Archive 12 of JWL Blog
Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.
Another Dialogue Transcribed (ii)
7. Freddy `gets a bit `rough at `ˏtimes │
8. but `not more than `Fluffie can `ˏhandle.
9. She’ll ˈeven inˈvite him │ to ˈchase her round
10 the `garden ´`ˏsometimes.
11 But she `has to have her `ˏfood │
12 on her `own, of course.
13 `Oh, `yes, ´`naturally.
Model Version & Commentary (continued)
Line 7 needs weakforms of a and at.
/ fredi `gets ə bɪt `rʌf ət `ˏtaɪmz │
Line 8 needs a weakform of but: showing this as */bt/ is not a realistic representation of English pronunciation. Also than and can must
have weakforms when unstressed as here. It's often difficult to hear
whether in these two words a speaker is
saying a schwa or saying no schwa but a syllabic /n/. The more clearly
is heard the more likely is the articulation to sound slightly over
careful. Therefore the simple /n/ makes the better target. Sometimes
the delivery is leisurely enough for a syllabic /n/ to be clearly
audible: then showing a schwa before it is certainly
inappropriate. When I'm marking a student's work, if I find a schwa has
been used I don't strike it thru in red which wd mean completely wrong
but I encircle it in green brackets to say "better to leave this schwa
/bət `nɒt mɔː ðn `flʌfi kn `ˏhӕndl/.
Line 9: the initial contraction is suitably targeted as /ʃi(ː)l/ the
weakform being the more usual value. It may be often so weakly
articulated as to be indistinguishable from /ʃɪl/ but the clearer the
articulation the less likely is it to contain /ɪ/ as opposed to /i/.
A very explicit notation of even might show it with syllabic /n/ but in
this context it's actually more likely to be uttered with an unsyllabic
/n/ which slightly speeds up the articulation to what's normal here. To transcribe him and her with aitches wd be inclined to suggest a
more deliberate articulation than one usually hears in such enclitic
(An enclitic syllable is a weak one which is rhythmically as
closely attached as possible to the stressed syllable it immediately
follows as eg in better /`betə/. It can be a separate word eg as with Is it? /`ɪz ɪt/.) The weakform /tə/ wd be the only natural value of to here. The final /d/ of round wd often be elided here but it's not worth making such a form an EFL target.
/ʃil ˈiːvn ɪnˈvaɪt ɪm │ tə ˈtʃeɪs ə raʊnd
Line 10: The unstressed article the must of course have its weakform
/ðə/ here. The word garden is far more often uttered with syllabic
/n/ than with schwa plus /n/. The first syllable of sometimes never
undergoes weakening. The tone the word's spoken on here is the rather
specially expressive three-directional one Climb-Fall-Rise which carries
its last movement on the last syllable.
/ ðə `gɑːdn ´`ˏsʌmtaɪmz /
Line 11 begins with no stress until has so but and she have to have
their weakforms. The stressed word has when, as here, it's closely
rhythmically integrated with following to is no doubt at least as often
assimilated to /hӕs/ before the voiceless consonant it precedes but
there's nothing very unusual about not making such an assimilation so
it needn't be the EFL target in such contexts. The to itself must have
its weakform /tə/ in this position. The word have is not stressed but
it must be given its strongform because main verbs of sentences are
never weakened unless they're parts of the verb to be. The following
enclitic her wdn't be given an aitch except in slow, careful, fussy etc
speech, but it cd be heard with either of its two weakforms /ə/ or /ɜː/
— the latter more usually here where the former wd sound perhaps
very slightly more brisk than average — it's not enclitic to have.
/bət ʃi `hӕz tə hӕv ɜː `ˏfuːd │
Line 12: Again in this line her can have either of its weakforms
/ə/ or /ɜː/ but this time the fact that it is very closely rhythmically
integrated with the words either side of it means that it is slightly
more likely to be heard with the shorter one. Whichever is used, it
wd be very abnormal to omit "linking" /r/. The preposition of
a weakform and here again many speakers wd be inclined to assimilate
its final /v/ to the following voiceless consonant tho as before
there's nothing abnormal about not making this assimilation so it need
be adopted as an EFL target.
/ɒn ər `əʊn, əv kɔːs/
Line 13 requires nothing not made quite clear by reference to a
pronouncing dictionary so long as its conventions are understood
including the one that advises that "optional" sounds are usually best omitted. None of them
gets round to mentioning that the alternative /nӕtrəli/ is perfectly
common (and easy) perhaps because the're avoiding offering a too complicated EFL target.
`əʊ, `jes, ´`nӕtʃrəli.
Another Dialogue Transcribed (i)
Copy the tone marks onto your transcription observing their rhythmic indications.
Transcribe in LPD segmental symbols but with spaces as in ordinary spelling.
Give EFL target values but don’t give alternatives. Include the title.
'Cat and `Dog Life
- Have you ˈseen our ˈnew ˏdog.
- `No. The `Smiths had `told us that you `ˏhad him.
- He’s a ´`ducky little chap.
- ˈHow does he get ˈon with your `cat.
- They `do tend to `ˏfight quite a ˳bit.
- ˈD’you mean ˈreally ˊsavagely?
- Freddy `gets a bit `rough at `ˏtimes │
- but `not more than `Fluffie can `ˏhandle.
- She’ll ˈeven inˈvite him │ to ˈchase her round
- the `garden ´`ˏsometimes.
- But she `has to have her `ˏfood │
- on her `own, of course.
- `Oh, `yes, ´`naturally.
Model Version & Commentary
The only problem with the title is the form that and
shd take. Being unstressed it will normally take one of its weakforms.
The forms with final /d/ are quite unusual in conversational style. The
form /ən/ wd be pretty unusual here too and be likely to sound rather
fussy because in a normally fluent utterance of the phrase this
potential schwa wd not be employed except by a small minority of
speakers. So the norm wd be /n/ which wd naturally be syllabic.
/ˈkӕt n ˎdɒg laɪf /
The first problem is which weakform of have to use. Some speakers might actually use the strongform /hӕv/ but that wd be in
danger of sounding rather abnormally careful in style. Most are likely
to use /həv/ even if the word were uttered with a high level tone
which is not what's indicated here. Few wd use the aitchless form /əv/
which wd be in danger of sounding "uneducated" in such an exposed
position as this — beginning a sentence.
The normal GB rhythmic value for you
here wd be very weak. It wd be best to avoid the suggestion of its
being rhythmically strong by not transcribing it with /uː/ but with
/u/. Some regionally-accented speakers, especially self-conscious ones
in the London area, might well use /uː/ which they wd often produce
with a fronter, wider diphthongal value than that of a GB speaker.
The only other item in this line which might be problematic for an EFL transcriber wd be our
which in this rhythmic context wd be abnormal if made disyllabic
[aʊ.ə]. It could be monosyllabic diphthong [aə] but very much more often it is
heard simply as /ɑː/. If a speaker uses disyllabic [aʊ.ə] when the word
is rhythmically strong then a strongform shd be said to be used but a
strongform wd be inappropriate here. The form /ɑː/ is perfectly widely
used as a speaker's exclusive form of the word even fully stressed.
Such speakers can't be said to have a weakform for the word our.
/ həv ju ˈsiːn ɑː ˈnjuː ˏdɒg/
Line 2: Weakforms are again the matter over which EFL speakers are
most likely to fail to comply with ordinary GB usage. The first word had
might sound rather fussy, hesitant etc to some listeners if an /h/ is
used. At a normal speed of utterance no-one is likely to react
adversely to /əd/ in this context. For the word us a clearly enunciated /ʌs/ wd sound quite artificial. Likewise the relative that
must also have a schwa to sound normal. /ðət ʃu/ wd not sound
unusual but need not be adopted as an EFL target. The same goes for you here as in line 1. The second had, being fully stressed, must take its strongform but him
being unaccented and immediately following a stressed word beginning
with /h/ wd tend to sound abnormally slow or school-marmish etc if
heard with an /h/.
/ `nəʊ. ðə `smɪθs əd `təʊld əs ðət ju `ˏhӕd ɪm /.
Line 3 presents no problem that can't be solved by use of a
pronouncing dictionary but it wd be shockingly ungrateful if one found
a student who, having been offered the helpful contracted spelling, was
so perverse as to convert it into the unconversational /hi ɪz/. /hɪz/
wd be a possible alternative but probably less usual. A rhythmically strong /hiːz/ wdnt sound abnormal. (Little as /lɪtəl/ is typical educated Scots but not typical GB. As /lɪtu/ it wd be a Londonish regionalism.)
/hi(ː)z ə ´`dʌki lɪtl tʃӕp/.
Line 4 wd sound
hesitant or over-careful if the weakforms /d(ə)z/ (whether with or
without schwa doesn't matter tho without schwa wd be slightly more
fluent tho perhaps a less straightforward EFL target) and /i/ are not
used. On wd not be given a weakform even if it were unstressed. Only five prepositions have regular weakform variants (at, for, from, of and to). For your the weakform /jə/ may be used but here the strongform /jɔː/ wd be just as normal-sounding. (With in the form /wɪθ/ is the commonest worldwide usage but wd sound unusual from speakers of GB. They use /wɪð/.)
/ˈhaʊ d(ə)z i get ˈon wɪð jə ˎkӕt /
Line 5:The only weakform needed is /tə/ for to. The elision of the /d/ wd be quite normal tho not a necessary EFL target.
/ðeɪ ˋduː ten(d) təˋˏfaɪt kwaɪt ˳bɪt/
Line 6: The contraction D’you,
tho rather unconventional in printed English, wd be normally used. The
weakform /də/ before /ju/ wd not be possible because the
contraction is stressed. /ˈduː ju/ wd sound formal or at least
/ ˈdjuː miːn ˈrɪəli ˊsӕvɪdʒli/
(To be continued).
Transcription Exercises continued
A South American teacher of English phonetics has occasionally questioned me on the
subject of evaluating students' oral performances. I've had to admit to
him that I find it a pretty difficult procedure. Certainly it's
easier to judge the quality of written work. However, I wd put it to
him that in judging overall performance certain exercises can at least be said
to be very germane to judging oral performance and I have phonemic
transcription very much in mind in this respect.
I have also to admit that, altho I have for a number of decades set students
transcription exercises and continue to do so in the hope and faith
that it will aid their recognition of various imperfections of their
pronunciation performance, I have experienced a certain amount of
disappointment with the results. Having their various weak points
carefully pointed out to them has too often seemed to register with
some of them very little — at least in the case of less gifted or
less devoted students. Sometimes even some of them have become with
practice excellent at using the desirable forms in their transcriptions
but still shown painfully little transfer of the knowledge to their
performance. Nevertheless one can but try — and I have to say
that, altho some students who can transcribe well may not transfer that
excellence into their performance, it's surely very unlikely that
students whose spoken performance is good will be completely unable to
represent what they say in their transcriptions.
I now give a model transcription of the passage I offered students to
attempt in my last blog. I always warn them that such a model
transcription is not necessarily the only possible completely
satisfactory version. In fact one of the reasons for showing a model
that is rather more realistic than I really expect them to produce
themselves is to raise the question of such matters as awareness of the
many elisions, assimilations and compressions that are completely
normal in ordinary conversation. It has to be admitted that this
occasionally results in certain students overshooting the mark and
giving me copy that contains forms that are excessively colloquial but
it at least can raise their level of observation of such phenomena when
they find me objecting that they've gone too far. For example if
a student offered me /sət əv/ at the beginning of line 5, I cdn't claim that such a usage was particularly unusual but I might
well question whether they have complied with the request to provide
suitable EFL target forms.
1. `aɪ dɪdn(t) nəʊ ðə rɒbɪns(ə)nz (h)əd gɒt ə ´kɪtn.
2. `əʊ, `jes. ʃiz ə ´`dɪə lɪtl θɪŋ.
3. ˈhaʊ lɒŋ (h)əv ðeɪ `hӕd ə, ˏhӕrld?
4. ˈsʌm `taɪm. ʃi w(ə)z ə `krɪsməs preznt.
5. ˈwɒ(t) də(ʒ) ʃi `lʊk laɪk?
6. sɔːt əv `ˏtɔːtə(ʃ)˳ ʃel | wɪð ˈbɪts əv ˈʤɪnʤər (ə)n ˈwaɪt |
7. ɒn ɜː ˈfeɪs n `pɔːz.
8. ən ˈwɒt əv ðeɪ `kɔːld ə? ː
9. `flʌfi. bət ðə `ˏʧɪldrn ˳kɔːl ə `klɔːri-pɔːz.
10. ðeər ˈɔːlwɪz ˈgetɪŋ sə(ʊ) meni `skrӕʧɪz frɒm ə.
Altho I ask my students to give no alternatives at all in order to
simplify their task, I may give some myself in my model versions to let
them know that they weren’t wrong when they chose an alternative I
showed. However, I still point out that I consider the forms not in
brackets to be the preferable choices.
Of course they may find some of the elisions etc surprising for example
as in line 5. I expect them to look up in a dictionary (eg LPD or ALD)
any word they’re not certain about, for example if they
aren’t sure whether it’s normal to aim to say the
orthographic t in Christmas.
certainly don't set out to include any unusual words. The area of
most errors is always the handling of weakform words. I expect them to
study accounts of this topic in textbooks tho I don’t find too
many really adequate treatments of it. For example I know none which
points out the relative abnormality of using /h/ forms in certain
contexts like the occurrence of her in line 3.
Some teachers among my readers may be interested to know how I mark the
work before handing it back to them. I always expect it to be given to me
in black or blue ink. I expect it to be handwritten and I suggest use of lined paper on
which they leave at least one blank line in between each line of
writing and the next in case I want space to make a longer comment. I use
a few abbreviations including a capital H where their phonetic
handwriting is so unsatisfactory as to produce unacceptable
attempts at the forms of phonetic symbols or where they fail to make
their intentions clear eg I often find əʊ and aʊ inadequately
differentiated. Of course I expect close imitation of the print forms
of symbols and deprecate any tendency to join successive letters. I
employ the usual caret [⁁] to indicate that a sound is missing and I
bracket a sound which is better omitted. I may put an alternative
symbol over the one they’ve used by way of information rather
than correction but, if I do, it’s usually because my suggested
alternative is the more usual native speaker choice. For instance, many
transcribers give the word from
in line 10 a weakform which is perfectly possible but represents a
slightly faster than average style less usual than having the
strongform of the preposition before an unstressed pronoun.
It happens to be my personal habit always to mark work with two pens, a
red and a green. The latter I use for venial mistakes, the red for
serious errors eg when something represents a pronunciation that I
judge wd not be used by an educated speaker of any variety of English
worldwide usually making a stroke right thru the wrong symbol. If an
Americanism is used I merely inform them that it is so by using a $
— of course with my green pen!
Transcription for EFL/EAL
I’ve been fortunate to’ve often had the pleasure of
teaching English to students of very high achievement. Many of them
have been keen to set themselves very high standards of approximation
to native-speaker usages. I haven’t urged them to adopt such
goals because I’ve not felt they were necessary or even desirable
but how far along such lines one shd aim is not a very easy matter to
decide. Anyway, at whatever level one might aim, I’ve always
thaut it an excellent exercise for them to attempt to transcribe
phonemically what they judged wd be native-speaker spontaneous practice
given short dialogues representing conversational (tho not highly
colloquial) usages. I early on found that requiring transcribers to
decide not only what phonemic forms words shd be given but also to
predict what stresses wd be used by the speakers in such dialogues was
complicating matters more than need be — altho I know that is what most
of my colleagues are accustomed to do when setting exercises of this
Accordingly I’ve regularly supplied passages for
transcription in which I’ve provided indications of what
intonations the speakers are to be taken to use. This is in my opinion
a better procedure for various reasons than only supplying stress
marks. They can involve unfortunate ambiguities and in any case
levels of stress are notoriously difficult to agree about. Tone
marks are free from commitment to any decisions in this field. They
are for the most part extremely easy to interpret because almost any
tone mark is also in effect an indicator of stress. I’ve usually
employed tone markings that, after the fashion largely established by
J. D. O’Connor & G. F. Arnold, distinguish between accentual
and non-accentual syllables notably in the situation where the point of
(non-accentual) Rise of a Fall-Rise tone is conveyed by a degree-type
I consider allophonic transcriptions longer than a phrase at a time to
be too complicated an exercise to be made much use of. I have on
various occasions required quite advanced students to apply tone marks
to short passages in ordinary spelling but this is an activity that
according to my impression few others seem to favour. It certainly
hasn’t figured in examinations known to me such as those of the
IPA. Even so I consider that it can be a worthwhile exercise to be
performed by those who are sufficiently advanced in their studies of
English intonation to be able to attempt it. I plan to offer readers
some examples of such things in the future but for now I sh'll limit
attention to phonemes and so here I append an example of a
passage I’ve often set to students. I intend to offer a model
answer for it in a later blog.
Instructions: Copy the tone marks onto your transcription taking
account of their indications of the rhythms. Use LPD symbols but with
spaces as in ordinary spelling. Give EFL target values but don’t
give alternatives. Include the title.
`I didn’t know the Robinsons had got a ´kitten.
`Oh, `yes. She’s a ´`dear little thing.
ˈHow long have they `had her, ˏHarold?
ˈSome `time. She was a `Christmas present.
ˈWhat does she `look like?
Sort of `ˏtortoise˳shell | with ˈbits of ˈginger and ˈwhite |
on her ˈface and `paws.
And ˈwhat have they `called her?
`Fluffy. But the `ˏchildren ˳call her `Clawry-Paws.
They’re ˈalways ˈgetting so many `scratches from her.
(Note: The symbol ˳ indicates a stressed but unaccented
syllable denoting where the rise actually occurs after a Fall-Rise tone
has been in signalled. )
Tsvangirai, the mystery thickens
As I sed in in my recent blog (#116), I've already referred to the
email I received on the fifteenth of March 2007 from Dr Catherine
Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit. In that blog I reported that
I'd now heard a Voice of America recording saying This pronunciation comes from a recording of Mr. Tsvangirai saying his own name
In the meantime I've been able to listen to a VOA three-minute
interview with Mr Tsvangirai. This didnt sound exactly like the voice
the VOA extract claimed to be of him but of course different
surroundings and different recording equipment can affect such
judgments. However, what was perfectly clear was that I was able to
confirm a general impression that Mr Tsvangirai's quite effective
English is firmly of the low-rhoticity British type and that he showed
no departure from that model in the direction of inserting /r/ sounds
under the influence of the spelling. Then I went back to the VOA
recording where it seemed pretty undoubtable that the speaker was
inserting an American-quality /r/ into the pronunciation of the name Morgan.
His interviewer was a person with the usual kind of General American
fairly high rhoticity, it's true: so one cannot entirely rule out this
having some influence in the situation. Nevertheless my confidence in
accepting the VOA claim that he was saying his own name has undergone a very considerable shaking.
To quote what Matthew Parris said in his Times Online note of April the tenth:
When the BBC started mispronouncing the surname of Morgan Tsvangirai as
Changirai, I didn't pipe up because I thought the poor man would soon
be snuffed out anyway. But the leader of the opposition party in
Zimbabwe is now going to matter, so let's get his name right. I was
raised there, and though at school I struggled with the grammar of the
Bantu languages of Southern Africa, they are not ... especially hard to
pronounce. The missionaries who first transcribed them simply chose the
Roman letters closest to the actual sound.
The “Tsvang-” of Tsvangirai is most assuredly not
pronounced “chang”. Just try saying “its
vanguard” and (subtracting the initial “i”) and you
will handle the letters tsvang fine. But when one person mispronounces
confidently, others follow ... So I'm hopeful the BBC's pronunciation
unit will reconsider “changirai” too.
He must have been rather disappointed the following day when Jo Kim of the BBC Pronunciation Unit logged the following:
"One of the names that has been frequently mentioned in the news of
late is Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic
Change in Zimbabwe.
The Pronunciation Unit's recommendation of Tsvangirai's surname is
chang-girr-IGH (-ch as in church; -ng-g as in finger; -irr as in
mirror; -igh as in high). This recommendation has recently stirred up
public and media interest, inside and outside the BBC (eg Matthew
Parris' column in Thursday's Times), because of different opinions of
how the Shona -tsv cluster should be pronounced in English.
Although written with the same Roman alphabet, the -tsv consonant
cluster in Shona is not equivalent to -tsv in English (as in the phrase
"its vanguard" minus the "i"); Shona has what are commonly referred to
as "whistling" fricatives ("s" and "z"), which sound and are produced
differently from English "s" and "z". The "v" does not have the same
quality as English "v"; for many Shona speakers, the "v" in -tsv is
co-articulated; that is to say, the quality of the "v" adjusts to that
of the neighbouring consonants.
In the case of the anglicisation of foreign names, when the BBC is not
able to verify the pronunciation preferred by the person concerned, we
consider a number of factors before making a recommendation: the
phonetics and phonology of the relevant language, the opinions of
native speakers on how they might expect it to be anglicised, and the
ease of pronunciation for our broadcasters.
Our original recommendation TSVANG-girr-igh was made following consultation with our colleagues in Network Africa.
In 2000, a journalist, who personally knew Tsvangirai, contacted the
Unit to advise us that chang-girr-IGH was a more preferable
anglicisation (-ch as in church; with stress on the last syllable).
We also consulted native speakers of Shona at the Zimbabwe High
Commission who favoured the anglicisation chang-girr-IGH. Our
Zimbabwean colleague also confirmed that while neither English "tsv" or
"ch" sounds were equivalent to the Shona -tsv, producing the Shona -tsv
cluster as an English "ch" (as in church) was acceptable."
Well, well! I still have misgivings.
Intonation; Papal Linguistic Fallibility
The John Wells blog of the 18th of June 08 included this observation and question.
'Don’t waste a 'drop.
You would think the most
important word would be waste, or even don’t. Yet we place the
main accent on neither of those items, but on the apparently rather
There’s no kind of contrast involved. We’re not contrasting drop with bucketful or litre.
So what’s going on?
My answer to his question is a direct contradiction of his
assumption. In my opinion we actually are by implication contrasting
other possibilities with drop — in this situation possibilities
like "large amount" or "moderate amount" or "small amount". That
"waste" is the topic under discussion will no doubt have been
adumbrated by the precontext or at least been taken to be so by the speaker. So it's "given" matter which
can't be accented. We always have to take account of all the
circumstances in assessing whether an accentuation is appropriate
Some of his other examples I shd say are equivalent to these including:
It's not that visibility is only rather poor but it’s that I can't see a single thing.
It's not that I shall merely be careful to whom I reveal what you've told me but that I shan't tell a soul.
It's not that I'm just a bit short of money but that I havent got a penny.
Looking back at his similarly surprised comments at the 27th of May 08
concerning the placement of the climax tone ("nucleus") in items like Good for `you and 'Search `ˏme
we see that, altho contrast is the trigger, the contrasting matter may
not have been actually mentioned but be available to the listener by
inference from what the speaker sez or possibly their circumstances.
Thus Good for `you tends to be an ironic way of hinting “at least you are fortunate if others may not be” etc and 'Search `ˏme
of saying very informally and perhaps slightly quizzically
“It’s no good asking ˋme that ˏquestion: you should be
directing it at someone else”.
It was interesting at the weekend
to hear the Pope speaking in English at length from Australia. It was
clear that papal infallibility doesnt extend to linguistic performance
which of course was hardly to be expected. On the other hand he spoke
perfectly fluently and intelligibly in an accent reasonably
unsurprising for his German-language background. His delivery was
quite innocent of any of our dental fricative consonants but he managed
an impressively English fall-rise tone at one point. He sounded fairly
"mid-atlantic" which was perhaps pretty suitable. He did have one bit
of bad luck, however, when he came to use the vivid expression
"spiritual desert" because as far as English native speakers are
concerned what he said was really for us the rather inappropriate
"spiritual dessert" which only goes to show that, bearing in mind our
regrettably treacherous spelling, EFL users need to be careful to check
with their dictionaries on the stress values of so many words.
The John Wells blog for Tuesday 4 March 2008 sed:
Palatoalveolars and the like
By 1949, when the Principles of the IPA booklet was published, Jones [at p.14] recommended sf, sv or sɥ, zɥ ... for the ‘whistling fricatives’ of Shona, which are adequately [sic] reflected in the orthography as sv, zv. ... Now you know how to pronounce the name of the Zimbabwean politician Morgan Tsvangirai.
I'm afraid that's not what one can safely say. I've
been digging in the literature and I've found nothing to
de-mystify the fact that the spelling <Tsvangirai> seems
universal tho the pronunciation /tʃaŋgɪ`raɪ/ has only occasionally
been challenged by a few including the popular columnist
Matthew Parris who it seems spent much of his schooldays in southern
In my blog 024 of the 26th of March
2007 entitled 'Spelling “versus” pronunciation' I remarked
that I've been assured by Dr Catherine Sangster of the BBC
Pronunciation Unit that people at the Zimbabwe high commission and
World Service broadcasters they have consulted are all agreed that
English "ch" as in church is the best possible approximation to the
sound that Shona speakers produce corresponding to the initial
“tsv” that they spell the word with.
I've been deeply suspicious that there could well be some explanation of this mystery like the
possibility of the authorised orthography for Shona having been based
on a different variety of the language from the one used by those
consulted by the BBC. That matter for me largely remains mystifying
but I have now found at a Voice of America Pronunciation Guide website
a sound file that's accompanied by a note reading unequivocally This pronunciation comes from a recording of Mr. Tsvangirai saying his own name. I hear it clearly as [ʧaŋgɪ`raɪ].
In my review of OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation)
due to appear in JIPA next month of which a revised version is to be
seen on this site I've sed “For Tsvangirai /tʃaŋgɪ`raɪ/ is
recommended but /tsvaŋgɪ`raɪ/ would have been better judging from the
speaker I’ve talked to”. That person said the word
repeatedly for me in a consistent manner which I shdve been happiest to
transcribe with [sv] or [sf] with no feeling that I ought to have
included any notational feature that wdve indicated that the fricative
should be called "whistling".
Incidentally, despite the BBC recommendation, I seem at least as often
as not to hear it from their newsreaders and others stressed
A Wales Placename again & [ɬ]
John Wells’s blog of the 17th of June 2008 had comments like this:
I was interested recently to see on TV a feature about Llantwit Major ...
It was striking that the locals all pronounced the name with an
ordinary voiced approximant initial l. The visiting reporter, on the
other hand, made a great effort to produce a Welsh ll, ɬ. He
shouldn’t have bothered. It’s ˈlæntwɪt ˈmeɪdʒə
(confirmed by the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names).
Thinking back I was a bit surprised that John seemed to find it striking that local people
name with /l/ not /ɬ/ and of course he was wise to check with the BBC
dictionary. This village (population apparently these days about
in the middle of the coastal area stretching between Cardiff and
Porthcawl known perhaps rather misleadingly as the "Vale" of Glamorgan.
This area has been English-speaking for a number of centuries and I shd no
more expect someone local to it to use /ɬ/ in its name than I shd to
hear them so pronouncing the name Lloyd. In the same way no-one brought up in Cardiff in my day at least wd dream of using /ɬ/ in Llandaff
/`landəf/. Welsh-speaking incomers (usually naturally tho in some cases
defiantly re-conquering linguistically what they feel they lost in the
past to anglicisation) generally fail to adopt this usage of those they
come among. There is evidence that many of these names were spelt Lantwit etc until in the nineteenth century by pedantic antiquarian revisionists the double-l spelling was foisted on them.
The visiting reporter who by local standards mispronounced Llantwit
by using /ɬ/ was no doubt far from a local person. The BBC in
Wales has always it seems had a policy of using only or largely
bi-lingual reporters, presenters and newsreaders which means that in
practice they virtually all come from the minority Welsh-speaking
John's blog also said
According to the Dictionary of
the Place-names of Wales both the English Llantwit and the Welsh
Llanilltud have the same Welsh origin, llan- ‘church’ plus
Illtud, the name of a monk ... English -twit, according to the authors,
is traceable to an early variant Illtwyd from an Irish (!) genitive
Rather disappointing to think there hasnt really been a Welsh saint
called St Twit a rather droll possibility that no doubt others than
myself have tended to imagine with some pleasure.
PS Certain rather curiously amateur "BBC Home" web pages at "Voices" are now providing a recording in which you can hear a more normal pronunciation of names like Llangollen
from a lady at present a hotel manager at that town who was braut up
not far from it and is a Welsh native speaker. There are interesting
comments on her accent at the same spot from Jonnie Robinson, Curator,
English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive.
General British Pronunciation
One of the pleasures of the World Wide Web is that you never know what
you’re going to come across next. I recently happened upon
“english forums”, a commercial website that subtitles
itself as “The world’s largest EFL/TEFL social
network”. There it gave you a choice of items including
“FORUMS” where I came across a posting by a forum
“member” who said:
What is known as "Received
pronounciation" in the UK is seen as the "posh" way of speaking
English. This is how the Queen speaks, and was the way all TV
presenters had to speak a few decades ago ... What could be
called General British pronounciation
would probably be the way people from some parts of the South of
England speak, people who speak like this are generally seen as having
While not exactly able to applaud everything about his
spelling and punctuation etc, I noted with interest that he
seemed to show lack of enthusiasm for the term “Received
Pronunciation” which, after two whole generations in which it
remained current only as a technical term within the phonetics
community, has (like the other regrettably inappropriate term Estuary
English) in the past couple of decades caught on in the media. It was
in essence launched into the linguistic world in 1926 by the British
phonetician Daniel Jones whose authority was so great that almost all
British linguistic writers subsequently tended to employ it including
myself in my first publications on English phonetics. He had introduced
it quite apologetically having in the previous two decades employed the
very unsuitable terms Standard Pronunciation and, only briefly, Public
School Pronunciation. For more on this topic including the
expression’s earlier adumbrations in the works of A. J. Ellis and
H. C. Wyld see my article British Non-Dialectal Accents republished as
Item 7 § 4 on the main part of this website.
It never ceases to puzzle me that especially in these days of increased
consciousness of the undesirability of employing expressions that are
invidious to many people — known ironically as political
correctness — so many of my colleagues are insensitive to the
undeniably offensive implication that the speech of those who do not
use “RP” is not accepted. Part of the reason is no
doubt that they’ve become so accustomed to using the two-letter
abbreviation that they tend to forget what it means. Of course the
great respect justly accorded to the leading works on the subject from
those of Jones to the Cruttenden-Gimson major description of the accent
and the writings of J. C. Wells has been no doubt the most important
Nevertheless there have been signs of lack of enthusiasm for the term
in various quarters. It was not espoused by Jones’s
contemporaries and colleagues such as A. Lloyd James and J. L. M.
Trim. J. C. Wells used Southern British Standard in his first
book in the field. When he took over the editorship of the Jones
dictionary (EPD) in 1997 P. J. Roach announced “The time has come
to abandon the archaic name Received Pronunciation”. This was
exactly a quarter of a century after I had written in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary
(p.xiv) “It is a convenient parallelism with the term General
American and a welcome avoidance of the ‘less than happy’
archaic-sounding term ‘Received’ to abbreviate [the title
of the accent] to simply General British pronunciation (GB)”.
Incidentally, the words ‘less than happy’ applied to
Received Pronunciation had been quoted on that occasion from the first
page of Wells’s Journal of Linguistics
article of 1970 ‘Local accents in England and Wales’.
Roach’s also less than happy decision was to replace RP with a
term that has also had some popularity in the media ‘BBC
It was understandable why this last term shdve had some unofficial
currency thirty or more years before that decision because in the
period of the last world war and several years afterwards there was so
little broadcasting in the UK — only about a dozen home service
newsreaders at any one time — that there was considerable
uniformity among them. To a man (there were no women) almost every one
was a public school product. Then the sixties saw an explosion of
activity which brought about a greatly increased variety of speakers
and the public no longer heard everything from weather reports to
fatstock prices entrusted only to announcers. By the nineties not only
were regionally flavoured accents commonplace but even non-native
speakers could be heard to read World Service news bulletins.
Anyway, contrary to what has often been said, it was never official BBC
policy to completely avoid speakers with any regional features.
Perhaps it is of interest in the context of Roach’s speculative
claim that “The great majority of native speakers of this accent
are ... educated at private schools...” that when I was
systematically collecting data on BBC newsreaders in the decade or so
from 1963 and received from very many of them responses to
questionnaires I sent them which asked for details of their education,
I learned that only a minority of them were so educated.
Very properly the International Phonetic Association has never
officially endorsed any particular label for any British accent. When
its new Handbook was
published in 1999 it contained no specimen of any type of British
pronunciation but a reference was made at page 30 to the accent we are
discussing where the editor largely responsible for that section,
Francis Nolan, used the term Standard Southern British English. This
has been preferred to RP by various writers recently but I’m
afraid the term ‘standard’ is too invidious to be
acceptable: are all other forms of British English to be considered
non-standard or substandard? And GB speakers may be thickest on the
ground in the south but there are plenty of them in the rest of the UK.
In December 2004 (in JIPA Vol 34 No 2) Roach contributed a valuable
specimen of what he headed as ‘British English: Received
Pronunciation’ but added “given the popularity of the name
Received Pronunciation, this has been used for the description which
follows”. In introducing it he made some rather controversial
comments including: "The number of native speakers of this accent who
originate in Ireland, Scotland and Wales is very small and probably
diminishing, and it is therefore a misnomer to call it British
English". My impression is that anyone whose senior schooling takes
place in Ulster is very unlikely indeed to be a GB speaker. However,
this is less so in Wales tho, for what the comment is worth, the
commonly listed public schools include none in Ireland but two or three
in Wales. I've known GB speakers braut up in Wales and even come
across people who were native Welsh speakers who sounded also native
equivalent in GB. I don’t doubt that GB speakers are far
fewer on the ground in Scotland than probably anywhere in England but
I’ve heard (without including Gordonstoun) various speakers who
had gone to certain Scottish schools including Fettes who sounded
completely GB to me.
Anyway, one of the advantages of the term General British is that it
avoids the shockingly complacent parochiality of "RP". It's a term
easily comprehended and accepted outside the UK.
Until now I havnt welcomed the new third edition of LPD (the Longman
Dictionary of Pronunciation) which came out in March. While there are
no startlingly new features in the printed text there are plenty of
welcome improvements showing that a good deal of thaut has gone into
this revision. Personally I was delighted to see that the whole book is
upgraded for legibility — something very valuable in a tightly
packed reference book. By this I mean that the introductory matter is
set in a distinctly larger typeface and also that now the entry
headwords preceding the phonetics are set still bold but in a fairly bright blue
which proves to be a more effective use of colour than in the second
edition where the non-bold phonetics coming after the headwords tended
to look comparatively feint whereas now they are clearer partly because
the “main pronunciations (recommended as models for learners of
English)” are in bold black.
This is the same style as has been already used rather effectively in
the EPD (the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) but LPD3’s
new larger type now beats EPD for legibility. (LPD 1 of 1990 used
colour only for its phonetic symbols.)
Minor matters commented on are the decisions no longer to recommend
American wh-words to be pronounced with /hw-/ and re-classification of
words only formerly considered recommendable pronounced /tjuː/ and
/djuː/ which are now countenanced with /tʃuː/ and /dʒuː/. Some other
points are mentioned which are less notable. Not referred to at
all is the excellent improvement of the presentation of the very
interesting now over 260 graphics by which the LPD2 horizontal bars to
display the relative scores of different forms in the opinion polls of
reader preferences are now replaced by more effective pie charts.
Neither beats ODP (the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation) for
legibility but that book's very comfortable layout of having a separate
line for every headword and a new line for every significantly
different alternative pronunciation of each word is paid for with
greater bulk and, compared with the other two, inferior coverage of
words and their variants. In addition it suffers the disadvantage of
being to a tiresome extent pointlessly out of line with general practice
in respect of matters such as choice of phonetic symbols and definition
of the variety of British English represented. Unlike EPD, LPD3
uses bold colour for its selections of compounds and phrases which both
books provide in paragraphs after certain headwords in order to save space by
avoiding extending the number of headwords undesirably. LPD3’s
use of bold black for its “main” pronunciation of each word
is better than the LPD2 (2000) style where the non-bold blue was, as we noted above,
unfortunately rather feinter than the non-bold black used for the
variant pronunciations which followed.
None of these to-my-mind important matters is even alluded to in the
“Foreword to the third edition”. Unsurprisingly it
proclaims first the addition of three thousand new headwords. Of course
items like Wikipedia, burqa, latte, Rowling, Sentamu and alQaeda
will be welcome but the fact is that there is a law of diminishing
returns operating when such a work makes additions beyond the 15,000 or
so words that are the core that everyone needs to have.
Fortunately these additions have had no discernible effect on the bulk
of the volume which is now xxxvii + 922 pages long. (LPD 1 was
xxviii+803; LPD2 xxvi + 869). It is in width and depth exactly like EPD
but a centimetre less in height. Even the cover designs and colours
seem to have a family resemblance.
Very good news indeed is the fact that now, catching up with EPD, the
complete text of the dictionary is available on a CD-ROM “with
all words and phrases spoken aloud in both British and American
English”. That was the good news: the bad news is that
you’ve got to be in thrall to Microsoft software to access it.
This was not the case when Cambridge published Wells’s 1906 English Intonation nor when Routledge this year issued the new edition of the Collins & Mees Practical Phonetics and Phonology. Deplorable! On the disc there is also something called the Longman Pronunciation Coach.
LPD 3 remains more clearly than ever, despite certain questionably
justifiable complexities, the best dictionary of English pronunciation
ever produced. EPD continues to be a strong rival but fails to take the
opportunity to offer something equally authoritative but less
intimidatingly complicated. It even outdoes LPD’s complexities in
some ways. I’m far from enamoured of, or convinced of the
usefulness of, the LPD spaces to show syllabification but the
cluttering of dots EPD offers instead gives too many entries a painful
appearance. When one thinks as well of the many fascinating
transcriptions offered of foreign-language loanwords in their original
values, LPD3 is certainly the work of its kind I’d least like to