Archive 13 of JWL Blog


Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.

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12/09/2008Daniel Jones b 12th Sept 1881#130
09/09/2008The Rigidity of English Spelling#129
08/09/2008Unorthodox Derived Forms#128
06/09/2008More Wells Coinages#127
03/09/2008Georgeayna's Cavendish patois#126
01/09/2008What to Excuse#125
28/08/2008Rhoticity etc#123
09/08/2008Another Dialogue Transcribed (ii)#122
08/08/2008Another Dialogue Transcribed (i)#121

Blog 130

The 12th of September 2008

Daniel Jones b 12th Sept 1881

Portrait of Daniel Jones

There's not much to say about Jones today, the 127th anniversary of his birth, that I havent sed already on this website in the first of my Appreciations, The Legacy of Daniel Jones at Section 2 Item 1 in the main site and also in my blog 052 on the fortieth anniversary of his death at the fourth of December last year (in blog Archive 6) but some readers might like to hear the voice of the man who was such an important figure in the field of phonetics in the first half of the last century. I've taken for this purpose his reading of his introduction to his incredibly successful Phonetic Readings in English plus the first two very brief 'anecdotes' that follow it. At this late date I'm afraid the anecdotes, with texts unchanged since their first publication half a century earlier in 1912, sound rather ridiculously like something aimed at ten-year-olds. He made the recording at the age of 82 just four years before he died. The book's main sales were in Germany. Goodness knows how long it remained in print there if it's not still so. It wd seem to've been so at least till the end of the last century to judge from p.112 of the magnificent Jones biography The Real Professor Higgins by Beverley Collins and Inger Mees (Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 1999).

Here's Jones's voice. The segmental phonemes are shown in the kind of transcription he eventually considered best for most purposes.

This is Professor Daniel Jones speaking on the seventh of November 1963. I'm going to read aloud a number of anecdotes. They're published in a book of mine called Phonetic Readings in English published by Carl Winter of Heidelberg, Germany.

ˈðis iz | prəˈfesə ˈdæniəl ˴dʒounz spiːkiŋ | on ðə ˈsevnθ əv nouvembə | ˈnaintiːn siksti ˴θriː.
aim ˈgouiŋ tə ˈriːd | əlaud | ə ˈnʌmbər əv ˈanikdouts. | ðeə ˈpʌbliʃt | in ə `buk əv main |  koːld | fəuˈnetik ˈriːdiŋz | in ˴iŋgliʃ | pʌbliʃt  bai ˈkaːl vintə| əv ˴haidlbeəg| ˴dʒəːməni.

ˈnʌmbə ˴wʌn | ðə ˈdog in ðə ˴meindʒə. | ə ˈbad ˈtempəd dog | ˈwʌn dei | ˈfaund iz wei | intu ə meindʒə | ən ˈfaund it | sou ˈnais ən kʌmftəbl | ðət hiː meid ʌp iz maind | tə `stop ðeə. | wenˈevə ðə ˈkatl keim ˈniə | tu ˈiːt ðeə hei | hiː grauld ən `baːkt at ðəm | tə ˈfraitn ðəm oːf. | ˈwot ə ˈveri ˈselfiʃ dog | ikskleimd wʌn əv ði oksn | hiː `kaːnt iːt ðə hei himˈself | ənd iː ˈwount | let `ʌs iːt | huː kan.

ˈnʌmbə ˴tuː | ðə ˈtravlər ənd iz ˴dog. | ə travlə | wəz ˈdʒʌst ˈgouiŋ | tə ˈstaːt on ə dʒəːni | wen i ˈsoː iz dog | ˈstandiŋ ət ðə doː | ən `stretʃiŋ imself | ˈkʌm əloŋ ju leizi dog iː sed | ˈwot ə ju ˈweitiŋ `hiə foː | ðə dog ˈwagd iz teil | ən ˈsed | ai wəz `ounli weitiŋ | fə `juː maːstə. 

The word 'anecdotes' could be said to be slightly mispronounced, no doubt unintentionally, because he produces an unsuitably strong stress on its final syllable.

One can hear nothing particularly old-fashioned or socially conspicuous about his pronunciation of [sɪkstɪ] in this rhythmic context. It's clear that the two vowels are identical: in rhythmic contexts that highlighted the latter vowel it might not be so.

The first syllables of November and phonetic are plainly diphthongal which is unsurprising in this very careful style.

The phrase number of exhibits a very lightly tapped linking /r/ as also does traveller and in the title of the second anecdote. This again is pretty inconspicuous today so we must remember that when writers refer to tapped /r/ being very old-fashioned it's to be understood that they're thinking of quite strong tapping. The whipcrack taps that could often be heard in the enunciation of Noël Coward were pretty obviously conscious affectations in his day.

Notice that /eə/ in they're and the last syllable of Heidelberg are barely if at all diphthongal. I've never been happy with the Jones Outline paragraph 448 "The phoneme ɛə may be regarded as consisting of a single member; there are no phonemic variants differing to any marked extent from the above value."

The German words, we notice, are completely anglicised. 

Number 1: The Dog in the Manger

A bad tempered dog one day found his way into a manger and found it so nice and comfortable that he made up his mind to stop there. Whenever the cattle came near to eat their hay, he growled and barked at them to frighten them off. "What a very selfish dog!" exclaimed one of the oxen! "He can't eat the hay himself, and he won't let us eat who can".

Any readers who may've wondered what it sounded like when they re'd references to (old-fashioned or socially conspicuous) varieties of /ӕ/ which have "considerable constriction in the pharynx" (Cruttenden/Gimson 2008 p.113) will hear a very marked example of such an articulation here at the word bad. It could almost be described as "bleated".

The word off exhibits the very old-fashioned choice of the /ɔː/phoneme in a number of words in which /ɒ/ is now heard. (Cf 3.1.29d on this website.) Not only is the choice of phoneme not the one normally made in the group of words to which off belongs but compared with GB speakers today the quality of the vowel is markedly opener than the average now heard, as is that used at for in anecdote Number 2. 

Number 2: The Traveller and his Dog

The traveller was just going to start on a journey when he saw his dog standing at the door and stretching himself. "Come along, you lazy dog" he said "What are you waiting here for?" The dog wagged his tail and said "I was only waiting for you, Master".

Blog 129

The 9th of September 2008

The Rigidity of English Spelling

Today’s ideas in John Wells's blog Freeing up spelling strike me as taking a somewhat new line from his past writings on the topic. I find them agreeably in tune with the suggestions I’ve recently been making in items on this website notably at my Blogs 102 Spelling Reform - Feasible or Futile? and 47 Spelling Reform. See also the warning about my spellings-in-them that precedes these blogs.

One of his suggestions was “Lets abolish the apostrophe, or at least make it optional”. In my observation it’s very widely become treated as optional already in practice except in contracted spellings like we’ll for we will but I think I’d rather keep it there than use we ll. Spaces are such vague things especially in many people’s use of keyboards. Anyway let’s stop sneering at grocers. The Times reported him as saying “It’s time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling is a principal (principle?) mark of being educated.” I agree and perhaps principl wd be allriet. I can see his point of having only its inste’d of it’s as well: we’ve traditionally got them the rong way round anyway. I dont care for i and u but I might get to like U for you.

I notice that the Spelling Society, of which John is President, no longer advocates wholesale adoption of the system devised by its predecessor the Simplified Spelling Society and set out in the book Nue Speling by Walter Ripman and William Archer published in 1948 in its 6th edition revised by Daniel Jones and Harold Orton. It was an excellent effort but has never had any real likelihood of being adopted.

I can’t help feeling that John’s admirable realistic address to them on the 25th of January 1986 English accents and their implications for spelling reform mustv (I’m not sure I like that spelling and I wonder what John wd think of it) done as much to damp down (undiscriminating) enthusiasm for reform among many of their members as much as to encourage them in their zeal.

It’s not going to be easy to persuade people along the lines that John and I have advocated. It’s witness to people’s unwarrantable veneration for orthography, however illogical, that they tend to prefer to adopt a matching pronunciation for a bad spelling rather than make an orthographical change (thereby carrying out slow piecemeal reform). It wdve made good sense (and sound etymology) to change /sɪzm/ from schism to *scism or *sism but, no, most people have now made it /skɪzm/. Its the same story with combat, forehead, nephew, often, retch etc etc.

Harking back to my remarks on the futility of the BBC attempting to force broadcasters to toe the line on all pronunciations, especially of French names, in my blog 124. On the morning Today programme on September the 8th on Radio 4, within a short time, regarding the same short news item, I heard the newsreader (Rory Morrison), the presenter (Edward Stourton) and a correspondent (Mark Mardell) say the French president’s name Sarkosi respectively as /`sɑːkəʊzi/,  /sɑːkəʊ`zi/ and  /sɑː`kəʊzi/. They were all okay by me tho the last one is probably the most comfortable for English-speakers and the second one — the one that the Beeb are trying to force on them — is probably the least so.

Blog 128

The 8th of September 2008

Unorthodox Derived Forms

John Wells in his last two blogs has raised questions about various derived forms. How Congolese got its l is certainly a mystery but John’s explanation of Harrovian’s <v> is clearly the right one. And this may well account too for Monrovia. The American president after whom it was named of course spelt his name Monroe but this surname was earlier Munro and has been spelt by some of its bearers as Munrow etc. The coiners may well have had such a spelling in mind.

It’s not too surprising that the christeners of the district above Oxford Street from Soho shdve rejected *Fitzroia in favour of Fitzrovia nor that there’s little use of any adjectivalisation of Waugh: *Waughan or *Waughian hardly roll sweetly off the tongue. The same may perhaps be said of Kittitian but*Kittsian doesnt seem too bad to one used to Keatsian so maybe the OED suggestion of an inclination to parallel with Haitian wasnt unreasonable. Euphonistic considerations have also no doubt been responsible for the rejection of *Shanghai-ese and *Lasso-ians.

As to tobacconist and Torontonian, its worth remembering that a century ago a knowledge of Latin and even of some Ancient Greek was extremely widespread among people of any pretension to education. This wd mean that they were no doubt to some extent conscious of the fact that, since any word ending with -o wd be almost certain to form derivatives which involved an n, there might well be a tendency to follow this analogy. Witness n-extensions (for non-nominative cases and other derivatives) in names like Apollo, Cato, Cicero, Dido, Juno, Nero, Pluto, Strabo, Varro etc and words such as bubo, harundo, homo, imago, ratio, testudo, vertigo etc. This may even have some relevance to the choice of forms of Balinese, Javanese and Sundanese. (In regard to Stowe alumni being called Stoics, that’s what OED past editors mightve called “sportive”).

PS There are various adjectives like Aberdonian, Bathonian, Dundonian and Scillonian besides the oddities Mexiconian, Grubstreetonian, grumbletonian and so on. Smilar is Erpenius the Latinisation of the name of the Dutch linguistic scholar Van Erpe, a practice so common in medieval and renaissance Europe.
PPS Pharaonic seems to be another example.

Blog 127

The 6th of September 2008

More Wells Coinages

In my blog 123 “Rhoticity” which was mainly about the coining of linguistic terms I mentioned half a dozen of John Wells’s coinages. One problem with suggesting that a word is appearing for the first time is that one can’t be sure that it is so merely because one can’t trace it earlier. I don’t think for a moment that I’m the first writer to employ the word anglophonia but it’s not in OED3 [PS actually within a cupple of months it was with a quote before my use: "This is a new entry" sed OED Third Edition, December 2008]. nor does Google instance it earlier than my use of it in 2003 at p. 19 of Volume No 87 of The Phonetician Shortly after another spell in anglophonia, this time teaching at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Ann Arbor...”. Similarly I have the habit of occasionally using in my private writings the term "Hispanophone" and, as I never recall seeing it used by anyone else and it's not to be found in OED3, to an extent it can be termed as my coinage, but I doubt that it's never occurred to any other writer to employ it.  Thus I'm not quite sure what to say about Wells's (standard) lexical sets.

[PS There is one notable thing to be said about these that they are all taken over en bloc for use in the key to the pronunciation of the online and in-preparation third edition of the great Oxford English Dictionary. Sadly Wells's set of symbols of LPD are not all used especially regrettably the wrongheaded failure to use his and all other sensible lexicographers' representation of the price diphthong.]

It seems likely that Wells re-invented smoothing rather than consciously or subconsciously remembered it from reading Sweet (who only used it in a couple of his least re’d books eg New English Grammar 1891 §720) as we see from his wording at its introduction at AE (Accents of English) p.238: We may refer to this monophthonging  process as Smoothing. Similarly his use of the phrases “Pre-R Breaking” and “Pre-Schwa Laxing”, like his term “D-tapping”, are certainly coinages but the phonological term “breaking” was in use by A. J. Ellis and others before him (in line with the German grammarians’ brechung), just as “laxing” was no doubt used by others before Chomsky and Halle.

Anyway, I thaut I might mention some other (presumable) Wells coinages. The one of his I hope to be forgiven for referring to as his happiest one is “the happy vowel” for the final-y vowel of vast numbers of English words for which he wisely and hugely influentially (there’s three of them for you!) accepted in his publications the LDC (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English) innovation in its first edition of 1978 of representing these vowels with colon-free /i/.

The credit for introducing this usage in its Wellsian sense I’ve always naturally attributed to that dictionary’s initial specialist “pronunciation editor”, Gordon Walsh. Though I had many conversations with him around that time I don’t actually remember confirming the fact of it with him. Gordon was an excellent phonetician who studied under Peter MacCarthy and my predecessor at the Leeds Department of Phonetics, Beatrice Honikman, who I know thaut very highly of him. In subsequent years I’ve unfortunately lost touch with him since he left Longman but I’d be very pleased, if he or a friend sees this, if he’d make contact. Anyway, it’s long been my private conviction that he felt that his /i/ symbolisation was a good way of representing the General British pronunciation of such words avoiding both the unacceptable traditional representation /ɪ/ and the misleading notation /iː/. It was on the part of the publishers cautiously presented to the reader only as a device for economically conveying simultaneously both the General American and the General British usages in one symbol but by the second edition of LDC a decade later in 1987, when the pronunciation editor had changed and the pronunciation adviser was no longer Gimson but Wells, the representation was not merely so glossed (see p.F53).

Perhaps a less than happy AE usage is the habitual hyphenation passim “traditional-dialect” which strikes me as disturbingly irregular when it’s not attributive. In any case I shall give the rest of these coinages of his alphabetically:

consonant singling: AE p.212 “(double /dd/ in ladder becomes single /d/, and likewise other doubled consonants)

continental vowellism AE p.108 This chiefly involves giving to the spelling letters a, e, and i the values of PALM, FACE and FLEECE... (Compare Section 3 Item 7 III 4 on this main website.)

dealveolar (AE p. 58) “The (optional) RP rule of Dealveolar Assimilation is potentially triggered whenever a word ending in an alveolar stop occurs before a word beginning with a bilabial or velar stop.”

 ‘disalesce’ (AE p. 58) is an obvious nonce creation to convey the reverse of coalesce. Its apologetic inverted commas acknowledge its unorthodox formation and perhaps incomplete seriousness.

glottalling (rather than glottalising) which occurs first at AE p.102: The current British trend towards general syllable-final glottalling ... constitutes a rule simplification.”

loan-phoneme AE p.190: “Even in England /x/ can be said to hold a tenuous and marginal position in the consonant system of educated speakers ... it is clearly a loan-phoneme.”

shading (AE p. 534) was obviously introduced as a conscious coinage “... this is where what we may call Shading comes into play. This is the effect upon vowel timbre of the nature of a following consonant” .

vocalization to mean conversion (of a consonant) to a vowel (not in OED3) appears first at AE p. 20; cf p.295 “Vocalization of dark /l/ is occasionally met with in RP...”.

So we see that John was being over-modest when he referred to rhotic as "my own personal contribution to the English language" as if it were the only one.

Blog 126

The 3rd of September 2008

Georgeayna's Cavendish patois

Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), born  on the 7th of June 1757, the eldest daughter of John Spencer, first Earl Spencer, at the age of 17 married the duke in June 1774. She was the subject in 1998 of an excellent  biography by Amanda Foreman which has now served as the basis of a film The Duchess about to be released. The actress who plays the name part in it has been much interviewed on BBC etc including on Radio 5 in a series called by what hints at a Cockney version of “Daily Mail” but turns out to be “Daily Mayo”, the interviewer’s name being Mayo.

In it that actress, Keira /kɪərə/ Knightley, is questioned about the pronunciation of the Duchess’s name Georgiana when the interviewer remarks very understandably that, tho he was expecting /ʤɔːʤi`ɑːnə/, “through the movie everyone says /ʤɔː`ʤeɪnə/”. She replies “They do” and goes on to say “there was a special thing called the ‘Cavendish drawl’ which we haven’t really done in the film apart from the name ... I think they did pronounce it /ʤɔː`ʒeɪnə/”. (Incident’ly, that seems to lend support to my contention that people often don’t feel conscious of any very significant difference between /ʒ/ and /dʒ/. Compare the comments on Beijing etc in my blog 124 and the way many people say eg garage or management etc with indifferently /ʒ/ or /dʒ/.)

Just what the ‘Cavendish drawl’ amounted to isnt easy to g’age but no doubt the alternative term ‘Cavendish patois’ was nearer the mark. The form ‘George-ayna’ was probably quite widely current in the 18th century but perhaps beginning to sound old-fashioned to most people by the time she married the duke. There are many words that have exhibited a similar variation between a more English-developed and a more Continental-influenced treatment of such an ending. The  OED has the entries “ana (ˈeɪnə,ˈɑːnə), suffix and n.” and “Africana (ӕfrɪˈkɑːnə, -eɪnə)”. The order of the pronunciations given for the suffix no doubt no longer reflects accurately the current predominating preference but in the USA, and probably also still here by some who use the term, the organ stop vox humana may be heard with the non-Continentalised vowel as /vɒks hju`meɪnə/. Similar variations have occurred with names like Anastasia, Maria, Sabrina, Sophia etc.

The Foreman biography quotes various examples of the phenomenon called variously ‘Cavendish drawl’ and ‘Devonshire drawl’ both of which terms, even taking into account her mention of “bal-cony, con-template” and “cowcumber”, are no doubt less appropriate than the third one ‘Cavendish patois’. In the OED Murray remarked in 1885 “Till c1825 the pronunc. was regularly bælˈkəʊnɪ; but ˈbælkənɪ... , ‘which,’ said Samuel Rogers, ‘makes me sick,’ is now established.” I’ve updated from Murray’s symbols to the current OED3 style. OED dodgily gives the con`template stressing in second place (as an allegedly current usage) even tho retaining Murray’s century-plus-old comment that it “begins to have a flavour of age”. On cowcumber it gives his 1893 remark that such a pronunciation was “still that recognized by Walker; but Smart 1836 says ‘no well-taught person, except of the old school, now says cow-cumber ... although any other pronunciation ... would have been pedantic some thirty years ago”. Other items of the patois Foreman quotes are yellow, gold and spoil presumably pronounced as /jӕlə, guːld/ and /spaɪl/ and a “baby-talk” style you pronounced with its yod dropped. (Compare OED’s quote from the 1713 Swift Journal to Stella  I allow oo Six). Except for this last item, these were all probably merely old-fashioned. For example Wyld's History of Modern Colloquial English (1920/36 p. 239) sed of goold that “It was a very usual though by no means the only pronunciation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among good speakers.

The “patois” may perhaps have been characterised by particular rhythmic and/or melodic features but these can now hardly be guessed at. As regards the above set of verbal usages reported at Foreman 1999 pp 45/46, they seem all to have been noted from the letter to her mother of the 12th of January 1784 (ie when she was sixteen and a half). So they should perhaps best be interpreted as the slight over-reactions to the speech habits of another grand family of a very inexperienced young woman in an age when many usages were less settled than they are today.

My attention was drawn to this topic, as so often, by John Wells's latest blog where he helpfully provides a link to the podcast of the broadcast I've quoted from. He makes the comparison with the Victorian /ɑː`meɪdə/ for armada which, as he points out, Daniel Jones never got round to removing from his EPD. Neither did Gimson or Ramsaran. Only when Roach and Setter took over in 1997 was it removed tho who was still using it after about 1920 one wonders. It was only withdrawn from the Concise Oxford Dictionary in 1976 in which it had remained until that time as the only pronunciation recorded for the word: see on this website (at Section 11, Item 3, No 5) my letter that was printed in The Times in 1977 which mentioned the fact. This to my profound regret much irritated the then Chief Editor of Oxford Dictionaries, the great lexicographer whom I so much admired, the late Robert Burchfield. I had mentioned it as symptomatic of the minimal attention those dictionaries paid to pronunciation matters. Such things seem a good deal better these days.

Blog 125

The 1st of September 2008

What to Excuse

John Wells’s phonetic blog of today is, as ever, thaut-provoking. It turns out to be entirely about various transcriptions produced by examination candidates of the first two words only of a passage that he “dictated in a perfectly ordinary way, as ɪkˈskjuːz mi.” I’m afraid I cdnt help wondering whether he aimed to repeat these words on the same intonation pattern each time or only adhered to the same stress pattern. [PS He's now told me that he stuck to a fall-rise on Excuse.] I’ve known occasions when I’ve felt free to vary the intonation to help the candidates determine what was being said. Anyway, one quite minor but potentially quite perplexing point of transcription is possibly involved as we shall see.

He continued:
Among the versions I was offered by the examinees were ɪˈkjus me, ɪˈkjʊz ˈmiː, ˈıkskjuz mi, and several cases of ɪkˈskjuːs mi.

The first two of these were quite seriously wrong both omitting the pair of segments /sk/. The first, besides the omissions, had /s/ for /z/ and in /e/ a seriously inappropriate final vowel.

The second, besides the omissions, had /ʊ/ instead of /uː/ and a debatable vowel value in the second word. Taking it that the examinees were required to make use of the LPD/EPD symbology, and that the prosody fitted the O&A (O’Connor & Arnold) terminology Fall-Rise, then strictly speaking one might well expect the non-accentual rising-syllable vowel to be transcribed with a weak /i/ rather than strong coloned /iː/ tho this latter choice of course wd be a very venial “error”. On the other hand if the speaker’s prosody had been consistently what O&A wdve had to represent as Exˈcuse ˏme, then a student trained to use O&A notation would have been justified as regarding “me” as accented and therefore requiring segmental notation as a strong vowel by inclusion of an IPA length mark.  The problem wd be that the O&A notation never had within its purview the existence of the complex tone which in my preferred terminology I refer to as the Alt-Rise ie a very frequent one employed on this common expression which I am accustomed to notate as Exˈˏcuse me. (A more emphatic variant cd  be Exˋcuse ˋˏme. For “Alt” see on this main website Section 8 §3.) ː

In the third example ˈıkskjuz mi the tonic syllable is grossly mistaken. Looking closely at the first letter of this transcription one is tempted to wonder if with meticulous precision the calligraphy is being shown in a way that might represent a Turkish student slipping into their national graphetics in a failed attempt at writing the IPA symbol ɪ — but that wd no doubt be too extravagant a conceit to sustain belief. No doubt it's just one of those graphological gremlins at work of the kind that wdnt let me use the original Turkish dotless i of the Wells text on this page. [PS On the contrary I find that he was indeed meticulously recording the student's use of a dotless i!]

 At the fourth ɪkˈskjuːs mi there is the common failure to observe “the s ~ z noun~verb alternation in use, abuse, excuse, refuse, house...” The rest of this ten-line aside gives a concise summary of similar types of s ~̴ z alternation which shd prove very useful to many students whose attention is drawn to it.

It was rather surprising to hear that the students found it easier to transcribe Synthetic English words than real existing ones. I think I’ve always found it the other way round. [PS I now gather that his "nonsense words" were not English but "all vowels cardinal, many consonants exotic etc" so my astonishment at hearing that the students  perform better on them is even greater tho I supose it cou'd be that more English segments than international ones conduced to a higher total of mistakes ]

Blog 124

The 31st of August 2008


The title of this present blog (Canutism /kə`njuːtɪzm/) ties in with the topic of my last one because that one was largely concerned with coinages. This expression is in fact a personal usage I've long enjoyed employing to refer (however unfairly to the monarch in question) to the fact that many people delude themselves into believing that a single authority's influence can be so great as to prevail over a wide popular tide of development. I usually have in mind linguistic processes and particularly trends in the pronunciation of individual words. This blog, then, has been prompted by the blog of August the 14th by Graham Pointon which began

It’s been very noticeable over the past week or so that almost all BBC broadcasters, from whatever department, are now saying ‘bay-jing’ for the Chinese capital. It’s been confirmed today by “a BBC employee” that a directive has been sent out by senior management that everyone must toe this line. Graham went on to refer to a 1974 booklet called BBC Pronunciation Policy and Practice, which, he said, laid down that all BBC staff newsreaders and presenters must follow the recommendations of the Pronunciation Unit adding his questionable opinion that a similar instruction now would do no harm whatsoever.

After grumbles about the arcane Byzantine convolutions of control within the Beeb he closed with the unsurprising remark that a former Controller of Editorial Policy referred to pronunciation as a “can of worms” that he wanted nothing to do with, although all he would need to do would be to accept the recommendations of the Unit — they are all very good linguists, and spend their lives researching the pronunciations which journalists often dismiss in two seconds flat. (Good!) Perhaps a start could be made by standardising the French President’s name: there is still a lot of disagreement between the second-syllable and third-syllable stressers.

My opinion is in direct contrast with that of my good friend Graham. I feel that the function of the truly invaluable BBC Pronunciation Unit shd be entirely consultative and that no broadcaster of whatever standing shd be prohibited from using any pronunciation of any word which he or she feels is appropriate for the context in which it is to be heard — or for that matter pressured to conform to a standard set up by others. The more certainly the Beeb steer clear of any tendency to control freakery the better. Attempting to force people to "toe the line" against their will or better judgment is extremely ill-advised. More detail on this matter can be seen in my review of OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation) on this website at Section 12 Item 11.

I believe this partly because I feel no advisor or group of advisors, however well-equipped for such work, shd be deemed infallible in their judgment. To take the example of Sarkozi I dont think it matters much at all whether one sez /sɑː`kəʊzi/ or /sɑːkəʊ`ziː/. However, I do doubt if the latter version is likely to feel very comfortable to most people and I deplore the way it is given in OBG as the BBC's sole recommendation, especially in the light of the above-mentioned booklet on BBC Pronunciation Policy and Practice. English speakers are likely to feel that such a word pronounced as three strong syllables is too heavy: in fact I suspect very few will simply adopt that recommendation. If they attempt to do so while having the  occasion to use the word repeatedly, they'll soon be weakening the middle syllable to give /sɑːkə`ziː/ as is the common pattern in English words of three syllables the last of which is strong as with for example jamboree.

Again, I can't share Graham's evident satisfaction that a fatwa came from on high at the Beeb (no name disclosed!) prohibiting the probable majority version /ˈbeɪ`ʒɪŋ/ which OBG sez tiresomely is “not correct”. Will they be putting one out about Taj Mahal shou'd that figure prominently in the news shortly? And one wonders what the punishment was for infringement! LPD3 gives the /dʒ/ version first and observes in deprecating language (“no justification”) that it alone occurs in Chinese. EPD and ODP are both sensibly non-committal regarding which variant is the predominant one etc.

Blog 123

The 28th of August 2008

Rhoticity etc

John Wells has invited us to celebrate with him the "fortieth anniversary of the word rhotic", which, he remarks, "is my own personal contribution to the English language." While I shd not wish to be so churlish as to fail to congratulate him on its 68,000 hits in Google and so on, I have to confess that, tho I've often written about the topic it refers to, I have regularly consciously avoided using the term in his sense. My reasons for this, handy as it has proved in avoiding the clumsy term r-ful, have been twofold.

One has been the rather subjective purist feeling that it shd ideally be kept as a term to describe language varieties that contain r-sounds as opposed to ones that contain only l-sounds (lambdic, to coin a word) or like English have both (lambdic-rhotic). I dont think I cd reconcile myself to rhotiferous.

However, my main reason has been the feeling that, neat tho it might be, it was too broad for my purposes. Accordingly I've always referred to varieties of English, using instead his other coinage, as of higher or lower rhoticity. This has meant that I have referred to various kinds of southern United States English as of lower rhoticity than any other type (alternatively hyporhotic), considered General British and most east-of-England, eastern US and sub-equatorial accents as of medium rhoticity (mesorhotic), and referred to Irish, Scottish and General American etc as of high rhoticity (or polyrhotic). "Cruttenden's Gimson" (2008 p. 90) remarks "some, particularly Jamaicans, may be semi-rhotic (e.g. /r/ is present word-finally in hear but not preconsonantally in weird)". In fact semi-rhoticity is first mentioned in Wells's Accents of English p.570.

I notice that Wells's other 1968 coinage hyperrhotic hasnt been taken up much. It seems to me that it cou'd well be welcomed as a slightly less questionable expression to describe varieties that embody analogical /r/ of the type that is very often called "intrusive". Such terminology I find rather uncomfortably lends itself to being pounced upon gleefully by purists as a value judgment.

Wells's influence, especially in his prodigious Accents of English, has had notable effects on the currency of a variety of other terms including his revival of Henry Sweet's 1988 History of English Sounds use of smoothing which Sweet defined as "the levelling of the two elements of a diphthong under a monophthong". Others of Wells's often taken up terms have included TH fronting, glottalling, diphthong shift and pre-fortis clipping. I've never really cared in this last case for the clipping metaphor rather than the more usual terms shortening or reduction and I've not understood why he hasnt employed the conveniently parallel term pre-enclitic (shortening) which I've found quite useful.

Two items first employed by the present writer wdntve acquired the familiarity they now have if they hadnt appeared in his works. One of these is the term compression introduced in 1969 in my Guide to English Pronunciation (Scandinavian Universities Press) where at p. 35 it said "A compression occurs when a diphthong is reduced to a simple vowel or a vowel reduced to an approximant..."

The other is yod dropping, which I first used in my 1971 article The American and British accents of English in English Language Teaching (pp 238-48), and which, like rhotic, has now appeared in the OED which has the entry at yod n(oun)2:
1982 J. C. WELLS Accents of English I. ii. 163 ... GenAm reflects more widespread Yod Dropping than RP and most other British accents.

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).