Archive 20 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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26/07/2009Swine-flu, Algorithm and Dives#200
07/07/2009Swift Linguistic Changes#199
28/06/2009Compound or Phrase?#198
25/06/2009Orthoepic Jibery#197
17/06/2009Which Tone?#196
16/06/2009Mousavi and the like#195
14/06/2009Alexander John Ellis#194
13/06/2009Flapped /r/#193
12/06/2009To Stress or Not to Stress#192
09/06/2009Accented or Not Accented?#191

Blog 200

The 26th of July 2009

Swine-flu, Algorithm and Dives

I recently he'rd a brief television statement by an authoritative-sounding speaker  explaining things about swine flu to the “great British public” in which he immediately used the very unsuitably cryptic word — as far as most of us are concerned — algorithm. He did, it seemed rather hastily, slip in a gloss “pathway” at his first use of the term but why use the word at’all if a more ordinary one’ll do? Swine flu’s a funny combination when you come to think of it. “Swine” a good time ago gave way in general usage to the word “pig” and now it’s mainly a technical term of zoology. Flu was an originally colloquial shortening (of influenza) that’s now come to be perfectly respectable in the way mob was originally the learned Latin mobile vulgus (the fickle crowd). I s’pose people’ve avoided saying “pig-flu” coz it’d’ve sounded like a kind of flu that only pigs caut. That was in fact the meaning of the earliest recorded sense of “swine-flu” in the OED. I was quite surprised to see quotes for it as a disease of humans so early as 1976 and 1981 in American use at least.

To return to algorithm, OED1 in 1884 only recorded the word as an “erron[eous] refashioning” of algorism and offered no pron(unciation). The Burchfield Supplement of 1972 still had no pron for it but for algorithmic gave  /ælgə`rɪðmɪk/. OED2 in 1989 gave /`ælgərɪθm/ but /ælgə`rɪðmɪk/. All the big three pron dicts (LPD, EPD and ODP) have only /ð/ forms. I expect the powerful analogy of the unrelated word rhythmic /`rɪðmɪk/ prevented /θ/ from being used in it. For logarithm LPD and EPD agree that /ð/ is more usual than /θ/. ODP doesnt give a /θ/ variant for it at’all. Perhaps a /θ/ coming before a syllabic /m/ felt to speakers as much a beginning to a syllable /θm/ as the end of a syllable /rɪθ/ in fact so much so that it became affected by the very strong tendency English has to voice voiceless consonants before a voiced consonant. The syllabication is neither merely /rɪð.m/ nor /rɪ.ðm/ but the two at once, sometimes termed ambisyllabicity. When it comes to arithmetic, it’s obviously only perceived as /ə`rɪθ.mə.tɪk/ and not even partly as */ə`rɪ.θmə.tɪk/. 

When I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 morning programme “Today” one time last week, a theologian chappy of some sort, in a short talk in the “God-slot” as some call it, was making multiple references to the famous Bible story of Dives and Lazarus. The first of these names was in origin a Latin word for “wealthy (person)”. In ancient Roman times it was probbly pronounced [`diːwes] but people in England have by very natural processes come to pronounce it /`daɪviːz/. Until now I’d never he’rd it, as he repeatedly and confidently sed it, as /`diːveɪz/. It’s well over a century now since phoneticians pointed out that most people’s prons of Latin words were pretty different from the way Julius Caesar and company used to say them. Ever since that revelation you’ve had to be prepared to hear at any time all sorts of revisions of the way people say words they recognise as derived from Latin. This is a new one so I wasnt surprised not to find it in any of the pron dicts.

By the way, it’s not only a bit of a milestone to have come to one's 200th blog, but my automatic word counter tells me that this website has now reached the third-of-a-million-words mark. The latest new addition of some substance is 'English Melodics beyond Basic Tones'  Item 5 of Section 8.

Blog 199

The 7th of July 2009

Swift Linguistic Changes

In a postscript to one of last year’s blogs, #101 of the 10th of June,  I mentioned my relief that I had just he’rd a radio presenter confirm my impression that people seemed to be behaving as if the word problem had suddenly become taboo and were almost universally saying issue inste’d. I notice that a recent letter to The Times has suggested a challenging explanation for the phenomenon. It remarked ‘Every day one hears talk of someone having health issues, marital issues and so forth. This, of course, is a product of the “no problem” culture in which all difficulties depend on one’s point of view, and are open to debate’. I experienced the same reaction to the suddenness with which I began to hear numerous people refer to being bored of various things. A few years ago I’d’ve told any student that asked me about it that I didnt think anyone said it — not to my knowledge at least. You plainly have to be careful about making such pronouncements.

I reacted similarly to noticing for the first time people referring to being “between a rock and hard place”: this strikes me as a sadly graceless and insipid expression. Of course I can understand that, in these days when study of classical literature has become an activity only of the very few, it sounds a bit too flamboyant to refer to Scylla and Charybdis but why not “between a rock and a whirlpool”? I suppose the devil and the deep blue sea has come to sound a bit extravagant too. Even so “hard place” sounds terribly flat to me, the word “place” being such a feeble choice that people seem to avoid accenting it. Its use in contrast with “rock” sounds so clumsy. I remember, on the other hand, when I first re’d The Tempest and came across the expression “sea-change” I felt it was rather mysterious and magical. For years now I’ve  been cringing on hearing it as a tiresome cliché. At last, to my relief, the wooden-sounding new cliché “step-change” has begun to let it rest. The recently increasingly indispensable “tipping point” I’m tired of hearing alreddy. Thank goodness the offen rather pretentious-sounding “cusp” has been given a rest lately too.

I have the feeling that the rather recent “Thanks, but no, thanks” is verging on becoming a cliché. Its intonation is an important part of its identity which can be suggested as I have by some punctuation that I dou’t it often receives when it gets into print. With its first word not being uttered in isolation and being given a level tone, the expression is no dou't preferably analysable as constituting a single intonation unit (a term I prefer to the recently popular “intonation phrase” which I shdnt be comfortable applying to a single word). Thus /ˈθӕŋks | bət `nəʊ θӕŋks/ with the second “thanks”, hardly accentable as such an immediate repetition of the word, being uttered as the tail to the fall on “no”. If it were spoken as /ˈθӕŋks | bət `nəʊ ˏθӕŋks/ it wd lose the sharp even brutal ironic effect it has because it seems to be used most offen similarly to “Thank you for nothing”. I quite like this tonological relative neologism which hasnt become a cliché for me up to now.

These linguistic items that at least seem to appear and gather strength rather suddenly are perhaps more widely noticed when they’re non-phonetic. But there have been quite a few phonetic ones. The most recent example that springs to mind at once was the striking way that the weak happy vowel replaced /ɪ/ as the mainstream value in the least regional accent of England: the change seemed to be clinched during the last quarter of the last century. It’s my guess that a reverse happy change from /i/ to /ɪ/ took place in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The CV 3½ "ash" mainstream value [ӕ] went rather suddenly somewhat down-and-back in the third quarter of the twentieth century. The very front beginning version of the go diphthong had a comet-like passage not being mentioned by anyone much until well into the second quarter of the last century and becoming markedly old-fashioned by the time the next quarter began. See the Main Articles section of this site item  3.7.II for much more on this kind of topic.

Blog 198

The 28th of June 2009

Compound or Phrase?

A correspondent in Japan has asked the following question:

Is Christmas concert single-stressed or double-stressed?

This question is of course the equivalent of asking “Is the sequence or combination Christmas concert a phrase or a compound?” English has lots of “invisible” compounds where the two words involved are neither linked by a hyphen nor written “solid”. We also have many combinations that are spoken with the two stresses more appropriate to a phrase than a compound such as Christmas-Day but which you may find hyphenated eg in the great Oxford English Dictionary. This is of course unhelpful to people who may not know what the verbal tradition is for the combination. Dictionaries specifically designed for people without that prior knowledge such as the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary or the pronunciation dictionaries LPD and EPD (tho not ODP in this case) are a vastly better guides to usage.

LPD gives eleven examples of combinations with Christmas six of which are single-stressed ie compounds not phrases. These are the exceptional ones. If in dou't always presume that the sequence is a phrase rather than a compound. Be careful not to presume that the combination you he'rd spoken by a native speaker of English must be a compound simply because you’ve observed it, even repeatedly, being stressed like a compound with an accent only on its first element. The “normal” second stress may often be omitted by the speaker because we usually suppress stress on a word or synonym that constitutes a repetition. See on this Website §8.1.

This could very often happen to a phrase like Christmas concert if the subject of Christmas or concerts has been raised in the previous part of a discourse, conversation etc. In a case like How did he come to meet Mary? — She came 'with ˋfrends of ˏhis | to a 'Christmas `concert there’s no precontext that wd prevent concert from taking its basic normal stressed form.  However, if concerts had been a topic you might hear: ˋThis ˏyear | they’re having a special `Christmas concert. Or, if Christmas has already been mentioned, you might hear We’ll be singing in the 'Christmas `concert | as `well as in the `church ` ˏservice.

The practice of writers of English is quite chaotic in respect of separation, hyphenation and solid writing of huge numbers of combinations. I’m afraid this shd come as no surprise in view of the complexity of English patterns of stressing. Continuing with combinations involving Christmas we find that people in Britain, in a way anyone who doesnt already know could hardly have guessed, generally say `Christmas box, `Christmas cake, `Christmas card, `Christmas present, `Christmas tree but Christmas `cracker, Christmas `Day, Christmas `dinner, Christmas `Eve, Christmas `pudding and Christmas `stocking. American usage inclines to be more variable. Like the general run of British dictionaries, most American dictionaries are no help with this matter, even the Webster ones, tho the big Random House is an honorable exception on many occasions.

Blog 197

The 25th of June 2009

Orthoepic Jibery

John Wells’s blog entitled “a gross violation?” of the 22nd of June 2009 quotes a new example of Simon Hoggart’s Guardian linguistic sneers thus
Another of Gordon Brown's weird mispronunciations: he says "gross" to rhyme with "floss"... The word is in common usage, especially when taxes are being considered, so you wonder if he really does listen to what anyone says.
Readers of my blogs 49 and 55 could see that I deplored Hoggart’s comments of that sort because, even if it were true that his version of the word embodied a misconception that the pronunciation he uses was a common one, it’d be too cheap a jibe not to be ashamed of. I gave examples of the idiosyncratic pronunciations that most of us are capable of acquiring quoting some from half-a-dozen former pri’ministers. 

John rietly pointed out that the term gross and its derivative engross are unique among words which are spelt with oss in having /əʊ/ rather than /ɒ/ but also drew attention to the fact that words containing the comparable sequences ost and oth are very much a mixed bag in that respect. However, he was inclined to the same false presumption as Hoggart, and added “Note the inference that can be drawn if you produce a one-off spelling pronunciation: it means you don’t listen to what anyone says ... Not only EFL learners but native speakers too must learn the pronunciation of a word when they learn its written form. Otherwise people mock.” One of his readers asked “Do you mean to say he first met the word in its written form?! For a foreigner, this might very well be the case more often than not, but for a native speaker? The word isn't so rare or highbrow, I'd say”. John’s reply was “that's exactly the inference I drew. Could be wrong, of course - but I see a 14-year-old Gordon avidly reading about bookkeeping or taxation policy and coming across this word for the first time, and in writing.”

I’m afraid this usage isnt unique to Gordon Brown. I first noted it from some other Scottish speakers some years ago and I’ve he’rd it from a well-spoken titled Scottish lady in a television news broadcast within the last month. Of course it may have quite a restricted currency within Scotland but it’s certainly customary for some. It’s rather surprising that there’s been no Scottish reader of the Wells blog who’s chosen to comment. I may also mention that Lee Davidson, a Scotsman long resident in England and my colleague in our days at the Leeds University Department of Linguistics and Phonetics, confirms that the pronunciation was familiar to him in his schooldays. Lastly, it’s clear that it’s very much a minority type of pronunciation in the US too because the online Webster gives only one form for it: nevertheless Artin’s very full indications in the great edition of 1961 listed a second version with the same vowel as in its other oss words.
My main point is as before that we shd all aim to be as tolerant and charitable as possible about other people’s unfamiliar pronunciations. Our grossly ambiguous English spelling makes it particularly difficult for people to resist  misconceptions regarding the currencies of the pronunciations of various words so we shd all tre’d very carefully on this sort of  ground.

Blog 196

The 17th of June 2009

Which Tone?

Tami Date remarked to me the other day
In your last mail, you wrote ˈBraˋvo! which reminded me of the similar case that I heard in a movie recently:
A: He died unexpectedly and that brings up a lot of questions. It’s probably easier when people are just deceased.
B:  ˈProbabˋly.”
When he gave it as ˈProbabˋly  he was marking it tonetically. Tonologically it no dout shd be markt ˊˋProbably which wd be a single complex tone. As to the actual pitches of the syllables, if what he heard was [prɒbəbli] the three syllables wd ordinarily have been at mid, hie and low pitches successivly. If he in fact he'rd [prɒbbli] the two sylls wdve been mid then (hie) falling —  only requiring the same notation [ˊˋprɒbbli]. 
I see why my ˈBraˋvo! braut to mind something he was taking to involve two tones but Bra`vo is like Raˋˏther in having basically not necessarily more than one tone/accent, tho it can also have a head tone as I wrote it 'Bra`vo. This has two tones ie Alt plus Fall ie the climax (nucleus) is on the second syllable and its two constituents are a head tone and a climax tone.
ALD (the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary) sez (the bits in square brackets are my annotations or explanatory substitutions) at “Rather: exclamation ... also [ 'rɑːˋˏðɜː] (old-fashioned [slangy], BrE) used to agree with sb’s suggestion: ‘How about a trip to the beach?’
As to the Climb-Fall tone, a single tone of a complex type, fortunately no EAL user ever needs to cultivate it coz it’s just a fancy variant of the simple Fall. (Those who may wish to check that theyve understood these names for tones, can see them explained briefly at Main Articles §8.3.

It’s not often that one hears a strikingly wrong choice of tone type, and if one does it’s highly unlikely to be in an unscripted spontaneous piece of conversation. Anyway, I he’rd one recently that involved the expression at last in the course of a reading aloud of what to us today sounds rather stilted conversation. It was written over one hundred and twenty years ago by the great Victorian writer Thomas Hardy in his minor novel The Woodlanders. No wonder the reader was caut off her g'ard because not only was the general style archaic but it involved her in reading the expression at last in what is now an obsolete sense. The passage in question was “What would have immediately followed I know not, but sorrow and sickness of heart at last.” She re’d that final word with a (perhaps high) full-descent falling tone with which it sounded quite wrong, but which wd be the type of tone to be most often he'rd on it today. The speaker was referring (quite emotionally one gathers from the general context) to the possibility of a certain very undesirable ultimate outcome. In today’s usage, tho the dictionaries arnt much good at conveying the fact, the expression at last always indicates some kind of satisfaction whereas a century or more ago it was at times used in the neutral sense which the expression in the end has. If in the end had occurred inste’d of at last the reader wdve been unlikely to've been trapped into using a falling tone. There’s a stronger version of at last with the same sense of satisfaction namely at long last. A sentence intoned like this Un`happiness| wdve followed at ˎlast or at `last wd tend to sound heartless. To convey a proper sympathy the word last wdve had to carry a normal (ie un-narrowed) finally low rising tone, namely a simple Rise or a Fall-Rise, Un`happiness | wdve  followed at (ˋ)ˏlast.

Blog 195

The 16th of June 2009

Mousavi and the like

The hitherto relatively unfamiliar name of the main rival candidate for the Iranian presidency who was also a former prime minister, Mousavi, under  anglicisation contains the vowel sequence /muːsɑːviː/. If I were responsible for advising BBC personnel how to pronounce this name, for me, it wd present a dilemma. The staff of the BBC Pronunciation Research Unit have a rational policy of recommending reproducing the original pattern of stress in such words of the national language of Iran, what we used to call Persian and now is called Farsi — a word more often stressed `Farsi than in the native manner Far`si. It’s observable that at least most BBC Radio 4 newsreaders are aware of and accept the advice to say Mousavi as /ˌmuːsɑː`viː/. Aside from these Radio 4 newsreaders there’s much less uniformity. A commonplace example of the kind of thing to be he'rd was to be noted on the Radio 4 Today program on one day last week. One cd hear presenter Ed Stourton begin an interview by using the stressing `Mousavi. Then, on hearing the American politician Richard Perle mention the name, he with sensitive politeness, switched to his interviewee’s version Mou`savi. They were followed by a correspondent from Tehran who sed `Mousavi agen and afterwards by the newsreader Neil Sleat stressing it as Mousa`vi.

It seems to be natural for English speakers either not to notice how people are stressing such words or at least to ignore the matter. The name of the Iranian “supreme leader” Khamane’i seems rarely to be he'rd even with the original number of syllables leave alone as OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide) recommends it [xɑːmənəˈiː]. That looks pretty different from  LPD’s (intended?) first version/ˌkɑːm ə ˈneɪ/. I'd prefer to suggest [ˈxɑːməˈneɪ`iː] or [ˈxɑːmɑːneɪ`iː]. The word’s not in EPD or ODP. At you can hear it spoken pretty clearly as [ˈxɑːmë`neɪ.iː] which is better than their transcription [xɑːmenei].

I don’t feel any surprise or much regret that most broadcasters don’t seem to worry about these matters. I was for three years in the sixties a lecturer in the Tehran University Department of English and I was very intrested to note how my compatriots working in Tehran pronounced Farsi names. I was quite surprised with the way they treated some of them. In particular there was the way they sed the name of a very agreeable Iranian chap who was a colleague of my friends who worked at what was then a very lively and active representation of the British Council. I never remember hearing a single one of them, including those who spoke Farsi, refer to him as anything else than /ˈӕli `sæməndəri/, ending it just like the English word legendary. I’ve never ceased to be puzzled by this phenomenon. His name Samandari was [samanda`riː] in Farsi.

There can’t be sed to be any universal tendency to avoid having words ending /-`iː/: we’ve got quite a few of them like absen`tee, bar`gee, devo`tee, dunga`ree, employ`ee, set`tee. It’s true that some words can be he'rd in either of two stressings like jubilee and kedgeree. For refugee forestress is favoured over the Atlantic and endstress here. We Brits’ve given up chim`panzee in favour of chimpan`zee at least more completely than they seem to have over there. Our usual stressing Ca`pri shows us perversely going out of our way to endstress what Italians call [`kaːpri]. The only thing I can put our habit down to is that, having such very large numbers of words ending with a weak syllable /-i/ spelt with -y, -ay, -ey or -i and having so very few that end with strong /-iː/, we simply make the relatively unusual words conform to the main pattern.  Of course it has to be admitted that we’re very wayward about stressing all sorts of exotic words. We largely stress what on home ground are Bacar`di, Chech`nya, Des`demona, Guer`nica, Halkidi`ki, Han`nover, `Helsinki, Hezbol`lah, `Kabul, Maa`stricht, Me`redith, moussa`ka, omer`tá, roco`co, Tol`stoy, Trafal`gar, Wal`lender, U`stinov etc as Ba`cardi, `Chechnya, Desde`mona, `Guernica, Halki`diki, `Hanover, Hel`sinki, Hez`bollah, Ka`bul, `Maastricht, `Meredith, mou`ssaka, o`merta, ro`coco, `Tolstoy, Tra`falgar, `Wallender, `Ustinov etc. That’s what we’re like!

Blog 194

The 14th of June 2009

Alexander John Ellis

One hundred and ninety-five years ago today Britain’s first important modern phonetician Alexander John Sharpe was born. The very word phonetician seems to have been first used by him in 1845. He came of well-to-do parents and began his schooling in London where he was born. At the age of eleven his surname was changed to that of his mother, Ellis, to comply with the wish of a wealthy relative of hers who provided him with such generous funding that he was enabled to devote his life to scholarship and even to giving occasional financial support to some of the work of others. He spent three years at each of two public schools firstly Shrewsbury and then Eton from which he proceeded to Trinity College Cambridge to study, with outstanding success, principally mathematics but also Latin, Ancient Greek, French and German.

After university, during an extensive tour of Italy in which he became struck by the different sounds of the language he he'rd in various localities, he developed an intense int'rest in matters of pronunciation. His other travels included living for three years in Dresden after his marriage. He studied the contributions of German scholars to the phonetic sciences publishing a translation of an important book by one of them. He became an enthusiast for spelling reform collaborating with the shorthand deviser Isaac Pitman. He was a mainstay of the London Philological Society and was a major mentor of Henry Sweet, who called him “the pioneer of scientific phonetics in England”, and also of other phoneticians including James Murray. Ellis wrote sev'ral books on the pronunciation of English culminating in the five volumes of his On Early English Pronunciation (1869-89). This massive work, despite its title, delt not only with Old, Middle and Elizabethan English but also with the contemp’ry pronunciation of educated people in the British Isles and overseas and, in its largest fifth volume of over 2,300 pages, with the dialects “in all parts of Great Britain where English is the ordinary medium of communication between peasant and peasant”. He co-ordinated and personally vetted a body of workers who collected the dialect materials for him. The work was never properly finished, lacking any index etc. Even so it was a stupendous achievement. He died in 1890.

Among the great advances he made were his attacks on widespre'd myths about pronunciation matters that were long unchallenged. One such was  Samuel Johnson’s dictum quoted by John Walker and various others “the best general rule is to consider those as the most elegant speakers who deviate least from the written words”. This was echoed by the remarkable phonetician Alexander Melville Bell, Ellis’s contemporary, who sed “the less difference a speaker makes between accented and unaccented syllables — save in quantity — the better is his pronunciation”. Ellis’s comment (EEP Part IV p.1159) pulled no punches: From this ... principle I dissent altogether. Any attempt to pronounce in accordance with it would be against English usage, and would be considered, affected, or ‘strange’, in even the best educated society. Adherence to that absurd idea had vitiated an enormous number of the representations of unstressed syllables in numerous dictionaries. Another such pronouncement of his was (p.1209): I have an idea that the professed men of letters are the worst sources for noting peculiarities of pronunciation; ... they nurse all manner of fancies...

Daniel Jones had become embarrassed by the fact that people didnt like the labels he’d employed for the kind of English pronunciation he used and described. He’d termed it first Standard Pronunciation and then Public School Pronunciation. He turned back to the nineteenth century to the favourite term of Ellis — whose contemporaries didnt favour it probably feeling it sounded too old-fashioned even then, like his reference to English “peasants” — and said in his 1926 revision of EPD “I call it Received Pronunciation (abbreviation RP) for want of a better term”. After that he stuck with that term and my colleagues seem mostly stuck with it too. It was mercifully only a technical term for a couple of generations but towards the end of the last century it unfortunately got taken up by the media. Some of us these days try to use something less patronisingly invidious.

Blog 193

The 13th of June 2009

Flapped /r/

My correspondent Petr Roesel is an enthusiastic “spotter” of /r/-flapping. That’s the term he uses and it’s what I usually say too: tho I have to acknowledge that it’s strictly speaking superior practice to distinguish flaps from taps. I was about twenty years old when, home on leave from serving in the British army in the forties, I first really took notice of the subject of phonetics on coming across in my city lending library a copy of the Daniel Jones Outline of English Phonetics. In his first editions of this (in 1918 & 1922) he’d used the term “semi-rolled” defined as “formed by one single tap of the tongue” but in 1932 he changed to using “flap” as an apparently generic term. So that’s how I acquired my habit. In 1962 Gimson’s Introduction came along using “tap”. Genuine flaps I mostly associate with language varieties that hav really retroflex articulations like Indic ones and  eastern Norwegian and Swedish in words like blå and the name Ola where there’s a really spectacularly exotic [ɽ] —  a mainly-regional variant of their /l/.

But to get on with my topic of tapped/flapped English /r/ and who uses it and when. In commenting on my Blog 186 in which I referred to my quotation of two brief fairly clear clips from Bertrand Russell’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech Petr mentioned “the word <imperative> and the phrase <number of>, in which Russell uses a flapped version of /r/”. He may well have been hearing them more clearly on his equipment than I do on mine but for my part I cdnt decide whether either of those /r/s was flapped. However, it tends to strike me that the literature on the flapping of /r/ in GB (England-English not-regionally-affiliated pronunciation) is rather seriously unsatisfactory perhaps even misleading. The nub of the matter is that whether an /r/ is to be described as flapped or not is very much a matter of degree. Jones and Gimson both referred to the existence of flapped /r/s in non-regional usage in England with no suggestion that they were at all socially or generationally marked. In his revision of Gimson, Cruttenden has  labelled such usages as “refined”. His use of that term cunningly avoids saying whether the refinement in question is admired or deplored. I’m afraid I’m more in favour of the brutal frankness of terms like “old-fasioned” and “posh” with its candid ascription of pretentiousness, affectation or display of self-attributed superiority. The difficulty is that the refinement is in the ears of the hearer. At any rate the literature is deficient in not making it thoroughly clear that there are a range of flapped articulations of different strengths and consequent prominence which are crucial to assessing the sociological effects.

Whenever I think of flapped /r/ in English I remember what a whipcrack of a flap Noël Coward cd produce on occasion. He had plenty of, for me, borderline and moderate ones. Note his uses of [ɹ ~ ɾ] especially on words like moral in a recorded interview about his play The Vortex.  Speakers with some degree of Scottish accent often display flaps and even trills. James Naughtie, the BBC Radio 4 Today program presenter/interviewer, may pronounce iron as [aɪɾən] and often trills a word-initial /r/ in a paralinguistic expressive flourish. I enjoy the variety of his articulations.
Jones wrote in his Outline (1932 §750) “Many speakers of Received English use a ‘flapped’ r as a subsidiary member of the r-phoneme; it occurs chiefly in unstressed intervocalic position, as in very ˈveri, period ˈpiərĭəd, and when inserted at the end of a word...” He considered that people “generally” used the flapped variety in sequences like pair of. In The Pronunciation of English (1958) he added the example of arrive and mentioned that “a few” used flaps “after θ and ð as in three and brethren. It can be problematic interpreting just what Jones thaut it was reasonable to label as a flap. One has seen in other contexts that he could take account of articulations that many observers might have dismissed as too subtly different from another to regard as differentiable. One such case was his insistence that the normal “RP”/r/ was fricative. Another was his refusal to recognise a monophthongal allophone of his /ɛə/ diphthong tho his own tokens of it included plenty which were hardly perceptibly diphthongal. He recommended Scandinavian and other learners to practise aspirating the /t/ in step etc.

 Gimson (1980) was inclined to think flaps more commonplace. He noted the approximant /r/ as “frequently replaced by an alveolar tap [ɾ] in intervocalic positions, e.g. very, sorry, marry, Mary, for ever, following /θ,ð/ three, forthright, with respect and also, with some speakers after other consonants, especially /b,g/, e.g. bright, grow.” By the time Cruttenden came to review this statement he preferred to categorise such an [ɾ] as a sociologically marked variant ascribing it to “Refined RP”. I suppose my use of [ɾ], or even occasional brief trills, on the phone — for clarity — is a kind of affectation. Heigh ho! [ˈheɪ ˏˌhəʊ].

Blog 192

The 12th of June 2009

To Stress or Not to Stress

Tami Date has put some questions to me about the stress patterns to be observed in Number 5 of the dialogues from my book People Speaking,  namely 'Problem Guest', regarding the stressings of three phrasal verbs that occur in it. They are to be seen transcribed phonemic’ly and prosodic’ly and to be heard spoken on this website at Main Articles §4.1.5
The ones he quotes are:
So I'm afraid of giving her something that'll bring her out in spots (in Line 4)
But I believe she comes out in a rash if she touches onions (in Line 7)
For goodness sake! Ring up her house and ask them (in Line 8)
He asks
Why is 'out' in the ... phrasal verbs unstressed thereby causing a sequence of three consecutive unstressed syllables between 'bring' and 'spots', and between 'come' and 'rash'. It is possible to stress the particle, isn't it?
My answer is basically “Why not?”. He’s perfectly right in suggesting that the word out in both cases may be strest but there's no “rule” of English rhythm that sez they must be. Whether a speaker chooses to stress them or not depends entirely on how fluently or quickly he or she happens to wish to say the sentence. The woman who speaks the first of these sentences sounds quite unhurried and natural to me but she chooses to speak quite fluently and that’s why she doesnt bother to stress the word out.

 I suspect that what’s troubling Tami is the thaut that many textbooks and pronouncing dictionaries may seem to suggest that a phrasal verb like bring out must not be spoken without stress on the adverb out.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (online) has ˌbring sth ˈout in sth to make sb’s skin be covered in spots, etc.: The heat brought him out in a rash.
That’s perfectly good advice for the lexical, citational or other isolate utterance of the expression and may be he'rd in its use within a sentence (eg It ˈmay ˈbring you `out in something) but dictionary users have to bear in mind that as often as not a speaker may prefer to suppress such stresses in various rhythmical contexts.
If our speaker had felt that she needed to repeat the sentence becoz the person she sed it to hadnt been giving proper attention to her, she might of course have felt irritated and so repeated it in a very deliberate way. Then it might’ve come out with this sort of prosodic pattern
 So I'm a`fraid of `giving ˏher | ˏsomething that'll | ˏbring her | ˏout in `spots
which of course restores the potential stress on out.
We see that the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (online) in a similar situation doesnt bother with stress markings (I prefer Michael Ashby’s OALD version) but has
come out in sth phrasal verb  If you come out in something, such as spots, they appear on your skin: This heat has made me come out in an itchy red rash.

Of the third example Tami sed
I think I understand why 'up' in 'ring up her house' is not stressed. Here the rule of rhythmic accentuation is applied, isn't it?
My answer here is that this example is exactly like the other two. I don’t know of anything called by anyone the “rule of rhythmic accentuation” but I’d be int'rested to hear of anyone who propounds something so called. The advice I can give on the matter of sentence stresses is contained in my article Accentuation §8.1 in the Main Articles of my Homepage where I point out, among other things, that the effect I call “globalisation” of sentences (or clauses) may, in the process of making them more tightly bound units, cause various suppressions of potential stresses.

Blog 191

The 9th of June 2009

Accented or Not Accented?

In his blog dated 8 June 09 John Wells reported a query he'd received from Tami Date regarding a CD of a dialog from a Japanese school textbook containing the following exchange:
Mother: ... will you pick up your little brother?...
Daughter: Sure, I'll pick him up.
Tami sez of the dauter’s response:... it sounded to me as if there was a high pitch or stress on I’ll. I don't know which term is more appropriate ... if it is the former ... I take it as adding emphasis to the whole IP, whereas, if it is the latter, it seems to me there is no legitimate reason for I’ll to be stressed.

The fact is that to insist on labelling such utterance-initial tones as vari'bly either heads or preheads is a futile procedure. I see no practical value in having a specific symbol for a high (level) prehead in a tonal symbology. Such tones are actually completely ambiguous in terms of accentuation because there is no audible difference whether a speaker is giving a word a tone in order to accent it on the one hand or on the other to heighten the general animation of the expression. I’ve been pointing this fact out to people for many years but it seems to fail to register with them. At least no acknowledgment of the fact has appeared in any textbooks dealing with intonation matters that I know of. I refer readers to my entries 8.1 Accentuation and 8.3 Accentual versus Animation Stresses on the main division of this website. There it can be seen that the concept covers not only so-called “high preheads” but also moving- tone preheads.

 The writer who was the first to clearly identify and indeed to explicitly name “preheads”, the valuable term he coined for them, Roger Kingdon, recognised not merely the level ones adopted in the O’Connor-&-Arnold and Wells books but also falling and rising ones as well. He devised notations for them which have, not very surprisingly, been little if at all taken up by other writers.

John’s reply, which was irreproachable, was that such an expression could well be intoned with fall plus rise or with a high head or a high prehead followed by a rise. He might’ve mentioned also that, in view of the punctuation, which by following “Sure” not with a period but with a comma, tended to suggest that the whole of “I'll pick him up” might well be treated by a speaker, particularly appropriately in this context, as a tail sequence: `Sure, I'll pick him up. Compare `Certainly! which is without a tail apart from the postnuclear syllables.

John added The problem is that the answers contain no new lexical or grammatical items. So there is no non-given item to place the nucleus on. My view is that speakers dont find such a situation a problem for them because, altho we can make a useful recommendation to EAL users that they shd take care to accent only items that are not re-occurrences, the so-called “rule” not to re-accent re-occurrences is far from invariably obeyed by native-speaker English users. I certainly dont see any reason for classifying the sentences discussed as containing intonation idioms.