Archive 11 of JWL Blog
Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.
One Way Pronunciations can Change
I suspect that changes in the pronunciations of individual English
words are happening more quickly than they ever did in the past now
that we have the auditory global village braut about by the
universality of sound recording equipment nowadays. I think I may have
detected an example of this on the second of this month when I heard a
BBC Radio 4 broadcast in a series called In Our Time on the subject of the seventeenth
century “metaphysical” poets.
There were four speakers involved. The chairman was Lord Melvin Bragg,
whose speech has perceptible traces of Cumbrian influence, and three
scholars with chairs at British universities. These were firstly Thomas
Healy who exhibited an unusual mixture of intermittently high-rhoticity
American and somewhat socially conspicuous British features which I
found very faintly reminiscent of the notorious Loyd Grossman. The
second, Julie Sanders, exhibited a perfectly ord’nry General
British (perhaps vaguely southeastern) accent of the distinctly younger
(under 40) generation. The third, Thomas Cain, had a noticeably older
style generally quite neutral but leaving me with the slight suggestion
of the odd faint trace of a Lancashire background.
Now I come to the thing that struck me as strange. All four of them, three
of them of course authorities on the subject of the discussion,
pronounced the surname of the very well known poet Andrew Marvell in a
way I have no recollection of ever having heard before as /mɑː`vel/.
Their authority is likely to influence numbers of their students to
adopt the same version and in a generation or so it cd be that the
traditional pronunciation may become old-fashioned. There is no trace
of this new version in any reference book I’ve consulted: LPD3,
EPD and ODP all give /`mɑːvəl/ and that alone. There is no trace of it
in my oldish (1966) American Random House Dictionary
tho one feels that its adoption has something at least parallel with
the American perception of the word as a borrowing from French — which of
course it is very likely to have been even as a surname.
EPD didnt record similar late stressing for Purcell till 1977: it’s now been common for a long time.
For anyone who’d like to know what he was referring to when John Wells today remarked
Jack Windsor Lewis will be
delighted to know that one of his invented examples, illustrating ...
pre-fortis clipping, has turned up in real life. BBC Radio Four has an
assistant producer called Jo King
the reference was to my Item 4 § 3.9 on this website
"Suggestionisms" – a 'Banned' Lecture" subtitled "Rhythmic etc
distortions of English speech and their consequent involuntary false
impressions" where a whole family of “Kings” was mentioned.
Word Accentual Notation
A correspondent has recently prompted me to offer an explanation of the
matter of my regular indication of word stress patterns by using
intonation symbols rather than the officially recommended stress marks
of the International Phonetic Association. I do this for more than one
reason. One of these is that stress in English words can be a pretty
complex subject not least because the very word stress has been used
with such a variety of significations as to make it problematic. This
is a matter adverted to by Alan Cruttenden in his admirable revision of
the Gimson Introduction to the Pronunciation of English (eg at
§3.2.4 p.23 of the seventh edition renamed as Gimson’s
Pronunciation of English) in which he notes that he completely avoids
even using the word "stress". He indicates word accentual patterns in the
same way. See also Cruttenden/Gimson seventh edition at pp xvii and 264
I may say that I don’t consider this in any way an infringement
of the principles of the IPA but merely an alternative choice open to
its adherents to offer information to their readers in a way which they
may prefer to employ. If one shows for a word how it is spoken by
simply indicating the pitch pattern used in saying it that information
comes free from any baggage of theoretical stress etc matters.
My adoption of this method could be seen in print in 1969 in my Guide
to English Pronunciation. Its inspiration was the work of Roger Kingdon
who had demonstrated it so effectively in his 1954 Groundwork of
English Stress. I was particularly attracted to his system of
“tonetic stress marks” as Kingdon called them also by its
technical typographical advantages in that its distinctiveness and
legibility were of superior effectiveness to the authorised IPA tonic
stress mark because it occupies more horizontal space. Also
typographically desirable to my mind are the way Kingdon’s very
simple system provides better legibility in that pre-tonic syllables
are indicated at a more comfortably perceptible higher level than by
the IPA secondary stress marks. I was glad to be able to use the system
in my 1972 Concise Pronouncing Dictionary, which I consider was second
to none for legibility, and also in the 1974 third edition of the
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. Gimson,
who later took over from me responsibility for the pronunciations in
that dictionary, preferred to restore the IPA recommended style in it
which it has to this day under Michael Ashby. I am still of opinion
that at least the typographical considerations involved outweighed the
advantages of complete harmony with the pronunciation indications in
dictionaries in general.
Just about a month ago (on May the 30th to be exact) the latest ie seventh edition was published of the Gimson Introduction to the pronunciation of English as “revised” by Alan Cruttenden. Sensibly slimmed in its title to Gimson’s Pronunciation of English revised by Alan Cruttenden,
it’s really rather misleading to merely call it a
“revision”. In fact what we have now is a third and better
than ever re-casting, rewriting, amplification and extensive updating
which is actually a very considerable improvement on the original
amounting to full co-authorship.
interesting, as the new Foreword
indicates, is the fact that the consonantal articulatory figures have
now been improved or (most often) confirmed in their suitability by
checking against frames taken from dynamic magnetic resonance imaging
scans of fifteen phrases designed to include all the
consonants and vowels of English, a notable advance on the use of
static x-ray photographs. We are
promised very soon to be able to see such films on a website being
to accompany the book.
Look out any time now for the workbook, sound files and MRI videos to be accessed free at www.hodderplus.com/linguistics.
(This will also have materials to accompany the fifth edition of International English by Peter Trudgill & Jean Hannah.)
Also to be greeted warmly is a virtually new chapter
now titled Teaching and Learning English as an Additional Language
occasioned by the way the “status of English in the world has
hugely changed since the publication of the first edition in
1962”. This sets out to “reflect present-day usage of
English as a world language in presenting two alternative targets to RP
... for those learning English as an additional ... language and for
those using English as a lingua franca”.
The accounts of other varieties, including General
American, Scottish, London, Northern and Caribbean much enlarge
upon Gimson's few remarks and the novel concept is introduced of
“Regional RPs”. Cruttenden goes out of his way to point out
throughout the book that he agrees with the general judgement of what he
calls “Refined RP”, ie socially conspicuous
“posh” varieties, as outdated and figures of fun.
As he says “Since this book was first written, the number of
users of English as an additional language has grown
exponentially.” Consequently we find occurrences of new
expressions like the abbreviation ELF (English as a lingua franca)
and Amalgam English ie an “amalgam of native-speaker Englishes,
together with some local features arising from a local L1” and,
in a new definition, International English.
The overall impression of the text is that the
graphics are better than ever (for example there are now thirty vowel
diagrams all either new or re-drawn) and the general styling of the
text is more user-friendly than ever. There can be no doubt that this
book is still the most indispensable account of British English
phonetics in existence.
The Wells blog of Monday 23 June 2008 contained the following:
In Latin we have adjectives
'acidus, 'gelidus, 'rapidus, 'solidus. The suffix -id- has a short
vowel, therefore stress goes on the antepenultimate. Correspondingly,
in Italian (and also in Spanish) it’s ácido,
gélido, rápido, sólido; in English acid, gelid,
rapid, solid ˈæsɪd, ˈdʒelɪd, ˈræpɪd, ˈsɒlɪd ...
Where’s the problem? Why would anyone suppose that the stress fell on a different vowel in Italian?
John's question was triggered by his hearing the Puccini aria Che gelida manina
announced on Classic FM with the stressing /ʤɛˈliːda/. I can certainly
confirm his impression that such choices are constantly made by native
English speakers. In the past I've heard that very one myself.
Basically his question is why shd people not be guided by the analogies
they find in their own language.
The answer is that (a) they are aware or have the vague
impression that the words in question belong to Romance
languages and (b) in most such languages there is the vastly more
frequent alternative analogy of the amphibrach with the stress pattern
[– `— –]. This is extremely familiar especially in huge numbers of
diminutives from albino and casino to mosquito and zucchini. (Not to mention items like bravado, desperado, libido, querido, tornado and torpedo.) Ergo English speakers generalise this pattern rather than the other much less frequent one.
The tendency can be seen in eg the placename Cordova where, although all the various places so called throughout the Spanish-speaking world are accented Córdoba, all the half-dozen places so called in North America are given amphibrachic accentuation.
Many Italian, Spanish and other words and names are either often or regularly amphibrachicised by English-speakers including angora (now replaced as a city name by Ankara which is not so treated) Brindisi, Cagliari, Cyrano, Desdemona, Genoa, incognito, Lepanto, Lipari, Maritimo, mascara, Medici (tho the singular medico is usually not so stressed), Modena, Monaco, Otranto, paprika, rococo, stigmata, Stromboli, Taranto, tombola, Trafalgar etc. The word oregano is amphibrachicised in Britain but not in America where Spanish is better known.
More on this topic may be found on this site at Italian Words in Spoken English Item 9 §4.
Welsh double l from the BBC
Since I posted my blog 104 of the 15th of June 2008 welcoming the BBC
Wales Web pages on Welsh placenames' origins and pronunciations
there've been a couple of postings from John Wells on the topic of the
pronunciations to be heard at them of the Welsh sound represented by
the double-l spelling. I've no idea how long these pages have been
available but I had just chanced upon them in the course of looking
generally at what the BBC Website had to say about matters of
pronunciation. Also one has no idea who was responsible for them
because their authorship is unfortunately unattributed.
The double-l-sound remark was only one of ten or more comments I made
mainly suggesting possible improvements. Incident'ly I didnt mention on
that occasion three other apparently anomalous pronunciations employed by
their speaker viz he had /d/ not /ð/ in Pontarddulais and used /-`iːrɒn/ in Aberaeron and /-kaɪr`i:n-/ in Llanfaircaereinion. Altogether he seemed to have been a somewhat unsatisfactory model for "audio intended for Welsh learners".
However, Mr Ceri Davies of BBC CymruWales, responding as quoted in
John's blog of the 26th of June on the Welsh ll, to one's considerable
surprise averred that
To my ear, and to the ears of
my Welsh-speaking colleagues here at BBC Wales Education &
Learning, we cannot discern a problem with the pronunciation of the
letter "ll" on BBC Wales' pronunciation guide.
He didnt mention how many colleagues were involved or what parts of
Wales he, his model speaker or they came from so we can't begin to
contemplate whether we might be hearing a regionalism. What I did find
fascinating was that in fairly casually initial listening, after having
noticed the particularly obvious palatal fricatives in the items I
quoted (Benllech and Machynlleth),
continuing with the other twenty-five or so names where one expected to
hear /ɬ/, I had certainly not had the reaction that they sounded
un-Welsh. They definitely sounded un-Anglicised so they wd perhaps be
not such unsuitable models after all. Yet they are plainly a minority
usage if not idiosyncratic. John's suggestion that we might be
witnessing a Welsh sound change in progress wd need some extensive
investigation to come to a conclusion on. It's interesting that this
phenomenon seems to have been unnoticed hitherto.
Finally I shd say that on closer listening I found it often quite
difficult to hear whether any lateral element was audible in many of
the items but there seemed to be some at least at eg Llangwm and possibly Llandrindod.
I hope anyone interested in this topic has noticed that at this address
on my main Website there is an article entitled A Notable Welsh Sound:
Section 9 Item 1.
Sub-varieties of GB aka "RP"
My blog of 27 May 08 ended with the remark concerning words ending like happy
"GB speakers have sub-varieties in which one group regularly favours
final /ɪ/ in practically all circumstances, another usually only has
/i/ and a third has /i/ in happy but /ɪ/ in policies
etc". Since then I've had occasion to hear the speech of (Baron) Harry
Woolf Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 2000 until
2005. He attended the Edinburgh Fettes “public” school (as
did Tony Blair) and his speech has no easily detectable affiliation
with any region of Great Britain. However, he very noticeably belongs
to a relatively small minority of such speakers who seem to have in the
terminations most usually spelt -ed and -es
the vowel schwa. He refers to his old school with the same
pronunciation as, one doesnt doubt, he accords to the word
This marks him as someone to whom Jones, the person responsible for the
propagation of the regrettable label “RP”, wd not have
agreed to apply that term. His successor A C Gimson, who continued to
use that term, was clearly at least reluctant to apply it to such
usages. However, he showed marked signs of weakening in his objection
to Jones’s classification of them because in his major revision
of the Jones dictionary in 1977 he remarked at p.vi “The
trend towards /ə/ in weak syllables is now so firmly established among
middle and young generation RP speakers that a number of changes in the
ordering of pronunciation forms have been made in the present edition,
particularly in the following cases:...
‘-es, -ed’, e.g.
‘horses, waited’: the /-ɪz, -ɪd/ forms remain dominant in
RP, even among the young, despite the influence of the alternative
/-əz, -əd/ characteristic of other types of English.”
However, when one turned to the text of the 1977 EPD, one found no listing of a schwa plural variant of box etc.
And to this day Roach et al havnt admitted such schwa plurals to
EPD and have made no comment on this topic. On the other hand Wells has
shown such schwas in LPD since its 1990 first edition. He seems plainly
justified. As examples of such speakers one can cite in the field of
phonetics Professor John Laver and the distinguished textbook author
Leslie Hill. In public life one can cite the actor Sir Alan Bates, at
the BBC the radio newsreader Alison Rooper (pronounced 'Roper'!) and music presenter Penny
Gore, Lord Fawsley (Norman St
John-Stevas) and so on. I have something of an impression that one is quite
likely to meet this pronunciation feature in alumni of Roman
Catholic public schools. I imagine this to be possibly due to the
influence of Irish teaching staff at such institutions. Other examples
seem to be associated with mainly tho not exclusively northerly
counties such as Derbyshire.
Clearly Jones was so far from considering such usages as
admissible to his definition of "RP" that he didnt even take the
trouble to explicitly exclude them in the way he had excluded -less and -ness
with schwa and various other items notably in the 1956 last edition of
EPD for which he was solely responsible where at p. xxix he commented
on them that they "cannot properly be regarded as coming within the limits of what should be included in this Dictionary".
I was glad to read in today’s blog by John Wells
I am sorry that Jack Windsor
Lewis took exception to my light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek references
to RP last week (blog, 12 June).
This was immediately followed by the following quotation from what I said:
...cheap ignorant unsubstantiatable claptrap...
These words of mine were applied, I trust it was perfectly clear, to
the content of the newspaper film review he quoted and not at all to
any remark of his own. However, I’m relieved that he’s now
made it completely clear that his comments on that occasion were
tongue-in-cheek because I feared that some less than
highly sophisticated members of his readership might possibly have failed to perceive
Similarly clumsy to the remarks of the reviewer which were the subject
of the above discussion are the introductory comments accompanying an
audio clip to be found at the BBC Homepage if you search for the crude
title The dying accent of England.
once regarded as the benchmark of proper speech, is little heard these
days. News Interactive found out how an RP accent would change the
sound of one passage from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
This item posted at 19 Aug 2005 is a pathetic attempt to make a point
with three readings of fifteen-seconds-or-so each of the same extract.
They don’t bother to give the text or even the Act and Scene
The readings differ very little. The first has a pronunciation [ɛʊt] for out and something like [strɑɪk] for strike
but otherwise sounds pretty neutral. It’s not mentioned why there
are three. The other two are also unremarkable except for both having a
conspicuously fronted beginning to the diphthong of Rome
something like [reʊm] in both cases but a bit fronter in the last than
in the second which is of course rather old-fashioned and posh. No-one
is credited with the readings or the feeble idea of using them.
It’s not worth putting a link to the file here. There are better
things on this BBC website: this one shd be discarded to make room for
some more better ones. I plan to refer to some of the better stuff in
Welsh Placenames' Pronunciations
I recently found at
information on the origins of Welsh placenames. The information was
given with a map on which you place your cursor over any of sixty or so
buttons to display the names of the places. Clicking would then take
you to a page of information on the origin of the name. This was
presumably essentially largely based on the book by Professor Hywel Wyn
Owen (Director of the Place-name Research Centre at Bangor University)
and Richard Morgan a Dictionary of the Place-Names of Wales
— tho we arnt told so. Nor are we given any information
about those to be credited with the creation of another adjacent
very welcome section, a similar map of a set of sound files at
In this a single male speaker very clearly enunciates over 80 names
which we gather have been asked for by listeners to BBC Wales (not just
Welsh-language) programmes. The section is headed “How
do I say...? You sent in some of the place names that you find
difficult to pronounce. We've plotted them on a map and added a handy
audio pronunciation”. To see each name you have to place
the cursor over an arrowhead and click. To hear it you have to click on it again. These
are, in places, uncomfortably crowded together. It wd be helpful if the
names cd all be listed below, as they are at the etymologies map, and
preferably given position plottings. The pronunciations are obviously
those of a native speaker of Welsh (possibly from not far from
Cardiganshire — Ceredigion if you will). A number of matters
occurred to me in listening to them.
1. Taking them in alphabetical order, first comes Aberteifi where the spelling ei
I hear in various words by our speaker as [eɪ]. I'm more familiar with
this as [əɪ] or as [aɪ] but I presume this is now a widespread educated
Welsh practice. A contrary opinion was expressed 80 years or so ago in
Stephen Jones's 1926 Welsh Phonetic Reader. The same goes for Gorseinon, Llandeilo, Meifod, Portmeirion etc.
2. Secondly Beaumaris by our speaker is [ˈbjuːˎmarɪs]. In PDBN (the 1983 BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names) that name is given as [bəʊˈmӕrɪs]. It was also so pronounced by Prof Hywel Wyn Owen in a video clip on an adjacent site.
3. Next at Benllech I hear for the ll not the expected lateral fricative [ɬ] but an unlateralised palatal fricative [ç]. I get the same impression at Machynlleth.
4. The next thing I noticed was spellings. Some occur in for me unexpected forms as when we get Betwsycoed instead of Bettws-y-Coed, Cricieth not Criccieth and Llanfaircaereinion instead of Llanfair Caereinion. Some of these are no dou’t at least partly misprints including LlanraeadrymMochant for Llanraeadr ym Mochnant and NantyMoel for Nant-y-Moel.
5. Next I found Clydach as [`klədax]. This is perfectly understandable on the
part of the speaker who has the misfortune to be faced with a highly
irregular spelling as we see confirmed at the thirteenth item of the
«The Editors» set of BBC Pronunciation Unit recommendations
posted 14 Aug 06 which sez "Today's
pronunciation is the Welsh town Clydach, for which we recommend the
pronunciation KLID-uhkh (kh as in Scottish "loch"). This
recommendation, for use in English-language broadcasts, is based on the
local Welsh pronunciation and was researched with a number of local
6. The next item I comment on purely because it's a nice demonstration of
the fact that Welsh spelling, tho much more regular than English, seems
to have a similar problem to the one that is the biggest bugbear of
English spelling, namely that it has no way of distinguishing /uː/
and /ʊ/. The word is Eglwyswrw
which is rather daunting-looking to English speakers because it has
three w's none of which represents a consonant — which is of
course the only function w
has in English. Anyway, the real problem is that the last two w's represent quite different sounds
respectively much the same as English /ʊ/ and /uː/. The first is, taken
with its following y, much like the initial element of the diphthong one is familiar with in English in a word like ruin /ruɪn/.
7. At Llanraeadr ym Mochnant I hear not the expected r-sound [ɬanreɪədər] but [ɬanheɪədər] with it replaced by [h].
8. For Talgarth
I remember from my youth that /tal`gɑːθ/ was the version in use among native English speakers in Glamorgan. Here, as
in PDBN, we get /ˈtalgarθ/ tonologically [ˊˋtalgarθ]
but tonetically [talˋgarθ] with an initial leap from a mid to a
high pitch not with pitch change in the course of the first
syllable. This example is a fascinating demonstration of a
tonological difference between Welsh and English. Welsh lexical stress
is conveyed by a rising-falling type of tone tonetically
[tal`garθ] which, because most forms of English have a
simple falling tone for lexical tonics, co-incides with the outline
pitch pattern on this word in English of the reverse stressing. How do
we easily recognise that the Welsh-influenced version is ˊˋTalgarth and
not Talˋgarth. I guess its the rhythm not the pitches: in the Welsh
style (which of course we have as a variant tonal choice in non-lexical
contexts among many English native speakers) the fall comes suddenly,
in the English lexical type (even if made with an identical pitch
contour) we have a less rapid transition. I wonder whether the version I remember was a kind of
anglicisation or adopted from a Welsh regional stressing.
9. At Treorchy I hear it as containing no r-sound and a (consequential) short stressed vowel [tri`ɒki].
10. I cd hear no sound at all for Caerphilly or Penfro.
Perhaps I shd add that I'm in no way a scholar or speaker of Welsh and
must apologise in advance for any ignorant misconceptions I may have exhibited
above. I have attempted long ago to read (at least in part) certain
books in Welsh. My very modest interest in the language is partly due to the fact
that my maternal grandmother was a native speaker of Welsh, being born
at Carmarthen, and used the language until in her early teens she moved
for the rest of her life to Cardiff — where I grew up. The few
Welsh lessons I received at elementary school until the age of eleven
made no recoverable impression on me. Of course as a student of phonetics Welsh pronunciation has been grist to my mill.
Spot the Mistake and Posho speech
Spot the mistake was the
title of John Wells's phonetic blog of yesterday. He quoted some items
he'd just come across from transcriptions by examinees which were penalized by the examiners saying These must be wrong, and candidates ought to know that they are wrong ... [Native speakers] are encouraged to transcribe their own accent (but must say what it is).
The first one was /dʒeɪms/ for James which prompted me to wonder how they wdve considered that and the other item /njuːs/ for news
if the candidate had sed he had a North Wales English accent. Most of
the other items concerned pretty predictable things including being
misled by the spelling but there were a couple that I found really
interesting. One of these was /ˈdeɪŋdʒərəs/ for dangerous
which looks pretty strange but oddly enough I'm sure wd pass quite
unnoticed if actually used in a conversation. The other /ˈmӕnɪʒd/ for managed
rather startled me because I've so often noted it in use by GB speakers
that I think it constitutes a notable omission from the pronunciation
dictionaries. Compare what I sed in my blog of the 20th of September
2007: I hear the version of management
without the d-element as least as often as with it, despite its
complete absence from any description of English pronunciation known to
In today’s blog John quotes from a Guardian tv reviewer with a theme “the
poshos are taking over...A few years ago, you couldn't get anywhere in
TV without an incomprehensible regional accent; toffs were simply
figures of fun.” I’m dismayed that John can think such cheap ignorant unsubstantiatable claptrap is worth a mention. John adds So perhaps RP is not in irrecoverable decline after all. That seems to suggest that he takes such comments seriously.
One of one’s troubles with such remarks is to g’age how far
John and his egregious television “critic” Mr Woolaston are
talking about conspicuously upper-class accents or ordinary general
non-regionally-affiliated speech which was what I thaut John meant by
the unqualified term
“RP” that he unfortunately has never seen fit to
disembarrass himself of in his so rightly very influential writings.
The present Cabinet contains for example David Miliband, Jack Straw,
Hilary Benn, John Hutton and Harriet Harman who dont strike me as
having noticeably more regional accents than various people in the
Shadow Cabinet. The Woolaston remarks about prominent figures in
television are even more nonsensical.
Spelling Reform - Feasible or Futile?
For something like a couple of centuries we’ve had around the
English-speaking world societies dedicated to the reform of English
spelling and by now they’ve got just about nowhere. Isnt it
perhaps time we had some fresh thinking about what their aims are or
should be. Why don’t we compare our problems over spelling with
what happens in the world of spoken communication. There we can’t
be bullied by editors, publishers, teachers, examining bodies and
governments all colluding to decree how English is to be spelt even
when it is a matter of perpetuating numerous irrationalities and
glaringly inappropriate forms. A large amount of de-regulation of
spelling might be a possible answer to the problem.
These dictators get away with it because they are in positions where
they can exercise control and they get support from the snobberies of
very many of those who have climbed the ladder of education to points
from where they can look down on those who havnt. If they tried to
exercise the same dictatorship regarding people’s accents (and
I’m not saying there arnt any monsters around who’d like to
try and get away with attempting that) they’d be generally
derided as control freaks.
To dislodge them from their stranglehold on our spelling a start cd be
made by having goverments decree that no pupil is to be penalised in
any way if they employ a spelling which is unconventional but rational
and thereby causes no difficulties of communication of an order greater
at most than those with which we are all accustomed to deal in daily
conversation with people who have different accents from ourselves.
The same kind of decree wd no doubt at the same time have to be applied
to government and other official publications which shd in due course
be required to adopt large numbers of revised more rational spellings.
I’m not for a moment suggesting the banning of any existing
conventional spellings, however irrational they might be, by the many
people who wd be certain to wish to continue to use them. If such a
proposal were carried out we shd undoubtedly go thru an extended period
— it might well be of generations — in which the current
relative uniformity of our spellings was broken down. Inconsistencies
of spelling wd be an important matter which wd have to be tolerated.
Increasing the sizes of countless indexes to accommodate new spellings
wd undoutedly be a major problem.
It wd have to be accepted as respectable for educationists to produce
versions of early teaching materials which for beginners substituted
more regular spellings (for words which at present early learners
stumble over) thereby encouraging them to make better progress in their
reading skills. We shd also have to expect to see and be accepted
various regional variations in spellings. For example, while continuing
to countenance from any individual the present conventional spelling of
the past tense of think as thought we shd be completely ready to accept
it as thaut or thawt or thort. This kind of thing wd undoubtedly be
objected to strongly by the majority of the present reading public who
have powerful associations with such spellings as betokening very low
grades of literacy and general education.
Many people will no doubt think that these suggestions are just not
worth the effort involved in carrying them out especially as we all now
have spelling checkers and other facilities if we want them and
obviously increasing numbers of people are simply no longer bothering
with such flimmeries as apostrophes. Nevertheless, if we arnt willing
to set our faces against such basically irrational frames of mind, I
wonder whether the Spelling Society wd do better to pack its bags, go
home and cease to bother to waste time on any more conferences such as
they’ve recently had.
KENNETH L. PIKE
Yesterday was the 94th anniversary of the birth of Kenneth L Pike
perhaps the most remarkable of all American phoneticians. Some mystics
may want to claim that there was transmigration of the spirit of Henry
Sweet who’d died only a month or so earlier. Anyway Pike’s
early masterpiece, his Phonetics of 1943, produced much the same thunderclap of originality as had Sweet’s Handbook of Phonetics in 1877. He died on the 31st of December 2000.
I remember discussing Jones’s attitude to Pike with Gimson.
It’s perhaps surprising that Pike had no detectable influence on
Daniel Jones who, in the bibliography to his book The Phoneme (1950) didnt mention him at all and in his Outline of English Phonetics (last revision 1956) only mentioned Pike’s less remarkable Intonation of American English.
Gimson assured me that Jones thaut highly of him observing that
they’d met and got on well together. There was no doubt that Pike
valued Jones’s writings. Jones was quoted on 38 pages of Phonetics
— more than any other author. By comparison Sweet was mentioned
on 34, Bloomfield 20, Ward on 18 and others only considerably less.
Terms subsequently so often used in the subject like air-stream, vocoid and contoid, stricture, emic and etic, velic, fortis and lenis, resonant and sonorant were in some cases coined and in others put into wider circulation by Pike’s influence.
In later life Pike moved on to other linguistic fields, including what he called tagmemics, work culminating in the three volumes of his Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior (1954–1960).
I'm sometimes inclined to
compare myself to a twitcher, watching endlessly as I do the comings
and goings of words and pronunciations. Currently I'm brought
frequently to wonder what's happened to the word "problem". Can it have
taken upon itself some obscene connotation of which I remain in
innocent unawareness. Over the last at least six months it seems to've
been almost completely ousted by the cuckoo "issue". One other item I
keep noticing is an apparent widespread increased reluctance to employ
the perfectly respectable schwa weakform /əs/ of the pronoun
"us". The sort of thing I mean is saying that eg This'll affect all of us with the pronoun as /ʌs/ when there's no contrastive implication.
Can I be alone in both these impressions?
Postscript: After months of wondering what might be the answer to my
question about the sudden surge in the popularity of the word "issue"
I've just heard Rob Cowan, the enthusiastic and well-informed presenter
on BBC Radio 3, within hours of my posting that question interpose
among his music offerings the comment that he has been so struck
by the phenomenon that he's been counting remarkable numbers of
occurrences of its use. So I'm not quite the lone crank I thaut I might