Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.
|28/11/2007||Some Caribbean Word-Stressings||#050|
|25/11/2007||Prime Ministerial Pronunciations||#049|
|20/09/2007||The Pronunciation of Liege etc||#048|
|10/08/2007||Transcription from People Speaking No.1||#046|
|26/07/2007||Bowser and Rowling||#045|
|25/07/2007||Transcription Exercise 3 Model||#044|
|24/07/2007||Transcription Exercise 3||#043|
|23/07/2007||The LPD Pron Pref Survey 2007 (x)||#042|
|22/07/2007||Transcription Excercise 2||#041|
John Wells blogs today "[W]hy do West Indians stress character and calendar differently from the rest of us?"
No certain answer can be given, of course, but one might offer a few comments. It's interesting to note that he shows the Caribbean pronunciations of these words to have "clear" vowels in their first syllables viz /kӕ`rӕktə/ and /kӕ`lendə/. This tends to strengthen one's feeling that these versions represent archaisms dating back from the ordinary development of them in English rather than some effect of a Caribbean substrate linguistic influence. There's not much doubt that in Early Modern English (the centuries before and after Shakespeare) there was less "obscuration" of the vowels of weak syllables in words borrowed from the classical languages (usually via French) than there came to be in the following Modern period. Also there was much more fluctuation in the location of the tonic syllables of polysyllabic words. Of character the OED says "In 16-17th c. often chaˈracter". Also there can be little doubt that at some stage that comment could be applied to calendar too.
Referring to medieval times we find Otto Jespersen in the first volume of his great Modern English Grammar (1909:5.61) observing that in Chaucer's verse "it is impossible to know which of the two accents was the stronger" in words like ˈavenˈture, ˈmeloˈdye, ˈpilgriˈmage etc... "In the course of time...the original stress was weakened because the ending was felt as the least important part of the. word". If we borrowed the French word caractère today we should pronounce it [ˈkӕrӕk`tɛːr]. The stress can thus perhaps be simply taken to have moved an intermediate stage towards the front in the Caribbean form. As to the SPE and its rules that Wells mentions, there are so often so many unexplained exceptions to a lot of them that a simpler explanation may be more satisfying.
Incidentally the great Webster's Third International Dictionary of 1966 recorded a subvariant version stressed cu`cumber of that word. On such variations, besides the stressing Carib`bean, on both sides of the Atlantic there is a minority stressing Ca`ribbean.
In the course of hearing from time to time the Prime Minister's pronouncements on various matters my mind has been tending to go back to what Simon Hoggart and in turn John Wells suggested about Gordon Brown's pronunciation of certain words namely that his departures from ordinary usages have betokened marked lack of social awareness. I can't help feeling that they tend to be a bit hard on the PM. Not only is it obviously completely unremarkable that Brown has a perceptible Scottish accent given his background but one should remember, as others have suggested, that since he grew up in a region where place names ending -mouth generally don't use a weak vowel in that suffix it's hardly surprising that he might drop into saying Bourne-mouth. He's certainly not the only Scot to do so. I know I tend to be hesitant about Exmouth. Considering that the basis of the word reconcile is obviously merely a result of speeding up of re-concile surely it can hardly be appropriately termed a "bizarre" departure from the most usual form. After all to say repercussion as /repə`kʌʃn/ is a quite common alternative General British usage.
That leaves us with just the expression Al Qaeda. First it should be noticed that it's also often transliterated from the Arabic as Al Qaida and Al Qa'ida. It's recorded in the (Cambridge) English Pronouncing Dictionary as spoken by British English-speakers not only as /ӕl ˈkaɪ.də/ but also as /ӕl.kɑːˈiː.də/ and by US speakers as (ending) also /-keɪ.də/ and /-kaɪ.ə.də/. What's more the curious Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation recommends /əl kɑːˈɪdə/ while acknowledging that it is also pronounced as /əl`kaɪdə/ and /əl kɑː`iːdə/. Is it any wonder that anyone is likely to produce his own combination of these. Brown's /alk(e)ɪ`eɪdə/ or whatever exactly it is he says similar to that is surely far fom a bizarre distortion of what seems to be possible.
Anyway there must be few of us who don't have some pronunciational skeletons in our closets. It often becomes difficult not to slip back from time into using some unorthodox version of a word one internalised on the basis of a too personal guess at its sound value from an ambiguous spelling met with before one had noticed it being pronounced differently by others. Henry Sweet said "umberella". Robert Graves said /`detritus/. Edith Sitwell said /`behemɒθ/. And what about previous prime ministers? Lloyd George talked of /`wɪdəz/ (widows) and /`trӕnspət/ (transport). Ramsay McDonald pronounced based as /`beɪzd/. Churchill would refer to the /`nɑːzɪz/ at any /`məʊmɪnt/. Wilson was almost the only public figure in his day talking about /rəʊ`diːsiə/. John Major was for ever saying /wᴧnt/ for want. Blair regularly made sure rhyme with shoe-er and in the last 24 hours one has heard him describe his gut feelings as /`vɪskərl/.
I've got plenty myself in the same category and I find new ones day after day. Compare my phonetiblog of 28 May 07. What are yours? A distinguished colleague has confided to me that at one time at least he was inclined to make coin sound like Cohen. I've heard people read aloud /`maɪzld/ and I once heard a British Council lecturer unwittingly talking about "mispronounciations". Users of English as a foreign language are usually good for specimens of xenophonisms (as I like to call them) like /`kɑːnsl/, /`detəmaɪnd/, /sə`kᴧmstənsɪz/ and /sɒv`renəti/. So let's all be as tolerant of such human weaknesses as possible.
Today's blog by John Wells says
I keep hearing Shakespearian actors ... pronounce [liege] as /liːʒ/.
As far as I know, LPD was the first to record this variant, nearly twenty years ago.
Eighteen years earlier, in 1972, at the first printing by the Oxford University Press of my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English, this variant was given in second place (for both GB and GA usage). In that modest work (half the length of the then EPD) my policy was to exclude any variant that I considered so unusual as to be unsuitable for an EFL user to adopt. I had observed the variant in question repeatedly in the sixties notably in 1969 when Prince Charles had clearly employed it in the course of his investiture as Prince of Wales on the first of July.
John goes on to say It’s not only liege. I have heard the /ʒ/ variant in siege and besiege, too. So what is it about /dʒ/ after high front vowels? Is this some kind of contamination from prestige /-iːʒ/ or beige /beɪʒ/?
I can endorse his hearing of these further two items and one can't rule out the possibility that liege itself may at least partly be given /ʒ/ on account of the feeling that it's a rather exotic word. Surely that's why we seemingly hear Beijing more often with /ʒ/ than with /ʤ/ even tho LPD (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) says there's "no justification" for it and OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation) describes it as "not correct". Likewise Gigli is most often heard with /ʒ/. So is adagio. (We needn't be surprised that gigolo is too because, altho its form indicates an Italian origin, we borrowed it from French. Compare doge.) We can add to John's suggested influences on liege, items such as cortege and noblesse oblige /nəʊ'bles ə(ʊ)`‵bliːʒ/.
As to high front vowels being a factor, I doubt it. Tho there may well be something, as he partly seems to imply, of an inhibition of the alternation when short vowels precede at least in monosyllables. For example bridge, edge, lodge, nudge don't undergo this simplification of /ʤ/ to /ʒ/. Nor probably do porridge and knowledge. On the other hand I hear the version of management without the d-element as least as often as with it, despite its complete absence from any description of English pronunciation known to me. I doubt if acknowledgement, arrangement or encouragement similarly treated would sound at all conspicuous. I'm not so sure about enlargement and I imagine abridgement might sound casual and judgement so treated fairly odd if firmly enunciated.
I can vouch for John's observation of /ʒ/ in deluge and can add that I've heard such treatment of centrifuge and subterfuge and I believe on occasion refuge. The ways gamboge is heard are comparable with what one notes of garage besides its no doubt perception as an exotic word.
At any rate the /ʒ–ʤ/ contrast is, in whatever contexts, one of the weakest oppositions in the English segmental-phoneme system, possibly the very weakest of all.
Readers of John Wells's "Phonetic Blog" of today will've gathered that, when we were responding in turn to a question about the possibility of English spelling reform, I commented on the fact that, tho he's President of the Simplified Spelling Society (of Great Britain) I'd never seen any reformed spellings actually used by him even in his blogs — where of course he has the freedom of being his own editor. This "challenge", as he termed it, he responded to in his present blog. He expressed agreement with Patricia Ashby, our fellow panel member on the University College Summer Course in English Phonetics question-and-answer session, that reform would best be effected gradually. I too agree with her.
I suggest (tho I didnt mention it at the time) that a useful start might be made by the Government publishing a list of spellings that would be required to be used in official publications and to be accepted by people in the teaching professions but not compulsory for anyone. This wd be a way that the inevitable association of more rational spellings with orthographical incompetence might begin to be broken down and pave the way for more extensive improvements. A good start cd be made with items like tho and thru, giv, hav, aut, thaut, thum, det, dout, coz and even the texters u for you.
John said of me "He claimed that he himself always writes re'd for the past tense of the verb to read ". That was not exactly what I remember saying but readers of these blogs'll certainly find that I prefer to use re'd and usually do so. My blog of the 26th of last month had "re'd (I hate the ambiguity of the spelling read)" in its first paragraph.
The popularity of SMS texting miet be of some help towards the braekthru we need. I think my cd and wd (or c'd and w'd) are better than some texters c%d and w%d and I don't care for numerals for to and for (why not t and f ?). Anyway, if I live to see anything of this happen, I'm sure I woent like all the first proposals th't're adopted.
PS at 22 Dec 07: The more I think about it the more I'm inclined to suggest th't an intermediate stage of reform mi'et well be facilitated by suggesting that people shd used the device of an apostrophe where they feel unease that their reformed spellings mi'et be misperceived as mere misspellings. I've used it occasionally to avoid some especially tiresomely irrational spellings such as /geɪʤ/ spelt gauge, /`redɪŋ/ spelt Reading etc.
There are two words, both names, that have been much in the news here in Britain in recent days. The term "bowser" is being used for a mobile water tank usually about the size of a van. Few people, I'd guess, could remember hearing the term before and if they'd only re'd (I hate the ambiguity of the spelling read) about it and not heard it on radio and tv they'd have been puzzling over how to interpret the awkwardly ambiguous spelling.
This brings me to my other word, Rowling, which is a very uncommon British name but now known to everybody as that of the staggeringly successful author of the Harry Potter series of children's stories of magical happenings which she says she has just brought to a close. In J. K. Rowling's case one still hears people who have a shot at saying the name as /`raʊlɪŋ/ to rhyme with howling but we can be confident that her preferred version of it is /`rəʊlɪŋ/ to rhyme with bowling because that is what most of the BBC presenters have been saying and we know that they go to great lengths at the Beeb's Pronunciation Unit to enable their programme makers to use the form employed by the person who owns the name. You can check it out in the OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation). You'll even find an entry for her character Voldemort there as well /'vɒldəmɔː(r)t/.
The admirable Dictionary of Surnames
by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges tells us that Rowling originated in
a Norman French version of Rolf, a Germanic name "popular among Nordic
peoples" and descending from a dithematic form made up of the elements hrōd renown and wulf
wolf. It took many diminutive forms including Rollo and Rollett and
Roling along with which group this name belongs.
Now how about "Bowser"? Well this is a twentieth-century word that didn't get into the OED (the great Oxford English Dictionary) till 1971 when the renowned editor Robert Burchfield had as his earliest tracing of it a 1921 reference to a "trade name" for a petrol pump offered for sale by S. F. Bowser & Co. of Fort Wayne, State of Indiana. But it had by 1934 spread to Australia and semantically transmogrified into some kind of a liquid storage tank. We've been hearing about it as a tank of water on wheels that has suddenly appeared in numbers among our unfortunate flood victims no doubt to their great relief. So there's no such thing as a person who does "bowsing" (it doesn't contain the nominal agent suffix -er) but a personal name pronounced /`baʊzə/, to rhyme with browser, which no doubt got to America from England. Hanks and Hodges come up trumps again telling us it originated in a Norman French nickname beu sire meaning "fine sir". It could have become applied to someone whose talk overworked the expression or perhaps with typical medieval irony it could have been used of a person who was anything but a "handsome gentleman".
Here's a model transcription of our third exercise:
Here's a "model" transcription of our second exercise.
A. ˋI think we could do with a bit of a ˎchange.
'Let’s get aˎway for a few days this Easter.
B. ˋRight you ˏare. 'Where shall we ˎgo. ˊScotland.
A. ˋNo. ' Too ˎfar. And it’s 'always ˎraining.
ˋNearly as ˏbad as ˋIreland.
B. 'How about ˋCornwall.
A. 'Mm. ˋThat’s quite a good way ˏoff.
And it's 'wet ˋ'there , ˋ'too.
B. 'Shall we 'try ˋˏWales, ˳then.
A. ˌPlenty ofˌrain ˋ' there.
B. The ˋLake District, then.
A. ˊEven ˊˋwetter. If ˏpossible.
B. 'The ˎDales, then.
A. 'All ˏright. So ˊˋlong as we take our ˋmacks
and 'sou’ ˋwesters.
Item 27, in another surprising inclusion, deals with the adjective applicable which also featured in both the previous Wells questionnaires in 1988
when the first set of respondents showed a 77% percent preference for
stressing its second syllable and again in 1998 when the new set
displayed the same preference by 84%. It looks as if Wells now wants to
know whether there's anyone left who favours the 19th century earlier
stressing. His 2008 proportions were unchanged at 85% to 15%.
Daniel Jones in the EPD recognised the new stressing from his first edition in 1917 but never gave it precedence. Neither did Gimson from 1967. Roach and Setter from 1997 have agreed with Wells and so does ODP. Murray in the OED in 1885 gave only the forestressed form and, with typical feebleness about attempting to come up to date, the second edition of 1989 was unchanged. It's going to be interesting to see what OED 3 does about pronunciations. The early stressing is holding out better in the US as LPD2 confirmed quoting the 64% preference of a poll there.
Item 28 kilometer also featured in the 1988 and 1998 polls with preference for stressing the second syllable scoring respectively 48% and 57%. In 2008 it was much the same at 63%. This seems to chime with my feeling slightly more comfortable with the later stressing than I once did but I certainly vacillate with this as I do with many other words. The US preference is of course the one we seem to be edging towards. Unlike LPD, EPD now gives it preference. Not so ODP.
Item 29 is mischievous asking whether respondents prefer it (i) stressed on the first or (ii) the second syllable or (iii) the latter plus an extra sound so that it rhymes with devious. This is another re-visiting: LPD2 had a graphic which represented a greater than 70% British preference [maintained at 65% in 2008] for the traditional fore-stressing (and only slightly less American enthusiasm for it) but a surprisingly substantial vote for stress on the second syllable especially amongst younger respondents – so much so that it was mildly surprising to note that the warning triangle signifying "considered incorrect" had not been withdrawn from the entry.
No doubt this problem accounts for the item's reappearance in the questionnaire. The triangle was certainly justified for the devious type which, like "grievious" for grievous has never had much currency among the better educated. I would hazard the guess that they both arose from a misplaced inclination to "restore" a sound taken to have been lost from the correct version (or of course merely simple confusion on the part of many users). Many people use a pronunciation of previous which might be conveyed by the spelling "prevous" and I suspect most of us say what could well be indicated by the spelling "prevously". Thus these two incorrect -ious items may well be what we might call misguided yod-dropping reversals.
The very last item of the 2007 poll revisited the adverbial form necessarily which in the 1998 poll had shown 72% preferring neces`sarily to fore-stressing. This is the version in my opinion rightly given precedence in LPD. Indeed I gave it precedence in 1972 in my CPD and in the ALD third edition of 1974. OBG agrees and remarks that the other "is becoming less common". However EPD in which Jones didn't recognise the existence of the later stressed version till 1956, still retains the precedence of the fore-stressing, as does ODP. Craigie in the OED in 1906 made no mention of a later stressed version but for once OED2 in 1989 at least got it in – though again only in second place.
What I should have liked to see was whether anyone favoured what I find is the newest development in this matter namely the increasing use since the last decade of the twentieth century, by GB speakers with no obvious Scottish affiliations, of the ash vowel /æ/ instead of /e/ in the ending -arily.
Here's a "model" transcription of our first exercise.