Archive 43 of JWL Blog


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24/12/2012More on Weakforms (viii).#431
11/12/2012The GB goat vowel before co-syllabic /l/.#430
01/12/2012Another Hardy Poem.#429
23/11/2012Superstrongforms and 'actually' etc.#428
10/11/2012The Higgins Boast.#427
28/10/2012A Poem by Thomas Hardy.#426
27/10/2012Weakforms (vii).#425
19/10/2012"Received Pronunciation" re-traversed.#424
04/10/2012R Dropping(ii).#423
24/09/2012Weakforms (vi) BY.#422

Blog 431

The 24th of December 2012

More on Weakforms (viii).

In my attem·tedly alphabetic listing of weakforms (a term briefly definable as 'an articulatorily reduced word form constituting a different set of phonemes from the word's full form') I mainly hav·nt yet gone beyond those beginning with one of the first three letters of the alphabet. We de·lt last with actually at Blog 428 and before that at 425 with can, come and bedroom etc, at 420 with because, at 422 with by, at 418 with able, almost, always, any, anybody and anyone, at 403 with and, and at 397 with only along with the importantly previously essentially unrecognised we're and nearly.

Something we've not mentioned much so far is the ease with which weakforms are produced by aphesis /`afəsɪs/, the loss of a weak vowel or a consonant in the beginning of or constituting the first syllable of a word. This is a familiar process from the history of the written language with well-known examples like the weakening of esquire to squire with the latter being establisht as an independent word. In fully relaxed styles this is perfec·ly common today among mainstream GB speakers giving, especially closely following vocalic sounds, items like it's ·bout time.., high ·bove the clouds, ·f you take my ·dvice, ·fraid so, the ·lectricity's off, I ·kspec(t) so, ·cording to my idea, go ·cross the road, try ·gain, it's not ·lowed (ie not allowed, sounding exactly as 'not loud' ) also less casually /ɪts nɒt l̩aʊd/ (with syllabic /l/), years 'go etc. Various words beginning with the spelling ex- as /ɪks/ or /ɪgz/ or / əks/ or /əgz/ are increasingly he·rd with elision of the first consonant of the prefix particularly often with  the word exactly which becomes /ɪ`zakli/ etc.

We've mentioned almost and always as recognised to an extent by some pronunciation lexicographers. In fully relaxed styles their first element, the independent word all, can readily shed its consonant as for instance what we may represent informally as aw by myself, aw my life, aw the time, ·f aw· goes well, aw night long and very commonly aw right. Altho awtho exists, prob·bly the more usual weakforms of although are the two with post assimilation of its /ð/ to an ell viz /ɔːl`ləʊ/ and /ɔː`ləʊ/.

Finally, while we're still dealing with weakforms beginning mainly with  a, b and c, there's a peculiar change we may mention that has been catching one's attention increasingly in quite recent years. It concerns the pronunciation of an before notably the words heroic, historic and horrific. Both an and its alternating form a descend from the Old English word aan (meaning 'one') which by shortening produced the weakform an which in turn itself weakened to a in the context of a following consonant. These two ended having the strongforms /an/ and /eɪ/ and the weakforms of them /ən/ and /ə/. By the Early Modern English period, when you used one of the few words like historic there were two natural possibilities. You used /ə/ if you selected its form sounding the initial aitch or otherwise you chose the form with the aitch 'silent' and then you employed the other weakform /ən/. I suspect that many speakers experience something of the feeling, which I share with them, that this slightly uncomfortable hiatus which the form /ə hɪstɒrɪk/ tends faintly to suggest something of a pedantic anxiety to sound 'correct'. Linguisticly less confident speakers, one suspects, first became aware that most speakers usually plum·t for the version with /ən/ and no aitch. However, being worried about dropping any aitch — the most heavily stigmatised ever of all features of English speech — they elected for /ən/ but kept the aitch. I've also encountered this recently with hereditary and harmonic.

 All this has been leading me to remark on the curious further recent development of the last two or three decades that more and more speakers seem to be favouring the practice of originally only 'anxious' speakers who were inclined to make it clear not only that they're not dropping any aitch but highlighting the fact by using the word an in its strongform /an/. It's begun to seem that one can't any longer hear of at least any historic or horrific happening without its being preceded by /an/ or /ən/ even from a variety of mature speakers such as Channel Four's Jon Snow, Professor Diarmaid McCulloch and the BBC Television News Presenter Sian Williams.

Blog 430

The 11th of December 2012

The GB goat vowel before co-syllabic /l/.

In 2006 Bente Rebecca Hannisdal of Bergen University Norway was awarded a doctorate for her study Variability and change in Received Pronunciation: A study of six phonological variables in the speech of television newsreaders. This impressive piece of work was based on data from the three international news channels BBC World, Sky News and ITV News. From each channel she selected ten presenters, five male and five female. At page 128 she sed ‘I have included only those presenters who have a (Mainstream) RP accent’ adding that the sole criterion for selecting the speakers’ was ‘non-localisability’. Given that there are not a few items of disagreement between observers as to what items are ‘RP’ or not, some might’ve been inclined to reject most of her selections on the grounds of the localisability to the southeast of the [ɒʊ] diphthong alone. At any rate, I recently refreshed my recollections of the fortunately still-available-online pdf of her work.

Unsurprisingly, I’m afraid, tho very regrettably, no information was supplied regarding the educational or regional backgrounds of her subjects. They were not named but referred to solely by numbers. These people are public performers just as stage or film actors are. They dont even partly hide their faces when they present news programmes and there’s a good deal of information about them available in the media. What reasons can there possibly’ve been for her concealing their identities. It’s true that Jones, Gimson and others wrote at length about how people speak with not a single reference to any individual, but isn't it time this senseless mealy-mouthedness was abandoned. It can surely only be a hangover from the absurd ‘gentlemanly’ Victorian tradition begun for radio announcers by Reith in imitation of the over-revered practice of The Times which for so much of its existence didnt credit contributions to their authors.

When writing in such publications as the Journal of the International Phonetic Association I’ve always felt perfectly free to attribute by name various pronunciations to individual broadcasters. An example was that on one occasion, in 1977 at page 30 of its Volume 7 No 1, I listed a dozen broadcasters who used unorthographic linking r’s. Tho such brashness didnt provoke a single whisper of protest, no-one else seemed inclined to follow suit. For instance Peter Roach’s valuable 2004 Specimen of British English was illustrated by the  pleasant voice of a lady who wou·d've surely not been particu·ly shy about being named.

Of Hannisdal's six variables three were vocalic and three consonantal. One of the former concerned the occurrences of the rather back and fairly open-mid values ‘before non-prevocalic /l/, in words like roll, cold, shoulder, etc’ displayed by various speakers in realising their phoneme /əʊ/ for which she followed Wells’s usual [ɒʊ] transcription. Daniel Jones, even in The Pronunciation of English (1958), a book with many references to London regional  speech, made no mention of any such special variety of /əʊ/ before dark ells. Within a few years, however, the first edition of Gimson's Introduction to the Pronunciation of English (1962:129) sed ‘In London .. a more open 1st element is often heard before [ɫ] e.g. in roll, dole, cold.’ Wells’s Accents of English (1982 4.2.6 etc) gave a good deal of space to discussing this and what he labelled as ‘the GOAT split’, assigning it to ‘London-flavoured .. Near RP’. By the time of his 1990 first edition of LPD its p.xxi referred to ‘the use of the special allophone ɒʊ before l in the same syllable in some varieties of RP’. At p xvi he had labelled a diagram with ‘ɒʊ near-RP variant in cold’. This showed some understandable hesitancy about whether its status was or was not assignable to what he understood by ‘RP’. Cruttenden in his 2008 latest revision of Gimson at page 142 describes the [ɒʊ] allophone as ‘typical of London Regional RP’.

Hannisdal came up (at page 155) with the rather surprising finding that 24 of her 30 speakers ‘distinguish categorically between GOAT and GOAL and use the [ɒʊ] variant in pre-/l/ items ... only two speakers (2 and 28) do not have the [ɒʊ] allophone’. She ventured the comment (at page 157) that her findings were ‘a clear indication that this feature should be considered a part of modern non-regional RP’.

It’s going to be int·resting in future to note how far this newly more seriously to be considered tendency is corroborated by other observers. Non-native speakers at this stage wou·d not be well advised to rush to adjust their performance to incorporate this feature until wider recognition is accorded to it. The recent remark by a bloggist that ‘Pronouncing ʊɫd rather than kɒʊɫd is generally considered ɒʊld-fashioned these days’ is extremely premature. I say this in full consciousness of the fact that Professor Wells supplied testimonial (now sadly soundless) in his blog of the 3rd of May last year that Prince William cou·d use [ɒʊ] so that ‘it’s clear that the ɒʊ allophone before dark l is now a regular [sic] part of proper, pukka, echt, RP’. I’ve only noticed it as a rarity so far among GB speakers but I shall have to keep a caref·l lookout for it in future to note how far it may prove to become widely fashionable. I cert·nly dont feel disposed to classify it as ‘Mainstream General British’ as yet. It wou’dnt be the first time I’d noticed Londonisms (including ones that didnt persist) in the speech of members of the Royal Family and I share Dr Hannisdal’s preference for a ‘non-localisable’ definition when it comes to GB.

PS:A striking example of user of an /ɒʊ/ is the Etonian former prime minister David Cameron who sounds markedly London-area in ending a speech with the word soul as he sed it on the 23rd of January 2013. One can hear him saying it courtesy of Kraut’s English Phonetic Blog at the posting ‘Cameron’s heart and sol [sic]’ of the 26th of January 2013 by inserting ‘Cameron’ into his ‘Search’ box.

Blog 429

The 1st of December 2012

Another Hardy Poem.

This time the phonetic int·rest is mainly in what pronunciations the poet might've expected to be used in saying or singing the lyric — especially the Latin phrases. The poem is a witty, light-hearted, playful complaint to his maker (Creator, the Almighty or President of the Immortals as he puts it elsewhere) about the unsatisfactory sort of life it has been his fate to live. Hardy was, in his maturity at least, an agnostic but his religious background me·nt a great deal to him. Here's the poem with free translations of the Latin phrases. Its title is often given as "So I have fared" with as sub-title "After Reading Psalms XXXIX, XL, etc." but the latter is its only title in the Complete Poems of 1976.

Simple was I and was young;
         Kept no gallant tryst, I;
Even from good words held my tongue
         Quoniam Tu fecisti! [Because Thou hast so created me]
Through my youth I stirred me not,
         High adventure missed I
Left the shining shrines unsought;
Yet — me deduxisti!  [Thou hast led me thus]
At my start by Helicon
         Love-lore little wist I;
Worldly less; but footed on
         Why? Me suscepisti! [As Thou hast brought me to be]
When I failed at fervid rhymes,
         'Shall,' I said 'persist I?'
'Dies' (I would add at times)       
         'Meos posuisti!' [My days .. have been thus by Thee appointed]
So I have fared through many suns;
         Sadly little grist I
Bring my mill, or any one's,
         Domine, Tu scisti! [Lord, so hast Thou ordained]
And at dead of night I call:
         'Though to prophets list I,
Which hath understood at all?
         Yea: Quem elegisti?'  [Whom hast Thou chosen so?]
We've transcribed it below mainly as Hardy may have imagined it spoken in his mind's ear: there are other equally possible versions at many places especially when it's sung and as regards the Latin items. There's a well-known superb setting of it by the incomparable English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56) in his glorious Hardy song cycle Earth and Air and Rain. I've liss·end to two or three recordings and they seem quite closely agreed on most dou·tful items at least about what Finzi was likely to've favoured but it's hardly likely that any tradition survives of what Hardy (1840-1928) wd've made of them.
The vowel that ends each stanza adhered to how in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England teachers of Latin woud've spoken the words. Hardy woud·ve been accustomed to that style in his youth. He wou'dve cert·nly known later about the schism that occurred towards the end of the latter century between the revisionists who had accepted the findings of historical phonetics that they wd've in the Rome of Virgil been [i] rather than such diphthongs. However, they suited his purposes for this poem in which a mildly archaic flavour isnt out of place. The singers I've noted treat the three words scisti, elegisti and suscepisti in what seems rather to be influenced by the Continental or at least Italian tradition. In other places some singers at least use the revised Latin style of today's schools eg singing /k/ for the c in fecisti. The item one wonders about most has been also treated that way, saying [di.eɪz]. Hardy wou'dve known it as /`daɪ.iːz/ to quote the OED entry that hasnt had its pronunciation updated since 1895. That apparently lingers on among lawyers at least in their term dies non. The expression dies irae, ie 'day of wrath' I'm accustomed to say as /diːeɪz ɪəreɪ/— no dou·t coz of Verdi's Requiem containing such a movement. LPD gives priority to /ɪəraɪ/. I hope when OED gets round to these they give transcriptions for the phrases as well as the headword. Incident·ly, it's quite unrealistic to deplore the mixings up we do of these sorts: they're inevitable and it's thautless, not to say reprehensible, to complain about them.

sɪmpl wɒz aɪ ӕnd wz jᴧŋ;
    kept noʊ gӕlənt trɪst, aɪ;
ivn frm gʊd wɜdz held maɪ tᴧŋ
    kwouniӕm tu fekɪstaɪ!

θru maɪ juθ aɪ stɜd mi nɒt,
    haɪ ədventʃə mɪst aɪ
left ðə ʃaɪnɪŋ ʃraɪnz ᴧnsɔt;
    jet — meɪ deɪdʊksɪstaɪ!

ӕt maɪ stɑt baɪ helɪkɒn
    lᴧv-lɔ lɪtl wɪst aɪ;
wɜːldli les; bət fʊtɪd ɒn
    waɪ? meɪ suʃepɪstaɪ!

wen aɪ feɪld ət fɜvɪd raɪmz,
    'ʃӕl,' aɪ sed 'pəsɪst aɪ?'
'di.eɪz' (aɪ wʊd ӕd ət taɪmz)
    'meɪ.ɒs pɒzu.ɪstaɪ!'

səʊ aɪ həv fɛəd θru meni sᴧnz;
    sӕdli lɪtl grɪst aɪ
brɪŋ maɪ mɪl ɔr eniwᴧnz,
    dɒmɪneɪ, tu ʃɪstaɪ!

ӕnd ӕt ded əv naɪt aɪ kɔl:
    'ðəʊ tu prɒfɪts lɪst aɪ,
wɪʧ hӕθ ᴧndəstʊd ӕt ɔl?'
    jeɪ: kwem eleʤɪstaɪ?

Blog 428

The 23rd of November 2012

Superstrongforms and 'actually' etc.

Henry Sweet in his 1885 book in German which re-appeared five years later translated as A Primer of Spoken English was of course perfec·ly right to draw attention (for the very first time as it happ·ned) to the fact that non-native speakers of English wd importantly improo·ve the naturalness of their performance if they gave close attention to variations in pronunciation that — automatic·ly for native speakers — occurred in normally fluent conversational style to a particular group of extremely common words. Sweet called the words he singled out for attention 'weak forms' which he was perfec·ly right to do. However, subsequent writers have almost universally referred to them as if they were the only examples in the language of words with weakened pronunciations. Most later writers have expanded upon Sweet's list of fifty-one words. It has been gen·ral to describe them practic·ly all as 'functional' or 'structural' as opposed to 'content' words but such forms can't be limited satisfact·rily to only the ones that have been customarily included. None of these writers has ever offered a satisfact·ry definition of exac·ly what they mean by a 'weak form'. They may be noted moreover to vary consid·rably in what they feel able admit to the categ·ry of  'weak form'.

Regarding the topic of the defining of the term 'weakform', here's an alternative wording of my definition of it for the benefit of those who might find it may help them to understand more clearly that it's the only kind of definition that holds water: Where a word exists in two or more phonemically diff·rent forms one of which is not reduced or weakened in articulatory force compared with the word's other form or forms, that form may be termed the word's "strongform" and the other form or forms may (each) be termed a "weakform" of that word.

Most if not all words may be considered on usually relatively rare occasions to be able to take "superstrongforms" by having what may be regarded as abnormally forceful articulations of a kind which are not employed in the word's most usual strest occurrences. These are of two types, the phonological, where phonemic composition is modified, and the phonetic where the modifications of the articulation are not simply changes to phonemic structure. An example of a phonological superstrongform wou·d be /həʊ as in eg Holy Moses! where the doubled ell wd augment the word's phonemic composition from its normal form /həʊli/.  An example of the phonetic type may be found in the common emphatic articulation of the word 'absolutely' in the form [`ӕpːsəluːtli] ie with devoicing of its usual /b/ along with relative prolongation of the resultant [p] with possibly a firmer closure than is usual for the word's bilabial consonant. If this word is uttered with a normal fairly mildly strest articulation it need not be categorised as a superstrongform but only as an alternant strongform of the word. It may well be impossible to positiv·ly decide whether one or other of the two forms /ˌӕbsə`luːtli/ and /ˌӕpsə`luːtli/ is necessarily to be deemed the strongform of the word especially if both are employed in alternation by the same speaker. Another phonetic example is the exclamatory utterance of the word 'God!' as [kʰ ɒʰ tː ̚] where its final consonant may be given extra-tight closure which may be abnormally prolonged and very weakly or not audibly released. Even if released it may not be voiced as in the word's ordinary strongform. The whole word may also be breathily articulated. Another example is given in our Blog 391 of the word until.

It shou·d be noted that by our definition there is no limitation, as has been the tradition, of the term 'weakform' to only determiners, pronouns, connectives, prepositions and verbs but it may apply to various other word classes notably including adverbs. We take the example of the very high-incidence adverb 'actually'. Let's look at the first form given in each of the major pronouncing dictionaries: these are CEPD ˈӕk.tʃu.ə(.)li, LPD ˈӕk tʃu ̮əli and ODP ˈak(t)ʃʊəli (= OED 2010). They may be alleged to be easiest for the EAL learner to adopt (in the light of their spellings) but they're all conservative almost to the point of archaism. Until Gimson replaced the onset of the second syllable with /tʃ/ in 1978, EPD had always had /tj/ for it, a rare bird now if not a complete dodo. But surely these current versions with two vowels (in any relationship) between the first and last syllables are not at all the predominantly employed form of the word in isolate use, leave alone fluent speech, that these listings must be presumed to indicate (least of all in EPD's presumably explicitly four-syllable type). LPD is the most credible with its three-syllable possibility but surely its clear medial /u/ is less usual than a schwa. I was confident in compiling my CPD in 1972 that the most normal isolate version was /`ӕktʃəli/ (by the way: I felt obliged in my circumstances then to use final /-ɪ/ in such words rather than be taken to suggest that I was encouraging adoption of a strong final vowel as in /`ӕktʃəliː/) and forty years on I'm as confident as ever th·t that's still so. The ODP/OED judgment that /`ӕkʃʊəli/ is a normal, let alone common, GB variant is far from the truth — however common /ʃ/ rather than /tʃ/ versions may be in the US. So much for the (suggestedly current) strongforms of actually.

This very popular adverb is common as a 'filler' meaninglessly allowing the speaker to think what to say next. This means it receives quite a variety of weakforms which in fact not very commonly include LPD's /`ӕkʃuəli/ and /`ӕktjuəli/ the  latter of which can surely sound to many of us conspicuously precious these days, tho its /`ӕkʃəli/ is perfec·ly common GB. LPD in addition has a note quite rightly saying There is also a very casual form ˈӕk ʃi. Both LPD and EPD include what is prob·bly the word's second most frequent form /`ӕktʃuli/: it's offen not very clear in such versions whether the medial vowel is /ə, ʊ/ or /u/. Only ODP/OED offer variants with syllabic ells. These are credible as possibilities but seem hardly so as common occurrences in normally fluent speech — sustaining a consonant enuff in this case for it to become syllabic tends to militate agenst fluency.


Blog 427

The 10th of November 2012

The Higgins Boast.

Ben Trawick-Smith is the American founder of Dialect Blog, a "learning site for people who want to know more about English dialects". He's an actor who's been claimed to've learned how to perform over a hundred diff·rent accents. On November the fifth he posted this: "I heard rumors in college of a speech teacher with an exceptional knack for guessing dialects. He could supposedly pinpoint, within ten miles, where a student was from. “Ohio,” he would deduce. “About seven miles west from Akron.” “Bangor, Maine.” “St. Louis. The western suburbs.” Such legends have floated around drama schools and linguistics departments for years. All are variations of “The Higgins Boast,” the claim Shaw’s Pygmalion protagonist makes in Act I: You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets. Ben continued: "Alas, I find that most such boasts are exaggerations, although more plausible when Shaw was writing .. Henry Higgins was “speaking” before modern tape recorders existed, so I don’t entirely buy his claim. .. So while I think .. geographically precise guesses are possible in some cases, I find the idea that someone can pull this trick off for the entire English-speaking world (or even the entirety of America or the UK) fairly implausible."

A commenter on that blog using the name "Ed" sed "There were reports that Stanley Ellis, one of the fieldworkers in the Survey of English Dialects, had this ability. One case that received media attention was when (apparently) he located 'Wearside Jack' [John Samuel Humble] a hoaxer who impersonated the Yorkshire Ripper to the village of Castletown in Sunderland...  However, I’m not convinced. I think that either Ellis made a lucky guess or that the reports got exaggerated (I can’t find any direct comments from Ellis on the subject). To locate someone to a village, you must need more material than that".

Stanley Ellis and I were both members of the staff of Leeds University. He lectured chiefly on the English language in its School of English and I worked especially on spoken English in its Department of Phonetics. After the broadcasting of the notorious phonecall purporting to come from the serial murderer who became popularly referred to as the 'Yorkshire Ripper', Stanley and I met for a discussion on the matter, both having been approached by the police for advice. During the fifties he had carried out all of the hours-long SED (Leeds University Survey of English Dialects) interviews with the informants in the farthest-but-one-north English county of Durham. These included one made at the village of Washington in an area not far from the western outskirts of Sunderland, the port where the River Wear flows into the North Sea. He told me that, not only did one of the speakers exhibit exactly the kind of dialect he had found in that area, but that he sounded strikingly like the phonecaller in less definable ways — as he was able to confirm by playing back the sound recording he'd made of the informant. This was indeed a lucky stroke but in no way termable as involving guesswork. To my knowledge, Stanley never insisted that the speaker originated from precisely the village of Castletown but he no dou·t did suggest that, when the police decided to search for possible suspects in the area, it cd be a suitable starting place. [He'd been particularly struck by what must've been voice quality features of one or more people he'd he·rd there but it was nothing that he cd scientifc·ly define or attempt to record in any ord·nry phonetic notation.] A few weeks afterwards, Stanley and I were taken to a police venue where we were able to tell the assembled detectives working on the case that we were both of the opinion that the phone call was by a hoaxer. This matter was disregarded by those directing the investigation and we were given to understand that it was wisht that we shd not disclose our opinions to the press. After about a year my patience gave out and I decided to accept that embargo no longer, as can be gathered here.

As to the question of the "Higgins Boast", I don't even think, aside from my low opinion of his knowledge of phonetics, it's likely that GBS really believed anyone cou·d place any speaker within even six miles. He obviously wasnt willing to let the truth get in the way of an entertaining story, however preposterous. A few localities in the pre-1914 era in which he was writing might still have had some communities for example separated by a natural feature such as a river so as to produce the kind of circumstance suggested, but examples must've been very few indeed. In ref·rence to London, not only can experts not assign speakers to even large areas but I've not come across any expert who can reliably assign a speaker to even north or south of the River Thames. Among people with whom I've discussed this matter have been some who've spent most of their life in the London area including Professor John C. Wells of University College London who wrote in detail on London speech in his highly respected book on the Accents of English. All agreed with me. Among the thirty or so responses to Ben's post there was one I cou·dnt improve upon, by the well-known American speech expert Amy Stoller. It contained the following:"That some people are both especially knowledgeable and/or especially gifted is .. true. But this? “Brought up in Hounslow. Mother Welsh, I should think.” Let us remember that Pygmalion is fiction, and comedic fiction at that. Does it contain large truths? Yes! Is every detail a verifiable fact? Absurd!".

Blog 426

The 28th of October 2012

A Poem by Thomas Hardy.

I dont read a great deal of verse these days but when I do it's likeliest to be my fav·rət poet Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928). He was born near Dorchester the county town of Dorset in the southwest of England. He wrote a dozen or so mainly tragic novels which became so successful that he cd afford to spend the later decades of his life doing what he'd always liked best, which was writing poetry, much of it characterised by his observations of nature. I've re·d all his novels but not yet, at least, re·d all his poetry. His collected verse is a fat volume of a thousand pages. Anyway, I recently came across one poem that I hadnt noticed before. It's far from among his best but it's specially int·resting because in it he refers to his speech. Sadly his voice was never recorded but he actually mentions in this very modest little lyric the fact that he never lost his southwestern retroflex "arrs". Here's a copy of it with transcriptions that include making some sort of shot at conveying the sounds he was thinking of when he referred also to the accents of people from Scotland, Ireland and of posh Home Counties types. These last were I imagine who he was thinking of when he sed 'Middlesex'. Here it is not attempting to guess his precise accent but showing where he was likely t've had traces of his 'curly' Dorset rhotics.

   The Spring Call  /ðə ˈsprɪŋ ˎkɔːl/

Down Wessex way, when spring's a-shine,
    The blackbird's "pret-ty de-urr !"
In Wessex accents marked as mine
    Is heard afar and near.

/ˈdaʊn | `wesɪks ˏweɪ, wen ˈsprɪŋz ə ˏʃaɪn
    ðə ˈblӕkbɜːrdz  [ pɹɪt tiː `diː ˏəɽɽ ]
ɪn ˈwesɪks `ӕksnts | ˈmɑːkt əz `maɪn
    ɪz ˈhɜːrd | əˈfɑːr ən ˎnɪər.

He flutes it strong, as if in song
    No R's of feebler tone
Than his appear in "pretty dear", 
    Have blackbirds ever known

i ˈfluːts ɪt ˏstrɒŋ, əz ˈɪf ɪn `ˏsɒŋ
    `nəʊ ɑːrz əv `fiːblər `ˏtəʊn
ðən `hɪz əpɪər ɪn `prɪti `ˏdɪər
    əv `ˏblӕkbɜːrdz `ˏevər `nəʊn

Yet they pipe "prattie deerh!" I glean,
    Beneath a Scottish sky,
And "pehty de-aw" amid the treen 
    Of Middlesex or nigh.

jet ðeɪ ˈpaɪp  [pɾatiː `diˏᴧɾɾ] aɪ ˏgliːn
    bəniːθ ə `skɒtɪʃ ˏskaɪ,
ӕn [pɛte `deɪˏɒː] əˈmɪd ðə ˈtriːn
    əv `mɪdlseks ɔː naɪ

While some folk say — perhaps in play—
    Who know the Irish isle,
’Tis "purrity dare!" in treeland there 
    When songsters would beguile.

waɪl `sᴧm fəʊk ˏseɪ — pərhӕps ɪn `ˏpleɪ—
    hu nəʊ ði `aɪrɪʃ ˏaɪl,
tɪz [pɹɹə t̞iː deeˏəɽɽ] ɪn triːlӕnd `ˏðɛər
    wen `sɒŋstərz wəd biˏgaɪl.

Well: I'll say that the listening birds
    Say, hearing "pret-ty de-urr !"
However strangers sound such words,
    That's how we sound them here.

`wel: `aɪl seɪ ðət ðə ˈlɪsnɪŋ ˈbɜːrdz
     `seɪ, hɪərɪŋ [ pɹɪt tiː `diː ˏəɽɽ ]—
haʊ`evər `streɪnʤərz saʊnd sᴧʧ ˏwɜːrdz
    `ðӕts haʊ wi saʊnd ðm `hɪər.

Yes, in this clime at pairing time,
    As soon as eyes can see her
At dawn of day, the proper way
    To call is "pret-ty de-urr!"

`jes, ɪn `ðɪs ˏklaɪm | ət ˏpɛərɪŋ taɪm,
    əz `suːn əz `aɪz kən `siː ˏər
ət dɔːn əv deɪ, ðə `prɒpər  weɪ
    tə ˈkɔːl | ɪz  [ pɹɪt tiː `diː əɽɽ ]

Blog 425

The 27th of October 2012

Weakforms (vii).

This series on lexicographically neglected weakform words has mainly been aimed at functor items rather than weakenings in the general vocabulary so that I've recently passed over the word bedroom at its alphabetic place. Even so the fact that it does have weakforms seems quite worth noting. Praps some speakers use the alternant /`bedrʊm/ as a weakform but anyway there're perfec·ly common occurrences of a weakform with schwa employed before vowels and other, prob·bly  more frequent ones, with syllabic /m/. Examples are /bedrm `slɪpəz/ bedroom slippers and /bedrəm `aɪz/ bedroom eyes. The same applies to bathroom. The compound bathroom mat offen undergoes the kind of simplification (degemination) which regularly turns some more into /sə mɔː/ resulting in /bɑːθrə `mat/ even for speakers who wd usually have no schwa in /bɑːθrm/. Some people have /bedrm/ or /bedrəm/ as strongforms. A similar pair may show schwa-less mushroom, eg in /mᴧʃrm `suːp/ mushroom soup, but schwa favoured in /mᴧʃrəm `ɒmlət/ mushroom omlette. Note that for a word like headroom the semantic force of the room element wd normally be too strong for it to submit to weakening.

The next functor weakform word we come to is the verb form can. As with words we've just considered we see what I've called OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE operating. This requires that, within rhythm groups, before vocalic sounds the vowelled weakform /kən/ occurs. Elsewhere either /kən/ or the vowelless /kn/ may happen to be used. Certain prosodic contexts may favour one or the other. It can offen be quite hard to hear whether or not a schwa is present. However, it's easy to observe that no schwa is present if a syllabic /n/ is at all long: otherwise there'd be the very unlikely impression of two syllables. Cruttenden 2008:266 properly gives both forms but without comment on their distribution. ODP, with its usual minimalist treatment of such matters, gives only /kən/. So, surprisingly, does LPD3 but I take this to be a misprint which was intended to show kən with italic schwa to indicate "optionally omitted". CEPD gives /kən, kn̩/, the latter, we note, with subscript syllabicity mark, and also, very surprisingly, /kŋ/ followed by the (actually superfluous) note "occurs only before words beginning with /k/ or /g/".

The surprise in this last case is because there seems no point in according recognition to /kŋ/ as a third weakform when what we have is merely a matter of ord·n·ry predictable likely assimilations possibly occurring. It wdve been equally reasonable (and similarly unnecessary) to list a variant /km/ as used before labials. This is a hangover from Jonesian practice that Wells sensibly didnt follow. One may ask why, in the circumstances, EPD didnt also give the vowelled variant /kəŋ/ as indeed it does for the prefix con- at eg congratulate. This suggests raising the very embarrassing question of why no pronouncing dictionary has ever acknowledged the perfec·ly common occurrence of vowelless forms of the prefix con-. It'd make perfect sense and harmonise reasonably with practice in other cases if all words with prefixed unstrest con- and com- were shown with italic schwa in CEPD and LPD.

Another notable non-functor weakform word is come. Only LPD records its existence as having the weakform /kəm/ which it classifies as 'occasional'. It even has the alphabetic entry "c'mon", also to be found in the OED where it's labelled as 'colloquial' and described as an 'elliptical' form of 'come on' recorded earliest in 1934. They both give its pronunciation as /kəm ˈɒn/. A sentence such as ‘Can you come up to me or shall I come over to you’ wou·dnt sound atall unusual in casual or conversational GB speech with /kəm/ at both occurrences of come.

The word could /kʊd/ obviously has the weakform /kəd/ which for very many younger GB speakers is its strongform. The only other comment of int·rest here, is to mention that in very casual delivery a GB speaker may employ the vowelless form /kd/ but only in situations where its /d/ can become the initial consonant in a syllable like the /də/ occurring in e.g. I could have sworn... as /aɪkdə `swɔn.../.

The negative contraction couldn't is not recorded as having any weakform in EPD, ODP or OED. LPD has the very common minor weakform /kʊdn/ which GB speakers usually avoid at the ends of rhythm groups (where it's of course particu·ly prominent) which fact is conveyed not quite satisfactr·ily by the note 'in standard speech used mainly before a consonant'. The weakness in question can be illustrated by an exchange like "I cou·dnt ask him No, you cou·dnt" in which the first orthographic word-final /t/ cd be elided but omitting the second wou·dnt sound like normal GB usage: /aɪ `kʊdn `ˏɑːsk ɪm — ˎnəʊ. ju `kʊdnt./ LPD adds 'This word has no weak form' a view which we've already dissented from at our Blog 396. Wells very much acknowledgedly has his EFL readers in mind and it cert·nly wd be of no benefit to them to concern themselves to adopt the weakform /kədnt/. There do happen to be very casual weakforms of non-final couldn't which drop the /d/ or pre-assimilate it to another /n/ before its existing /n/ giving eg /aɪ 'kʊnn̩ `seɪ/ for I cou·dnt say. More extremely the syllabic /n̩/ cd be elided leaving only a single simple /n/ except pre-pausally.

Blog 424

The 19th of October 2012

"Received Pronunciation" re-traversed.

In Historical Linguistics of English: An International Handbook, edited by Professor Alexander Bergs of Osnabrück and Professor Laurel Brinton of Vancouver and publisht from Berlin by Walter de Gruyter, there appeared in July a very substantial article (well over 7, 000 words) from Oxford Professor Lynda Mugglestone entitled 'Varieties of English: Received Pronunciation'. It "explores the history and identity of ‘Received Pronunciation’ .. from the 18th century", (when talk of a non-localized British accent, it's suggested, first appears) "to contemporary discussion of both usage and attitudes", including what she calls "crises of definition and identity. New archive material" offer·d takes the form of quotations from the sev·ral unstartling unpublisht documents she's examin·d at the BBC's "Written Archives Center" [her editors seemingly require a transatlantic rather than the BBC's own spelling]" near Reading in the process of attempting to "evaluate the question of its continued validity, either as label or linguistic reality".
This is a reprise of the topic of the final chapter of her 360-page book "Talking Proper. The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol" publisht in 1995 and revised in 2003 with the addition of that important extra chapter on "The Rise (and Fall?) of Received Pronunciation". The present article begins by citing comments on the 'identity and role' of RP, remarking that 'its claims as automatic reference model in dictionaries and in foreign language [sic] teaching have .. recently been contested'. She quotes Abercrombie's 1951 remark that the existence of RP "is an anachronism in present-day democratic society" giving its date as if of its 1965 reprinting. She adds that "Roach later concurred". Misquoting the page (as viii when it shdve been 3) on which in his well-known EAL textbook from its third edition of 2000, she sez Roach referred to (actually only the name, it isnt made totally clear) Received Pronunciation as "old-fashioned and misleading". The current 2008 edition of that book repeats the opinion at its page 3. A few lines later she quotes that Roach book again, this time getting the page (if not the wording) right, as saying of EAL teaching, “If we had a completely free choice of model accent it would be possible to find more suitable ones”. Absolutely unjustifiably, she claims that thus he 'argues, advocating Scottish or Irish accents instead'. This overlooks his immediately following perfectly clear acknowledgment, after saying what he thaut coud've been their advantages (presumably in some ideal world), that such a move was "not a practical possibility". He was 'advocating' nothing of the sort. Nor has to my knowledge anyone else really seriously done so, leave alone produced related materials.

She next remarks that some writers continue "foregrounding both social evaluation and supraregionality as salient elements in its construction".. adding that others "contest the viability of socially orientated (and especially class-based) meanings". She then turns to saying "Elsewhere the demise of RP is predicted .. in favor of [what is] widely labeled Estuary English" quoting Przedlacka's (2000) justified dismissal of it as merely "a putative variety .. located in the Home Counties". In what at this stage constitutes an aside, she turns to the origins of the term RP rightly devoting attention to the influences of Henry Cecil Wyld and Alexander John Ellis. She makes it clear that Daniel Jones didnt quite exactly take over RP as a ready-made term, pointing out with commendable precision that Ellis "was .. first to deploy the initialism by which Received Pronunciation would often later be known: “rp., received pronunciation, or that of pronouncing dictionaries and educated people” ". After this she returns to saying "The search for a less loaded, more neutral, designation for the speech of those who do not reveal their regional origins by means of accent has, as we have seen, prompted a proliferation of alternative labels." On coming to Roach's term 'BBC (English Pronunciation)' she effectively dismisses it with "in an era in which the BBC is actively extending the accents used upon the airwaves, including in authoritative domains such as the news (and the traditional bastions of RP, on BBC Radios 3 and 4), the label “BBC pronunciation” can also create problems." Then she continues, quoting Roach 2004 from JIPA. Apparently treating as fact his questionable claim that “[t]he number of native speakers of this accent who originate in Ireland, Scotland and Wales is very small and probably diminishing, and it is therefore a misnomer to call it an accent of BRITISH English”, she claims that your bloggist's "favored “GB” (“General British”) is equally liable to dissent."

This last comment seems misinterpretation of my definition of General British as a pronunciation label. When I first introduced the term and its initialism GB in the first issue of my (Oxford) Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English in 1972 I equated it (at its p.xiv) precisely with Gimson's terminology of the kind 'the general Received Pronunciation of British English'. For the past century at least, the term British normally excludes Irish, ie includes only England, Scotland and Wales. In my opinion, very substantial numbers of the inhabitants thruout all three countries whose daily speech is non-dialectal ('Standard') English employ exclusively or mainly General British pronunciational usages. This, I submit, makes the term "General" British pronunciation a very feasible one.

I do not consider the terms 'Non-Regional Pronunciation' or 'BBC Pronunciation' grossly unacceptable but I feel that General British/GB has advantages they both lack, notably of conciseness and explicitness regarding geographical location and diffusion. Of these two serious rivals, I have the greater sympathy with the former because it lays emphasis, where I feel it shou·d best be placed, on the geographical diffusion of the accent while avoiding any invidious and/or questionable references to its sociological status. I think its aim might perhaps have been more succinctly achieved by adopting 'neutral' rather than 'non-regional'. Its initialism 'NRP', by incorporating the two letters of the item it replaces (tho the 'r' doesnt stand for the same word), might well cause slight unease if not confusion in some quarters. It also lacks part-of-world identification. What is me·nt by 'BBC Pronunciation' is likely to be quite widely understood because of its history as an informal term among British people. As a geographical identifier it is effective but not free from cert·n objections including that the term has never been recognised, let alone adopted, by the BBC itself. From the sociological standpoint it perhaps carries something of the disdvantageous baggage of 'received'. Its employment has to be prefixed with a caveat that, altho in its earlier days liss·ners to the BBC cd be confident of hearing "BBC Pronunciation" from its staff speakers, over the past half century this has become increasingly not the case even from the Corporation's overseas services. It may well be felt by some that its history of markedly informal popular use must to some extent tend to taint its serious application in the vocabulary of linguistics.

There is one other serious contender which needs to be mentioned because it has obviously gained in currency of recent years as a consequence of its appearance since 1999 in the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. When Jones edited (anonymously) the 1948 booklet entitled The Principles of the International Phonetic Association he included among the fifty or so examples of the alphabet's use a Specimen of English which he subtitled in brackets "(One variety of Southern British)". This he was ord·n·rily elsewhere at the time disposed to refer to as 'Received Pronunciation' but one may presume that he was observing a tradition that the Association didnt express preferences for rival terms for items such as language varieties. When Professor Francis Nolan fulfilled admirably the main responsibility for the editing of Part 1 of the Handbook he was presumably following this custom when at page 4 he referred to the "two varieties General American and Standard Southern British". Unfortunately this formerly very little used expression and its initialism SSB(E) include two very questionable choices of word. The first problematic term Nolan himself identified as being so by his bracketed admission "(where 'Standard' should not be taken as implying a value judgment of 'correctness')". It seems far better to avoid a word altogether rather than to have to instruct readers not to interpret it in its normal meaning. The other unsuitable choice was the word 'Southern' which wd serve perfectly well to describe the ultimate historical sources of the variety but c·n only be deplored as a choice when one considers the very consid·rable numbers of speakers born and bred in the north of England and in Scotland and Wales who are native speakers of the variety.

Blog 423

The 4th of October 2012

R Dropping(ii).

Our Blog 385 promised a return to the topic of /r/ elision. I hinted then at the absence of adequate coverage in pronunciation lexicography of words in one notable group mamely of words containing an earlier syllable beginning with the cluster /pr/ or /fr/ from which its /r/ is lost when another /r/ follows in a later syllable of the word. Such dropt /r/s seem to be particu·ly tho not necessarily prompted when the later /r/s occur in the onsets of strong syllables. So words like preference and prosperous arent to be expected to lose their latter /r/s of their first syllables. Those which are offen found to lose them include preliminary, prerogative, prescribe, prescription, prescriptive, priority, procrastinate, program, programme, progress, progression, progressive, pronounce, pronunciation, proprietary, proprietor, propriety, propeller, propose, propulsion, proscriptive, protractor, protrude, protrusion. The word programme is particu·ly easy to observe becoz it may be he·rd very frequently all round the clock from all manner of broadcasters. It's most offen /`pəʊgram/ but also very offen /`prəʊgam/ and, even so, quite frequently /`prəʊgram/. Only very occasionally does one hear /`pəʊgam/ from speakers who're particu·ly relaxed or particu·ly in a hurry— but it does turn up now and then.

The only common items with the much less frequent cluster /fr/ are frustration, infra-red and infrastructure which last seems to chiefly take the elided form [`ɪɱfəstrᴧkʧə]. The other two one feels less confident to comment on coz they too infrequently crop up to be very sure about but infra-red apparently fairly offen drops an /r/. LPD's only variants of these words are ones having slightly surprisingly epenthetic /t/. Neither CEPD nor ODP has any r-dropping variant of this or any of our other examples so far. Cert·n words show somewhat sim·lar behaviour eg entrepreneur which is prob·bly most offen /ɒntrəpə`nɜː/. The word protuberance is sometimes pronounced /pə`truːbərəns/ by the not inconsiderable numbers of speakers who confusedly connect it with protrude. The term spectrogram offen shows a comp·rable anticipative pattern to the ones described above by losing its first /r/, among phoneticians at least, and so becoming /`spektəgram/. Those who might imagine that Scottish speakers pronounce ev·ry r of the spelling may care to note that not on·y is that very far from true but that they even may drop /r/s that not all speakers in England elide. For example the Scottish politician Alex Salmond sez /pə`skrɪpʃn/.

Turning from dissimilatory types of /r/ elision to others, one may mention a couple of rhythmic·ly complement·rily distributed extreme weakforms of from  /fəm/ and /fm/ ie [fm̩]. Perhaps, besides its weakform /praps/, has the even weaker and more informal but not uncommon /paps/. I he·rd it the other day from the admired BBC Radio 4 presenter of the Today programme Sarah Montague — unscripted of course. Just after I'd finisht writing this I happen·d to return to a podcast from the BBC radio series The Life Scientific in which Richard Dawkins was the interviewee. In one of his first few sentences he sed ' turns out that /paps/ that wasnt quite right..'
It's always a pleasure to provide an example that readers can check out for themselves.

By the way, the simplification of the /fr-/ cluster by dropping of its /r/ is to be seen in the historical development of the feminine forename Frances which having been shorten·d to Fran was afterwards familiarised to Franny and later-still reduced to Fanny.

Many /r/s are dropt medially in polysyllabic words with no particular reason other than the rhythmic pressure to utter the item in a manner that fits it cumftably into its sentence.  None of the three major dictionaries give recognition to the common forms /`tempəʧə/ for temperature or /`sekətri/ for secretary. Merriam-Webster Online in an unusual departure from its accounts of American pronunciations comments on one of our usages saying "especially British \ˈse-k(r)ə-trē\". Wells accords /`sekətri/ the LPD warning sign ⚠ labelling it as 'considered incorrect'. The other two offer no such information. Graham Pointon, the former head of the BBC Pronunciation Research Unit, in his Linguism blog at the 19th of December 2008 sed int·restingly:
"After February, secretary must be the word in which [r-dropping] caused the most complaints at my time at the BBC, when any perceived ‘dropped’ /r/ would bring letters on to my desk. And yet veterinary is accepted without question by almost everybody when it is pronounced /ˈvet(ɪ)n(ə)ri/. No one ever complained about it in my 23 years of answering such letters".

I shd sooner feel like writing in complaining if anyone'd committed the tiresome ped·nt·ry of saying /vetərɪnəri/. Veterinary as /`vetnri/ gets into LPD without a cautionary comment. It's not recorded in EPD or ODP. We de·lt with February in our Blog 385. Graham also mentioned arbitrary, contrary, library, and literary as losing /r/s. I gave each of these in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary with /r̩/ to be understood as readily losing its syllabicity which is what gen·ly (ie generally, with a common r-drop from /ʤenr̩li/ which looks more unusual than it sounds but isnt in any dictionary) happens to them in fluent speech. None of the three pronunciation dictionaries accepts any /r/ loss from deteriorate, LPD 'triangulating' specifically /dɪ`tɪərieɪt/ and even /dɪ`tɪərəreɪt/ which, having a yod-drop but no r-drop, seems likely get by unnoticed by most folk. Another problematic word is respiratory which can be he·rd at times as /`respɪtri/. I've noted it from at least one BBC news presenter (Ben Brown) but that's too far from its accepted spelling to be likely to achieve respectability. The LPD poll of self-appointed judges favoured re`spiratory with tonic vowel /ɪ/ for the word.

Blog 422

The 24th of September 2012

Weakforms (vi) BY.

By (the preposition) etc

If you shou·d be reading this exclusively for practical gi·dance on how to use spoken English you need go no further than the typical very sound advice we shall quote from the LPD (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), "The EFL learner should always use the pronunciation baɪ." Any people who find the topic of weakforms int·resting in itself, may wonder why this word has no weakforms — or at least none we're recommended to adopt — whereas there're five other common prepositions that have plenty. Users of spoken English who have the desire to sound 'natural' to native speakers when conversing with them wou·d be very ill advised to neglect any of those five (at, for, from, of & to).

The ODP (the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English), which is gen·rally economical in its treatment of EAL (English as an Additional Language) matters, understandably mentions nothing about any weakform. On the other hand both the LPD and the EPD (the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) record the existence of what they both call "occasional" weakforms of by. The first of these is shown as \bɪ\ by EPD and \bi\ by LPD in which \i\ is a cover symbol used to avoid repeatedly giving all of the three possibilities specifiable in a notation nearer to phonemic as /iː, i & ɪ/. This \i\ stands for a normally markedly shorter allophone of the /iː/ phoneme than the one that occurs when that phoneme receives a lexical pronunciation.

The two main dictionaries agree in representing a second weakform of by as /bə/. LPD slightly ungrammaticly refers to "an [sic] occasional weak form bi, bə which is [sic] stylistically marked and .. restricted to set phrases". EPD gives an example of such a phrase which it sez occurs "particularly in measurements (e.g. 'two by three' /ˌtuː.bə ˈθriː/". Other phrases include 'fly-by-night' at which OED3 sez it is "not yet..fully updated" and doesnt supply the pronunciation one hopes will be included eventually in the fully revised version. The most commonly found meaning of the expression it classifies as 'slang' and defines as 'one who defrauds his landlord or creditors by decamping in the night'. Obviously the editors are far too gentlemanly to phrase the definition in a form that wd encompass the possibility of such a practice on the part of the fair sex. Those many who at least at one time needed to clean their rifle barrels were required to employ for the purpose a piece of cloth known as a 'four-by-two' called by all ranks in the British Army a /fɔː bə `tuː/.

There's an an·ser to the question "Why arnt there lots of weakforms of by?" In fact there were plenty of them in Middle English and even in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). In a sense there are some of them still but, being so offen in fixt phrases, they've lost their independence and been captured by following nouns which have caused them to be spelt prefixed to them. This has resulted from eg earlier by cause of  becoming because of  /bi`kɒzəv/ where the other preposition of has managed to resist capture. In correct written usage today a contraction like "becoz've" isnt (yet?) an accepted spelling. Outside of fixt phrases like the ones with two numerals we've quoted, the weakform /bə/ on·y seems to occur in phrases that tend to be sed quickly and/or carelessly such as a beginning like "By the time that I..." or "So I grabbed him by the scruff o' the neck..." and so on.

Bye the farewell has no weakform tho it's subject to strest allophones

Bye-bye the farewell has the variants /ˈbə ˈbaɪ/ and less predictably a version which CEPD records not unreasonably as /ˈbʌ  ˈbaɪ/ but which LPD doesnt mention