" pronunciation that Germans copied had a much closer value for ash than we have now and varieties of it persisted among very many speakers until the 1940s. A popular British actor of the day, Robert Donat, acknowledged that he put great effort into replacing his native Mancunian ash with a more "receivable" version. Such a close ash can be heard in many British films made before the fifties. Some of them excite incredulous mirth in people today. Americans still have on average closer values than the General British accent typically has.

    By the way, I wish John had given us some examples of the Irish use of a fricative for "intervocalic coda /t/". [He has done so now 15 Nov 2006.]


Blog 003

The 10th of November 2006

The Pronunciation of ESCHEW

Harking back to  John Wells's blog of 9 Oct 2006 on the pronunciation of the word eschew, one notes that the great OED records for  eschew the 14th century spellings esshue and  eshew and in the 16th century escue.

The pronunciation of the verb eschew as /ɪˋʃuː/, like (one form of) issue with reversed stress, has certainly existed for a long time despite its lack of recognition by British dictionaries. (The OED pronunciation of its first syllable is given only as /es-/ but the original editor for E was Henry Bradley who had other similar Northernisms.) The OED 16C spelling escue seems to be early evidence of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary's entry of a subvariant form /e`skjuː/. The word has perhaps not been universally heard in conversation but it has been well known in written English. Some of the great Bible translators used it, notably Wycliff 1388 (2 Tim ii 16) and Tindale (Corinthians 2 viii 20). It also occurred in Shakespeare (1598 Merry Wives v. v. 21). However, the King James 1611 avoided it in favour of shun and the 20C New English Bible shunned it in favour of avoid.

More interesting perhaps is the question of whether the esh /ʃ/ versions can be dismissed as ordinary sound change. Wells's blog said "I’m not sure ... that it is right to speak of the affricate having ‘become’ a fricative, as if this were an ordinary sound change. (This switch doesn’t apply to any other words, as far as I know.) Rather, /ɪsˈtʃuː ~ eˈʃuː/ is a lexicophonetic ‘alternation or ‘transfer’".

Indeed that is what I had been inclined to think at one time but I'm having second thoughts about the matter. I wonder, amongst other things, whether one has been overlooking the fact that some folk among the many who don't have /`stʃuː/ for the second syllable do use /`ʃuː/ for it and even may sometimes have a double esh /ʃʃ/ which easily becomes a single one for those who tend to perceive it as an everyday word.

After all there can be no doubt that many have /ʃʃ/ instead of /stʃ/ in the very common word question and I think many may have a weakform of that word with a single /ʃ/. I doubt if I really agree with the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary categorisations of the /ʃ/ variants of mischance and mischief as un-“received” and I think discharge and Eastcheap are probably in the same category. My problem with my uncertainty of how far we're dealing with "ordinary sound change" in some sense is compounded with contemplation of what may well have happened centuries ago to words like action, section and diction (a change which incidentally German speakers of English often might be said to "overlook") and what has been happening within the past century (I should say more extensively in American than British usage) to words like actually, factual, and intellectual and to architecture, fracture, lecture and structure.

Blog 002

The 8th of November 2006

The HAPPY (final) vowel

I've received a charming letter from a colleague in Belgrade, Biljana Čubrović, who writes:

"So far we have not taught our students how/when to use the symbols for the happY vowel and thank YOU vowel. This year we have introduced new curricula (in accordance with the Bologna declaration) and I thought it was a very good moment to restructure the English Phonetics course as well. Could you possibly refer me to some literature/practical exercises in connection with these two symbols. I am also interested in who first noticed the change and when that was?"

My reply for the moment is, it's not a matter to worry about in teaching except to perhaps discourage a very strong rhythmic treatment of final -y etc. I've never thought that a very close approximation to a particular pronunciation model is advisable as a goal. I'm very happy to hear anyone sounding as if their native language wasn't English as long as I feel they don't actually seriously distort English words. I think that using English needn't, even shouldn't, sound as if you're impersonating a particular English speaker ie it's possible to have "too" good an accent. Most EFL users don't seem to me to have much trouble with the final vowel of happy. I've only found it very striking from the occasional native speaker of German.

As to who first noticed the change and when that was, it's a long story. I wrote a rather lengthy article about "Happyland reconnoitred:the unstressed word-final-y vowel in General British pronunciation" for Studies in the Pronunciation of English (ed.) Susan Ramsaran. London: Routledge pp 159-67 in 1990. The first two and the last three or so pages of this article (see Section 3 Item 2 on this website) mounted a challenge to the Wells suggestion that a relatively close but rhythmically weak final -y had been a fairly recent development in 20th-century non-dialectal British pronunciation notably by a quotation from the 1780 Dictionary of the English Language of Thomas Sheridan (father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and educated at Westminster School in London) at p.165. I cd equally have cited John Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1791.

As to the corresponding weak /u/ of thankyou etc, I feel rather critical of the way current pronunciation lexicographers handle that topic but it had better wait till another blog. [Postscript: this promise was fulfilled in my blog 011 of 3 Jan 07]. This Website has a short section (# 23) on "The unstressed word-final -y vowel" in the article (Section 7 Item 4) on The Central Northern Non-Dialectal Pronunciation  of England".


Blog 001

The 1st of November 2006

English Dental Fricative Fronting.

I'm have such pleasure reading John Wells's fascinating blogs that I'm finding it hard to resist joining in the discussions. Today he  comments on the topic of English Dental Fricative Fronting.

I can confirm most of what he says from my own observations and shd like to add that, after about forty years of residence in central northern England, I have frequently noticed individual speakers with fronting of their theta [θ] to [f], including many years ago an elderly man who was cutting my hair who, when I very gently referred to that  peculiarity of his, plainly showed himself to my surprise completely unaware that his speech was different from other people in that respect.

On the three directions in which dental fricatives may go in English, John rightly says French speakers tend to sibilation to [s, z].
One can add to this that some French native speakers may use [f] for English /θ/. I remember for instance noting in the 80s that a French actress Cécile Paoli who appeared in various English-language tv films (well known on British television from the series Sharpe, Bergerac and Holby City) regularly used [f].

Oddly enough French borrowings of the English words "Thatcher",  "thriller" and "thug" seem to begin usually with /t/.

Any French word used in  English with the spelling "th" is almost always to be heard with /θ/ by even the most sophisticated English-speakers eg in absinthe, (crême de) menthe, Pathé, pathétique, Lenthéric, Thermidor, Rothschild. In America and here too Thoreau and Theroux etc, though plainly of French extraction, also always have theta /θ/ for their "th".

Although mainstream English-speakers regularly exhibit un-fronted dental articulations for their "th"sounds, they quite often may be heard to use stops rather than fricatives especially in strongly emphatic utterances. Those who have a copy of one of the best-ever British tv film dramas, Brideshead Revisited, may hear Diana Quick as Lady Julia produce a strong dental plosive at the beginning of "Thank you for your advice, doctor" in its final episode. And anyone who might have the first of the treasurable recordings that J. D. O'Connor & G. F. Arnold made of their controversial but stimulating Intonation of Colloquial English (long out of print except in Japan) may hear the same beginning to "Thank you" after the context "Will you have a drink?". An understandable context for such a delivery.


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