Archive 28 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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25/06/2010A Question on Stress Patterns#280
16/06/2010A Question on English Intonation#279
12/06/2010Hist'ries of Some Contractions#278
09/06/2010Alleged Mouth Mayhem#277
31/05/2010The Pronunciation of Spouses#276
29/05/2010Words spelt MERCHANDISE etc#275
26/05/2010Replacing an Outdated Term#274
22/05/2010Memories of Language#273
20/05/2010Inogolo on Spoken Names#272
17/05/2010Linking and Intrusive r's#271

Blog 280

The 25th of June 2010

A Question on Stress Patterns

Tami Date has a query about what he refers to, I’m afraid rather questionably, as “the stress pattern of the idiom [sic] 'one day' ”. He quotes from a textbook he’s been reviewing the following:
“(1) "I have a dream. *One *day my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin..."
(2) "I have a dream. *One *day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
and he comments
In both cases, one day is heard to have double stress, which is the opposite of the generally accepted stress pattern (i.e. single stress: *one day) as mentioned [sic] in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, for instance. In the same unit of the textbook, however, the 'normal' pattern is heard as in:
(3) Sun Mi's parents always tell her to be kind to others. *One day she was sitting in the train. She saw a woman and a baby....  ”

It’s a pity that Tami cdnt let us hear what he he'rd but the first thing one has to say is that his assumption that there is a “generally accepted stress pattern” for the phrase “one day” simply can’t be upheld. It’s perfectly reasonable for a textbook or a dictionary to quote an expression in commonly he'rd or typical stressings but it’s not at all justifiable to assume that other stressings are impossible or even unusual. It’s perfectly possible for a speaker at various points in a discourse to stress both words of One day or the first only, or the second only or neither or even to utter them so that their stress values are both completely ambiguous. If anyone cares to listen to the famous Martin Luther King speech the book quotes from, it’s readily available on the Web, and it shows him varying the stressings of his repetitions of the phrase very naturally and reasonably. In such emotive oratory an even wider range of choices may be he'rd than one can expect from ordinary conversation.

The most important factors that operate as one chooses stressings are the verbal contexts and the contrasts the speaker feels it necessary to make. The third example Tami quotes from the textbook, referring to it as “the 'normal' pattern' ”, he represents with the really unlikely-looking pattern of stress only on the first of the two words that begin the sentence “One day she was sitting in the train.” By the way, an asterisk to identify a strest syllable isnt a very satisfactory device. By far the best way to discuss these patternings is to represent the phrases with simple pitch indications. The very simple such symbols used here are explained here on this website.

Finally he added:
I was wondering if the same phenomenon was likely to happen to other idioms [sic] such as some day.” These common collocations I shd prefer not to be called idioms: they’re perfectly ordinary sequences. Their words have some of their ordinary meanings. Translated word-for-word into most other languages their meanings wd be perfectly transparent. Typical intonations for them wd be `These ˏdays...  `Some ˏday... The nearest thing to an idiom in what he asks about is One of these days... which isnt usually strest on these unless the expression is being spoken markedly emphatic'ly or a contrast with some other days is highlighted. It usually has much the same function and meaning as ˈOne  ˏday... and receives the same range of intonation patterns.
Some of the matters discusst above are considered at Accentuation on this website.

Blog 279

The 16th of June 2010

A Question on English Intonation

I recently received the following slightly surprising enquiry:
    I have always pronounced the expression That's right with an intonation High Head on That's and Rise (low to mid) on right. [ˈThat’s ˏright] However, I have at the same time always been aware that many native speakers (both British and American?) use a different intonation, i.e. Low Head on That's and Fall (mid to low) on right. [ˌThat’s ˎright]. Is my intonation wrong? Would you suggest that I should change my intonation for this expression in conformity with others, or would you say that both are acceptable?

This query was from a fr'end of many years with whom I often exchange emails mostly on linguistic topics (my email software records my receiving 95 from him in the past lustrum) but this was the first I ever remember receiving about a prosodic usage of his own. I shd mention that he’s a native speaker of Japanese. I shd call his phonetic performance in English perfect. That’s to say, tho it leaves me in no dout that his mothertongue is not English, there is nothing about his spoken English that I can ever recall having distracted me by any of its phonetic features away from what he was communicating to me. He is a skilled phonetician and he seems to be able to switch effortlessly from the British type of accent of my conversations with him to an equally authentic sounding General American style. I only discover'd this as-it-were by accident when I was running a conference he was attending and it happened that an American scholar found himself at the last minute unable to join us but sent us a copy of his proposed script. My fr'end agreed to read it to us on his behalf and intriguingly but perfec'ly appropriately chose to read it with completely natural sounding American pronunciation.

Anyway my surprise at his question was that he shd ask my opinion on a prosodic matter when I felt that his English sounded always so fluent and effortless that I’d expect him no more to ponder his choice of an intonation in spontaneous speaking than I wou'd myself. Of course the tone sequence he has felt that he has normally used in the past has certainly been the one that in my opinion most GB speakers wd be likely to use on most occasions when intending to produce a normally fr'endly effect. I’d be surprised if it weren’t fairly common in GA usage too tho praps remarks I seem to remember which suggested that Americans generally favour high he'ds less than GB speakers do may well apply here. So my ans'er to his question was certainly that both are completely acceptable intonations.

However, one has to add a caution. Just as the representation of pronunciation made a notable advance when phonemic transcription became a widespre'd tool, so did simple notations for the pitch patterns of speech become a valu'ble device for the analyst and teacher. Yet these two taken together dont even nearly fully convey all the most important features of spoken language. The effects that a speaker produces by choices of tempo, voice quality, loudness, pitch range etc and their admixture offen have much more force than the simple pitch patterns they accompany. Also context both verbal and situational may well count for a great deal on the effect a speaker produces. What one can say is that, other things being equal, a not-very-high rising tonic in the sentence in question is likely to produce at least a slightly more cordial and/or cheerful effect than a descent to the speaker’s lowest ordinary range. In Section 8 of this website more discussion of this topic may be found. A main theme of its fourth item will be seen to be that one must be on one’s guard not to over-estimate the importance of the contribution of pitch patterns in the speaking of English and its teaching.

Blog 278

The 12th of June 2010

Hist'ries of Some Contractions

Murray, the principal editor of NED ie OED1 (see Blog 160 about him), supplied on I’m in 1899 only the brief one-line entry “I’m (əim) colloq. contraction of I am”. That entry had no direction to where the full form was de·lt with (in contrast with the usual thoro·ness with which cross-references are given in OED) and none of the usual OED quotations of its use, nor the dating of its first appearance, nor provision of any variant spellings in which it’s been found (it was offen Ime or I’me in early Modern English). The form am had no entry of its own at all. The Victorian Henry-Sweet-style phonetic notation “(əim)” is what today phoneticians show with IPA symbols as /aɪm/ (save in the Upton ill-conceived notation of recent OUP non-EFL publications). The IPA’s alphabet hadnt been devised when Murray chose his symbol set for NED, OED’s earlier name till 1895. However, at the beginning of NED’s dozen colums on the verb to be there was “contr[action]. 6- 'm (I'm) in verse and familiar prose” with a first quote from 1647. Webster 1961 and later have no entry for I’m. Nor has Google.

Turning from the first person singular to the corresponding plural contraction we’re we find no OED entry for it at all, leave alone listing of variant spellings to which it was subject in early Modern English. In Wells, Stanley & G. Taylor (1986) William Shakespeare The Complete Works Original-Spelling Edition Vivian Salmon had an article on ‘The Spelling and Punctuation of Shakespeare’s Time’ in which she drew attention (at p.xlviii) to “forms like w’are, y’are [&] th’are” as precursors of the present contractions we’re, you’re and they’re. Helge Kökeritz in his invaluable 1953 volume Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (at p.180) sed “Are had two pronunciations: the old stressed form with ME ā,  that is, [ɛːɹ] in Shakespeare’s time, which rhymes with care, compare, dare, fear, here, prepare, rare, swear, where, unaware, and the restressed form with ME ăr, rhyming with car, scar, star, war.

It’s more than likely, then, that at one time the common early spelling w’are reflected the use of [ɛːr] in speech. The orthodox view, as one may safely presume from the total absence of any indication to the contrary, is of course that the contraction of we are to we’re has, in exact parallel with the uncoalesced verb form are, totally lost its earlier value of /wɛ(ə)/ (accompanied by a final /r/ until the latter eighteenth century). It’s my conviction, based on over half a century of constant close observation, that the reverse is true. I even feel inclined to claim that for the past century or more the predominant General British pronunciation has been not the /wɪə/ of all dictionaries and descriptive phonologies but the type /wɛː(ə)/. There’s hardly any other word that from GB speakers (unlike some regional accents and Jamaican English etc) alternates GB /ɪə/ with /ɛə/.  Those GB speakers who may use the latter value do so in the only examples I can think of, namely real and its derivatives like really and realise. When people pronounce really as /rɛəli/, making it a homophone of rarely, they tend to sound conspicuous ie ‘cultivated’ (posh) or ‘refained’ (old-fashioned posh). By contrast, use of /wɛː/ (or /wɛə/) for we’re has never been remarked on or for that matter noticed by anyone known to me. I didnt hesitate when I commended /weə/ as one of what I considered to be the two suitable GB pronunciations for adoption by EAL users in my OUP Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of 1972. No-one has ever commented to me on its unique inclusion in that dictionary.

Similarly I dou·t that the pronunciation of they’re as /ðɛə/ (rather than at least one of its likely earlier forms /ðeɪə/, a version explicitly not recognised as “RP” in LPD with good reason) is due solely to the smoothing and consequent loss of the medial [ɪ] of the triphthong /eɪə/ as is no dou·t true of their. It seems quite likely to’ve descended largely from the loss of the vocalic portion of they in its being coalesced with an early /ɛːr/ pronunciation of are. Current GB usage has more than just occasional weakforms of they’re as /ðə(r)/ eg as in /ðər ɔːl `raɪt/ they’re alright and /ðɛ(r)/ eg as in /ðɛr `ɒf/ they’re off, pacē John Wells who goes out of his way in LPD to say “There is no RP weakform” of they’re. Also /wɛə/ for we’re has quite common GB weakforms which seem to’ve escaped the notice of all the pronunciation lexicographers, even the editors of EPD and LPD, excepting only ODP which rightly includes the weakform /wə(r)/ as a British usage. It actually might well also have had the other fairly common GB weakforms /wɛ(r)/ as in /wɛr `ɪn/ we’re in and /wɪ(r)/ as in /wɪ `faɪn/ we’re fine and even an occasional “re-strest” accented variant /`wɜː/ as in /`wɜːr ɔː ˏraɪt/ we’re alright.

Blog 277

The 9th of June 2010

Alleged Mouth Mayhem

It’s usually Graham Pointon who fulminates about pronunciations he hears from media people but this time it’s John Maidment here a couple of days ago. I greatly admire John as a phonetician but I feel he’s far too hard on ordinary folk who dont have his gifts. I also from time to time think presenters or others shdve made a better shot at pronouncing something or other but my sympathies in the case of the four Chinese names he quotes are entirely with the speaker he criticises. The Pinyin system of transcribing Chinese names now so generally adopted (which I presume was what his speaker was reading) is a minefield of misleading indications for the ordinary English-speaker. How is the non-specialist to know whether i or u are to be syllabic or approximant, or t to be /t/ or /d/, or a to be /ӕ/ or /ɛ/ or whether u is to be spoken in an English context as /əʊ/ or /ʊ/, or that e shd be a back vowel? (I think /ʤ/ is a very reasonable shot at [dʑ] by the way). No wonder they favour spelling pronunciations that better correlate with how the words involv'd appear in print or maybe, even if they try to remember the “correct” interpretations of the perverse spellings, come to grief. Or praps they feel they’ve got better things to do than worry about such matters.

John ended his self-confessed “rant” with a go at the distinguisht BBC News presenter Mishal Husain for pronouncing Machynlleth as “/mӕkɪnləθ/”. I he'rd her on the occasion he referred to and noticed that she’d slipt up slietly on the rather misleading spelling of the Welsh y but otherwise found her version pretty undistracting and in no genuine danger of causing any confusion. John must, with his passion for “accuracy” in the rendering of exotic names, be thrilled when he hears her refer to Al-Qaida with a [q] or say [æfɢænɪ`stɑːn] for Afghanistan. Graham tends to rant agenst her for these but I find that she says them so smoothly and unobtrusively that I suspect most lissners hardly realise that she’s used an exotic sound. I find I usually sympathise with people who tend to pronounce forren names as they first le'rnt them in childhood.

My sympathies are also with speakers who fall foul of the absurd but all too faithfully followed BBC tradition of falling over backwards to use counter-logical pronunciations of places or of people who persist in using grossly unsuitable spellings for their names. The country as a whole doesnt give two hoots for how the Duke of this or the Earl of that cares to have his name pronounced. If he wants to persist with an ambiguous or perverse spelling let him put up with consequences. The BBC kowtowing policy has no dout been a legacy of that ghastly old snob John Reith who had a ridiculous veneration for “good” families. One has to acknowledge that Daniel Jones and various succeeding pronunciation lexicographers have been very reddy to indulge our curiosity as to how the nobility say their names by including generous amounts of data on that topic in their works.  Unlike Graham I was very pleased when Earl Spencer in 2000 gave in to the pressure to accept a reasonable pronunciation /`ɔːlθɔːp/ for Althorp which his family traditionally pronounced as /ɔːltrəp/ and are welcome to continue to do so amongst themselves. I look forward to doing many more rants along these lines.

Blog 276

The 31st of May 2010

The Pronunciation of Spouses

The re-occurrence in the news in recent days of the word spouses has revived the memory of a blog by John Wells on the fifth of November last year referring to a discussion between Harriet Harman (today the acting leader of the British Labour Party) and the distinguished journalist and tv presenter Andrew Marr, in which Wells sed, “both used the pronunciation ˈspaʊzɪz for spouses (pl) ... I think that most people pronounce this word with a voiceless sibilant at the end of the stem, ˈspaʊsɪz.” He suggested that these two speakers might either (i) .. say spaʊz for the singular noun or (ii) .. say spaʊs in the singular, but switch voicing for the plural.” He went on “Many dictionaries do record spaʊz as a possibility for the singular noun, although EPD ... is not among them. I would be pretty confident in saying that in BrE at least it is very much a minority preference.” This, except for “very much (a minority),” is what OED3 currently records as British usage. It also matches OALD and of course LPD3. EPD, since Roach and co. took over in 1997, has omitted any mention of the form /spaʊz/. From the same stable so, unsurprisingly, does the Cambridge ALD. And the free online MacMillan Dictionary. The editions of EPD for which Jones was responsible (1917-1963) never listed any form but /-z/. Gimson in EPD of 1972 gave an /s/ form but only in second place; so did my CPD. So did OED2 in 1989. So do the current OALD and the American Heritage Dictionary. Going back to 1914 the /z/ form was the only one Bradley gave in the OED. In the 19th century and earlier Walker in 1797 and others seem to’ve had only /z/. So it looks as if the /s/ was a fairly recent development but I agree that it’s now predominant in the singular.

Wells added “explanation (ii) seems to be more likely”. Support for this view was evident when the BBC’s Mike Sergeant a day or two ago ended one sentence of a report with “treat each other as /spaʊzɪz/” and began the very next sentence with “He sed he didnt treat Mr Lundy as /spaʊs/”. Also the well-known presenter John Humphrys on different occasions in the 29th of May Today programme on BBC Radio 4 cd be he'rd to use those two forms. Additionally, Tim Bowyer sez for the singular only /spaʊs/ but for the plural “/spaʊzɪz/ or /spaʊsɪz/” in that order at his “Howjsay” website (on which see my blog 247). Wikipedia’s anonymously compiled “Wictionary” gives /spaʊs/ and for the plural only /spaʊzɪz/. The actor Gary Watson in the part of George Vavasour in The Palisers, the 1974 BBC drama series based on Anthony Trollope novels spoke the plural noun abuses with /-zɪz/.
 The suggestion that this variation has come about on “the analogy with house haʊs — houses ˈhaʊzɪz” I’m not happy with. The further comment “Although house is the only stem in s which switches voicing for the plural in this way, the "minor rule" involved applies to a fair number of stems in voiceless fricatives at other places...” I don’t find convincing. The examples offer'd to back it up like the leaf/leaves alternation don’t seem fully relevant. More comparable, I suggest, are vocalic segments followed by /s/ which are similar to the /aʊ/ diphthong. When such segments precede /-ɪz/ plurals there’s no evidence of any tendency to convert the /s/ to /z/. Consider the numerous words like bases, braces, cases, faces and spaces. And fleeces, leases and pieces. And ices, prices and spices. And uses, juices and nooses. Perhaps some kind of “rule” such as he posits does seem to be operating in varieties of educated Scottish English where we hear final /-zɪz/ in many words such as basis, diagnosis, fibrosis, sclerosis, oasis and tuberculosis.

When Wells sez “The alternation is better supported in noun-verb pairs, where the noun has s but the verb z: use, abuse, advice/advise, loss/lose, spouse/espouse as well as house” the trouble is they arnt exactly comparable. His final comment was “It would be unusual for an exceptional pattern (minor rule) to be extended to new vocabulary items.” It would indeed but that is not what I think is happening here. The process I believe we have is the same as has happened with r-linking. This is often referred to as if it were a matter of new insertions but that description only properly fits the unhistorical occurrences which Daniel Jones dubbed “intrusive”. Most r-links are not insertions but retentions. I shd say that people have largely replaced the older singular /spaʊz/ thru the influence of the analogy of the common words grouse, house, louse and mouse. On the other hand most people havnt done the same thing with the plural prob'bly because there’re virtually no examples of a plural ending /-aʊsɪz/ and the plural of house (unlike lice and mice) actually matches the traditional plural of spouse.

Blog 275

The 29th of May 2010

Words spelt MERCHANDISE etc

When on the 17th of May John Maidment blogged that he was “surprised to see the word merchandize used as a noun and so spelled, suggesting that at that time (mid-1800s) it was pronounced with a /z/” I wanted to comment on his remarks but there was too much to say to do it on the spot. So now better late than never here goes. There was some confusedness about what he sed but that’s no great wonder: this item is very liable to cause confusion both as to its spelling and its pronunciation. I’m saying “item” because really two words are concerned, a noun and a verb. John continued “I certainly have /s/ in this word and LPD agrees with me.” Yes but LPD3 gives (the noun-only as spelt with <s>) merchandise with /z/ first and /s/ second. It gives an additional spelling with <z> but only for the verb (ie merchandize) at which it has only the pronunciation /z/. The current 2006 EPD surely has a confusing misprint at the noun. Presumably intending to reverse the previous 1997 order of /z/ before /s/ the printer appears to have added “-daɪs” to give a second (abbreviated) version in mistake for “-daɪz”. Neither EPD nor LPD gives any (different-from-GB) US pronunciation for the noun. They agree on the pronunciation of the verb showing only /z/. ODP gives an entry for the noun with <s> and puts /s/ first and /z/ second in giving its opinion on British practice but reverses that order for US usage. ODP also gives a second he'dword entry merchandize for the noun with British and US pronunciations ordered as at its <s> spelling. This does prompt one to wonder just how commonly UK speakers might use /s/ for forms of the verb. OED has no he'dword merchandize understandably because that’s an unetymological spelling but praps it shd now recognise it, in view of its present currency, at least to the extent of giving it a  main entry with a cross reference.

John’s blog continued “OED gives both spellings and both pronunciations and, to complicate matters even more, gives a spelling ending in -ice.” As we’ve sed, the spelling merchandize is only listed in OED as a variant (not a he'dword) and is so from ME (the Middle English period) as a noun and only from the 15th century as a verb. At the verb merchandise it is true that a variant spelling in -ice is listed but it is clearly indicated as only current from ME to the 16th century and there is certainly no merchandice he'dword. So it’s not quite fair to suggest that OED is complicating matters. 

Finally John sed “It doesn’t seem possible from the OED entry to figure out when the /aɪz/ pronunciation fell out of favour, if in fact it did.” If it has become the less favoured British usage for the noun then only OED3 and  ODP (both presumably attributable to Upton) and,  if I’ve guessed right, EPD lend support for that view. What is quite clear is that the use of /s/ for the noun is a fairly recent development, only becoming common in the middle of the last century, and that the /z/ version is still at least common for the noun as well as the verb. Neither Jones nor Gimson ever listed the /s/ form during their handling of EPD nor did I commend it to EFL users of GB in my CPD of 1972, tho I gave it there as a $ variant. It certainly wasnt included in the OED by Bradley in 1906 and it looks as if all earlier authorities such as John Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1797 gave only /z/ for both noun & verb.

There’s a special problem with the verb because, tho Bradley in OED1 rightly classified it as archaic in 1906, Burchfield seventy years later listed new uses of it which were apparently US innovations that came along twenty or so years after Bradley’s entry. So OED accordingly now identifies as archaic only those senses which Bradley covered. Those who employ the new commercialese usage all seem to have only /z/ for the verb. The pattern of /s/ for the noun and /z/ for the corresponding verb is found in various English words. On that topic see on this site Section 4 § 5  ¶¶ 24 & 25. See also Section 3 § 1 ¶25a for GA/GB comparisons. Scottish English varies quite a bit in its /s~z/ distributions. In one word at least there’s something of a parallel in some Scottish usages to what’s happened in GB to merchandise. Various educated Scots speakers have many words with /z/ that have /s/ in GB. Among these are some (including the two former Labour leaders John Smith and Gordon Brown) who’ve been observable as pronouncing sacrifices as something like /`sakrəfaɪzəz/. OED has recorded earlier <z> spellings for the verb by writers in England including a quotation from the great seventeenth-century poet John Donne.

Blog 274

The 26th of May 2010

Replacing an Outdated Term

I cdnt help noticing the derisive gloss by John Wells last month on the term “RP” adding “aka Standard Southern British English or SSBE, the modish term at BAAP last week”. This trend he refers to as “modish” is no dou't due to the widespre'd great respect for the 1999 Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Like me, tho not necessarily for exactly the same reasons, John evidently doesn’t favour the expression ‘Standard Southern British English’ whether or not abbreviated to SSBE.  In 1970 in his article ‘Local accents in England and Wales’ in the Journal of Linguistics Volume 6 No. 2 (pp 231-252) he referred to phoneticians and some other linguists as “using an established but less than happy term, ˈReceived Pronunciationˈ”. And in the following year in, Practical Phonetics, (written jointly with the speech training expert Greta Coulson) sed “The pronunciation used in this book is ... SOUTHERN BRITISH STANDARD (also called RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION or RP...”. Yet in his prodigious 1982 Accents of English he remarked rather sweepingly at p.10 that the “non-localizable accent of England is what phoneticians refer to as Received Pronunciation (RP)”.

I regret that he passed over in 1982 and agen in 1990 at the first publication of LPD the opportunity to adopt a better name for the accent for which he has continued to use the so obviously unsuitable even politically “incorrect” term “Received”. His great distinction as an authority wdve made it very likely that a fresh term from him wdve soon become generally accepted. When Peter Roach ably took on the updating and re-design of the Jones EPD in 1997, he very rightly chose to ‘abandon the archaic name “Received Pronunciation”’ but his choice of a replacement, altho it had the virtue of being readily comprehended and easily remembered, had disadvantages that were agenst its wide acceptance. The scholarly world have plainly not espoused it and, tho there’s no complete consensus, a trend to increased use of SSBE and its unabbreviated alternant has during recent years become apparent.

This trend is clearly attributable to the influence of the IPA Handbook’s co-editor Francis Nolan. Greatly as I in general admired his work on that book, and tho I’m glad that he eschewed the term ‘Received Pronunciation’, I can only deplore his insertion into this official IPA publication of the highly controversial term ‘Standard Southern British (English)’ and its cumbersome abbreviation. It appears nine times within the the book’s first 38 pages and no alternative occurs in the whole book (somewhat by contrast with its 1995 draft). Introducing the term he proffers the disclaimer “where ‘Standard’ shd not be taken as implying a value judgment of ‘correctness’ ”. This is playing Humpty Dumpty with words. The OED at the entry “nonstandard” gives with a specific attribution to its use in “Linguistics”, the definition  “Containing or designating a feature which is especially associated   with uneducated usage.” The use of ‘standard’ is indisputably associated with what is authorised or official. The OED defines it principally as applicable to “A definite level of excellence, attainment, wealth, or the like, or a definite degree of any quality, viewed as a prescribed object of endeavour or as the measure of what is adequate for some purpose”. The implication of using the term “standard” of pronunciations unavoidably categorises all but a tiny percentage of the UK population as employing ‘non-standard’ speech, a category which incident'ly certainly includes Nolan and myself.

There are two requirements that are important for a definition of what at one time most of us were party to accepting shd be labelled ‘Received Pronunciation’. The first and really essential one is that it shd be as far as possible completely unmarked geographically. The other is that it shd also be as far as possible unmarked sociologically. Certainly for the vast numbers of users of British English as an additional language there can be no gain in adopting any UK regionalisms. Nor is there any advantage for them to employ any socially conspicuous forms whether “posh” or demotic. Thus both the key words of ‘SSBE’ are open to serious objection. Daniel Jones wd appear to have bitterly regretted his early use of the term ‘standard (pronunciation)’. Nolan, in his int'resting 1999 article ‘The Shifting Sands of English Pronunciation’, sed his view ‘differs from a common view which refuses [sic] to locate RP geographically’. He admitted to what he called ‘the slightly iconoclastic view.. that RP is firmly a variety of the South East’ on grounds he gave that were unfortunately far from convincing. In respect of localisation a more reasonable description wd seem to be that it is most densely represented in the southeast of England where it originated but, although it’s thinner on the ground the farther one goes from its area of origin, it nevertheless may be heard all over Great Britain even from some people who have not spent substantial parts of their formative years away from their childhood locality.

Since my decision in 1972 to reject the labels ‘Received Pronunciation/RP’ in favour of General British/GB I’ve seen no suggestion for a replacement that has made me at all inclined to revise that judgment. The  alternative I’ve met with of which I most approve has been “Non-Regional (British) Pronunciation/NRP” as introduced by Collins and Mees in their Practical Phonetics and Phonology (2003, 2008). However, I don’t consider it a positively better substitution and for me personally it has the admittedly trivial problems that its abbreviation has a slightly unfortunate echo of “RP” and that, for something put to such constant use, a two-letter abbreviation is more convenient than a three-letter one. Some account of the history of this terminology may be seen on this website at Section 7 Item 3.

Blog 273

The 22nd of May 2010

Memories of Language

A member of an American-based group, largely composed of university teachers concerned with the English speech performance of non-native users of English, wrote recently, replying to a question asking “How are .. spelling rules learned without being taught?”, “If kids aren't taught to spell at all, then I don't see how they would know how to arrive at the right spelling, other than through long experience with the visual forms.  Well that’s exactly it. I think we le'rn to spell by seeing how words are spelt, rememb'ring them, copying them and treating new items on analogy with them. I’m these days asserting my independence in that sfere at least in my emails and blogs. One curious observation I’ve made about the subtitlers of British tv is that they regularly ignore a rule mentioned in the discussion that provoked the remark quoted above when they come to words like 'policys'.

He sed too: “I can remember seeing that reading amounts to mental speaking ... [A] German book on how to learn languages ... claimed that the text is mentally "spoken".  I know this is true of me ...”. I find I too have much the same reaction. I seem almost always to mentally hear what I’m silently reading. I even tend to apologise to myself for silent slips of the "tongue". These are of course slips of the mind that the tongue may or may not implement. He added that to “those who send back [to a proof(-)reader] "an NRA member" changed to "a NRA member" because "N is a consonant" ... I had to explain .. that L, M, N, R .. are "words that begin with vowels" ”. This helps to explain to me how offen I’ve felt people get these 'wrong'. By the way, when I read phoneticians who write about "a /r/" or "an /r/" I offen wonder if they’d read aloud [ə (ʔ)r̩] or [ə rə] or [ə ʔɑ(r)] in the first case or [ən (ʔ)ɑ(r)] or [ən (ʔ)r̩] in the second etc.

He continued: “[A] proofreader suddenly became disturbed by the word "coworker" and began claiming it nonsensically says "cow orker".  Of course, the fact [is] that people are not confused by the spelling, and that there's no such thing as a "cow orker" ...  [and] she had looked at this word .. thousands of times ... and it had never bothered her, but one day .. she went wacky with it for a few weeks. A few weeks later, it didn't bother her anymore.” Incident’ly if a low-rhoticity speaker sez “car-worker” it can sound exactly like the non-existent but suggestive “cow-irker” that she may've just possibly been troubled by the thaut of at least subconsciously.

Perhaps this is one case where the US prefrence for solid spelling for such compounds over hyphenation produces a problem for them we Brits dont suffer from. I wdnt expect the solid spelling to be used in a British publication. The OED lists no alternative spelling to “co-worker” which is the form appearing in all three of its illustrations of the term’s use. We dont usually favour the hyphenless spelling “cooperate” either. I have to confess to a milder problem of that kind. I find very occasionally that I can look at a perfectly ordinary normally spelt word of only a few letters and suddenly I can’t believe that that’s what its spelling really is. I find then that I have to look it up to put my mind at peace.

Another memory-based reaction I find offen occurring to me is that, seemingly absolutely out of nowhere, I suddenly think of some melody or other.  I suspect that more offen than not I'm recalling a pitch pattern so much as a rhythm. Maybe the particular melody that occurs to me is taken out of my mental store of rhythms (and melodies) because it’s still on top of the pile from having been most recently he'rd or perhaps it may be selected because of its being a favourite. Just today I (silently) re'd a name on a shop that had the rhythm [ dɑː də dɑː də dɑːɑː də]. The tune it braut to mind was one I hadnt he'rd for a long time but it was a favourite. Its four level-pitch syllables were followed by a fall from above their level. (It was the beginning of Duke Ellington’s Drop Me Off at Harlem.)

Blog 272

The 20th of May 2010

Inogolo on Spoken Names

I’ve been looking at something entitled mysteriously “inogolo” describing itself as “the practical, easy-to-use website devoted to the English pronunciation of the names of people, places, and miscellaneous stuff [sic] ... a searchable database of names with both phonetic and audio pronunciations in English. Browse names alphabetically or by tags. Check out the growing number of helpful pronunciation guides”. This, repeated as “Search dozens of name pronunciation websites on the internet with one convenient search” [sic], is disappointingly not a re-direction to guides of various sources but to fifteen separate lists (average length 100 items or less) that Inogolo alone provides under a dozen rather inappropriately broad headings including Geography, Food & Drink, Government, Religion and Society. Clicking on “Resources” at the top of its title page did on the  other hand take one to a modest such list of a dozen books.

Its own main list contains plenty of int'resting items I’ve enjoyed browsing thru. There’s fortunately a slot where you can enter any name you want to ask for the pronunciation of. Naturally I first put in their own odd name “inogolo”: that drew a blank. I cd find at that point no clue to the authorship of the website. Further on, after I’d begun to ponder over the matter of there being no sign of human participation, I suddenly re'd “The pronunciations given here are, as best as [sic] I can determine, the common usage in American English. I have not tried to reproduce pronunciations with Italian accents”. Next I tried some random items including Eyjafjallajökull. The response to that was “The name Eyjafjallajökull will be added to the list of names being considered for addition to the inogolo website. Please bookmark the site and come back soon”. As I continued I found, something that wasnt mentioned up front, that the transcriptions “assume an American english [sic the non-capitalisation] accent”.

Okay, I like finding out how they say various names in American English. So I tried Palacios and found [pə`lӕʃəs] which surprised me and shows you you can never be certain what happens to Spanish-derived names in the US. Then I tried Tuskegee which they gave as an easily interpretable \tuh-SKEE-gee\ and sounded as predicted /tə`skiːʤi/. Then I tried McDonalds which came up as \mik-DAHN-uhldz\. That was fine too even tho I didnt believe that all or even most Americans begin it with /mɪk/. Anyway you’ll’ve gathered that they follow the gen'ral US practice of using their own clumsy re-spelling system not IPA. Continuing to browse I clicked on “Pronunciation Guide to the Names of Dogs”. I thaut it’d be good to see if they had Fido and Rover but it turned out to be a list of about 150 dog breeds. I noticed that some were underlined and others not. I think I worked out what that signified when I fancied seeing and hearing what they made of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. No underlining me'nt no pronunciation for the entry! Nevertheless it was int'resting to le'rn that the verb toll in the sense ‘decoy’ which has dropt out of general usage in the UK survives in the US. The Americans, to judge from “inogolo”, must be rather good at pronouncing dog-breed names as one presumes from seeing none of them marked with the red bullet used liberally elsewhere to denote “commonly mispronounced” items.

The feature of this site that most attracted my attention was its offer of audio renderings of the names. I listened to at least half a dozen, usually far more, from each of the fifteen sections. All I he'rd were spoken with reasonable non-artificial clarity by the same male with a mainstream-type General American accent. At just one entry I found a native-sounding speaker illustrating the Dutch form of Van Gogh. The GA one /vӕn `goʊ/ was as expected the only other version. The speaker’s only non-mainstream usage I noticed was /njuː/ instead of /nuː/ at New Orleans, despite the notation \noo OR-luhnz\, New Jersey etc.  The mechanism for getting the audio isn’t quite smooth but once you’ve got the name you can repeat it easily. One type of occasional discrepancy between notation and sound occurred eg at Baruch where the capitalisation of its first syllable \BAR-rook\ signals it as the main stress whereas one hears [ˈbɑː`ruːk] with the accent actually on the second syllable. The same thing happen'd at Augustine /AW-guhss-teen/ with audio [ˈɒːgə`stiːn] and Bvlgari \BUL-gair-ree\ sounding [ˈbʊl`gɛːri]. Another less important mismatch occurred occasionally eg at Guadalajara where the transcription is \gwah-dah-lah-HAH-rah\ which wd sound very fussy but, more naturally, the speaker actually sez [ˈgwɑːdələ`hɑrə].

I found practic'ly no offers of information on how the entries might be pronounced in other parts of the world so I was puzzled when I once came across “Quotation marks ("xxx") enclose a whole word pronounced as in American english”. There were only US versions of Birmingham and Los Angeles. One wondered why a second version \GLAHZ-go\ was provided for Glasgow (with no audio). At Greenwich as well as /`grenɪʧ/ we get /`grɪnɪʤ/ which latter is presumably taken to be the current usual British form. In the odd French entry we see traces of the common lexicographer’s delusion that English speakers can copy the French so precisely as to produce no alternation of strest and unstrest syllables eg at Sauvignon Blanc \so-vee-nyo(n) blah(n)\ in which no syllables are in capitals. The speaker sez something like [ˈsoʊvinjɑ̃ `blɑ̃ː]. Most of the information this site provides is very satisfactory. Only in one or two odd cases do we find anything really strange: I suspect that Chile as \CHEE-leh\ faithfully spoken as [`ʧiːlɛ] and Hawaii as [hə`wɑːʔiː] are not “the common usage in American English” but pretty rarely he'rd versions. EFL users may find this unusual site usefully fills many gaps left by general dictionaries which so often omit names.

PS I have subsequently found this address

Blog 271

The 17th of May 2010

Linking and Intrusive r's

That great national treasure-house of English words the OED (an abbreviation so well known that it’s usually superfluous for anyone writing about the English language to apologise for not spelling it out in full as the Oxford English Dictionary) as most people will know is compiled ‘on historical principles’. This means that it lists each word or expression not, as is usual for popular dictionaries, giving priority according to the user’s maximum convenience, but listing first its earliest known meaning and at the same time supplying quotations of its use starting with the earliest known example. Turning up OED’s treatment of any linguistic term I usually look forward to finding out who was the person who originated it. When I came to look for ‘linking r’ I found this:
linking r: a letter r in word-final position that is normally pronounced before a following vowel but is silent before a following consonant (as in far, far away).
1950 J. S. KENYON Amer[ican] Pronunc[iation]. (ed. 10) 164 Observe that linking r is the use between words of an r that is spelt and was formerly pronounced. Ibid. 165 Linking r is sometimes omitted in Southern British. 1956 D. JONES Out[line of] Eng[lish] Phonetics (ed. 8) xxi. 196 When a word ending with the letter r is immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel, then a r-sound .. is usually inserted in the pronunciation ... r inserted in this way is called ‘linking r’.
This posting has been revised at 6 March 2016 notably amended as follows.
In fact, the very first edition of the Jones EPD of 1917 had at p. xvii the heading ‘XIV r-Linking’ followed by ‘The phenomenon of r-linking requires special attention. It will be recalled that the sound « r » is often inserted at the end of a word when the word immediately following it (in connected speech) begins with a vowel’. This, pre-dating the Kenyon use by 33 years, can hardly be dou·ted to be the very first appearance of the term in print.

When one comes to look in OED for the rather unfortunate but very widely used term intrusive r  a direction to such an entry appears at ‘R’ where we find ‘The letter, and the sound it represents intrusive, linking, ragged r: see the first element’.

It turns out that ‘intrusive r’ as a term in historical linguistics has been found from 1847 but was recorded as first in use in the sense defined by OED as ‘an r introduced unexpectedly [sic] in writing or speech, spec. one pronounced in hiatus, as in the phrase the idea(r) of or in draw(r)ing and illustrated by the quotation ‘1909  O. Jespersen Mod. Eng. Gram. I. 372  In literature the intrusive r is frequently indicated as a characteristic mark of vulgarity; the oldest example, perhaps, is in Smollett’. The term was unfortunately taken up by Daniel Jones. He later observed that he found himself using such an /r/ in the idea/r/of it.

Alexander John Ellis used the much less objectionable term ‘euphonic r’ in his Early English Pronunciation of 1889. Henry Sweet, more satisfactorily scientifically, called it the ‘hiatus-filling r’ in 1910 if not earlier (see The Sounds of English p.62); he’d referred to the phenomenon at least as early as 1890 (Primer of Spoken English p. viii). The problem with ‘intrusive’ is that it gained much popular circulation interpreted as a purist value judgment. The terms “unetymological” and “unhistorical” /r/ have been used but the first of them at least is praps a little too polysyllabic to be much favoured. The term “epenthetic” is usually reserved for such phenomena of connected speech as the /t/ which is he·rd in many people’s pronunciation of mince as /mɪnts/ or the /d/ that appeared in the Middle English pronunciation of thunder.