Archive 40 of JWL Blog


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14/05/2012Function-Word Weakforms.#401
09/05/2012Defining the Term Weakform.#400
03/05/2012Weakforms not WEAK FORMS.#399
30/04/2012Advanced Reading Aloud.#398
23/04/2012Other Overlookt Weakforms.#397
20/04/2012Weakforms' Existence Questioned.#396
18/04/2012Faded Forms of 'PRICE'.#395
16/04/2012Comments on a Transcription.#394
11/04/2012Some New Pronunciations.#393
08/04/2012The Air/Square Diphthong.#392

Blog 401

The 14th of May 2012

Function-Word Weakforms.

It follows on from what was sed in my last blog that I regard the customarily accepted senses in which the terms 'weakform' and 'strongform' have come to be used about a cert·n small group of words as logicly unsatisfactory and thereby essentially misnomers. If we define the term 'weakform' satisfactorily, it follows that weakforms (and their primary strongforms) must be recognised as not occurring in just a few dozen words but as a very large category of the words of the language. However, teachers of spoken English, beginning with Henry Sweet, understandably focused their attention on the very limited set of weakforms that so extremely frequently caused non-native speakers to sound unidiomatic. This set of (mainly) function words was unique by reason of the fact that each member of the group existed in two or more forms which were not only of diff·rent phonemic composition but were obliged to be selected between on grammatical, rhythmical and/or stylistic grounds. It follows that they are being inappropriately — because indequately — designated when they are referred to as merely 'weakforms' and not 'function-word weakforms'. When dictionaries enter second or further alternant pronunciations of any words, these are in most cases equally entitled to be termed weakforms as are the EFL-teacher-focused very limited sub-group of the ones with grammatical and other restrictions on their application. That is, they are articulatorily weakened, phonemicly distinct versions of the primary forms which are the lexicographers' headwords.

I turn now to some more neglected function-word weakforms that call for discussion besides the ones we've referred to earlier in this thread. Hardly if at all less universally and constantly to be encountered than any of the previous ones is the weakform /ɑːl/ of the contraction I'll. For this agen it's almost beyond belief that none of the three specialist pronunciation dictionaries has any trace of it. And I'm not talking about any new development: it was included in my 1972 Concise Pronouncing Dictionary from which on principle I excluded any usage I considered at all unusual. What's notable in this context, I find, is the comparison that, by contrast with I'll, when I hear students attempting the contraction I'm misguidedly giving it some degree of the compression of its /aɪ/, I'm struck by how very uncharacteristic of GB such pronunciations sound.

If I start looking for a record of a weakform I automaticly begin with LPD becoz Wells has taken the subject more ser·ously than anyone else. In his enthusiasm he sometimes declares a weakform of a word to be non-existent when I find it seems not at all unusual. The contraction they're is one case in point. He records a US weakform but sez flatly "There is no RP weakform". I'm sure /ðə(r)/ doesnt sound in the least unusual in eg They're all right; and I'm equally confident that racegoers commonly turn  the /eə/ of They're off!  into /e/ or /ə/. Not that I intend to suggest that its use is at all limited to hurried speech.

    Another striking absence from LPD, which is usually so good on these things, is the very common informal but not highly colloquial reduction to the weakform /sətəv/ of the adverbial filler sort-of. Admittedly very colloquial are the weakforms of the two coinciding contractions, one of which is of it is and the other of it has, namely /s/. One finds "S'OK" in a Joanna Trollope novel. This and "S'not" for It's not are extremely casual but not taboo or all that extremely unusual among GB speakers.

Finally in this group I offer a couple of items that readers may find for diff·rent reasons rather surprising. The first is the observation that GB speakers do occasionally use a yodless weakform of the word new. I've noticed this on various occasions for the name New York and from speakers who've seemed to me highly unlikely to've produced it as an effect of any American influence. Anyone who has access to one of my favr·it sources of quotations, the (DVD of the) 1981 ITV television serial Brideshead Revisited may hear Diana Quick, in the part of a member of an aristocratic family, say the name twice in the same scene —  once with and once without the usual yod. Very lastly here, I wish to put it on record that I have very offen noted GB speakers use the fairly casual weakform of able that I shall represent as /eɪwl/ tho quite offen I've he·rd it as a single syllable so rapidly articulated that the /w/ and the /l/ are blended into a single phone as [eɪɫ̹].

Blog 400

The 9th of May 2012

Defining the Term Weakform.

I referred in Blog 399 to the fact that Jones never provided his readers with a proper definition of the term 'weak form' in the sense in which he used it. For that matter neither did Sweet, the originator of that particular usage. Nor have any of their successors including Gimson, Wells, Roach, Collins & Mees etc. This is not surprising since their, on the whole, didactic purposes for using the term were most acceptably and conveniently served by the explanational strategy of exemplification rather than the complexity involved in precise definition. Nevertheless, the unavailabilty of a satisfactory definition tends to give rise to various undesirable awkwardnesses. For example Wells in LPD3 refers to the "-day" suffix being used "in a strong form — weak form relationship".

The fact of the matter is that it's simply impossible to frame a satisfactory definition of a weakform if one attempts to limit the statement to function-type words or excludes items which cannot be accented. A weakform is a weakened form derived solely in terms of diminution of its articulatory 'strength' from a word with a primary form which is referred to as its corresponding 'strongform'. Hence a full definitional formulation has to be something like the following: Certain words in a language or language variety may have two or more alternant forms of different phonematic composition one of which is the primary form from which any other alternant is derived by such reduction of its articulation as results in alteration to the set of phonemes of which it consists. It has to be understood that this definition is, very strictly speaking, only applicable to the usages of one individual speaker at a time. Speakers must have a prior corresponding strongform in each case before any forms they use may be termed weakforms. For example, for an individual who only uses the form /rɪli/ for really, it can't be described as a weakform. For a person who has a primary form /rɪəli/ but may reduce it to /rɪli/ the latter is a weakform. Of necessity there are words that are borderline or dou·tful cases. For example, is here as /hjɜː/ to be considered as a weakform of /hɪə/? Is /mɪsɪz/ (Mrs) a weakform of /mɪstrɪs/ (mistress)? It cert·nly is historic·ly. Also there are many cases where a common word may occur in an alternant form modified by assimilation, elision or compression that doesnt take that form regularly enuff to make its inclusion in any special list of function-word-type weakforms a cert·nty. One example of this is the variant /wɪ/ of with which has apparently been a weakform in past times but in current non-casual GB occurring, as it does, only before a word beginning with /ð/, need only be classified as undergoing an elision of that ð/ in such cases.

There can be little dou·t that Sweet's awareness of the topic was heightened by his hearing many of his Continental non-native-speaking contacts coping very well with pronouncing the English vocabulary in general but falling foul fairly frequently of the idiomatic handling of English grammatical-function words. At any rate, of the 51 words he listed with their weakforms only one of them, Saint, was not a function word. Jones in the 1918 first edition of his Outline of English Phonetics listed 42 weakform words. His 1932 third edition extended the list and by his last 1956 eighth edition he gave 60 or more items including three non-function ones. Gimson (1962) had only 48 in his list of core items recommended to be targets for the EFL user aiming at a native-like performance but added illustrations of twenty others mainly limited to what he rather unsatisfactorily termed "very rapid speech".

Most writers on the subject have repeated Jones's assertion that "Weak forms occur only in unstressed positions...". This may be effective pedagogy but it is not logically sound. For example a word like Wednesday has, for speakers who citationally say it as /`wenzdeɪ/ very often a weakform /`wenzdi/ which they use in situations where the word is under some degree of rhythmic pressure such as in /wenzdi `mɔːnɪŋ/ Wednesday morning. The expression going to has a very common articulatorily weakened (and changed in phoneme content thereby) variant form /`gənə/, which is very offen stressed. As a conversational tense former this is, one supposes, arguably a grammatical-function word. (To be continued in Blog 401.)

Blog 399

The 3rd of May 2012

Weakforms not WEAK FORMS.

The variation between the strongforms and weakforms of particular English words, tho referred to after a fashion by A. J. Ellis, was first systematicly recognised by Henry Sweet in 1885 in his Elementarbuch des Gesprochenen Englisch, the very first modern textbook on EFL phonetics. This work was reprinted in English in 1890 as A Primer of Spoken English. He'd named the newly recognised phenomenon, 'Abstufung' which translated as 'Gradation', adapting to synchronic use a term earlier used by German, especially Indo-Europeanist, scholars to refer to diachronic processes involving historical changes of the vowels of individual words from longer earlier forms to later reduced forms. For a fuller account of this matter see Kraut's blog "graded meaning of gradation" of the 7th of May 2012.

In his writings Daniel Jones, in one place only, made use of Sweet's satisfyingly concise term Gradation, namely in the introductory paragraph §467 of Chapter XVI of all editions of his Outline of English Phonetics from its "completely re-written" third edition of 1932 onwards. For the title to that chapter and always ev·rywhere else he preferred the less concise but more readily comprehensible "Strong and Weak Forms". He defined gradation as "the existence in many common English words of two or more pronunciations, a strong form and one or more weak forms". He added "Weak forms occur only in unstressed positions [sic]; strong forms are used chiefly when the word is stressed..." He failed to provide a definition of what a 'weak form' was. He merely in his next paragraph, §468, sed "A weak form of a word is generally distinguished from a strong form either by a difference of vowel-sound, or by the absence of a sound (vowel or consonant), or by the difference in the length of a vowel." It's important here to remember that, in Jones's analysis of the English vowel system, what he called and marked as "long" vowels were separate phonemes from their corresponding short vowels. He cd talk of them as being shortened yet still "strong forms" as he did at §486 of his Outline where he cited eleven such words.

Phoneticians who took up the terms "strong and weak forms" have never suggested that a merely physic·ly weak pronunciation of a word constituted its 'weak form'. For example, the word thorough uttered with its medial /r/ tapped or trilled instead of as an approximant is cert·nly given a strong form on such an occasion compared with the relatively weak form of its usual articulation. More manifestly, let's compare two possible utt·rances of the word matter in a sentence such as It doesn't matter. One of them cd very well be spoken with the word matter uttered softly with low, narrow pitch movement and minimal volume and with the medial /t/ having little or no aspiration; the other cd equally well have the word matter enunciated very loudly and vigorously with very wide and high pitch movement, the /t/ strongly aspirated and the whole word prolonged well beyond the time normal for its utt·rance in an ordinary emotively unmarked lexical style of citation. It's perfec·ly clear that the former version can be reasonably described as an occurrence of the word in a weak form and the latter in a strong form.

However, when phoneticians make reference to what they term as words' "strong forms" and their (one or more) "weak forms" they are obvi·sly not referring to the kinds of contrast we mentioned above but to words taking forms that have diff·rent phonological characters. These phonological terms cannot be subjected to substitution of their adjectival elements with synonyms eg by alternatively calling the strongforms 'powerful, robust' or 'sturdy' forms or the weakforms 'powerless, frail', or 'feeble' forms. In my opinion it's highly desirable to signal this special signification of the latter type by adopting the option available of recourse to orthographical forms that reflect the close association and invariability of the elements of the phonological terms by employing solid spellings of them as "strongforms" and "weakforms" or at the very least invar·ably uniting them by hyphenation. The failure of phoneticians to make use of these more desirable spellings for these terms has been regrettably quite general.

Blog 398

The 30th of April 2012

Advanced Reading Aloud.

My Blog 131 gave a description of the content of my practical sessions in such contexts as those of the University College London "SCEP"s ie Summer Courses in English Phonetics. I sed in that blog that I devoted the main part of each session to having the students read aloud in turn sentences from a variety of dialogues in ev·ryday language. I usually as·t each person to say their sentence at least twice and then as·t the next one or two students to say the same sentence again before moving on. Lack of fluency was one thing that I was careful not to neglect. I usually required unsatisfact·ry phrases etc to be remedied by further repetition. If prosodic errors occurred they werent neglected but the passages werent desi·ned to contain any extra difficulties of that sort. Intensive exercises concentrating on such special problems of stress and intonation wd be covered sep·rately in the other morning SCEP session called by the cover term 'Intonation' and to a consid·rable extent dedicated especially to 'prosodic pitfalls' such as appear in the miscellaneous sentences of the 'New Transcription Exercises' at my Blogs 291 and 293. More on that topic may be found at Blog 134. Here is a typical dialogue, in this case taking place between a host/ess and his/her guest who is unenthusiastic about gard·ning.

Reluctant  Gardener

1.    We’re going to work in the garden — as the weather’s so nice.
2.     I’d love to join in, but I haven’t got any suitable clothes.
3.    Oh!  There’s loads of things upstairs you can borrow.
4.    These shoes I’m wearing are the only ones I’ve got with me.
5.    There’re shoes too. Loads of them. A whole cupboardful.
6.    But I’ve got very large feet. They’ll probably be too small.
7.    You’d get into one or other of all those pairs of wellies.
8.    All right, then. But there’s something you ought to know.
9.    Yes? What is it? Don’t look so darned glum. Spit it out!
10.   Last time I did any gardening, I was in bed a week after it.
11.   Really?  Whatever caused that? Did you work too hard?
12.   I had a nasty time with my chest. I’m a martyr to asthma.
13.   Perhaps you’d better stay indoors, then. What a pity!
14.   I hate being idle, but I’ll find something to read, I expect.
15.    Now I  think of it, there’s lots of washing up to be done.
16.    Oh, dear. Is there.  I do tend to break things, I’m afraid.
17.    If you wash up, it’ll set Mother free to help us outside.
18.    Oh, very well, then. But I warn you, you may regret it.
19.    Take this apron. There’s Elfin Liquid under the sink.
20.    I don’t think I could use it. I’m allergic to most detergents.
21.    You’ll be fine with this one. The ads always say how gentle it is.
22.    If my hands come out in a rash then, on your head be it.
23.    That’s a risk I think I’ll take without too much worry.
24.    There’s no need for sarcasm. Get on with your rotten old gardening.

(300 words)

Blog 397

The 23rd of April 2012

Other Overlookt Weakforms.

Probably the most shocking gap in British pronunciation lexicography as regards weakforms was, since they·re so commonly he·rd, the absence until 2001 of a record of any weakform corresponding to the contraction 'we’re' (of 'we are'). One first appeared at that late date in ODP (the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation). This volume had three compilers two of whom, William A. Kretzschmar and Rafal Konopka were Americans and presumably wdve been aware that K & K (J. S. Kenyon and Thomas A. Knott's Pronouncing Dictionary of American English of 1944 — unrevised since 1949!) had given "unstressed" forms (K & K’s feeble term for weakforms) for it. ODP very reasonably listed the British weakform as /wə(r)/. It not infrequently also occurs strest eg /`wɜːr ɔlraɪt ˏhɪə/ Were alright here.  I overlooked such forms in my CPD of 1972. The only excuse I can offer is that I was feeling innovative enuff to·ve vouched for the very common existence of a form /weə/ of were that no other lexicographer has ever yet recognised to my knowledge. This was discussed in my Blog 278.
Even more completely overlooked in the lit·rature are the weakforms of nearly — one can only suppose because they almost never take tonic stress and are typically enunciated quite rapidly. Among these prob·bly the chief one is /nɜli/ which, tho it never takes tonic stress in GB, may be found accented in some regional accents. The form /nɜli/ almost cert·nly originated from the elision of the yod of an earlier form /njɜli/. Compare the recently much less usual variants of here as /hjɜ/. Less common weakforms nearly takes include /nəli/ and /nɪli/. The allophonic variant [nɪːli] also occurs commonly for /nɪəli/ in its weak use, as do ambiguous intermediate forms between it and /nɜli/. So of course do versions articulated too unclearly to confidently assign any single phonemic identity to.

By far the most glaring case of the failure to accurately put on record the facts of English pronunciation concerns the extremely common adverb only. In my observation a very large majority of educated English speakers worldwide frequently use ell-less weakforms of only. John Wells is well aware of their existence but "sections" them as not admissible to 'RP' with his warning sign (latterly '§') indicating that he considers them not to be "received". He re·d about them in old Cockney but the most he cd say for them in his Accents of English (1982 p. 305) was the admission that they "even live on in middle-class speech"! I find it quite astonishing that he and his fellow lexicographers fail to hear them daily. The only common situation in which GB speakers are not normally to be found using them is when they’re highlighted by coming up agenst a complete break in sentence rhythm. Otherwise the ell-less form is universal in spoken English and is probably  the predominant form at least in GB even when accented. A grammatically somewhat unusual sequence like a prescription-only drug wd  normally only occur with the ell-keeping form even tho the rhythmic flow is unbroken. Elsewhere you find them from even the most distinguisht speakers in the most serious contexts and even when the word is emphatic. I shall only give one example. In the 1964 screen version of the Anouilh play Becket, John Gielgud as a king and Donald Wolfit as a bishop have a dialogue in which one sez "We can ony express our astonishment" and the other responds with "My ony interest is the Church". Occurrences of such ell-less forms are so universal it’d be rather pointless to give further citations.

PS I’m very grateful to Petr Roesel for digging out the very items I chose to mention as classic illustrations of my claim regarding "on’y" and providing them for us so conveniently in his Kraut's English phonetic blog of the 27th of April. Another example, that can easily be found on YouTube, is of the unimpeachably elegant speaker Lady Antonia Fraser talking about her husband Harold Pinter to a Chicago audience saying a firmly strest "o’ny" in "the only thing I added" at 03.40 seconds into her interview.

Blog 396

The 20th of April 2012

Weakforms' Existence Questioned.

John Wells's 18th of April posting entitled "a new weak form?" began:

Petr Rösel asks "Do you still believe there’s no weak form for couldn’t (as you state in LPD)?
To which my answer is yes...”

   By contrast `my ans·er wd be that many GB speakers, at any rate in the middle and older age ranges, have at least an occasional weakform /kədnt/ of ‘couldn't’. I think some have for ‘shouldnt’, as well as /ʃədn̩t/, a weakform with no schwa but a syllabic /d/ viz /ʃd̩n̩t/. I can't imagine finding it strange hearing a GB speaker say /aɪ ˈdʒəs kədn̩ `duː ɪt. aɪ `kʊdnt/ I just couldn't do it. I couldn't.

Paul Carley, picking up on John's remark that "ɪ happens to belong to both the strong and weak vowel systems" as·t·im "Can't we say the the same about FLEECE and GOOSE and be done with the weak [i] and [u] which cause so much confusion among learners". I found this suggestion that learners took enuff notice of such things as to be worried about them rather a surprise, but I was even more surprised by John's reply "You're right — we could do away with them. In doing that we would revert to the position before 1978 ..., when LDOCE first used the weak i and u, followed by the rest of us".

Perhaps Paul was right to suggest that they benefited the native speaker better than the non-mothertongue user. I can remember the relief I felt at no longer being obliged to expect NS student transcribers to use the same symbol for both vowels of a word like city. I also remember being pleasantly surprised that the first LPD came out with the special happy vowel symbol \i\. The impression I got from John was that he felt it quite agreeable to fall in line with Longman house practice in that respect. I was very pleased that he'd have no truck with the horrible Longman [ɪ] stuck on top of a schwa to convey the sort of thing Kenyon & Knott and later OED and ODP did with the neat unauthorised IPA-style symbol [ᵻ].

It had been in 1978, twelve years earlier than LPD1, that  Gordon Walsh (then Longman pronunciation editor) had introduced his use of /i/, initially (with the excuse that it was) to be treated as an /iː~ ɪ/ cover symbol. Gimson's wily compromising retention of Jones's "chronemic" length marks even tho his new symbols had made them redundant had eased their reception among the traditionalist EFL public when his major revision of EPD finally appeared in 1977. My own feeling has always been agenst Gimson's blanket length marks.

Paul's further suggestion to have "pronouncing dictionaries to simply change the status of the i and u symbols" seemed to me pretty unrealistic again. Teachers can, I shou·d say, advise their students to interpret dictionary symbols any way they like. But was he really advocating having his students go back to the old ways John seemed to've me·nt by "revert to the position before 1978"? Did Paul really like the idea of re-instating /sɪtɪ/ and /prəˈnᴧnsɪ`eɪʃn/ or wou·d he prefer having ‘easy’ as /iːz/ and using the perfectly logical type of transcription /prəˈnᴧns`eɪʃn/ which he seemed not to've liked when he spotted it on the back cover of Cruttenden's Gimson. Personally I've always equally detested frequently seen transcriptions like /`eɪθiːɪst/ for having the second vowel too long and /`eɪθɪɪst/ (remember equally the old Daniel Jones form /'eiθiist/ always used in his versions of the EPD) for having it so obviously different from ie closer than the /ɪ/ it precedes. The OED has, since it converted its IPA transcriptions  to a style influenced, in not all ways fortunately, by Clive Upton, adopted /i/ but regrettably only word-finally eg Brit. /ˈmʌni/ for money but not word-internally eg Brit. /ˈmeɪnɪak/ for maniac.

Blog 395

The 18th of April 2012

Faded Forms of 'PRICE'.

The other day I had the pleasure of re-reading Geoff Lindsey's blog of the 21st of last December which he entitled 'Refayned English is an ex-accent'. It opened with a quote from Wells's 1982 Accents of English referring to "a generally unsuccessful attempt to sound [posh] by not only avoiding Diphthong Shifting … but by going too far..." (pp 302-3).

Geoff explained "Diphthong Shifting" as referring to the first elements of the four GB front-closing diphthongs /ɪi, eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ/ (the first of which is usually treated as a monophthong and so transcribed /iː/) whose "Popular London" values are "shifted anticlockwise" from their ordinary GB forms. He continued that "refayned" London speakers were so anxious to avoid saying [ɒɪ] (for GB /aɪ/) that they overshot so far as to "land in [ɛɪ]". He convincingly suggested that this extreme adaptation, which cd lead to "I'd like to try" sounding like "Aid lake to tray" was what accounted for the common labelling of the type of speech that contained such hyper-adaptive locutions as "refayned". There's more on this topic to be seen and he'rd in my Blog 135 on Lilias Armstrong especially where she sez the number 'five'.

He ended that last paragraph by adding "but I don’t think any refayned speaker ever realised 'the boy enjoyed his toys' as 'the buy enjide his ties' ". Well, if not /ðə bᴧɪ ɪnʤᴧɪd ɪz tᴧɪz/, I can confidently claim to have he·rd something like /ðə bəɪ ɪnʤəɪd ɪz təɪz/. I unfortunately can't recollect exactly when or where I re·d a comment that certain clergymen had exhibited a style of speech a most characteristic feature of which was referred to as pronouncing words such as choice as if spelt chice. I'd no memory of meeting such a thing until when, in the middle sixties, I went to live in Norway. I met there a man whose speech suggested that characterisic. I was int·rested to learn that his practically native-like English was due in particular to his having spent much of his earlier years in or near London and that he was the son of a bishop. As it happens, I recently watched a television program which included film of the present Queen's 1953 coronation in the course of which the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher (an alumnus of Marlborough College and Exeter College Oxford born in 1887) repeatedly used the word "anoint" with a pronunciation of its diphthong which sounded very much like /aɪ/.

Geoff's exemplifications of the "refayned" version of the /aɪ/ diphthong were taken from the John Cleese performance of the famous "Parrot sketch" apparently first included in a 1969 Monty Python's Flying Circus episode. An excellent earlier illustration of it occurs in the well known 1945 film Brief Encounter from the actress Joyce Carey who's speaking to Stanley Holloway a customer in a railway station refreshment room where she's serving behind the counter. Her /tӕɪm ən tӕɪd  weɪt fə nəʊ mӕn/ is a nice example.

The OED's earliest record of the usage appears under the spelling 'refained' in 1925. The variant 'refeened' is first recorded for 1941. Geoff resumes his quotation from Wells 1982 with "This type of accent is nowadays perhaps not so often encountered as it used to be”. He added on his own account "Thirty years on, I’d say that refayned speech, like the parrot, is no more." This seems to me well observed. I feel it's noteworthy that these 'refained' pronunciations seem to've had a quite short life. The OED's latest quotations for the type are 1972 for 'refained' and 1976 for 'refeened' — which latter may be merely an exaggerated representation of the same articulation.

Caricature spellings like these may persist long after the phenomenon proper is no longer to be heard. Indeed I wonder how many people there are alive today who can claim to have he·rd a speaker use these 'refinements' in all seriousness. I have in all my life recollection of only one such person. She was a woman I got to know fairly well when I was working at the University of Tehran in the early sixties. She was an educated person, evidently in late middle age, and had been posted there as an employee of the British Council. I remember being quite astonished that she should have such by-then very rare usages with nothing else about her speech that suggested affectation.

PS Thanks to reader Philip Minden for this note:
John Wells wrote in his Accents (vol. 2, p. 293): "An old-fashioned variant with an unrounded central starting-point, [ʌɪ], conjures up the image of an elderly clerical headmaster: [ˈkʌm `hɪʌ ˌbʌɪ] Come here, boy!"
Philip adds:
"I agree with the image, but in general, I think [ʌɪ] for CHOICE is much less marked than [əɪ] for CHOICE or [ɛɪ] for PRICE".

By the way, whenever any attempt shd be made to produce for some future public an equivalent at its date to that of John's achievement for his era with his Accents of English it wd surely have to be a multi-authored, multi-volume production. I have an amused recollection of having on some street corner a chat with him and at the end of it hearing that his Accents was completed and soon to come out. As we parted he airily, 'threw over his shoulder', as it were, the startling parting remark 'It's three volumes'. In the meantime, tho he can hardly be expected to tinker with that massive text, there cd surely be no objection to CUP's employing some young enthusiast to provide the next reprinting of it with a really adequate single index. I tried the present one for an entry 'clerical' before I wrote the above but to no avail.


Blog 394

The 16th of April 2012

Comments on a Transcription.

I've written recently to Alex Rotatori, as I've shown below, chatting about his posting of April the 7th 2012 in which he transcribed part of a recent talk he'd given on English vowels here.

“Regarding your recent post int·restingly displaying your pronunciation of what you had to say by letting us see it in transcription, I'd like to make a  comment or two.
First a word on your phrase that you gave as "ðə riːzən waɪ aɪ dɪdm̩ pəʊst". If one sez the word reason to oneself concentrating on where the tongue is for the articulation of the /z/ one usually finds that the action at least ends with (light) alveolar contact and that one doesnt break that contact (only tighten it) to produce the /n/. While the tongue is in contact with the alveolar ridge there can by definition be no vowel articulated. LPD in showing such words as \ˈriːzən\ warns one that these raised sounds are "sometimes optionally [my italics] inserted". That's a double warning that they're not used at least in ordinary conversational style. In fact, if one takes your transcription to represent the fairly careful reading aloud of the text of your lecture, then /riːzən/ isnt an 'unreasonable' way to show it. However, in the very same sentence and elsewhere thereafter the assimilations etc you employ suggest a fairly relaxed conversational (tho not markedly casual) style. The example of this which occurs in the same sentence is your /dɪdm̩ pəʊst/. This is possible but it not only goes one step beyond the minimally conversational ie beyond /dɪdnt pəʊst/ (a formal style wd have 'did not') by being relaxt enuff to've dropt the final /t/ of dɪdn't. In fact you go a second extra step by displaying pre assimilation of the original /n/ to /m/ before post. At this point we have the problem that, if a speaker is likely to take conversationalism that far, they're most likely to've assimilated the /d/ too, giving /dɪbm̩ pəʊst/. A trivial comment perhaps but I imagine you'll agree.

Similar remarks might perhaps be applied to one or two other items of your transcription eg of the word sev·ral but, leaving aside such nit-picking, my main reaction was to be imprest by the very natural, realistic elisions you show. These are types that most students wont be likely to have much awareness of. They'll do well to take note of their demonstrations in your text. Knowing about the existence of such things can surely at times help them avoid worrying about not having detected things that they thaut they were going to hear. The recognition you show of various matters such as where elisions occur of tense-marking phonemes show you exhibiting a native speaker's powers of perception of their potential for absence. A couple of examples of that occurred at /ðə pɑːt əv ðə tɔːk ði ɔːdjənts laɪk məʊst/ and /kənteɪm bɛːli eni rɪdʌkʃn̩z/ where it was in fact perfec·ly normal conversational style for speakers to omit the tense-marking /t/ and /d/ that in a less fluent delivery wd've appeared in the respective transcriptions of "liked" and "contained".

Your transcriptions have triggered me on one other topic. I liked it that you gave the transcription /wenzdeɪ ðə twenti-eɪtθ əv mɑːtʃ/ including the hyphen with which we usually connect the two parts of "28" when we spell it out in ordinary orthography. I suspect some of my 'purist' colleagues might, seeing this, enounce some alveolar clicks: but your inclusion of the orthographic hyphen was fine by me. It doesnt cause any problems with the interpreting of the phonetic symbols.

That little matter I found quite agreeable. My other comment is on something similar that I found positively pleasurable. Besides your readiness to include the non-IPA hyphen we've just mentioned, we now have a case where you might well have chosen to employ another one but you didnt. It was in the phrase "ɪtəliz eks fɒrəm mɪnɪstə". I dont know whether you were consciously exercising a principled judgment in not having here the hyphen that so completely regularly gets used at all the appearances of "ex" by practic·ly all English-writers. However that may be, it chimed perfec·ly with my positive pref·rence, on many occasions, for not inserting hyphens between "ex" and a following noun. This is simply because I see no objection to regarding /eks/ as an adjective in many cases. The same goes for 'pre' when I use the expression 'pre assimilation' (as I did above) with no hyphen in preference to polysyllabic expressions like 'anticipatory assimilation'. I can see no point in hyphenation in ordinary writing in such cases. Because people stick blindly (or is it 'deafly'?) to a rule of thum· in these usages we get common absurdities like "the ex-British Council employee" where we dont know, strictly speaking, whether we're reading about a council employee who was formerly British but has now changed nationality or a former employee of the British Council whose nationality is not mentioned”.

Blog 393

The 11th of April 2012

Some New Pronunciations.

Many words which in Latin ended with -ārius, -ārium have come down into English. There're over 300 of them including the common adjectives arbitrary, military, necessary, ordinary, primary, temporary and voluntary. They're mostly pronounced in General British with final /-əri/ tho a few have at least variant forms with /-eri/ which is their usual form in General American. These include necessary and the nouns dromedary, February, January and secretary. An oddity is the colloquial-only variant /kn`trɛːri/ of the adjective contrary (normally /`kɒntrəri/) not used in any sense but the personal one of 'perverse' and known to ev·ryone from the nursery rhyme beginning ˈMary, ˏMary, ˈquite conˏtrary, ˈHow does your ˏgarden `grow...

Anyway, what I'm chiefly concerned with in this discussion are the corresponding adverbs in -arily including one derived from the above adjectives but also customarily, extraordinarily and involuntarily etc. The Wells 2007 poll in preparation for LPD3 of 2008 revisited the adverbial form necessarily which in his 1998 poll had shown 72% preferring neces`sarily to fore-stressing. This is the version rightly given precedence in LPD. Indeed I was already giving it precedence in 1972 in my CPD and in the ALD third edition of 1974. OBG (The Oxford "Guide") of 2006 agreed and remarked that the other "is becoming less common". However, EPD, in which Jones didn't recognise the existence of the later stressed version till 1956, retained the precedence of the fore-stressing until 2006, as did ODP of 2001. CEPD has now in 2011 come up to date. Craigie in the OED in 1906 made no mention of a later stressed version but OED2 in 1989 at least got it in – though again only in second place where it unjustifiably remains now that OED has revised N words since 2003 (online 2012) as "Brit. /ˈnɛsᵻs(ə)rᵻli/ , /ˌnɛsəˈsɛrᵻli/ , U.S. /ˌnɛsəˈsɛrəli/ presumably on the advice of Clive Upton.

What I shou·d've liked to see in the Wells 2007 poll was whether anyone favoured the increasing use of the ash vowel /æ/ instead of /e/ in the ending -arily. The first time I ever observed this now fast spredding form was in the sev·nties from one of my departmental colleagues at Leeds University. I shd've categorised her as a speaker of mainstream GB and she had a Yorkshire background. I wondered whether she'd acquired this then-unusual variant at Edinburgh University. Subsequently I noticed the usage from other persons one of whom had a background of West Wales and the Wirral namely the distinguisht geneticist Steve Jones who was another Edinburgh graduate. Other people I noticed with the usage also had Scottish associations. These included BBC tv presenter Selina Scott (an early "sighting" noted as he·rd in 1982). She had a Yorkshire background but she had worked in Dundee. Others included M.P.s Liam Fox and Malcolm Rifkind; journalist Andrew Marr; Channel 4 News's Sarah Smith, Radio 4's Susan Rae and James  Naughtie, and Kirsti Wark of BBC Newsnight. These were largely noted no earlier than the 1990s.

At one stage it seemed possible that it was spre·d by Scottish influence but in the last decade-or-two "sightings" have occurred with increasing frequency and from speakers of a wide range of non-Scottish backgrounds including M.P.s David Blunkett, Vince Cable, Mike Gapes and Peter Hain; tv presenters Natasha Kaplinski, Huw Edwards and Andrew Graham-Dixon; politicians Rhodri Morgan and Lord Patten; broadcasters Fergal Keane and Waldemar Januscak; banker Sir Mervyn King, and so on.

The conclusion is that /-`ӕrəli/ was as parthenogenetic as was /km`pӕrəbl/ for comparable. That was quite unknown to Jones or Gimson and apparently first recorded by Wells in 1990. He was also first to record an /-`ӕrəli/. In LPD2 in 2000 he showed /-`ӕrəli/ variants for voluntarily (which he included in his 1998 poll where it was favoured by 12% of responders) and involuntarily tho not for primarily for which he had /-meər-/ as the only GB subvariant. CEPD had its first /-`ӕrəli/ in 2006 at voluntarily.

In various items the two principal PD's show occasional /-`eərəli/s as subvariants. These may well be chiefly survivals of the earlier versions by the shortening of which we presumably arrived at the current predominant version /-`erəli/.

PS  While I was proof-reading the above our Parish Council Newsletter arrived with a paragraph beginning... "The Churchyard is the setting for many significant events, not just internments or burials..." The auditory very slight difference is quite offen merely the length of an /m/ between /ɪn`tɜːmənt/ and /ɪn`tɜːmmənt/ when a commonplace assimilation takes place.

Blog 392

The 8th of April 2012

The Air/Square Diphthong.

Our energetic and stimulating fellow bloggist Geoff Lindsey has recently (4 Apr 2012) entered the lists on what is a very live question among British phoneticians. In his usual forthright fashion, he's declared the /ɛə/ diphthong to be past its sell-by date. In setting out his case he gave us the following eight sound clips to which I add my impression of the exact quality of each example and a comment or two.

(1) Language teacher Michel Thomas using it mid-sentence at prepare [eə].
One agrees that this (initial) quality is so close as to sound forren.
(2) King George VI in 1948 at "to declare..." and hesitating saying [ӕ̣ɐ̣].
One agrees that this sounds old-fashioned, both elements rather open.
(3) Clive Upton demonstrating "/ɛə/" isolately making the latter element caricaturishly open and prominent [(ˋˏ)ɛɑ̣ǁ]. This reminds me of old-time Army officers who were represented as saying /`puːnɑː/ for Poona.
(4) Jeremy Paxman saying [`ɛː|] `heir | to a `ˏbaronetcy | .
(5) and saying 'if he becomes Mayor [ˎmɛ·ǁ]. Cutting it off pretty short.
(6) Michael Rosen saying “I talk Estuary English: Am I 'getting ́there? With /ðeə/, narrowly [ðɛə̆] which didnt at all sound regional to me.
(7) unnamed continuity announcer saying 'by Eddie Mair' [mɛː]. Geoff 's indication of it is as long "[ɛɛ]" when it seems to me rather too short to deserve two of his ɛ's. [`·ɛdi ˎmɛ·ǁ].

(8) Finally Geoff sez "The [eə] pronunciation is now so old-fashioned that highly-trained actors are either unwilling or unable to use it even when playing period characters who would have had it. Here is the fictional Lady Mary from TV’s Downton Abbey, supposedly speaking during the First World War saying sure that you're there:" This [ˎɛ̞ːǁ] sounded rather open and breathy in a way that seemed suitably UGB to me. I didnt notice any schwa element but the clip stops so sharply it cd easily have been cut out. Anyway, any director who as·t his whole cast to adopt what they considered to be a 1912-era pronunciation wd either be in for a rebellion or at least have opened a can of worms.

Geoff also as·t "Do we teach students to produce [eə] while warning them that BBC announcers and journalists generally say [ɛɛ]?" I'm not sure he's right to say "generally" tho I'd agree if he sed "commonly". None of these clips, tho int·resting to hear, seemed to me to make any dent in my skepticism about his claims.

My concise advice to my students that I was giving back  in the sixties hardly seems to need amendment yet. It was "Generally realised as a long simple vowel (a) before consonants, (b) when unstressed (c) when stressed but in a structural word". [meaning essentially the extremely common words there, their and where and their derivatives. ]. (my Guide to English Pronunciation 1969 page 21.)

In both the Fry and Knowles counts (see Blog 388) /ɛə/ had a frequency of less than one percent. If we exclude checked occurrences and also weak (unstrest syllable) ones and the others I mentioned at (c) in the last paragraph, the remaining tokens of /eə/ I feel to still sound not necessarily obtrusively old-fashioned as narrow diphthongs tho they have extremely low frequency. So the matter under discussion isnt particularly easy to make observations on.

Geoff asks "Do we teach students to produce [eə] while warning them that BBC announcers and journalists generally say [ɛɛ]"? Why not simply offer them the choice adding your own preference but acknowledging that your opinion isnt shared by some pretty notable judges.

He sez "my heart sank as Upton attributed monophthongal [ɛɛ] to “younger people” " I tend to feel that it might contribute a little towards making matters a bit clearer if both he and Upton told us their definition of 'younger people'.

He quotes the John Wells home page saying"There are millions of English people..who still use a diphthong."
There's been a good deal of discussion on the matter Geoff now raises over the past few years. I commend my blogs Blogs 143, 249, 250 and 377 to those who wish to see even more discussion on this topic but also, and most of all, the detailed section "/ɛː/ versus /eə/"  in my article 'IPA vowel symbols for British English in dictionaries' which first appeared in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association Volume 33 Number 2 of December 2003 and may be seen here on my website as §5.1. If Geoff has re'd that praps he'll say whether he accepts my procedure for deciding which is the principal allophone of a phoneme — something that may be relevant but hasnt come up in the discussions — because it's been pretty relevant to my decision.

All this may not convert him to my agnostic position on this question but it might perhaps make him a little less assertive, I forbear to say dogmatic, about his present conviction.

Incident·ly, readers may be int·rested to know that I, personally, am and always have been a regular user of [ɛː] and not [ɛə] for the air/square vocalic phoneme, as are many other older QGB (quasi GB) speakers. I have no problem whatsoever with people who prefer to regard [ɛː] as the mainstream/predominant realisation of that phoneme in respect of any age group but I wd merely point out that no research known to me has ever settled the dou·t in this matter, so they hold their opinion either way purely on the basis of impressions. In the meantime I'm an advocate of the retention of a diphthong, /eə/ or /ɛə/, as the phoneme's representation in the teaching world and in reference books.