Archive 31 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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08/11/2010Prons of DAVID ATTENBOROUGH#312
26/10/2010A New Word on Me#311
25/10/2010Pronunciation Lexicography#310
20/10/2010Accents in HAPPENINGS#309
19/10/2010An Idiosyncratic Pronunciation#308
12/10/2010English Transcription Editor#307
07/10/2010Prosodic Problems for EEL#306
30/09/2010Less noted Assimilations#305
28/09/2010Free Spelling#304
25/09/2010Questions on Commands#303

Blog 312

The 8th of November 2010


I share John Wells’s admiration for David Attenborough that he’s expressed in his current blog. I’ve observed this very distinguished broadcaster’s pronunciatory habits for a number of years offen wond'ring whether they might display any traces of the appar'ntly exclusiv'ly northerly (Nottingham) background of his speech-formative years. (His father may well have had some even tho he was a Cambridge graduate.) If I’d known nothing of his background but been forced to guess entirely on the evidence of his pns (pronunciations), I’d’ve been inclined to exclude any southeastern, western or far-north-of-England influences.

Given his age of 84 (exactly four months older than me), his use of /eɪt/ rather than /et/ for “ate” is praps mildly surprising if not a Northernism but it cou’d be sed that he’s slightly more than the average speaker inclined to be influenced by the spellings of words. This is one reason why I disagree with those commenters who’ve used the term “posh” to classify his version of “sexually” with ess rather than esh. Innumerable people with nothing very socially conspicuous about their speech are similarly inclined. I consider his speech to be within the range of socially neutral mainstream GB (General British) of his generation. Praps the /ɪ/ in possible that Wells he'rd was spelling-influenced tho it’s very much a Northernism today. “For the first time” with initial /fɒ/ cd conceivably be a Northernism — it certainly occurs in Yorkshire — but the current GB /ɔː/ diphthong has commonly more variations of openness and of length than the textbooks tend to suggest.

Attenborough belongs to a generation that’s seen transitions like the changes in preponderances of the happy final vowel from [ɪ] to [i], the cities ending from [-ɪz] to [-iz] (not [-ijz] by the way), pre-pausal /ɛə/ from [ɛə] to [ɛː], /əʊ/ with a slightly fronted schwa to an unfronted one, and in some words like /sju`pɜːb/ to /su`pɜːb/ etc: in all of these he displays rather conservative habits. Similarly he has /bɪn/ for been, kilometre front-stressed and /iː/ in Kenya.
Regarding the stressing of kilometre on this one occasion, it might well be what one may call a pronunciatory throwback in that it cou'd be a momentary reversion to a form one had earlier used but later preferred to replace with another choice. In the seventies in his series Life on Earth he could be he'rd regularly saying ki`lometre.

  On the other hand, in his uses of schwa in medial vowels of items like circulatory, valuable, virtually and manufacture are more modern in style than many of his generation. A very notable spelling pn he has completely regularly exhibited has been /spiːsiːz/ for “species”. It’s my prognosis that his great authority will be largely responsible for the next generation’s likely supplanting the more traditional esh version of this word with the ess form. Among other pns that Wells noted from the BBC First Life programme was believes as “bəˈliːvz (not bi-)”: it may be worth noting for readers that presumably this must be interpreted as if it were an entry from the LPD meaning by “(not bi-)” that it was not /bi-/ or /bɪ-/ or anything in between. Finally, as those who care to listen to the numbers of exerpts from Attenborough programmes available on YouTube may check for themselves, he has of-course-intermittently a number of modern forms such those with complete r-droppings from programme and problems.

Blog 311

The 26th of October 2010

A New Word on Me

On Saturday the 23rd of October 2010 I had a very unusual experience: I he'rd an orthodox English word (meaning not slang or jokey tho, as it happened an obvious loanword) which I had never encountered before in my life — at least if my memory serves me right which I’ve no particular reason to dou't. I stress that it was new in my hearing because to come across in print a hitherto completely unknown word isnt a notable occurrence. I shd g'ess on average I meet at least one a week. The word in question was used by only a single speaker, a certain Manfred Nowak, Professor of International Human Rights Protection at the University of Vienna. He spoke correct fluent English but with an obvious non-native accent probably indicating German-speaking linguistic origins (the surname is found chiefly among speakers of Czech) notable from the uvularity of his /r/s. He is referred to in Wikipedia as 'Austrian'. He was being interviewed for the British Radio 4 “Today” early-morning news programme.

The word in question was used by him three times tho not at all by his interviewer Mr John Humphrys. On one of those occasions the first vowel was not very clear but otherwise the word was fairly clearly audible as “/nɒnreɪfuːlmɒ̃/”. It was fortunately possible to confirm these impressions by re-playing the programme. The vowel of re was given the value it cdve had in a German word or in a French one spelt with é. The e is not accented in the French spelling. The final nasal vowel obviously indicated that the word had been borrowed into English from French without complete naturalisation. Unsurprisingly for such an uncommon item, it was not to be found in any of the three major pronouncing dictionaries but it was recorded in OED3, the great Oxford English Dictionary's online edition

non-refoulement, n.
Brit. /nɒnrɪˈfaʊlm(ə)nt/ U.S./ˌnɑnrəˈfaʊlm(ə)nt/, /ˌnɑnriˈfaʊlm(ə)nt/” defined as “The principle or practice of not forcibly returning refugees or asylum-seekers to a country where they are liable to suffer persecution”. (My use of plain ɪ not barred ɪ in the British transcription is beyond my control.) The earliest illustrative quotation was from 1972. I’ve quoted from a draft entry dated December 2009. Besides this entry the word is recorded in uncombined form thus:
refoulement, n.
Brit. /rəfuːlˈmɒ̃/, U.S. /rəfulˈmɑn/ [< French refoulement instance of water overflowing or being dammed back (1771...forced relocation of a group of people ...< refouler to push or force back, to cause to turn or flow back... 1771.” I’ve quoted from a draft entry dated September 2009. Probably the discrepancies between the draft pronunciations will be reconsidered. Cross-references led one to an obsolete spelling foul which might be sed to’ve given way to the spelling full for a verb meaning ‘trample’. Fulling was the process of treading on cloth to cleanse and thicken it whence fuller’s earth and the occupational surname Fuller. I never cease to be fascinated by such etymological ramifications.

Blog 310

The 25th of October 2010

Pronunciation Lexicography

John Wells in his blog today asks certain questions “... even though we may agree that the correct anglicization [of Medici] is ˈmedɪtʃi, nevertheless meˈdiːtʃi and the like are very commonly heard from English speakers. Was I right to include them as secondary variants in LPD? Or ought a pronunciation dictionary to shun such incorrect forms?

One cou'd imagine that the compiler of an English pronunciation dictionary aimed at users with a particular language background might let the ease with which those speakers might be considered to be able to adopt one alternant rather than another govern the choice of which one to place first in the case of some words. I’ve never come across anything produced on that basis nor on the basis of offering first versions that might be presumed to be easier than others for all or most users of English as an extra language. I expect this is just as well. The golden rule for any compiler shd surely be that predominantly used variants shall be listed first and other alternants given in descending order of frequency of use by the speakers of the accent represented — insofar as the compiler may be able to judge.

However, the Wells questions today are asking something different namely whether this principle shd be abandoned when there are variants that constitute less faithful reflections than others of the form any word takes in the language from which it’s been borrowed. Imitations of the forms of words used by speakers of other languages are of course inevitably imperfect. One problem for people who wish to condem' certain forms is that the kinds and degrees of divergence from the original are by no means easy to delimit. There are relatively few types of anglicisation that are really universally disapproved of such as /`waɪpəz/ for Ypres. Even that doesnt get the LPD Δ warning triangle. Another problem can be evaluation of the status of the form of the word in the original language. For example LPD gives priority to the form of the Italian loanword risotto with /z/ when the RAI dictionary which is acknowledged as an authority, offers only the form with /s/ from the praps excessively revered “received Tuscan”. The LPD decision at risotto is absolutely right becoz General British speakers overwhelmingly offen use /z/ in that word (and most GA speakers too) and so indeed do prob'bly half the Italian educated population.

The most sensible procedure is to let frequency of currency be the sole criterion for ordering of variants. Any other judgments are best left to the individual. Users of the LPD are uniquely provided for if they do wish adopt closer-to-original-language versions than are usual in English. Loanwords in it are very offen accompanied by original-language transcriptions. However, anyone who takes the long view of how over the centuries we’ve treated the words we’ve borrowed from other languages must realise, one hopes, the folly and futility of the Canutism involved in condem'ing any pronunciations of loanwords on the basis of proximity to their original forms.

Blog 309

The 20th of October 2010


The specific kind of ‘happenings remarks’ here described are expressions which could be replies to questions such as ‘What’s happening?’ or ‘What’s happened?’ or What’s going to happen? or similar ones such as ‘What’s the matter?’ or ‘What’s being discussed?’ They are characterised by usually containing intransitive verbs and they take a form in spoken English which is very characteristic and not necessarily paralleled in other languages in regard to placement of climax tones (aka tonics). The predicates of these verbs are perceived by speakers as of lower semantic charge than their subjects and thereby denied the accentuation they usually have in other kinds of expressions. This exhibits an attitude that need not be considered illogical and therefore doesnt seem to require that they should necessarily be classified as idioms yet it is uncharacteristic of many other languages and consequently offen presents problems for speakers of English as an extra language.
These special types of ‘happenings remarks’ are not easy to define with complete precision. They were first really well identified and discussed, as ‘Event Sentences’, by Alan Cruttenden in 1986 in his book Intonation. That term, which he hasnt used agen in his re-casting of Gimson’s Pronunciation of English, is conveniently concise but it has some slight drawbacks. One is that event isnt as neutral a term as one could wish. As OED sez, it’s “In mod[ern] use chiefly restricted to occurrences of some importance”. Another is that whether they are exactly full sentences or only clauses isnt of material significance.

Exampes are:  The `phone’s ringing. The `kettle’s boiling. My `watch has stopped. The `cat’s been sick. The `milkman’s coming. I’ve got a `job to do. The `telly’s not working. The `power's off. The `baby’s crying. This `lamp’s not coming on. The `dog’s got out. The `boss wants you. Our `guests have arrived. A `thief must have taken it. The `toast’ll burn. Your `house is on fire.(You’d better be careful because) the `floor’s uneven. His `grandfather's died.

The sentence or phrase has to have a content-bearing subject eg not the kind of anaphoric word found in sentences that begin with pronouns or other unspecific words. A remark like There’s a policeman at the door might be emphatic enough to be There’s a po`liceman at the `door but wd more usually be accented as There’s a po`liceman at the doorThere’s someone at the door wd usually be There’s (ˈ)someone at the `door and virtually never *There’s `someone at the door. That wd only be feasible if it took the unusual form of a contradiction as There’s (or more emphatic'ly There `is) `someone at the ˏdoor. (Such a sentence might sound rather unfr'endly unless the effect of the Fall on someone were to be softened by a Rise on door.) For more on this topic, besides Cruttenden’s book, see §3.30 “Events” in J. C. Wells’s English Intonation (2006).

Blog 308

The 19th of October 2010

An Idiosyncratic Pronunciation

In his “Linguism” blog of 18 October 10 Graham Pointon remarked:
[In]... In Our Time, (Radio4..14thOctober)...Tim Blanning, Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at Cambridge University...used the word protagonists...pronounc[ing] it /prəˈtædʒənɪsts/. I wonder if he also says /ænˈtædʒənaɪz/ and /ænˈtædʒənɪst/. This is a pronunciation not given by any of the current pronunciation dictionaries, but I wonder if, being an eminent scholar, he is setting a trend for the future?

This is such a totally unexpected version, with so many comparable words like agony, paragon, octagonal etc all totally regular, that I imagine it’s a complete idiosyncrasy. The reason for its being so I guess is what I referred to in my Blog 049 when I sed “It often becomes difficult not to slip back from time to time into using some unorthodox version of a word one internalised on the basis of a .. guess at its sound value from an ambiguous spelling met with before one had noticed it being pronounced differently by others”. It wd certainly be int'resting to learn whether the single occasion that I, at least, heard him say that word in that way represented a regular usage or an atavistic recurrence of a long-suppressed habit. If it were the latter it wd be a phenomenon I’ve observed in my own speech. Some people may wish to retort that there are clear analogies to guide one how to say such words which are usually patently loans from the classical languages but I’m afraid the pattern is muddier than they may think. Many highly educated people tend to be misled by presumed analogies.

Some items from OED tending to muddying of the picture:
callipygous (kælɪˈpɪdʒəs, -paɪgəs).  ODP has only /ʤ/ for both GB & GA
digoxin only /dɪ`dʒɒksɪn/ “[f. dig(italis + t)oxin.]”
hegemony (hiːˈdʒɛmənɪ, ˈhɛdʒiːmənɪ,ˈhiː-; or with g hard
gibber (dʒɪbə(r), gɪbə(r))
gibberish /ʤ-, g-/
gibbon  Only with /g/ tho from Fr gibbon /ʒibõ/ not *guibbon.
gibbous (ˈgɪbəs) “[f. L. gibb-us hump + -OUS...The guttural (g) in this and the related words is     contrary to the ordinary rule for the pronunciation of Latin derivatives
    but there is no evidence that (dʒ) was ever used.]
giga- prefix (dʒ-, gaɪgə; dʒ-, gɪgə)
gimbal /ʤ-, g-/
gynae only /g/
gynaecology /g-, ʤ-/ OED2 1989. Murray in 1900 only recognised /ʤ-/.
hegemony (hiːˈdʒɛmənɪ, ˈhɛdʒiːmənɪ, ˈhiː-; or with g hard)
longitude /ʤ-, g-/
mortgagor /-dʒ-/ only
obligor is shown with only /g/ except that in 1902 after the spelling -geor Murray added /-dʒ-/

Other items that contribute to muddying of the picture:

Albigensian LPD  /ʤ-, g-/
algae EPD, LPD  /ʤ-, g-/
analogous LPD /g-, ʤ- / EPD and OED /g/ only
calcareous /k/ only but I’ve he'rd tokens of /kalsɛːriəs/
Celtic very well known with /k/ and /s/
Figes (= Figgis /g/) /ʤ/
fungi LPD & EPD /g-, ʤ- /
Gengis (Khan) LPD, OALD /g-, ʤ- / EPD /ʤ-, g-/
Gimson LPD & EPD /g-, ʤ- /
Gillian EPD & LPD /ʤ-, g-/
legislation only /g/ but I’ve he'rd tokens of /legɪs-/
pisces LPD /ˈpaɪsiːz, ˈpɪsk-.../
LPD /g-, ʤ-/
suffragan OED2 and EPD only /g/ but LPD has “Δ” ie equivalent to “Don’t say it with /ʤ/ if             you don’t wish to be disapproved of by numbers of people”.
veganin only /ʤ/ LPD. So also OED “Trade term”.  (No “etymology” offered).

In Jabberwocky I suspect Lewis Carroll me'nt /g/ for both
gyre & gimble but /ʤaɪə/ is to be heard for gyre
When I was a young wartime trainee infantryman I was drilled by a very unsophisticated corporal who told us to keep our bodies “/rɪgɪd/”!

The historical researches of phoneticians in the 19th century showed how ancient Greek and Latin differed greatly from how we’d come to pronounce them. When it led people to revise their habits a good deal of havoc was caused! The above examples are no dou't far from an exhaustive list.

PS My thanks to Graham  Pointon for drawing my attention to mortgagor

Blog 307

The 12th of October 2010

English Transcription Editor

Kraut's English phonetic blog
has responded to a request for a longer sample of the working of the “English Transcription Editor PhoTransEdit” which is a free Windows “tool” that takes written English copy in regular orthography and converts it into phonemic transcriptions in the most popular version of IPA used in the EFL world offering either British or American pronunciations. All you have to do is to enter the text to be transcribed.
The passage provided by Kraut was about 150 words of dialogue between a host and his/her food-faddist dinner guest. One’s reminded on seeing it of Dr Johnson’s remark to Boswell about a woman preacher:  "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." It wou'd be amazing, of course, if it were done perfectly but it ambitiously makes a remarkably good shot at the job. Numeric'ly more of the imperfections are false rhythmic indications than anything else. The most serious problems are failure to recognise certain grammatical categories. The vertical bars where  someone completely stops speaking (which I’ve drawn attention to by inserting ——) are completely superfluous. Here’s the transcription followed by some line-by-line comments:

1.| teɪk ˈsʌm.θɪŋ mɔː | ðæts nɒt ɪ.ˈnʌf
There’s failure here to discriminate between the common weakform most usual for “do” and the strongform essential when the word is a command needing its strongform /duː/. We note from the start that the IPA authorised low dot is used to convey syllable divisions as in EPD, not the LPD unorthodox spaces. They arnt much use and even quite superfluous where a stress mark coincides, as at enough. The stress markings seem to be phonological rather than phonetic (ie as far as they suggest intonation tonological rather than tonetic): notably there are no stress marks where rising elements of Fall-Rise tones are highly probable to be the speaker's choice of intonation — one of the great disadvantages of showing only stresses and not intonations.
 2. tu kiːp ə bɜːd ə.ˈlaɪv | —— wel aɪ wəʊnt bi
There’s failure here at “to” to discriminate between the weakform /tu/ used only before vowels and the other weakform /tə/ used only before consonants. Intonation notation wdve been much more useful than mere stresses. Anyway, it misses the fact that, altho it might be that a speaker wd only have one stress in this first of these two phrases, it certainly wou'dnt be on alive but on bird. Won’t rather calls for a stress mark.
3. ˈhæ.vɪŋ ˈ miːt | aɪm ə   
4.ˌve.dʒɪ.ˈteə.rɪən | ju nəʊ  | —— əʊ | wel |
Vegetarian with medial /ɪ/ is what EPD prefers; with /ɪ / not /i/ in its ending -ian, it follows neither EPD nor LPD. LPD has /ə/ medially ie /ʤə/ which wdve been my choice too as rather more mainstream GB (General British). Same comment on do as in line 1. As Oh is indicated by the vertical bar following it to be rhythmically independent it must have a stress mark. The bar before you is inappropriate: it obviously begins an intonational tail. The one after know is superfluous becoz the speaker has changed.  Well either requires a stress mark or removal of the rhythmical-break bar after it.
5. həv mɔː ˈve.dʒɪ.təb.l̩z | mɔː
There’s failure here agen to use a strongform for imperative have which shdve been /hӕv/. EPD and LPD are in agreement that the medial /ɪ/ in vegetable is only a minority usage in modern GB which indeed usually lacks the syllable that the /ɪ/ constitutes. This cd well also be a confusing of GB and GA usages.
6. pə.ˈteɪ.təʊz | wʊd ju laɪk | —— wel |
The bar after potatoes is unsuitable becoz would you like is clearly a tail to a tone. Well is indicated by the vertical bar after it to be rhythmically independent. It’d praps be better with a stress mark or with the bar removed.
7. dəʊnt ˈjuː.ʒə.li iːt ˈstɑː.tʃi fuːdz | aɪm
8. ɒn ə ˈdaɪət | ju siː | —— aɪm ʃʊə ju dəʊnt
EPD and LPD are in agreement that the more usual current GB form of sure is /ʃɔː/. Probably GA confusion agen. You see shd not be preceded by a bar: it’s a tone tail.  A stress mark at sure wd be much more likely than not: as it stands it indicates a quite extr'ord'nrily long prehead.
 9. niːd tu bi |  aɪ ˈəʊ wɪʃ aɪ wəz əz
Need badly needs a stress mark. Comment on to as for line 2. A stress on I wd be more normal than what we have.
10. slɪm əz ju ɑː—— | wel | aɪm nɒt ˈrɪə.li
You badly needs a stress mark. See the comment on well at line 6.
11. ˌəʊ.və.ˈweɪt | əv  kɔːs | bət aɪ ɪt fə
The first bar isnt really appropriate. Do needs a stress mark and as a non-auxiliary main verb it shou'd have its strongform /duː/.  
12. maɪ ˈhelθs seɪk |—— əʊ | ɪz ðɪs jər əʊn
Because Oh is indicated by the vertical bar after it to be rhythmically independent it’d be better with a stress mark or with the bar removed. Own wd most offen have contrastive stress.
13. aɪ.ˈdɪə  | ɔːr ə ju ˈfɒ.ləʊɪŋ jə ˈdɑːk.tərz
Idea needs to be followed by  a bar to indicate a rhythmic break: otherwise linking /r/ wd be the natural GB usage. Following as transcribed is three syllables not two. Doctors is completely inappropriate being simply the General American pronunciation of the word.
14.ˈɔː.dəz | ——ˈæk.tʃ.li aɪv ˈne.və biːn ɪn
Actually isnt mainstream GB as shown. LPD conveys the normal form slightly better than EPD because the latter’s presentation is too condensed. A version with medial /u/ rather than /uə/  wd be acceptable but wou'dnt be necessarily commoner than one with /ə/.
15.ðə ˈhæ.bɪt əv ˈse.tɪŋ mʌtʃ stɔː baɪ
Store needs a stress mark.
16. fɪ.ˈzɪʃ.n̩z | ——əʊ | pə.ˈhæps | jə laɪk
Comment on oh as at line 12. The weakform used here of you’re and praps also in line 13 tend to suggest fast or casual enunciation: they’re more usual in GA at average tempo than in GB.
17. prɪns tʃɑːlz ˈɪn. ɔːl.ˈtɜː.nə.tɪv
 Charles without stress suggests hurried delivery at best. A bar to slightly break the rhythmic flow wdve been better after Charles. Comment on (in)to as for line 2.
18. ˈ̩ | ðen |
Then in this sense is normally rhythmically enclitic not independent as the preceding bar indicates.

In my opinion phonemic transcription is an excellent exercise for advanced EEL students but I deplore imposing on them the complexity of the simultaneous extra task of displaying prosodic features as well as phonemes. So I always set for transcription passages with the prosodies provided in the form of simple tonetic markings never merely stresses — which are undesirably ambiguous. With very advanced students I have sometimes set the task of adding tonetic indications to passages in ordinary orthography but it’s quite difficult for many of them and needs a fair amount of preliminary guidance to be practicable and profitable.

Blog 306

The 7th of October 2010

Prosodic Problems for EEL

John Wells on We'nsday the 6th of October returned to a topic that has much exercised him in the past, what he’s accustomed to call “intonation idioms”. He has been discussing these in his Phonetic Blogs since 2006 the first year of that series. On this occasion he turned to some more or less exclamatory phrases beginning by saying Imagine you’re a non-native speaker. You want to perform a dialogue that includes this exchange:
A: Let’s have another drink.  B: Now there’s a thought!

He complained that the ‘rules’ he gives his EEL (aka EFL) students for the predicting of appropriate prosodic patterns of what one might call not very colloquial, plain, common types of spoken English won’t work for such things, saying
My ideal is to supply EFL learners with an algorithm that enables them to predict with confidence an appropriate spoken intonation pattern for any written fragment of dialogue.
I certainly sympathise. I’m as much given as he is to encouraging ambitious students who want to aim at such a goal as he has in mind but I wonder if we’re being too optimistic in hoping to help them learn such things effectively by tuition. The ones who make advances in such a difficult area seem most offen to do so not from the inevitably very limited hours in which they receive teaching but from immersion in large amounts of conversational activity with native speakers, copying not theorising, as some of his commenters have suggested.
Anyway, in my opinion his unsuccessful students owe their problems, with especially these exclamatory types of expressions, as much as anything to insufficient knowledge of lexical matters such as the ranges of meanings of the words involved. These must surely be largely what cause his students to assign to them the unsuitable prosodies he mentions. Of B’s response above he sed “The meaning of the whole is also idiomatic: something like “What a good idea!” To my mind he might just as well say that “What a good idea!” is an idiom. The only reason, one presumes, he’d not want to call it idiomatic is because that expression uses phraseology more commonplace, less exclusively conversational than the wording of the other. He wou'dnt consider “What a clever dog!” to be idiomatic but he does want to classify “There’s a clever dog!” as such. One is less ordinary than the other but they can both take exactly the same variety of prosodies. That a phrase etc is commonly and widely used by speakers of a language surely doesnt mean that it’s an idiom. Some relevant definitions from OED  are the following:

Idiom: a peculiarity of phraseology approved by the usage of a language, and often having a signification other than its grammatical or logical one.
Now: Used at the beginning of a clause, or question, or elliptically in a question, with emphatic or rhetorical force. eg Now to sum up...
There: Pointing out a person or object with approval or commendation, or the contrary. Also in anticipatory commendation of the person addressed eg There’s a fine horse! all skin and bones.
Those who’d like to read more on this kind of topic might like to look at some of my other blogs such as especially 007 which, by an unfortunate glitch, at the moment has to be accessed by putting "Tone Idioms" into the search box at the he'd of my home page, 152, 155, 191, 212, 214, 218, 219. 

Blog 305

The 30th of September 2010

Less noted Assimilations

At §4.4 ⁋⁋1-8 on this website I’ve given a brief account of the assimilations I think it’s worth EEL (English-as-Extra-Language) users paying attention to. Here I mainly want to make a few observations on some assimilations that occur in English speech that arent much commented on. The kind of assimilation I’m concerned with here is (not allophonic but) the process in which a phoneme is converted into a different phoneme under the influence of a nearby segment. At least since Joseph Wright’s 1888 translation of a Comparative Grammar of Indo-Germanic Languages by Karl Brugman, the anticipative types have become widely known as ‘regressive’ assimilations and those in which the converted phoneme follows the influencing one known as ‘progressive’ assimilations. I prefer to use the simpler terms “pre assimilations” and “post assimilations” (not employing hyphens since the ‘prefixes’ are functioning adjectivally).

In the context of nearby segments like /ɪ/ and~or /ʧ/ etc the weakform /əz/ of the verb form has is offen weakened to /ɪz/ eg `This has been very ˏnice /ðɪs ɪz biːn veri naɪs/ and /wɪʧ ɪz i teɪkən/ 'Which has he ˋtaken? Such items havnt received mention in Gimson or Cruttenden but Jones’s remark in his Outline of English Phonetics 1932 onwards §849 (v) that it’s “not uncommon to hear” items like /wɒt ɪ ju `duːɪŋ/ and /ˈgəʊ ʊ`weɪ/ for What are you doing and Go away still holds good.

Some at least quite common pre assimilations not recorded by lexicographers include /`ӕpsəluːt/ absolute, /`ӕvvətaɪz/ advertise, /ə`niːθθətɪst/ anesthetist, /ə`lettrɪkl/ electrical, /`hɒspɪdl/ hospital, /`mӕŋnɪfaɪ/ magnify, /`rekədnaɪz/ recognise. (The way historical Bethlehem /→ betləm → bedləm/ became bedlam is an intriguing parallel to this development of hospital which, pacē the British lexicographers, is currently the predominant GB usage.)  Common post assimilations include /ɪnnə`vɪʤuəl/ individual (Cf the Jones 1932 Outline at §847 vi), /`əʊnni/ only, /`meɪnni/ mainly, /`sɜːtn̩ni/ certainly. (Incident'ly the weakforms  /əʊni/ and /sɜːtni/ are extremely common).

Students are sometimes inclined to display common assimilations in making phonemic transcriptions to such an extent as to be rather wasting their time since the occasions on which failure to make an assimilation produces an unnatural sounding result are not numerous — certainly not as important a consideration as avoiding the unnaturalnesses consequent upon failing to use weakforms normally employed by native speakers. There’s nothing in the least unnatural about using non-assimilating pns of words like /sʌnbri/ for Sunbury. Even intra-family not markedly casual speech doesnt necessarily involve use of large-scale use of assimilations. People ord'n'rily in speech that isnt at all formal or markedly self-conscious easily recognise when they hear median price that it’s not medium price and Sumburgh that it’s not Sunborough.

Mostly GB speakers say sandwich as /sӕnwɪʤ/ but some, chiefly the more self-conscious, may say /sӕndwɪʤ/ or /sӕndwɪʧ/. Not uncommonly, but not particularly casually, they may say /sӕmwɪʤ/. One sometimes hears /sӕŋwɪʤ/ but mainly from demotic speakers. Yet agen some say /sӕnwɪʧ/ but praps usually pluralising it as /sӕnwɪʤɪz/.

Among less common pre assimilations is the type with conversion of /θ/ to /s/ as in both sides /bəʊs saɪdz/ a phrase which was eg regularly so uttered by a BBC chief Parl'mentry reporter for some years whenever he said “both sides of the House”. Another unusual one is a new OED entry (2004 with its earliest British quote for 1937) Howzat /haʊ(z) `zӕt/ with pn given with a /z/ elided and an aitch included tho five out of seven of its illustrative quotations show it spelt with no initial aitch. This is chiefly known not as an item of conversation but as the prompt even urgent cry to a cricketing umpire requesting him to give his judgment that the batsman is “out”. Its usually very rapid enunciation accounts for the dropt aitch customary even among the educationally sophisticated.

Blog 304

The 28th of September 2010

Free Spelling

The adoption of “free spelling”, such as has characterised these blogs for quite some time, miet well be hoped, at least by some people, to make the ultimate use of totally reformed spelling more acceptable to the gen'ral public. It cou'dnt be sed th't that’s been a principal motive of mine for its use. More truly it’s been aiming a puny blow at the almost universal intolerance to be met with as regards any departures from orthographic orthodoxy — as was mentioned in our last blog but one. Anyway, free spelling presents many problems that dont occur in completely rationalised almost entirely phonemic systems such as the proposed Nue Speling of the old Simplified Spelling Society I referred to recently. For example, its experimental adoption in these blogs has been greatly affected by the wish to take account of the comfort of readers (who are presumed to be accustomed to standard British or American orthography) by avoiding revisions which might cause at least brief puzzlement thru coming across possibly not reddily recognisable versions of words such as wun for one. Many homographs can possibly make for at least momentary confusions and thus impede the readers smooth absorption of the messages of the text. It miet be thaut that, since ninety percent or more of the occurrences in ord'n'ry speech of the conjunction and contain no /d/, free spelling shd mean that it shd always be written an. However this wd mean a very serious homographic clash with the similarly very hi'ly frequent indefˈnit article an. So it has seemed best to retain the spelling and except when it can reasonably be represented as simply n eg as in fish n chips.

Some of the rationalised spellings that may be adopted from time to time in experimenting with how one feels about their appearance might well turn out to be better submitted to revision when they were presented to an audience that were fully prepared to expect spelling improovments but, for the time being at least, it seems possibly offen helpful to the reader to insert apostrophes that indicate that one has delib'rately rather than inadvertently omitted a particular letter. Examples include re'd for the past of read. It has to be admitted th't in that case omitting the apostrophe takes too far the abandoning of semantic explicitness in favour of the phonetically more rational form red. One’s also reluctant to deny differentiation to wen and when etc. Similarly, since the aim is to give precedence to facilitating as much as possible the reddy recognition of words, it seems pref'rable not to drop the “silent” initial consonants from items like gnome, know, write particularly where the result of doing so wd coincide with a common different word.

Genitive apostrophes shou'd no dou't become completely optional but perhaps this first trial can be allowed to retain the satisfaction of their disambiguative effect. Some readers may’ve noticed that apostrophes are offen inserted into words where phonetic'ly superfluous letters’ve been dropt (eg straiˈt for straight) either to avoid producing a homograph or simply, especially in a stretch of writing where the surrounding words are very largely spelt orthodoxly, to indicate intentional (not erroneous) omission of orthodox letters. An experiment has been tried to use “strai't” apostrophes in such words while retaining the “curly” ones where traditional apostrophes are concerned.

Presumed especially awkward-seeming revisions like ov for of, sum for some, hav for have and kum or cum for come have been avoided. It’s quite difficult to decide about some such as luv for love. One’s inclined to prefer dont and wont tho doent and woent wd be improovments. It can be acknowledged that wont wd be logical to replace want but, even tho the resultant homograph wd only be an archaic word of low incidence, it seems better to retain the form won’t. On the other hand one jibs at writing cant for can’t. Dont, tho,  presents no such problems. Please remember that it’s all been very experimental and by being so has produced even more inconsistencies than the many one pleads to have viewed with toleration.

Blog 303

The 25th of September 2010

Questions on Commands

Tami Date asked these questions on the 25th of September 2010: my comments in brackets.
As far as I know, the following type of commands [I wou'dnt call them a type of command only a choice of wording] are never taught in class here in Japan. If Japanese teachers should see them in teaching material, they would be perplexed. [Surely only becoz they’re unfamiliar expressions.]
(1) `Oh, `my. `Oh, `no. `Oh, `my. ˈWhat did I `do? `Please be a `dream. `Please be a ˏdream.   It’s [a] `nightmare.
(2) [The chime goes off at the door. Praying.]  ˈBe Reˎbecca!  `Be Re`becca!
(3) [The phone rings]  `Please be ˎRandy. [Talks into the phone] Hel  ́lo?
Japanese teachers would think they are ungrammatical structures because let + the prop subject it are missing. I was wondering if they were the kind of things that American teenagers today are likely to utter... [Prob’bly not very common either side of the Atlantic. I’m not at all sure.]
 I think they should be rephrased as follows: [Only if you merely want to make them “easier”.]
(1)  `Please let it be a ˎdream. (2)  `Let it be Reˎbecca.
(3)  `Please let it be ˎRandy. Similarly, school-grammar-wise,
(4) is also not adequate, is it? [Tami’s sense of “adequate” isnt clear to me.]
(4) [A small boy shouting up to the sky] (from a cartoon)
I said“ `Snow!” Come `on, `Snow! `Snow!"  ˈOˏkay, then. `Don't snow! ˈSee what `I care? [Without hearing how it was spoken, the question mark is a bit dou'tful.]
(5) I `like this ˏweather. ˈLet’s have it fo`rever!
...if a student says or writes in your EFL/ESL class, "Please be fine tomorrow!" what would you do? Would you accept it..? [Hard to say with no context. If s/he’s looking up at the sky (to God) it’s no dou’t okay.]
By the way, with respect to (1')〜(3'), will the be-verb be accented or not?
[With no context of the previous climax (final) word being strest: No!].

The prosodic notations I’ve inserted above are all likely but some alternatives are possible. It’s prob'bly true that commands (presumably addressed to God) beginning  “Please be...” are less common and more colloquial than ones beginning “Let...” but they are grammatically commands so get the same stress-and-intonation treatment. Plain commands usually have (fully) falling climax tones; polite or pleading ones usually have finally (not very) narrow low rises. “ `Please be a ˏdream ” cd suggest a change of tone to pleading. The two full Falls on the second “ `Be Re`becca!” can suggest increase of urgency. By the way, the exclamation “My!”, which is a euphemistic substitute for “My God!”,  goes back to before Independence,  tends to sound old-fashioned if used at all in the UK. Can’t say for the US.

PS Tami has elucidated “adequate”. He me'nt what I’d prefer to term “advisable or suitable for EFL adoption”.  On my “Without hearing how it was spoken, the question mark is a bit dou'tful” he commented “Sorry. It was an oversight on my part. I’ve checked the cartoon.  I should have written "See what I care!" ” He has also sent me a copy of the cartoon where I see that four words I gave maximum tonetic stress to were italicised in the captions: `Snow!ˈOˏkay, then. `Don’t  snow! ˈSee what `I care? I `like this ˏweather. ˈLet’s have it fo`rever!