Archive 12 of JWL Blog


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09/08/2008Another Dialogue Transcribed (ii)#122
08/08/2008Another Dialogue Transcribed (i)#121
02/08/2008Transcription Exercises continued#120
30/07/2008Transcription for EFL/EAL#119
24/07/2008Tsvangirai, the mystery thickens#118
22/07/2008Intonation; Papal Linguistic Fallibility#117
21/07/2008Tsvangirai again#116
18/07/2008A Wales Placename again & [ɬ]#115
15/07/2008General British Pronunciation#114

Blog 122

The 9th of August 2008

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 a schwa 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 out".
 /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 contexts.
(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 must have 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 not 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.

Blog 121

The 8th of August 2008

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

  1. Have you ˈseen our ˈnew ˏdog.
  2.  `No. The `Smiths had `told us that you `ˏhad him.
  3.  He’s a ´`ducky little chap.
  4.  ˈHow does he get ˈon with your `cat.
  5.  They `do tend to `ˏfight quite a ˳bit.
  6.  ˈD’you mean ˈreally ˊsavagely?
  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

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 /

Line 1: 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/

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 unconversational.
/ ˈdjuː miːn ˈrɪəli ˊsӕvɪdʒli/

(To be continued).



Blog 120

The 2nd of August 2008

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.

ˈɪnsəˈbɔːd(ɪ)nət ˎklɔːz
    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.  I 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!

Blog 119

The 30th of July 2008

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 sort.
 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 circle.
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.

ˈInsuˈbordinate `Claws

  1. `I didn’t know the Robinsons had got a ´kitten.        
  2. `Oh, `yes.  She’s a ´`dear little thing.                
  3. ˈHow long have they `had her, ˏHarold?            
  4. ˈSome `time. She was a `Christmas present.            
  5. ˈWhat does she `look like?                        
  6. Sort of `ˏtortoise˳shell | with ˈbits of ˈginger and ˈwhite |
  7. on her ˈface and `paws.
  8. And ˈwhat have they `called her?                    
  9. `Fluffy. But the `ˏchildren ˳call her `Clawry-Paws.    
  10. 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. )

Blog 118

The 24th of July 2008

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.

Blog 117

The 22nd of July 2008

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 unimportant drop.
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.

Blog 116

The 21st of July 2008

Tsvangirai again

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 Africa.
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.
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 Shona native 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".
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].
Incidentally, despite the BBC recommendation, I seem at least as often as not to hear it from their newsreaders and others stressed [`ʧaŋgɪraɪ].

Blog 115

The 18th of July 2008

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 began the name with /l/ not /ɬ/ and of course he was wise to check with the BBC dictionary. This village (population apparently these days about 14,000) is 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 communities.
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 Illtuaith.
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.

Blog 114

The 15th of July 2008

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 no accent.

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 factor.

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 English’.

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.

Blog 113

The 9th of July 2008


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.)

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.
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.

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 be without.