Archive 22 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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05/10/2009IDA CAROLINE WARD#220
04/10/2009Intonation We had a marv'lous time#219
01/10/2009Intonation Dont walk on the grass#218
27/09/2009WRONG one or wrong ONE?#217
18/09/2009SCEP 2009 Transcription (iii) Model#216
17/09/2009Arthur LLOYD JAMES#215
15/09/2009He IS a dark horse#214
14/09/2009SCEP 2009 Transcription (iii)#213
13/09/2009Melodic Mistakes in EFL Speech#212
12/09/2009Pronouncing the Definite Article#211

Blog 220

The 5th of October 2009


Ida Caroline Ward was born 129 years ago on the 4th of October 1880 at Bradford in West Yorkshire and had her schooling there. She attended Darlington Training College and afterwards Durham University where she graduated in 1902 with a B. Litt, presumably in French and English, which subjects she proceeded to teach at secondary level chiefly at the County School in Putney, a district of south-west London, from 1902 to 1919. During this time she attended evening classes at the Department of Phonetics of University College London from 1913 “for a few years” as Daniel Jones put it in his obituary on her in Le Maître Phonétique in 1950.

She began what he described as her “astonishing career” on his appointment of her to a lectureship in phonetics which she held in his Department from 1919 to 1932. Later she transferred to the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London where she progressed from Lecturer to Reader and ultimately to Professor of West African Languages during the period 1932 to 1948. She discovered in her expeditions to Africa, sed Jones, “immense numbers of previously unknown features of many languages” especially tone languages. She finally became Professor Emeritus in 1949. As Collins & Mees sed in The Real Professor Higgins, she was “Jones’s most distinguished protégée who, until her death, was widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on African languages”.

Before that she had, while working in Jones’s Department, published  Defects of Speech: Their Nature and Cure (1923) which he considered to be still a standard work on that subject in 1950. In that same period she produced, along with her colleague Lilias Armstrong, their Handbook of English Intonation of 1929. Jones sed she had a “very keen ear for musical pitch” being also a good sight singer. In 1930 she braut out her Phonetics of English a book in which one finds the first use in print of Jones’s term “linking r”. It also contained the first publication of his cone diagram illustrating class and geographical distributions of accents of England. Altho it had very much the Jones approach of his similar books, she introduced a variety of topics that he didnt deal with. She showed more int'rest in the historical developments of the language in recent centuries than he did. She took advantage of her knowledge of northern varieties of both educated and dialectal speech to illustrate many topics she discussed and likewise of the knowledge of Cockney she’d acquired in teaching at a London high school for nineteen years. She described various changes in usages that had fairly recently taken place in more “received” types of speech and matters associated with the spre'd of radio broadcasting. She made observations on American pronunciation which preceded Jones’s 1956 Outline appendix and in some respects went beyond what that contained. The book went thru sev'ral editions including a major revision in 1938. It contained things which will always be, as Gimson sed, “full of interest for any student of English” notably her transcriptions of speeches by King George V and Franklin Roosevelt with full indications of intonations as well as segments.

However, her greatest achievements were undou’tedly in the field of African languages which led to her publishing in 1933 Practical Phonetics for Students of African Languages written in collaboration with a German Africanist scholar Diedrich Westermann (1875-1956). In the same year she braut out The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Efik. This was the first of a series of works which Jones described as revolutionising the teaching of West African languages. She was awarded for it a London D. Litt. She followed it with An Introduction to the Ibo Language in 1936 and publisht again on Ibo dialects etc in 1941. Her Practical Suggestions for Learning an African Language in the Field appeared in 1937 and The Pronunciation of Twi in 1939. Her Introduction to the Yoruba Language appeared posthumously in 1952. Jones in his obituary referred to her “unfailing cheerfulness, good humour and humanitarian outlook”. She died in the Royal Surrey County Hospital at Guildford, the town in which she had made her home, on the 10th of October 1949.

Anyone who’d like to see a picture of her and/or hear her voice c'n go to  John Wells’s blog of the 7th of April 2008 ( /home/ wells/blog0804a.htm) entitled “A voice from the past” where she can be he'rd reading the first two lines (about twenty words) of a childish story exactly the same sort of vapid stuff that Jones’s readings consisted of. It was taken from the set of 78-rpm shellac gramophone records issued to accompany the Armstrong/Ward Handbook. It’s transcribed there at p. 89 with intonations shown by accompanying interlinear dots and lines. 

Blog 219

The 4th of October 2009

Intonation We had a marv'lous time

Tami Date’s most recent request was about a reply to an enquiry regarding how some people fared on a holiday in Cornwall. You find it at p. 258 in John Wells’s book Intonation where it was tone-marked impeccably
Oh, we had a ˎmarvellous time.

He asks for comments on the stress patterns of the following variations on that theme
Oh, we had a good `time and
Oh, we had a good ˎtime
It wd certainly not be true to say that no NSE (native speaker of English) wd ever say that sentence in that context putting the climax tone on time but one can safely say that such a choice of which word to accent wd be very untypical and in fact so unusual for it to be best to advise an EFL student quite strongly agenst doing so.

The reason for that is thət the NSE is usually at some pains not merely to avoid re-accenting any word that has very recently been accented but also to avoid accenting any expression which is synonymous with or repeats the same idea as a word which is freshly in the memory of the speaker. See on this website Section 8.1.2 etc. 

This wd apply equally to Tami’s second unlikely stressing
Oh, we had a great `time.
So he's absolutely right when he remarks that he feels that the versions that accent time are not suitable EFL models.

The other variants on this theme he mentions

Oh, we had a `good time, 
Oh, we had a `great time,
Oh, we had a `marvellous time and 
Oh, we had a `splendid  `time 

are all as he suggests “very common among native speakers” tho good is such a mild adjective semantic'ly that it'd constitute very faint praise.

Another stressing question was recently raised by John Maidment in his blog of September the 29th where he gives the sentences

    It isn’t what you DO | it’s the WAY that you do it
    It isn’t WHAT you do | it’s the WAY that you do it
    It isn’t WHAT you do | it’s the way that you DO it
    It isn’t what you DO | it’s the way that you DO it

He sez “I have used uppercase to show nuclear accents only. I think that all these (amongst others) are possible nuclear accentuations of the text. I prefer number 4, which is a bit perverse of me I know, because this is the one which needs some explanation. Repeated lexical items are regularly NOT accented on their second appearance. But number 4 has DO accented twice. Now, I am well aware that we can re-accent items for purposes of emphasis and the like, so maybe that is the explanation for the fact that 4 does not sound odd.”

Like John I feel perfectly happy with any of these stressings — even the last — which does seem to break the discourse “rule” we have about not re-accenting a word which we’ve just accented. However, I think the explanation here is perhaps more or less the one illustrated in Section 8.1 mentioned above at its §12 where it’s pointed out that semantic re-focussing can remove or at least weaken the feeling that we are re-accenting a re-occurrence. I suggest that in sentence number 4 the speaker feels that the first DO essentially means something like “what you chose to perform” and the second DO means something more like “the manner in which you perform it”. It’s a bit like treating “what-you-do” as a single word accented on its last syllable.

Blog 218

The 1st of October 2009

Intonation Dont walk on the grass

Tami Date has asked for comments on these intonation choices which I make on the understanding that the paralinguistic features loudness, voice quality, tempo and pitch range employed are relatively neutral. The cue provided by the first speaker, to which the user of the intonation commented on replies, appears in brackets.

1. (Hurry up)  `-I’m ˏhurrying.

This Drop + Rise (high-to-mid plus low-to-mid tones) pattern has about the same effect as an Alt + Rise (Alt = Highish Level tone). They both lack much movement so the speaker is markedly unexcited, possibly bored, by the instruction. The final Rise is more or less conciliatory ie not unfrendly or worse.

2. (Hurry) I’m `hurrying. This is very neutral and not markedly challenging unless loudness and/or pitch range are well above average but it’s less than conciliatory. One might imagine that more often the reply wd be I `am hurrying with the common avoidance of accenting the word embodying the topic which is to the forefront of the consciousness of the speaker.  

3. (To a person who is already eating cookies s/he is not supposed to yet.)
 ˈDon’t ˈeat the ˎcookies. This head of Alts (upper level tones) plus a Slump (mid-to-low) climax tone is neutral in its effect. It might be sed to a person who doesnt know they mus'nt be eaten or to one who’s forgotten that that’s so.

4. (To a person who is already walking on the grass.)
ˈDon’t ˈwalk on the ˎgrass.
Items 3 and 4 are exactly parallel so what I say applies equally to both. 

Tami asks
Is a fall (on the negation word) plus a rise (on the final words) the usual pattern?  Or, is it a high head plus a rise? Are there any other patterns?

The alternative ˈDon’t ˈwalk on the ˏgrass is more patient and/or fr'endly and it wd be favoured by many speakers because a final Rise is generally used to avoid the effect of giving an order when, as here, the grammatical form is a command. The neutral one does have a slight danger of being taken as patronising but one of the very few pieces of intonational advice I offer my EFL students is to play safe and go for a final rise with almost any grammatical command or contradiction.

With a high fall, as ˈDon’t ˈwalk on the `grass or more urgently two Falls `Don’t walk on the `grass the remark seems likely to suggest something like “you ought to know better” or “I’ve told you not to already”. Another Fall, on walk, wd be likely to sound hectoring.

A really strong perhaps long-suffering-sounding reproof might have a rising head and high fall ˏDon’t ˏwalk on the `grass!

On the other hand, if it was sed in a frendly but rather pleading manner it cou’d be `Don’t walk on the ˏgrass.

Pretty unusual and very sombre wd be ˌDon’t walk on the ˎgrass! This cd easily be sed by someone barely controlling their irritation.

Very unusual and in the range airy, breezy, jaunty, jocular, lighthearted wd be (`)Don’t walk on the `-grass with a Drop climax tone (falling more or less slightly from high to mid). It wd simultaneously betoken a feeling of being spatially out of normal conversational range or correspondingly emotionally detached thereby being very mildly reproving. Compare Naughty, `-naughty! with or without something like I `-saw you (understand committing a misdemeanour).

None of these variants have been intended to suggest any changes in word accentuation.

I dou't if there’s much difference between what I’ve sed in terms of General British intonation here and what could be sed of General American practice. A few remarks on GA intonation may be seen at §2a of Section 3.1 on my website.

Anyone who might like more information on how I classify tones and other matters of intonation shd go to Section 8 on my website.

I shdnt like anyone to imagine that I thaut it’d be a good idea to go beyond ans'ring teachers’ questions about such matters to even thinking of requiring EFL learners to devote much attention to practising wide ranges of intonational variants. Competent non-native users of English usually in speaking produce intonations (ie melodies, not accentuations) that work fine with the kinds of English grammatical constructions etc they favour.

Blog 217

The 27th of September 2009

WRONG one or wrong ONE?

It's recently been a great pleasure to welcome back the revivified John Maidment's Blog. In his post entitled “Ones” of September 23rd, 2009 he asked us to consider the following dialogue:

A: Pass me one of those pens, please.
B: Here you are.
A: Ah, you’ve given me the X one.

He went on to say
I am sure you'd agree that when X is replaced by an adjective: red, black, small, old, defective… the most natural, perhaps the only, place for the intonational nucleus to fall is on the primary stressed syllable of the adjective itself.  But what if the adjective is “wrong”? In my accent of English the utterance: Ah, you’ve given me the WRONG one sounds, well…wrong. I would have to have the nucleus on the word oneFor many, many years I have thought this decidedly odd. The word one ... certainly cannot be deemed new information, and the adjective, whatever it is, certainly is new information. After probably 30 years, I am still waiting for a eureka moment.

I’m afraid that John’s problem is that he’s proceeding from what I shd consider to be an inadmissible premise. The comment you’ve given me the WRONG one seems to me to be very unlikely or at least completely unreasonable. It wd surely require an immediate apology if made by a reasonable person. There can’t reasonably be sed to be the wrong one if the requester refers to an entirely undifferentiated set of pens (or whatever). Of course there cd easily be muddled thinking on the part of the requester if he had in mind a differentiated set of pens but failed to convey that fact to the person receiving the request.

The really linguisticly intresting point that arises here is that John seems to be suggesting that there are situations in which you’ve given me the WRONG one is a false or unidiomatic stressing which he wd counsel EFL learners to avoid completely in favour of you’ve given me the wrong ONE. If I’ve understood him to be saying that this idea is not peculiar to him, then I have to register strong disagreement. In any circumstances which I can readily think of, the two types seem to be equally acceptable. I do agree if he’s merely suggesting thət, altho a common usage, the type you’ve given me the wrong ONE is relatively anomalous because, as an anaphoric pronominal substitute for a previously mentioned substantive, one might well on general principles presume that it wd usually not be accented. However, readers are referred to Section 8.1 on this website, especially §§ 4 & 5, for a discussion of such matters, where they will see that I shd be inclined to classify this dual possibility as reflecting the tug-of-war between the two stressing tendencies of English native speakers that I have characterised as the "analytic" and the "globalising". 

Blog 216

The 18th of September 2009

SCEP 2009 Transcription (iii) Model

ɪnˈterəˈgeɪʃn ɪn ˎwᴧndəlӕnd

1.        ˈhuː ə ˎ juː? sed ðə ˎkӕtəpɪlə.
2.        ˈðɪs wz ˈnɒt |ən ɪnˋˏkʌrəʤɪŋ ˋˏəʊpnɪŋ |
3.        fər ə kɒnvəˋseɪʃn.
4.        ˊӕlɪs rɪˏplaɪd| rɑːðə ˎʃaɪlɪ :
5.        aɪ—aɪ ˋhɑːdli ˋnəʊ, sə. ˋʤʌst ət ˋˏpreznt.
6.        ət ˈliːst | aɪ ˈnəʊ huː aɪ wɒz
7.        wen aɪ gɒt ˋʌp ðɪs ˏmɔːnɪŋ|
8.        bət aɪ ˈθɪŋk aɪ ˋmʌst əv ˋʧeɪndʒd|
9.        ˈsevrl ˋtaɪmz sɪns ˋˏðen.
10.        ˈwɒt dju miːn baɪ ˋðӕt
11.        sed ðə ˎkӕtəpɪlə ˎˏstɜːnli.
12.        ɪkˋspleɪn jɔːself.
13.        aɪ ˋkɑːnt ɪkspleɪn maɪself, aɪm əˏfreɪd
         bəkɒz aɪm ˋnɒt maɪself, ju ˏsiː.

These three SCEP transcription exercises were based on Items 15, 17 and 18 of my book People Speaking (OUP 1977,79). On this Website  they may be seen and heard at its Main Articles etc Section 4.1. The passages used were slightly simplified versions of the ones given there. The People Speaking versions are accompanied by phonemic and tonetic transcriptions which represent the particular performances of the texts by the professional actors (not phoneticians) who made the recordings for the book. Various differences occur in the pronunciations and tones used from the model versions given. These reflect such things as their relatively brisk and naturalistic delivery. At Blog 86 you can see an interlined version and one or two more comments on Transcription (iii). Similar transcriptions and notes are to be found at Blogs 71 to 76, 81 to 85, 87, 119, 121 and 122 and at some other items of People Speaking.

Lewis Carroll's typically British inclination to pun or play on words in this last phrase refers to the idiomatic expression "not to feel oneself" meaning "to seem to oneself not to have one's accustomed health or powers".

I'm afraid most of the People Speaking titles suffer from the same disease.

Blog 215

The 17th of September 2009


    John Wells’s blog of Thursday the 3rd of September 2009, Period Piece, about a 1940 film vignette, made some int’resting comments on Lloyd James’s pronunciation and other matters. I suppose Lloyd James is largely forgotten now. His contribution to phonetics failed to fulfil great early promise. In the thirties he was better known to the general public than Daniel Jones. His appointment in 1933 at the School of Oriental and African Studies (a college of the University of  London best known as SOAS /`səʊӕs/) to its first Chair of Phonetics was only the second such in Britain.

    He was born in the village of Pentre high up in the larger of the South Wales Rhondda Valleys when they were in their heyday as a coal-mining area. He is reported to have had his schooling some distance away at Llanelly which presumably me’nt that he boarded there. His father was a mining engineer and colliery manager. Lloyd James once (obliquely) referred to the fact that Welsh was “the daily speech of his father and mother”. However, like Dylan Thomas, he wasnt really attuned to his parents’ first language. He once observed pregnantly that communication was “best served by the language that is most current among the people who have most to communicate”. He obviously wasnt in favour of “sentimental judgements” on language matters and he prophesied that minority languages “will all, in time, go down fighting.”

    Also in the Rhondda, at Pontypridd, he received instruction at a pupil-teachers’ centre and afterwards attended University College Cardiff where he graduated with third-class honours in French in 1905. (Compare Onions’s similar third and Sweet’s fourth at Oxford). After teaching for a couple of years he furthered his studies at Trinity College Cambridge, specialising in Old French and Provençal, graduating agen in 1910. Next he spent several years at Islington Training College teaching French and Phonetics. In the Great War he served with the Royal Engineers. In 1920 Daniel Jones appointed him as a lecturer in the UCL Department of Phonetics in which he stayed until in 1927 he transferred to SOAS. His personal formal pronunciation was remarkably similar to Jones’s. Wells remarks that his pronunciation of hear as [hjɐː] “is to be explained as betraying his Welsh origins”. May be but /hjɜː/ was certainly common in “RP” in his day. Jones always gave it as a variant in EPD. Gimson removed it in 1972 and none of the dictionaries now list it but it’s not obsolete in my observation. Surely [hjɐː] was within the range of values for “RP” /hjɜː/ in those days.

In 1929 he published his most substantial book, an admirably lucid concise account of the processes by which the pronunciation of Latin developed into that of Modern French, an Historical Introduction to French Phonetics. Altho at SOAS he undertook studies on various West African languages and, tho he was very busy in a variety of other ways, no major publication resulted. He did become a linguistic adviser to the BBC and Honorary Secretary of its Advisory Committe on Spoken English editing for them seven booklets of Recommendations to Announcers from 1932 to 1939. He made gramophone recordings of element’ry phonetic Talks on English Speech and even broadcast speech lessons to the nation’s schools.

    One can’t help feeling that this last venture was ill-advised: as certainly was his agreement to take part in the dre'dful travesty of pronunciation teaching that prompted this note and which British Instructional Films Ltd titled “48 Paddington Street”. (If you try to follow the link to it via the Wells blog you may have to use that title to bring it up.) In it Lloyd James is no dout nervous and obviously not an experienced actor. He makes a reasonably relevant point about rhythm with superfluous use of a blackboard but overall the thing is toe-curlingly phoney. It’s even worse than the egregious scenes in My Fair Lady/Pygmalion. The manner Lloyd James exhibits in its delivery is strikingly like the pompous Captain Mainwaring /`mӕnərɪŋ/ of the British Dad’s Army series of comic films. The Sinhalese speaker who’s represented as incomprehensible to the newspaper seller has quite good pronunciation except only for having a labiodental substitute [ʋ] for the labial-velar /w/ in ˈCan you ˈtell me the quickest way to 48 Paddington Street Edgeware ˊRoad? He does, however, speak too quickly and uses an over long sentence. Lloyd James’s remark about his jaw is ridiculously useless. When asked to say This is the house that Jack built, the student does it quite well: he’s quite fluent — in fact more so than when he demonstrates his own language at excessive length. The reference to American rhythm is fatuous. When he demonstrates to the student his faulty speaking, Lloyd James even introduces a mistake the student doesnt make, viz /ðiː/ house. The best thing he gets him to do is to slow down a bit, which is what he does in the final “successful” version. The manner in which Lloyd James sez “Now listen to me carefully and get the rhythm right” sounds agen like an irritable officer addressing a dim-witted private. The other (Cockney) native speakers who’re he'rd are genuinely incomprehensible! This is all very sad because, I guess perfectly deservedly, Lloyd James had a very high reputation as a teacher.

    The poor man was ultimately an even more tragic figure. He became mentally unbalanced in 1940 and killed his wife after which he was confined to the mental hospital at Broadmoor in which two years later he took his own life.


Blog 214

The 15th of September 2009

He IS a dark horse

On the 14th of September 09 John Wells responded in one of his blogs to Tami Date’s question on the “accent pattern” of the above sentence (originally ˈOld ˈTed `is dark horse) from my book People Speaking: see (and hear) on this website Section 4 Item 15 and a similar one from O’Connor & Arnold 1973  ¯ You ˊˋare a ˳dark ˳horse.
John sed his “immediate reaction was to suggest that ‘be a dark horse’ is an idiom with a fixed focus pattern”. First let’s note that by contrast the plainer prosody “He’s a ˈdark ˎhorse” while carrying the same factual message wd tend to sound much more matter-of-fact, unsurprised and/or minimally interested — which the original version hardly sounds. In fact with dark horse unaccented it tends to give the opposite impression of taking it for granted that “Ted” is secretive and merely emphasising that fact. I suggest we dont need the concept of idiom to explain the speaker’s choice of accentuation in such a situation. We might prefer to consider that ellipsis is involved, an omission by the speaker of an explicit reference to some fact or circumstance that it’s taken for granted that the listener doesnt need to have spelt out. Other expressions of a similar kind cd well have the same type of accentual pattern, eg He shows `up as a miserable devil or She comes `over as flighty. These items are no dou't more often spoken less bluntly with a Fall-Rise climax tone inste'd of the Fall shown but I avoid displaying them so because some people might not agree that the rise on the final word is not an accent.

He reported my reaction not to wish to call it an idiom “partly because you can produce any number of such constructions”. He continued “I've been trying to think of some. I have to say I have not been very successful in this task. What we want is an accented verb to be followed by lexical material that is new in context but unaccented”. In point of fact I think he’s been perfectly successful in finding other examples. As he shows, there are plenty of similar expressions that can take a climax tone (aka nucleus) on an “intensifying word” rather than a verb. Besides That `is int’resting one can have That’s `very int’resting. And as John Maidment commented the verb neednt be to be, eg Oh you DO look smart! or Oh, it HAS turned cold!

In the People Speaking dialog the de-accenting of dark horse hasnt got a verbal context of lexical items but Ted’s incommunicative behaviour amounts to being secretive, so the idea of Ted’s being so has been sufficiently adumbrated to produce a feeling for the speaker that, if he had accented dark horse he wou’dve been being accenting an equivalent of a synonym. See my article on Accentuation on this website at Section 8 §1.5 where I mention that de-accenting may be due not to the avoidance of re-stressing a word or synonym-for-a-word but simply that an idea is present in the consciousness of the speaker. The problem with John’s “requirement” is that there’s really no such thing as “new in context” in its broadest sense. He seems to be overlooking non-verbal circumstantial contexts. Even the personalities and certainly the histories of speakers are contexts of sorts.

His final remark was All these, including you are a dark horse, are exclamations, and as such must have a falling tone of some kind (low fall, high fall, rise-fall). Surely not. How about `Oh, you `are ˏkind (or `are ˋˏkind)! And what about `Oh he `is a dark horse│but he’s ˏrather `fascinating. And arn't ˋˊOh and ˊOh exclamations as well as being interrogative?

Blog 213

The 14th of September 2009

SCEP 2009 Transcription (iii)

Here is the third transcription passage as promised.

Don’t forget the previous instructions:
Exactly copy onto your transcription the tone marks shown taking careful note of their indications of rhythms. Don't leave any space between any tone mark and the syllable it precedes. Transcribe only in the usual EFL (eg LPD) segmental symbols (ie not copying any stress markings from any dictionary). Use spaces between parts of words exactly as in ordinary spelling (not LPD spacings).
 Give the pronunciations you consider most suitable for EFL learners to adopt. Show no alternatives. Include the title.

Inˈterroˈgation in ˎWonderland

1.        ˈWho are ˎyou? said the Caterpillar.
2         This was not │an en`ˏcouraging `ˏopening
3.        for a conver`sation.
4.         ́Alice reˏplied |rather ˎshyly:
5.        I — I `hardly `know, sir. `Just at `ˏpresent.
6.        At ˈleast│I ˈknow who I was
7.        when I got `up this ˏmorning
8.        but I ˈthink I `must have `changed 
9.        ˈseveral `times since `ˏthen.
10.       ˈWhat d’you mean by `that?
11.        said the ˎCaterpillar ˎˏsternly.
12.        Ex`plain yourself.
13.        I `can’t explain myself, I’m aˏfraid, │
14.        because I’m `not myself, you ˏsee.

Blog 212

The 13th of September 2009

Melodic Mistakes in EFL Speech

In his blog entitled “Intonational errors: do they exist?” of the 3rd  of September 2009, John Maidment sed:

In [a] recent Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference at UCL, Patricia Ashby showed a video clip of Jack Windsor Lewis in a question and answer session at the UCL Summer School of English Phonetics [of August 2007]. Jack said that he had seldom, if at all, heard a non-native speaker make an error in English intonation, when speaking spontaneously. I hope I haven’t misrepresented, or misremembered what he said.

He certainly hadnt because what I sed was:
...we’re ˈtalking about `pitch patterns ˏnow │ the `narrow meaning of  “intoˎnation”. ˈI ˈdon’t ˈthink ˎlearning aˏbout it │ is ˈall ˈthat much `use to most │ˈer │ˈer │ users of English as a foreign ˏlanguage │ because they ˈusually proˈduce│ into`ˏnations │ ˎwhen they speak spontaneous ˎˏEnglish│ that are ˋperfectly│ o`kay. In ˈfact │ I ˈcan’t ˈeven `think│ of ˈever ˈhearing │ a ˈreally ˈbad miˎstake  in ˈintoˈnation │from `ˈsomeb’dy │ who was speaking spon`taneously. Now│on the `other hand│if you `ask them to read aˋ ˏloud│they make `terrible mistakes │ˈquite ˎoften. But then ˈso does [sic!] native `English speakers, `too.

These remarks were unscripted hence the hesitations and the anacoluthon. Also, since the topic is intonation I’ve provided a braud (yes, I mean “broad” but I jib at using such an inappropriate spelling) tonological transcription because people who read this may be expected to be int'rested to see such a thing. Any explanation that might be desired concerning the significances of my tone marks may be seen on this website at §8.5.5. 

John went on to give examples of “accentuation errors” which he rightly presumed I considered were common. He followed these with inappropriate tones for vocatives that may perhaps be classified, as he did, as accentuational but seem to me to usually involve essentially unsuitable tone choices. Then he turned to “intonational tone errors” about which he sed: “...intonation is such a dangerous thing!  Native speakers may think that non-native speakers are rude, off-hand, patronising, abrupt, aggressive…..when the poor guys meant no such thing”. Here I fear he’s in danger of making too much of a pretty slight possibility. As I suggested in my article “The Teaching of English Intonation” (see §8.4.12 on this website), I’ve been as often struck by the evidently unintentional curtness etc of the prosody of native speakers as by that of non-mother-tongue ones. There are plenty of other clues in a person’s linguistic and paralinguistic behaviour that can usually dispel any false impressions of that sort — if indeed they are false!

 His final comment was the very reasonable one that EFL learners have great difficulty with tag questions — things they usually dont have in their own languages. However, in my experience, on the vast majority of the occasions when EFL users are speaking spontaneously they manage to express themselves pretty satisfactorily without resorting to such tags. Of course, if John was thinking of their reading aloud from someone else’s text, then on such occasions to be sure they come a cropper again and again. I think there are numbers of similar situations where EFL users have strategies for avoiding a variety of the prosodic difficulties that spoken English presents them with.

Blog 211

The 12th of September 2009

Pronouncing the Definite Article

I’ve been asked how I’d pronounce the defn't article in an exchange where a first speaker, Stephen Fry, is to be heard on a DVD to refer to “people in the 60s” whereupon he was asked by the character played by Hugh Laurie “In their 60s?” to which the reply was  “ `No, in `the 60s” using a schwa-type vowel for his pronunciation of the. My correspondent’s question was “Would you have rather sed ‘in /ðiː/ 60s’?” My reply was that I shdve expected to find myself saying in this context /`ðə sɪkstiz/ because I might feel /`ðiː sɪkstiz/ to be not as appropriate. 

Looking at what the authorities suggest one finds the following:
OED2 (OED3 on-line hasnt got to the yet) had “(bef. cons. ə ; bef. vowel i; emph. iː)” which was okay as far as it went but see below what it sed later. That over-brief statement isnt elaborated in ODP which gives “ðɪ, ðiː” under “weak form before vowels” — something looking distinctly odd in a text that uses “i” at words like happy.

LPD3 sez: strong form ðiː, weak forms ði, ðə — The EFL learner is advised to use ðə before a consonant sound ... ði before a vowel sound. Native speakers, however, sometimes ignore this distribution, in particular by using ðə before a vowel (which in turn is usually reinforced by a preceding ʔ) or by using ðiː in any environment, though especially before a hesitation pause. This is good advice and a sound account of matters except perhaps that in any environment” may be leaving things a bit too open. What’s rather noteworthy is that we see we can re-frame the generalisation to say that /ðə/ is normal before not merely consonantal phonemes but before any consonantal sound — thus giving us a more “powerful” if less exactly phonological rule. The LPD note ends with: Furthermore, some speakers use stressed ðə as a strong form rather than the usual ðiː. This too is perfectly true but not quite enough for EFL learners perhaps.

EPD on the other hand, while giving the same good general advice, supplies some useful further comment: “The strong form /ðiː/ is used for emphasis, e.g. ‘This is the place to eat’ or contrast e.g. ‘It’s not a solution but the solution’.
This last sentence for me cd have two diff'r'nt meanings according to which strongform of the it was spoken with. If it’s /ðə/, it seems likely to be pointing out that the writer had written (or speaker had spoken) the indefinite article when the definite article shou'dve been used. If it’s /ðiː/, the sense seems likely to be equivalent to “it’s not just one possible solution but the perfect or ideal solution”. This wdve perhaps been a nice point for EPD to have made.

EPD’s two examples illustrate well the fact that the two forms /ðə/ and /ðiː/ have become differentiated for many people — with the latter carrying the relatively recently developed meaning of ‘special’ and the former not having that meaning. OED illustrates this clearly saying the is Used emphatically, in the sense of ‘the pre-eminent’, ‘the typical’, or ‘the only..worth mentioning’; as ‘Cæsar was the general of Rome’, i.e. the general par excellence; the being often stressed in speech (ðiː), and printed in italics. Another example might be “D’you mean the Gordon Brown, not somebody else with the same common sort of name?” This I mention particularly because perhaps it’s a slightly diff'r'nt sense from the ones given in OED.

By the way, the sound clip sent me by the correspondent who raised the point, cd clearly be he'rd to contain a schwa very much longer than we expect /ə/ to be — raising the question of whether lexicographers shd represent stressed the as having potentially the phonemic value /ɜː/ as well as /ə/.