Archive 53 of JWL Blog


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Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.

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13/01/2017People Speaking 41 News at When?#529
02/01/2017Weakforms (xix) Let, Mrs, Monday, my#528
29/12/2016Names for a Dictionary#527
24/12/2016Hobby Horse#526
06/12/2016DOP by RAI#525
22/10/2016Some Nonsense Verses#524
23/08/2016Statistics Can't Lie. People Speaking 42#523
10/08/2016Weakforms (xviii) madam, many & me#522
01/08/2016People Speaking 40 Englishman in Russia#521
17/07/2016People Speaking 39 Name Dropper#520

Blog 529

The 13th of January 2017

People Speaking 41 News at When?

1.   ˈwɪʧ ˈdju | prəˎfɜ |  ˈbi bi ˈsi | ɔr aɪ ti ˎen.
       Which d’you prefer?  BBC or ITN?
    (ITN stands for Independent Television News)

2.   ðə `njuz proʊgramz ju ˈmin.
    The news programmes you mean?
    Books on English intonation aren’t likely to mention interrogative sentences ending with level tones but there’s clearly no pitch movement on the word mean here tho it sounds quite natural.

3.   `jes, ˏʧifli.
      Yes. Chiefly.

4.  oʊ aɪ doʊnt `maɪn wɪʧ.
     Oh I don’t mind which.
    Words ending /-nd/ very often lose the /d/ when a consonant follows.

5.  ˈaɪ ˈlaɪk | ðə ˎridəz ˏbest | ɒn ˈbi bi `si.
       I  like the  readers best  on B B C.

6.   ˈi ˎes | bət `naɪn ə ˌklɒks | ə ˈbɪt ˎɜli | fə ðə meɪn ˏnjuz |
     Yes, but nine o’clock’s  a bit  early for the main news.
    The ‘semivowel’ /j/ of yes being hesitatingly stretched becomes the vowel [i].

7.   ə ˎkwaɪt | aɪd `rɑðə hav ɪt ət ˎˏten| bət aɪm ˈglad | tə hav ðə ˎʧɔɪs |
     Er. Quite. I’d rather have it at ten, but I’m glad to have the choice.
    Our vertical bar ‘|’ doesnt necessarily indicate any interruption where the speaker makes no sound but it does record a discontinuity, usually very slight, in the smoothness of the rhythmical flow. Here after glad the next three words don’t belong rhythmicly with the word they follow but with the ones they precede.

8.   ɪt ˈsoʊ ˎsɪli | havɪŋ ˎboʊθ əv ðəm ˏɒn | ət ˈten | tə ˎsɪks |
      It’s so silly having both of them on at ten to six

    ən ˈoʊvəˈlapɪŋ | wɪð bi bi si ˎˏsaʊnd.
    and overlapping with BBC sound.

     Any dictionary will correctly show the verb to overlap as having stresses on its first and last syllables, minor on the former and major on the latter. This will only be invariably true if the word is uttered in isolation. Here we hear that relationship reversed because, in the context of the word’s initiating the head to a falling-rising climax (aka 'nucleus') tone, the speaker chooses to give major stress to the former of the two stressed syllables.

Blog 528

The 2nd of January 2017

Weakforms (xix) Let, Mrs, Monday, my

Let: In very casual speech a form of Let with its final /t/ elided often occurs before 'me' or 'us' as in /'le mi `si/ Let me see or /'les av ə `goʊ/ Let's have a go.

EPD has always given only /`mɪsɪz/ for this. So has LPD except for including a ‘non-RP’ variant /`mɪsəz/. They have both ignored the existence of the common weakform /mɪsz̩/ and its assimilatory variant /mɪss̩/ which occur in sequences like Mrs Jones and Mrs Smith. This must at least in part account for the hard to explain commonness of the orthographic form ‘Missus’ which can hardly have mostly reflected a spoken form /`mɪsəs/. That wd be the common form in Ireland but very much less usual in the rest of the British Isles. 
Until modern phonetic analysis of English, notably by Henry Sweet, in the late nineteenth century there was hardly any awareness of syllabic /z/ or /s/, but the spelling Missus wdve fairly effectively represented what they were encountering when people actually heard /mɪsz̩/ etc. The spelling missus cd simply have become so common elsewhere that it was employed even when the unreduced form /`mɪsɪz/ was intended. For speakers in some non-southeastern parts of England and most of America the spelling does accord with a schwa value for the latter vowel. 
Henry Bradley, who edited the OED for M-words in 1907, entered missus only as a second spelling of the headword missis. He gave the pronunciations as (mi·sis, mi·sɒ̆s) /ˈmɪsɪs/ /ˈmɪsəs/. OED3, revised in 2002, listed at ‘missus’ the historical spellings ‘17–18 missess, 18 mizzes, 18– mis'ess, 18– mis's, 18– misses, 18– missis’ some of which were very likely to have been employed by writers who had heard /mɪsz̩/ or /mɪss̩/.  It currently gives the pronunciations Brit. /ˈmɪsᵻz/ and U.S. /ˈmɪsᵻz/, /ˈmɪsᵻs/. ODE (for this abbreviation see my Blog 527) gives only the one transcription /ˈmɪsɪz/,  The female who demonstrates it for OED3 has /ɪ/ in both syllables. The Longman Dictionary (LDOCE) at ‘missus’ gives only /ˈmɪsɪz/ which is clearly heard so spoken for British English. The same goes for the ‘Cambridge Dictionary’. (These days OALD sadly no longer gives free access to audio.)

Besides /məs(t)/ there is a common casual form /ms/ eg in I must go as /aɪ ms `goʊ/.

Like all the days of the week this has the extremely common weakform with final /-eɪ/ reduced to /-i/ as in Monday morning /ˈmᴧndi `mɔnɪŋ /.

The forms /mi, mɪ/ and /mə/ are now very casual, old-fashioned or humorous.
Examples are: Shiver my timbers! (a mock oath attributed in comic fiction to sailors’ OED) as /`ʃɪvə mɪ ˎtɪmbəz/, I’ll help myself /ɑl ˈhelp mə`self/ and I’m on my own /əm ˈɒn mi ˎoʊn/.

Blog 527

The 29th of December 2016

Names for a Dictionary

I’ve been finding it rather difficult to understand why Oxford University Press a couple of years ago took to referring to their largest single-volume printed dictionary in its online incarnation almost exclusively by the clumsy medium of Uniform Resource Locators the least expansive of which is the twenty-two-keyings-long ‘’. It’s very hard to see any value in this practice which is far less convenient than the three-letter abbreviation ‘ODE’ which they formerly used to refer to the work. Before that they had used NODE but the word "new" was dropped from the title with its Second Edition in 2003.
The latest variant found at 25 July 2017 is ODO thus
The OED and the dictionaries in ODO are themselves very different. While ODO focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time.
 The alternatives and require sev·ral more than twenty-two keyings.

Anyway, whichever URL you use leads to a page with the words


followed by ‘sign in’ and icons for Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram. Then the next line begins with the latest Oxford Dictionaries ‘signature’. This has, white on a pale blue background, a bullet enclosed in a circle ⦾ with a break at its northeast. Letters to its right spell ‘English’ and below them thinner fainter ones spell Oxford Living Dictionaries (a feeble motto suggesting questions like ‘As opposed to Oxford lifeless dictionaries?’. Next we have THESAURUS again and a pointer which when selected discloses below choices saying                                 


To the right we see a slot with the invitation ‘Type word or phrase’ followed by a miniature keyboard ⌨ with on its right which being clicked opens up to offer

à á â ä ã ç è é ê ë ì í î ï ñ ò ó ô ö õ ù ú û ü æ œ ß.

Clicking on an arrow mainly converts these symbols to their upper-case forms (presented now for no apparent reason in a vertical line)

À Á Â Ä Ç È É Ê Ë Ì Í Î Ï Ñ Ò Ó Ô Ö Õ Ù Ú Û Ü Æ Œ SS   

[Only three of these are IPA authorised symbols but many of them are used in non-IPA systems of showing pronunciations used eg in American dictionaries.]

At the end of the slot where you type there is a red magnifying-glass icon clicking on which brings up definitions and explanations of items entered.

[Around these items various rather numerous commercial advertisements appear. The price we pay for the welcome ‘free’ use of the dictionary.]

Pronunciations may be heard by clicking on loudspeaker icons. There is an etymological section labelled ‘origin’ and another headed Pronunciation where phonemic transcriptions are supplied. A question mark in a circle when clicked brings up ‘Key to pronunciations (British and World English dictionary)’ What can we guess this bracketed designation to be but an alternative or substitution for ‘Oxford Dictionary of English’(ODE).

    A note next comments with some extremely unacceptable wording that ‘The pronunciations given represent the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England (sometimes called Received Pronunciation or RP), and the example words given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech’. Among scholars in general there are relatively few who accept the application of the term 'standard' to an accent of English as opposed to a written form of the language. The word 'sometimes' as used here is an absurd understatement.

    At the dictionary, again identified by a URL, we see a historical note, under a heading Oxford Dictionary of English, saying ‘In 1998 a completely new title appeared: a new single-volume dictionary larger than the Concise… Access to large databases of language and new ways of looking at the English language’ prompted production of ‘a new dictionary, the New Oxford Dictionary of English now called simply the Oxford Dictionary of English’. This reached its third edition in 2010. It’s the ‘main source of the current Oxford range’. They dont mention that something very like this had appeared in 1995 in a single volume with the title Oxford English Reference Dictionary. It’s likely that ‘ODE’ was too like OED not to cause confusion.

Since writing the above I have come across at 24 th of July 2017 yet another abbreviation:
'The OED and the dictionaries in ODO are themselves very different. While ODO focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time'.

[The next abbreviatory horror to contemplate will be ODOSP for the new Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciations.]

    Perhaps a better solution wdve been to rename the ODE as the Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary English: ‘ODC’ something less likely to’ve been a problem.
    Then we see ‘'  a division that ‘focuses on current language and practical usage’. By contrast the OED, it tells us, shows how words and meanings have changed over time but this new dictionary (ODE tho they don't so refer to it) makes use of ‘real-world sentences derived from the ten-billion word Oxford English Corpus...a huge databank of 20th and 21st century English’.
    This is followed by illustrated inserts on various popular entertainment topics more or less in the field of English dictionaries and clearly directed very largely at junior readers containing various items like ‘Quizzes and Games’. Their Blog, which can respond in detail to readers’ queries has a great deal of int·resting content: it sports the motto ‘Oxford Dictionaries’. Finally, cross references are provided at ‘Help’ to other OUP materials. And other questions may be asked via ‘Contact us’.


Blog 526

The 24th of December 2016

Hobby Horse

I shd like it to be known by newcomers to these blogs that, by contrast with my practice on most of the ‘Homepage’ part of this website, I choose to treat these entries much as I have offen been accustomed to treat my diary, that is I spell as I please. This means that I often use unorthodox, rationalised spellings and abbreviations. I do so with no regular attempt at consistency because I like to experiment with how I feel about the appearance of various spellings. I invite readers to consider how they react to these unorthodoxies in the light of the consideration that if ever English spelling is to be reformed some of these types of reactions will probably be of importance. I refer readers to my blog 102 of the 11th of June 2008 and to the following:
Wise Words on Our English Spellings
I don’t go in for long quotations in these blogs but a lecture given long ago in America in September, 1909, at Columbia University, by the great Danish linguistic scholar Otto Jespersen  (1860-1943) that I’d no dou·t long forgotten but anyway have recently come across has to be an exception.
     ‘Everywhere the educated classes have more or less systematically for the last few centuries been doing everything in their power to prevent that readjustment of spellings to sound that is indispensable if the written language is to remain, or is again to become, what it was everywhere to begin with, a tolerably faithful picture of the spoken language. The present situation is one of a clumsy and difficult system of spelling that causes a miserable loss of time in all schools (and out of schools, too); much valuable time which might be used profitably in many other ways, is spent upon learning that this word has to be spelt in this absurd manner, and that word in another equally absurd way, and why? For no other apparent reason than that such has been the custom of a couple of centuries or more.
     Each new generation keeps up faithfully nearly all the absurdities of the preceding one, and as each new generation is bound to change the pronunciation of some sound and of some words, the gulf between the spoken and the written word is constantly widening, and the difficulty of learning how to spell is ever growing greater and greater. Now I know very well that it is not every phonetician who is a spelling reformer tho a great many are; but what I do maintain is, in the first place, that only a good phonetician can show what is to be reformed and what is to be the direction of change, because he alone knows what sounds to represent and how best to represent them’.
    He added some further very wise words I don’t remember seeing before I began my spelling experiments in these blogs:
    ‘Much would ... be achieved if scholars of renown, philologists, students of literature, and writers of books in general, would indulge in some individual spellings, ... These individual spellings need not be very numerous, nor should they be necessarily consistent, and the author need not give any other reason for his special heterodoxies than that they just suit his fancy. This would educate readers by showing them that different spellings need not always be marks of illiteracy, and that there may exist difference of opinions in this as well as in other respects without any fear of human society falling at once to pieces on that account’.
    I consider that instant total spelling reform that various cranks have advocated in the past wd simply bring about chaos but I do like to remind readers that very many spellings much more logical than many we use need not be inconvenient. My inclination is to rationalize the spellings of words only insofar as their ready recognition isnt impeded. I try to be helpful to readers of these blogs these days by using a pritty unobtrusive dot [·], something at least less obtrusive than ‘sic’, to reassure them that the irregular spelling they see is not an unintentional ‘typo’. I choose to avoid any respellings that stop readers in their tracks because they hinder comfortable comprehension of what I’m saying.
    I use this ‘middle’ dot occasionally when I prefer a spelling that unites two words that are usually divided because the spelling I prefer recognises their phonetic unity as when I prefer ‘not a·tall’ to ‘not at all’.
Sometimes I use a dot where I wish to indicate that my preferred pronunciation omits some sound that’s represented by the prescribed spelling but people dont use. An example is ‘solem·’ whose orthographic final ‘n’ is never normally used. Warning dots may not be used in cases where the spelling, altho unorthodox, is instantly and effortlessly comprehensible (as with sed for ‘said’, pritty for traditional ‘pretty’ etc). I retain many phonetically obsolete spellings because they help to make words that contain them instantly recognisable eg ‘know’ cd be very inconvenient if ritt·n ‘no’.
Spelling Matters have also been delt widh at these postings:
010 Happy New Year etc
047 Spelling Reform
102 Spelling Reform - Feasible or Futile?
129 The Rigidity of English Spelling
172  Handwriting, Spellings and Sounds
173 Spelling Reform Experiments
224 The Future of English Spelling (i)
225 The Future of English Spelling (ii)
302 Rational Spellings
304 Free Spelling
370 Spellings in these blogs

Blog 525

The 6th of December 2016


I’ve long been rather int·rested in the Italian language for sev·ral reasons. My earliest exper·ence of it came from liss·ening with my father to our collection of gramophone records of fav·r·te music of which a good number were operatic arias sung in that language. It was also natural for someone who spent eight years studying Latin to be rather fas·nated to le·rn about what it turned into in its ‘home’ c·untry. While I was serving in the British Army and stationed within easy distance of Oxford I managed to enrol in a weekly ev·ning course on Italian given by a don whose name I have unfortunately long forgotten. I vividly remember how, when referring to various Italian words, he’d quote the forms that their Latin originals had taken in Spanish or Portuguese or French and even, if I remember rie·tly, on occasion Romanian. I found that wonderf·ly stim·lating.

    As a Cardiff undergraduate back in the postwar days when it was on·y 'University College' and a fraction of the size it's become, I opted to take courses in Italian. I cdnt say that they were well tau·t becoz the sole rather agéd lecturer seemed to throw us strai·t into Dante and Leopardi and I don’t remember any mention of anything of any sort of c·nsideration of Italian linguistics. Many ye·rs later, when I’d come to work at Leeds University, I was very happy to be ‘lent’ weekly to our Department of Italian for six years to give classes in its pronunciation to their undergraduates.
    I found two books in particular of great help to me in devising those co·rses. The main one was the work of pers·n who·d been a member of the Un·versity College London Department of Phonetics, my phonetic alma mater. She was Marguerite Chapallaz whose 1979 book ‘The Pronunciation of Italian: A practical introduction’ I found invaluable. The other was the 1969 edition of the ‘DOP’ ie the Dizionario D’Ortografia e di Pronunzia published by Radiotelevisione Italiana in the first place for guidance of their radio presenters and announcers. Its editors were Bruno Miglorini, Carlo Tagliavini and Piero Fiorelli leading scholars at Italian Universities. It was a substantial volume of over 1400 pages of clearly printed double columns. Fairly impressive tho it was, it became replaced by or rather evolved into, a far more ambitious version that was very much a library item that was so enlarged in form that it became two large handsome he·vy volumes really comf·tably handled on·y by laying th·m out flat on one’s desk. And we have to wait for a third such volume to see how they treat non-Italian entries.
    John Wells referred to that 1969 book in the preliminary Acknowledgments as the sole Italian one among the various pronouncing dictionaries he·d ‘frequently consulted’ in preparing his Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, which has inc·dentally long been the one book of any sort that I consult more of·en than any other except possibly the OED. Anyway —

                                                    ‘un dizionario enorme’ 

was the startlingly forren title of the Wells blog posting of the 19th of July 2010. This referred to ‘an unsolicited and unexpected package … A massive 5kg in weight …two volumes of a pronunciation dictionary from Radiotelevisione Italiana, entitled Dizionario italiano multimediale e multilingue d’Ortografia e di Pronunzia, or DOP for short…With 133 pages of introduction and 1253 pages of dictionary proper — large pages, almost as big as A4 — it’s an enormous work. The two volumes already published are claimed to cover 92,000 Italian lexical words and proper names; the third will cover 37,000 proper names and other words from some sixty different languages’. Admitting that he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, he continued saying ‘Why oh why don’t they use IPA? Instead, they use an idiosyncratic mishmash of a transcription system
    Like John, I felt some immediate dismay at the thau·t of having to face age·n the typographicly inferior set of symbols of the orig·nal RAI diction·ry in this reworking of this very worthy enterprise. I hazarded the comment following his posting that I suspected ‘that Piero Fiorelli the original junior collaborator ‘…who had been ‘a regular supporter of the IPA’, might well·ve been ‘outvoted on a proposal to use the IPA alphabet’. I was wrong but I think that praps the next piece of this story had best be saved for a later one of my pres·nt postings except praps to explain one small matter that puzzled me lit·rally for ye·rs namely the simple fact that ev·rywhere you see the comp·ny responsible for the this diction·ry referred to as RAI or Rai or La Rai unless as at length Radiotelevisione Italiana. The reason I speculated for a time was that inste·d of reducing it to RI they felt it more recognisable in a reduction of Radiotelevisione to ‘Ra’ using also the second letter of the long word as well a its initial letter. Yes, I was wrong agen. What’d happened was that when they changed the company name from Radio Audizioni Italiane to Radiotelevisione Italiana the initialism formed from the older name must obviously have become so ‘popular’ that they simply carried on using it.

Blog 524

The 22nd of October 2016

Some Nonsense Verses

The ˈsun was ˈshining ˈon the ˎsea,                 ðə sᴧn wə ʃaɪnɪŋ ɒn ðə si
      Shining with ˈall his ˎmight:                               ʃaɪnɪŋ wɪð ɔl ɪz maɪt
He ˈdid his ˈvery `best to make |                     hi dɪd ɪz veri bes tə meɪk
      The ˏbillows ˏsmooth and ˏbright |                      ðə bɪloʊz smuð əm braɪt
And ˈthis was `odd, because it `ˏwas |             ən ðɪs wəz ɒd bɪkəz ɪt wɒz
      The ˏmiddle ˏof the `night.                                  ðə mɪdl əv ðə naɪt

The `ˏmoon | was shining ´`sulkily, |               ðə mun wə(z) ʃaɪnɪŋ sᴧlkəli
      Because `she ˏthought | the `ˏsun|                       bɪkə(z) ʃi θɔt ðə sᴧn
Had ˏgot no ˏbusiness | to be `there |                (h)əd ɡɒt nou bɪznəs tə bi ðɛ
      After the day was ˏdone —                                ɑftə ðə deɪ wz dᴧn
It's `very ˎrude of him, she said,                       ɪts veri rud əv ɪm ʃi sed
      To come and spoil the ˏfun.                                 tə kᴧm ən spɔɪl ðə fᴧn

The ˈsea | was ˈwet as ˈwet could ˎbe,                ðə si  w(ə)z wet əz wet kəd bi
      The `ˏsands | were ˈdry as ˎdry.                         ðə san(d)z wə draɪ əz draɪ
You ˈcould not `see a `ˏcloud,| be`ˏcause          ju kʊdn(t) si ə klaʊd bɪkɒz
      ˈNo ˈcloud | was in the `sky:                               noʊ klaʊd w(ə)z ɪn ðə skaɪ
ˈNo ˈbirds| were `ˏflying | over`ˏhead |              noʊ bɜdz wə flaɪ.ɪŋ əʊvə hed
      There `were no birds `to fly.                             ðɛ wɜ noʊ bɜdz tu flaɪ

The ˈWalrus and the ˎCarpenter                        ðə wɔlrəs ən ðə kɑpɪntə
      Were walking close at ˏhand;                          wə wɔkɪŋ kloʊs ət hand
They ˈwept like `anything to see                       ðeɪ wept laɪk enɪθɪŋ tə si
      Such `ˏquantities of `ˏsand:                             sᴧʧ kwɒntətiz əv sand
If `this were `only `cleared a`way,'                   ɪf ðɪs wər oʊn(l)i klɪəd əweɪ
      They ˏsaid, | ˈit ˎwould be ˎgrand!'                    ðeɪ sed ɪt wʊd bi grand

If ˈseven ˎmaids | with seven `ˏmops                 ɪf sebm meɪdz wɪð sebm mɒps
      ˎSwept it for ˎhalf a `ˏyear,                                 swept ɪt fə hɑf ə jɪə
Do ˈyou supˈpose, | the ˏWalrus said, |                də ju səpoʊz  ðə wɔlrə(s) sed
      That they could get it `ˏclear?                            ðət ðeɪ kəd get klɪə
`I ˎdoubt it, said the ˏCarpenter, |                      aɪ daʊt ɪt sed ðə kɑpɪntə
      And ˌshed a `bitter `ˏtear.                                       ən ʃed ə bɪtə tɪə

These lines are offer·d for study. The ones on the left are provided in ord·nary spellings but accompanied by simple tone markings so th·t attention c·n be concentrated on the intonations used which in this case are rather diff·rent fr·m what you hear if the speech is ord·nary conversation.

The last line of the third stanza shows the peculiarity of the preposition ‘to’ being strest & consequently taking a strongform in a uniquely English way becoz emphasis is being put on this essentially meaningless ‘to’ which is nothing but a prefixal unattached adjunct identifying the grammatical fact that the verb ‘fly’ is here automaticly being used in its infinitive form. The choice of emphasis on this occasion is becoz it’s such a strong feeling on the part of English speakers that any of them at any time might well feel it totally inappropriate to be re-accenting a word that’s already been accented so very little earlier. On the other hand many speakers wd ignore the ‘rule’ and, preferring a more satisfying rhythm, say

There `were no birds to `fly.

The lines on the right show pronunciations without the sim·ltaneous distraction of prosodic markings. The symbols in brackets indicate omissions th·t’re very common in conversational speech tho not invar·ably made. Other elisions shown are what you usu·lly hear in conversational styles of speaking. The brackets around the ell of the word only in line 5 of the third stanza are there becoz it’s perficly common in an ell-less form. See my Blog 397.

Blog 523

The 23rd of August 2016

Statistics Can't Lie. People Speaking 42

The Intonation Notation

Readers are cautioned that speakers are so imprecise in the way that they operate their use of pitch patterns that transcribers are constantly obliged, in order to produce a reasonable degree of simplification, to represent them in ways that make arbitrary choices between diff·rent possible representations.

Those not familiar with the tone marks used here might like to note that the unmarkt word (or syllable) beginning any (new) tone phrase is to be taken to be pitcht at the ‘neutral’ level ie at the top of the bottom third of the speaker’s ordinary vocal range. This might be referred to as ‘lowish’ as opposed to ‘very low’.

A level tone in the speaker’s top third range is represented by the mark / ˈ / which, placed before for example an ‘m’, shows like this / ˈm /. This tone I find it convenient to call an Alt, pronounced /alt/.

When a tone phrase is felt to have been completed, because there isnt a completely smooth flow in the rhythmic transition to any next word, the rhythmic-break mark “|” is interposed before what follows.

The tone-mark /ˎm / I call a Slump. It denotes a descending movement approximately confined to the speaker’s lowest-third of voice range.

The mark /ˏm/, called a Rise, denotes an ascending movement starting within the speaker’s bottom third range and ending above that range without reaching as far as its top third.

The ascending tone which also begins in the bottom third but remains within that low range I call the Rise-Bass /beɪs/ shown as /ˏˌm /.

1. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time.
    / ðeɪ ˈhadn | ˎsin  iʧ ˏᴧðə  |  fər ə ˈlɒŋ ˎtaɪm /

2. The first lady said to the second, she said,
    ðə ˈfɜst ˏleɪdi | sed tə ðə ˏˌsekənd | ʃi ˎsed |

3. ‘My dear, I’m being awfully silly
      maɪ ˈdɪə | aɪm biŋ ˈɔflɪ ˎˏsɪlɪ |
The ‘complex’ final tone here is the combination Slump-Rise.

4. but how many children have you got?
   ˈbət |ˏhaʊ meni `ʧ(ɪ)ldrən hav ju gɒt |

5. I’ve quite forgotten.
    aɪv ˏkwaɪt fə`gɒtn |

6. And the other one ... er ..  said,  er .. I’ve got three.
      ən   ði  `ᴧðə  wᴧn | [ˈɜ] | ˎsed | [ˈɜ] | ˈaɪv ˈgɒt `θri /
Here, of two Alts, as usual the second Alt is slightly lower than the first.

7. I’m not going to have any more.
  aɪm ˈnɒt  gəʊn (t)ə | hav eni `ˏmɔ /
We see that the Fall and the Rise occur together in a combination (called a ‘Fall-Rise’) even on a word of one syllable.

8. And er .. oh  first lady said Well that is surprising!
    and [ᴧ] | ˎəʊ | ði [ᴧ] `pfɜs ˏleɪdi ˈsed | ˈwel ðat ˎɪz səpraɪzɪŋ |

9. From what you used to tell me, I always imagined you were going to
      frm `wɒt | `tju | `justə ˏtel mi  | `aɪ ɔlwɪz ɪˏmaʤɪn | ju wə gəʊɪŋ tə

10. have a really large family’.
      hav ə rilɪ `lɑʤ famlɪ
The /ɪ/s arent old-syle GB but slight regionalisms from this speaker. Non-regional (ie GB) usage is /i/ at these word endings,

11. Oh, yes. That’s quite true.   
       ˈəʊ ˎ jes | ˈðats ˈkwaɪt `tru | The second of these two Alts is again lower.

12. But you see I’ve just been reading
       bət  ju `si |  aɪv ˈʤᴧs ˈbin ˎridɪŋ |

13. some sta`tistics ..  and I see by them that
      sᴧm | stə`tɪstɪks | ˎan aɪ `si baɪ ˎðem | ðət

14.  every fourth child born is a Japanese!
        ˈevri  `fɔθ   ʧaɪl  ˏbɔn | ɪz ə ˎʤapə`niz/

Regarding being in line 3, one sometimes hears it sed that English phonology doesnt permit /i/ preceding /ŋ/ in the same syllable but that isnt true of this form of being. It’s braut about by elision of the /ɪ/ of its lexical form.

In line 7 the bracketed (t) wd be expected to be a /t/ but isnt like an ord·nary one but as much like a /d/.

This passage shows a variety of the forms taken by the conjunction and. Its  usual form when unstrest is /ən/ which we see at the beginning of line 6. Its rarest form unstrest is its strong form phonemicly /and/ which occurs at the beginning of line 8 where its unusual occurrence is clearly explainable as having more of a function as a hesitation signal than as a conjunction. It also quite often occurs in the form /an/ even when strest as at line 13.

The transcription is phonemic except where square brackets surround the phonetic symbols ᴧ and ɜ to convey hesitation noises that only roughly resemble the phonemic values of those symbols. In line 8 the speakers attempt to say first involves a slip of the tongue in which a [p] precedes its articulation resulting in his normal /f/ being replaced by a [pf] sequence reminiscent of the German bilabial affricate consonant.

Blog 522

The 10th of August 2016

Weakforms (xviii) madam, many & me

Very few uses of the term of address ‘madam’ are to be heard these days except in relation to mature customers in relatively upmarket shops etc where no weakform of the word is normal. The case of addressing the Queen, as /mam/ seems to be a unique exception. At least this is what those meeting her are recommended to use by palace authorities.

Not a General British usage but a quotational borrowing from popular American parlance is ‘Wham (alternatively ‘slam’) bam thankyou ma’am’. This somewhat improper saying is of linguistic int·rest because, tho usually so spelt, it is not uttered with the long vowel that the two a’s might be taken to betoken but regularly as /mam/ as its rhyming confirms.

When Henry Sweet came to make the historic first-ever identification of English ‘weak forms’ his list of 63 items in his 1885 Elementarbuch des gesprochenen Englisch didnt contain those of either ‘any’ (on which see our Blog 436) or ‘many’. Daniel Jones in the first edition of his Outline of English Phonetics (1918) at Section 497 for ‘many’ gave two ‘weak forms’ for it illustrating its use in  How many more as / ˊhauməni ˊmɔ: / or / ˊhaumni ˊmɔ:/ but neither he nor subsequent editors have included mention of such forms in any editions of the EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary) or the CEPD  (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary). Nor has the OED. Gimson (1980:263) remarked of any and manythat ‘reduced  unaccented forms may be heard in rapid speech’ (a regrettable term because the phenomenon is not characterised essentially by rapidity but the stylistic feature one might better identify as relaxation) but he didnt include them when he revised EPD. By contrast the Wells LPD has from its 1990 first edition included the comment ‘There are occasional weak forms məni, mni (esp. in how many)’.

There’s gen·ral agreement to include ‘weak forms’ of me in pronunciation dictionaries but there has sometimes been some confusion regarding their notation. This has been because over the same mid twentieth-century  period there was a change in predominant notational practice of GB and a change in its pronunciation which were quite distinct from each other. The change in pronunciation was exemplified in a word like city which by General British types of speakers for the generations of successively Jones and Gimson that word was by the majority perceived as having exactly the same vowel (phoneme) in both of its two syllables. That vowel was transcribed by Jones in his EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary) as in /'siti/ but preferred by Gimson in the notation /'sɪtɪ/. Both spoke the word in the same way.

From the middle of that century onward GB speakers came to increasingly tend to make the final vowel of such words and other comparable ones more like the fleece vowel, so that they came to be markedly diff·rent.   Jones assigned the vowel of his ‘weak form’ of me, which he transcribed as /mi/, to the vowel phoneme which latterly people are most accustomed to see with the /ɪ/ with which Gimson replaced Jones’s /i/ in his extensively revised thirteenth edition of the EPD of 1977, the relevant entry containing ‘mɪ freq. weak form’. When in 1990 J. C. Wells’s LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) first appeared, by contrast with the EPD the newly predominant vowel of the final syllable of words like happy was transcribed not with /ɪ/ but the now more appropriate phonemically diff·rent /i/.

At the 1997 fifteenth edition of the EPD, for the first time edited principally by Peter Roach, the notation that appeared for the ‘weak form’ of me was  \mɪ\. However,  by the seventeeth (C)EPD edition, the single ‘weak form’ given had been brought up to date as \i\. This was not a mere change of preferred symbol for the same sound but a well justified if slightly belated bringing in line of this word with happy-type words of the CEPD.

The OED gives Brit. /miː/, /mi/, /mɪ/ not very unreasonably suggesting that it’s possible to recognise a second ‘weak form’. The audio illustrations for the ‘Brit.’ strong and first weak forms seem to differ in nothing but speaker and no audio is given for the second ‘weak form’. The 2001 Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (which is after some considerable time about to reappear renamed and from a diff·rent publisher) gave /mɪ/ as the only weak version which will perhaps now be changed to reflect more current usage.

never The words ever and especially never have highly colloquial occasional reductions to forms which are very little if at all recognised by dictionaries unless where verse writers have availed themselves of spellings which acknowledge needs of satisfactory scansion. An unremarkable occurrence of a colloquial elision-cum- assimilation is the reduction of never mind to / ˈnev ˈmaɪn / or / ˈneb ˈmaɪn/. People who know English solely from publications are likely to expect that the spelling ne’er whch they find in verse and the odd  conscious archaism such as ‘ne’er-do-well’ represents a solely obsolete weakform but the casual form [nɛː] may still occur in /`nɛːˏmaɪn (d)/ for Never mind.

no This may become what is sometimes written as nope. The word  may occur in a casual weakform /nə/ in eg /`ðats nə gʊd tə ˏmi/ That’s no good to me. It may be strengthened to ‘nope’ as /ˈnəʊp/ or /ˈnəp̚ː/ either of them with or without  a ‘tight’ /p/ that may or not be audibly released.




Blog 521

The 1st of August 2016

People Speaking 40 Englishman in Russia

 / ˈɪŋglɪʃmən | ɪn ˎrᴧʃə /  

The vertical bar ‘|’ in any of these transcriptions indicates a discontinuity in 'prosody' (a word meaning essentially rhythm-&-intonation) of either an interval of silence which may at its briefest be so short as to be barely sensed, or a break in the smooth flow of consecutive pitches with no necess·ry silent interval whatever. Our title would quite offen be spoken in one of these ways ie in two prosodic phrases. The more marked the interval, the more likely it is to sound rhetorical.

The text that the actor performed from was noted down from the words of a well-known broadcaster as follows:

I went in to the bathroom late at night — no clothes on — to take an Alka-Seltzer after far too many vodkas. And there, sitting in my bath, was an elderly Chinaman washing his toes. So I said ‘Hi!’ in English, and he said ‘Hi!’ in Chinese — which sounds much the same. Of course I hadnt realised that these bathrooms serve two bedrooms. Unless you lock the door on the other side, the chap can get through. Well the next day, unfortunately, our interpreter said that the President of the Outer Mongolian People’s Republic had been insulted in his bath by a drunken nude.

    In line 1 of this monolog you can hear at the word bathroom that it’s being spoken in what is called (as I prefer to use the term) a ‘weakform’ ie a variant pronunciation that has come about by speakers’ uttering it with reduced articulatory effort. LPD (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) gives the word as most often used with the weakly stressed vowel of its latter syllable the /u/ phoneme but records also the existence of a weakform where speakers replace that vowel with the shorter and less closely rounded /ʊ/. These days, especially among younger GB (General British) speakers, we increasingly hear a further weakened form with, as here, the schwa vowel — if not something in between /ʊ/ and /ə/.

    Our transcription uses / ˈ / to indicate a (level) upper pitch and / ˌ / for a (level) lower pitch.
It leaves a middle level pitch unmarked. The word ‘late’, beginning the second prosodic phrase in line 1, is thus to be taken as uttered at a level pitch that’s not markedly high or low.
The tempo of this narration is quite brisk.

    1. aɪ ˈwent ɪn tə ðə ˎbɑθrəm | leɪt ət ˏnaɪt | nəʊ ˏkləʊðz ɒn |

    2. (tə) ˈteɪk ən ˈalkə ˎseltsə | ɑftə `fɑ | tu ˏmeni `vɒtkəz | ən `ˏðɛ |…

The absence of the grammaticly required word ‘to’ /tə/ at the beginning of line 2 sounds like an elision tho it cou·d possibly have been articulated without being audible. Curved brackets around any sound transcribed indicate that it’s so unclear that it’s guessed rather than he·rd. Successive Alts (upper level tones) are to be taken as slightly stepping downwards. The vowel of the word ‘far’ is quite long which is a common value of segments preceding a break.

    The pronunciation of the word ‘vodka’ clearly has no phoneme /d/ corresponding to its orthographic <d>. In fact it’s a /t/ though not in the most characteristic realisation of that phoneme (which has aspiration following it). Of course, that realisation isnt to be expected here because we normally only get an ‘incomplete’ /t/ before a plosive consonant. Only /d/ and no variant form such as we find here is recorded for the word ‘vodka’ in any of even the major pronunciation dictionaries, yet this /t/ sounds hardly at·all unusual. It’s obvi·sly the result of an anticipative asssimilation.

    The final phoneme in line 2 is one that most dictionaries of GB still represent as /ɛə/. Diphthongal [ɛə] was its usual Victorian value very widely to be heard also in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Some older speakers such as the BBC television wildlife presenter David Attenborough (now 90) can still be he·rd to use it. However, by the second half of the century it was mainly only he·rd as a diphthong when strest and word final. We can hear that it was non-diphthongal [ɛː] even on a strest bi-directional (fall-rise) tone from this actor who was speaking in 1977.

    3. ˈsɪtɪŋ ɪn maɪ ˏbɑθ | wəz ən ˈeldəli ˎʧaɪnəmən | wɒʃɪŋ ɪz ˎtəʊz |

    The word ‘chinaman’ is no longer used to refer to a chinese person except quite disrespectfully. Here its use indicates the speaker’s irritation. The vowelled weakform /wəz/ is the normal form of ‘was’ before a following vowel. Before a consonant, as in for instance ‘He was cross’ /hi wz `krɒs/, the vowelless form is quite usual.

    4. səʊ aɪ sed `haɪ | ˈɪn ˏɪŋglɪʃ | ən ˈhi sed haɪ ɪn ʧaɪ`niz |

The second prosodic phrase in line 4 has a humorous effect because its combination of Alt plus (Low) Rise is strongly associated with reassuring someone as typically in expressions like ‘Don’t worry’ or ‘As you’d expect’.

    5. (ɪt) saʊn(z) (laɪk) ðə ˎseɪm. | ə `kɔs ˈaɪ ˈhad (ə) `rɪəˏlaɪz |

At this brisk pace it’s not surprising that certain sounds are utter·d unclearly or omitted altogether.

    6. ðət ˈðiz ˏbɑθrʊmz | sɜv tu `bedrʊmz. | ənˈles ju `lɒk | ...

The break after ‘lock’ here is a marked rhetorical effect rather characteristic of socially conspicuous (aka ‘posh’) speech.

    7. ðə ˎdɔr | ɒn ði ᴧðə `ˏsaɪd | ðə ˈʧap kən get `θru |

The word ‘chap’ is usable, like ‘fellow’, as an informal synonym for male person.

    8. ə(n) ðə ˈneks `deɪ | nˏfɔʧənətli | ˈɑr ɪn ˎtɜprəˏtə |

The word ‘our’, is little used in the form its spelling suggests /aʊə(r)/ even when accented. GB speakers use /ɑ(r)/ or less offen /ɑə(r)/. 

   9. ˈsed ðət ðə ˈprezədənt | əv ði ˈaʊtə mɒŋˈgəʊliən |

   10. ˈpiplz rɪˎpᴧblɪk | əd bin ɪnˈsᴧltɪd ɪn ɪz ˏbɑθ |

   11. baɪ ə ˈdrᴧŋkən `nju(d) |

The last two words of line 11 are no dou·t utter·d with their rather falsetto quality to reinforce the humorous suggestion of indignation. The final /d/ of the word ‘nude’ is unusually articulated by not being audibly released. Its alveolar closure is probably made by the speaker tho hardly detectable.

Blog 520

The 17th of July 2016

People Speaking 39 Name Dropper

/ `neɪm drɒpə/

1. / ´hav ju ˈsin ðə ˏpleɪ /   Have you seen the play?

2. / `wɒt pleɪ. ði ɪmˈpɔtns əv biɪŋ `ˏɜnɪst /  What play?  The Importance of Being Earnest?

3. / `nəʊ. ˈə ˏweɪst | əv `mᴧni /    No. A Waste of Money.

4. / ðəz ˎnəʊ pleɪ kɔld  ˎˏ ðat. /  There’s no play called that.

   /  `nɒt ə ˎweɪst | əv ˎˏmᴧni. /   Not A Waste of Money.

     / ju ˈmᴧs ˈmin | ə ˈteɪst əv `hᴧni/. You must mean A Taste of Honey.

5. / ˈəʊ | `ðats (ð)ə neɪm ɒv ɪt, ˏɪz ɪt /  Oh! That’s the name of it, is it?

      ˈhu | `rəʊt ðə θɪŋ/   Who wrote the thing?

6. /ə ˈjᴧŋ `manʧəstə gɜl./  A young Manchester girl.

      /ɔr  ət eni reɪt ʃi `wɒz wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt. /  Or at any rate she was when she wrote it.
    /´`veri jᴧŋ | ˈstɪl ɪn hə `tinz  aɪ bəliv ɪn fakt. /  Very young. Still in her teens, I believe, in fact.

7. /ˎrɪəˈli | ju ə`meɪz mi./  Really? You amaze me.

The title is a feeble pun on senses of the verb ‘ to drop’. One refers to the man’s failiure to ‘catch’ the proper name of the play ie he fails to perceive or hear it properly. The other sense refers to a person who draws attention to the fact that he/she personally knows certain important persons by ‘dropping’ ie ‘casually’ bringing into a conversation their names.

The play referred to in the second speaker-turn is of course the famous comedy by Oscar Wilde which itself is another demonstration of the Englishman’s weakness for punning.

Turn 4 begins with a weakform of ‘there’s’ which is a reduction of the phrase  there is /ðɛr ɪz/.

At Turn 5 the bracketed /ð/ means that the sound is either so weakly articulated as to be too difficult to hear or has been omitted completely.

At Turn 6 the pronunciation /`manʧəstə/ may be for this speaker a choice of a weakform of the word for greater rhythmical ease in this context when otherwise she sez it as /`manʧestə/ as her regular pronunciation of the word. This latter probability is the less likely.

At Turn 6 with non-advanced students one might’ve thaut it most helpful to transcribe ‘when she wrote it’ not like this /wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt/ but like this /wen ʃi `rəʊt ˏɪt/ because not marking the word ‘it’ as rising mightve been puzzling. ‘It’ does rise but not coz the speaker wants to emphasise ‘it’. She wants to emphasise ‘wrote’ but at the same time wants at least to hint that there is another idea she has in mind which she doesnt want to go into at the moment.