Archive 7 of JWL Blog


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

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17/03/2008Remarks 3#070
16/03/2008Remarks 2#069
15/03/2008Remarks 1#068
14/03/2008Mixed bags and box sets#067
13/03/2008A Mix Bag#066
04/03/2008People's Pronunciations#065
22/02/2008Welsh Placenames into GB#064
21/02/2008Accentuation Matters (ii)#063
21/02/2008Accentuation Matters (i)#062
20/01/2008John Laver#061

Blog 070

The 17th of March 2008

Remarks 3

Perhaps before continuing these analytical comments I shd give a warning similar to what I've already given in my Recognition of Tones piece (§8.3 elsewhere on this site). Don't be surprised if you're not quite sure that what I say I hear is what you think `you're hearing. Very often I'm quite hesitant about describing a pitch pattern even sometimes completely baffled over whether there is movement at all or even whether very slight movement is up or down. It's in the nature of spontaneous speech to be quite often vague. And if you have some device that offers you evidence like the admirable Audacity, don't always believe it. I can think of more than one investigator who's, in my opinion, been misled by such machines. For example especially with a high falling tone people may trust a machine to tell them that there's another, ascending, tone before it. I think the truth is that the human perception often filters out such slight movements because they are (subconsciously) recognised as involuntary. There can paradoxically be a difference between what's "audible" and what's "hearable". I can think of one distinguished authority on intonation matters who has, to my mind, given recognition to far too many rising-falling tones which I shdve preferred to categorise as simple Falls. No-one in Remark # 3 is the item that has triggered this  spiel. 

But turning to # 5 we see that All right has two Alts (level tones) but they are not at the same pitch. I expect you know already that two successive Alts regularly involve a lower (tho not "Low") pitch on the second. If the second word didnt take a step down in pitch its syllable wouldnt stand out as accented but just form part of the tail to the first tone. A third and even a fourth Alt would also have its own step down but in conversational English such long sequences are unusual. We have a slight problem of categorisation here in that we can well regard this as Remote Speech or perhaps as a sort of quotation of the remote style within close quarters conversation. In normal conversational style the final climax tone of a sentence is virtually never an Alt.

In the second sentence of # 5 we have a Rise head before a Rise climax tone. The speaker breaks the head in two by not (as wd no doubt be more usual) continuing smoothly upward but taking you down slightly to prehead pitch which we indicate by the vertical bar. By the way, the final tail word then is almost never given the weakform value /ðən/ it might well receive in a prehead. Just as with successions of Alts, but much less obviously because of the restricted pitch range involved, successions of head Rises tend to step — in this case upward. We'll find that successive Falls step down. 

Remark # 6 is very clearly remote speech. Both climax tones are Fall-Mids on single syllables. The Rise head is a classic type. The Remark # 7 text might  reasonably be expected by those with a textbook knowledge of English intonation to be uttered with a Rise on look and a Fall-Rise on me but remember the Rise is especially associated with sympathy — the very opposite of what is being expressed here. The texbooks never seem to acknowledge how freely General British speakers interchange Fall-Rises with Fall-Mids — something that happens very frequently indeed among GA speakers. Doc O'Connor used to refer informally to the two types as allotones (of the same "tone"). The former Fall-Mid is notably narrower than the final one.

Blog 069

The 16th of March 2008

Remarks 2

Continuing our commentary on the prosody of the Remarks of People Speaking Item 1, we can note that the first and last syllables of Remark # 3 both begin with what we shall find is our most frequently recurring tone the Fall (often referred to less succinctly as the High Fall). This means that each of them begins in the top third of the speaker's compass and ends below the middle third. As we're avoiding too complicated a notation we don't try to convey that the first Fall starts well up in the speaker's range, and is rapid, loud and even slightly excited sounding. The second one is probably more like her average Fall. Before it there are three other descending tones — this time Slumps (often called Low Falls). The interesting thing about these is that each succeeding one starts slightly higher than the previous one. We shall be observing this stepping pattern often. We shall find it upward in Slumps but downward in the two higher-tone successions of Alts and Falls.

The professional actors who performed these readings for me were given no requirements in respect of the intonations they used. If I had been asked to predict what intonation one would think a speaker most likely to use on this sentence I shdve guessed that she wouldve ended it with a Fall-Rise rather than a Fall but clearly her choice was to sound more belligerent and unforgiving rather than conciliatory and sympathetic, which is the effect that a final Rise generally produces. 

Remark #4 begins with a transcription problem: Well certainly begins a descent in pitch. Firstly we must remember that the chief function of traditional punctuation is not to indicate prosodies but to show grammatical relationships. As long as one bears this in mind there is no objection in my opinion to retaining ordinary punctuation. Many other prosody transcribers throw it out of the window but I don't. If I wished to represent here that the descending tone on Well was a complete descent from high to low on that word I could insert one of our vertical-bar unit-boundary indicators or I could adopt a rather unorthodox punctuation and put a full stop after the word. However what we actually have is not a full descent but a partial descent begun on Well and immediately continued thru if to I.

Kingdon (intonation Groundwork p. 262) chose to ignore this detail in the interests of simplicity, but O'Connor & Arnold made it the subject of one of their most interesting innovations. They gave recognition to what was a new tone for the EFL literature on the subject which they hesitated to give a name to (they might have called it the Slide) but represented by a Fall tone symbol to which they added an arrowhead (our Fall-Mid ˋ-). Readers of Wells's book will see that he, perfectly reasonably, rejects that innovation for his purposes in effect returning to Kingdon's treatment of the matter. Here we have a different goal: not to recommend restricted types of intonation pattern for strictly practical purposes but to base what we deal with on what we find in our set of texts.

Readers will no doubt be familiar with the traditional terminology by which any syllables leading to a climax tone are termed a head if they contain accented words. By these we mean those made prominent by the speaker to convey that they're playing an important part in what is desired to be communicated. Also readers will know that the unaccented syllables preceding and following the climax are respectively known as its prehead and tail.  

So: after our first Fall-Mid head we come to our first example of a Climb-Fall climax tone — strictly speaking a Climb-Fall-Bass tone  because the Fall element is completed on the ( second syllable of ) the word /daɪəld/ and followed by the two subsequent words at the Bass level. If it had been a simple Climb-Fall  we shd be taking it to be completed on the following two words viz /ˊdaɪəld ðə ˎrɒŋ/ with /ðə/ at the peak of the Climb.

Actually altho this C-F-B tone is a climax-type tone it is here functioning as a head tone to a Fall-Rise climax tone proper. The final intonation unit of Remark #4 is the blessedly simple Alt head plus Fall climax sequence.


Blog 068

The 15th of March 2008

Remarks 1

At one time I thaut of writing a book on English prosody or "intonation" as it's popularly known. I was urged to do so more than once by my sometime teacher, friend and colleague J. D. "Doc" O'Connor co-author of the justly influential book Intonation of Colloquial English. One trouble with the word intonation is that it's too vaguely used. Properly it shd, I feel, be applied only to the tones ie the pitch patterns of a language. Within the phonetics community the word "prosody" is generally felt to be a better term to embrace also various other non-segmental rhythmic etc features that accompany the tones.

Perfectly reasonably John Wells has used the less obscure term Intonation as the title of his brilliant book on the subject last year. Once again he's taken up an area of phonetics and boldly produced something better than all his predecessors in the field. I don't like absolutely every detail of his treatment but I can heartily recommend it to any teacher or really advanced student of English who has curiosities in that area. And who doesn't?

Among the reasons for my not attempting a book on intonation (apart from simple indolence) was the difficulty of how best to represent it on texts and the concern that simply recording the tones of speech is only half the story. In fact my book People Speaking was an attempt in part to illustrate how English prosody operates by supplying a set of texts with their intonations indicated and a modest amount of comment on its workings.

I've now supplied sound files of all the 53 texts on this website and intend to accompany them all in time with prosodically annotated phonemic transcriptions and occasional commentaries. They range in length from a dozen or less lines to a page and a half, 53 to 318 words. They are mostly dialogues because the context of interaction between speakers is of prime interest to the student of prosodies. Some few are monologues and the very first set are ten isolated  remarks independent of any expressed context.

The tone marking I use I propose to explain as I go along except for the most basic ones of all, which I call the ˈAlt (high-level, /ӕlt/), ˌBass (low-level /beɪs/), ˊClimb (moving from mid to high), ˋFall (high to low), ˏRise (low to mid) and ˎSlump (mid to low). These are partly explained at Section 8 Item 3 on this website The Recognition of English Tones.

In these "lessons" on English prosody you'll not be expected to recognise them for yourself but only to take note of the tones marked for you. 

Our very first example in Line 1, the first word in Remarks, brings us at once to a non-basic tone and indeed to brush with a tone system not that of ordinary conversational spoken English at all. This is an item belonging mainly to a tonal system I call Remote Speech because its use is very largely confined to expressions people use when they are not within the normal close quarters of ordinary conversation — when they call to eachother [sic spelling]. Don't be surprised if you've never met it in any didactic EFL writings.

I call this tone the Fall-Mid (ˋ-): it's less clearly (more doubtfully) heard on stranger and very clearly identifiable on the two climax tones (nuclear tones) in Line 6. I much prefer "climax" to "nuclear" (H. E. Palmer's term which suggests spre'ding in all directions) because intonations are strictly linear. In its purely "Remote" version as in these latter two examples it tends to more "stretcht".

The vertical lines within the sentence indicate that any tonal "instructions" previously shown in the sequence are now cancelled. Note how the speaker intensifies the force of the word fat denying it fully close binding with the following word by dropping in pitch to a prehead level.

The word prehead was the very valuable coinage of the greatest of all English tonologists Roger Kingdon (cf §2.3) to refer to syllables which precede a (first) fully prominent syllable in an intonation unit. You see our use of these vertical bars serves to divide sentences into intonation units so we have three units in Line 1. The prehead level is relatively low (and slightly variable according to what follows) but not exactly the same thing as the Low range of our three levels we divide a person's ordinary vocal compass into. Lines 2, 8 and 10 all begin with preheads.

You may notice that we depart from our usual practice of giving only a phonemic notation to include notable uses of glottal plosives at Lines 2, 5 and 10. So you see it's not only strongly stressed syllables begin with such glottal stops — if that's what you were inclined to think.

Lastly, I hope you aren't disturbed by my occasional experiments with English spelling reform.

Blog 067

The 14th of March 2008

Mixed bags and box sets

Paul Carley has emailed me to say

"I've just read your recent blog on various matters. The title 'mix bag' immediately caught my eye as it reminded me of a little discovery I made a while ago.

I had always thought that sets of videos and CDs which had been put in boxes for sale as bargains or collectable special editions were called 'boxed sets' and when I saw the form 'box set' I thought that the writer had understandably misinterpreted the spoken form with the elision of /t/. However, a quick google search for the two forms revealed that I am in the minority: 28,600,000 hits for 'box set' against 6,100,000 for 'boxed set' ".

I had se'd, you may remember,
"In today's title Mix and not Mixed was no accident. Re'd aloud they don't need to differ".
My reply was
The two cases are not exactly parallel. "A box set" cd be a natural answer to a question like "What kind of set is it?" On the contrary when "mix" is used as a noun in the same "attributive" way the sense doesn't seem right. It shd come clearer when one substitutes for "set" a word that begins with a vowel instead of an /s/ which tends to mask the final /t/ of  "boxed" . "A box assemblage" seems to me more acceptable than "a mix assemblage" which seems strange — unlike "a mixed assemblage", tho one has to admit that we often don't express that potential difference in running speech.

Blog 066

The 13th of March 2008

A Mix Bag

More often than not, when I'm tempted to do one of these it's triggered by some item in the steady blog stream that John Wells keeps putting out. The latest to suggest comment to me (08-03-11) was his reference to the fact that the Jersey place name Haut de la Garenne is pronounced locally with an /h/. I'd not imagined that to be so and I sympathise with the newsreaders who omit it. I've heard some who have a final /t/ in Haut (as if it were spelt Haute) and I wonder if they do that too on Jersey.

He followed that with "I am told that the BBC Pronunciation Unit has just sent round a reminder to all broadcasters that Beijing is properly pronounced with dʒɪŋ, not ʒɪŋ. I say the same thing in LPD. I wonder how much effect we will have." 

Not very much I shd guess and I have to admit that, reading in the LPD that there is no "justification" in Chinese for the -ʒɪŋ pronunciation "frequently" heard in English, I can't help feeling that the proper job of the linguistic scientist is to record the facts without passing judgment. I suspect that a good majority even of thoughtful speakers use the "wrong" version. The trouble is that last year's "mistake" can very soon become this year's recognised "good usage". For more examples of this phenomenon my suggested explanation of why so many of us use /ʒ/ in such words see my article on Twentieth-Century Changes in British Pronunciation  §I.5 in the main division of this website.

Another curiosity John has commented on (10 March 08) was that a highly competent Montserrat radio announcer repeatedly pronounced the Duchess of Cornwall's forename as /`kӕmɪlə/. He says "if Camilla is a name you don’t know, there is every reason to suppose, on the basis of the spelling, that it is pronounced kəˈmɪlə". What one can say is that she could just possibly have been influenced by the fact that there is a common English female name which rhymes with her version tho it's spelt Pamela. The OED lists a verb "to camel" so there is a potential noun practically identical with her version of Camilla viz "cameller" ie /`kӕmələ/!

There are a couple of other words that are of some interest which we are all constantly hearing currently. One of them is also a forename: that of the US Senator Obama. Everyone in the States seems to be consistently calling him /bə`rɑk/. Now tho the BBC Unit has recommended broadcasters to match this version nobody I've noticed has done so. The reason for our general resistance against adopting the Americans' version is, I suspect, that the transliteration (from Arabic) of the name over-anglicises it by using "ck" when a more suitably exotic spelling Barak would have been more appropriate. Compare the name Mubarak. British speakers will probably be finding it too much out of accord with their conception of how we expect to say the letter sequence "ack". I've only heard one British newsreader not say /bə`rӕk/ and she said it as "barrack" /`bӕrək/!

The other currently much heard word is of greater phonetic interest. It's the term borrowing. All the dictionaries quite reasonably indicate it as /`bɒrəʊɪŋ/. After all we don't want to frighten the horses. But the fact of the matter is that it's at least as often, when we hear it bandied about by the financial wizards and others, spoken as two syllables /`bɒrwɪŋ/. This version appeared as an example in my 1979 article Pre-Consonantal /r/ in the General British Pronunciation of English which is reprinted as Item 3 in Section 4 on this website. But that's not the whole story. In completely fluent speech what I have called "wyn dropping" quite often happens to this word when the /w/ is elided to give the form /`bɒrɪŋ/. Really interestingly some General British speakers may be heard to add a little more than their usual amount of  lip-rounding that accompanies GB /r/ arriving at a blended single phonetic segment which phonologically we must presumably regard as to be transcribed as /`bɒrwɪŋ/. Even more fascinating is the observation that some GB speakers occasionally produce an articulation which we can represent  as /`bɒr̩ɪŋ/.  I can recall on some occasions suddenly wondering whether I was hearing a GB speaker or one with some demotic features because the non-standard form used by many demotic speakers for borrow is /`bɒrə/. This kind of speech at a moderate rate of articulation gives borrowing as /`bɒrərɪŋ/ because of the use of the notorious so-called "intrusive r". However, at a more rapid pace such a speaker arrives at the version we've noted is to be found in the usage of some GB speakers viz /`bɒɪŋ/! Quite a coincidence!

I shd like to make it clear to readers that I regard many of the items on my main homepage as "work in progress" to which I return from time to time with amendments, extra examples etc notably at 3.1, 3.7, 7.4, 8.1. Anyone who examined it last three months ago would find that a further 20,000 words of material have been added since then. The latest new item there, added today, is 5.2 British English in strict IPA transcription. 

PS In today's title Mix and not Mixed was no accident. Re'd aloud they don't need to differ.

Blog 065

The 4th of March 2008

People's Pronunciations

Last night I watched a programme on the the digital television channel BBC4 the first of a new series called Political Mavericks. It was presented by John Sargeant a former well known political reporter and editor with BBC and till recently ITN. It dealt with several flamboyant political figures starting with Albert Victor Grayson (1881-1920) the radical British journalist and MP. His story was largely told in the words of a glamorous young (39) newspaper woman by the name of Petronella Wyatt who was referred to as his biographer. She is a remarkably witty columnist on the very understandably much despised populist "red-top" newspaper the Daily Mail. She is a product of St Paul's Girls' School and a history graduate of University College London and spoke very well to camera — now we're coming to what particularly interested me about her — and used a word that she pronounced very clearly as "emnity" /`emnəti/. What added piquant notability to the occasion was that I was watching the programme's sub-titles, as I usually do, and re'd that they spelt the word similarly unorthodoxly as "emnyty".

  It's very unusual for these titles to reflect a speaker's pronunciation in this way but one has to sympathise with the person who did so because they have to type the text instantly which must be a very difficult not to say stressful job. It's no surprise that this carefully prepared programme was not accompanied by comparably produced titles. It seems likely that it's a matter of cutting costs to do it this way and it's probably viewed as being provided essentially for the supposedly relatively small minority of viewers who have some degree of hearing difficulty. Mis-typings are consequently a very natural common feature of such titlings.

By the way, these induce some interesting thoughts on English spelling. One might have theorised that working in such haste they might have resorted to some bits of involuntary spelling reform but the most regularly occurring contrast with normal traditional spelling I have been able to observe is the very large proportion of inflections of words ending with -y which don't in fact receive the orthodox conversion of it to -i- but instead  show eg not policies but policys.

But to return to "emnity". I'm reminded by it of the fact that, after many years of careful professional attention to the ways in which people speak great numbers of words, I had never noticed this particular mistake until I re'd in a book The Changing English Language originally published in 1968 by a Dr Brian Foster (1920-1977) whose main field of work seems to have been French studies. He remarked that he considered this version of the word to be very common indeed and to my surprise, not to say chagrin, I immediately began to notice that it seemed that this pronunciation of the word was being used more or less as often as the orthodox one. I think there's a lesson to be learnt from this little story. One can easily miss oddities of this sort, even if one thinks of oneself as an extremely careful observer, not only in the speech of others but also probably in one's own performance. I think this links up with some other items on this website notably my blog 050 on Prime Ministerial Pronunciations and my article Item 5 at Section 3 How English is Really Pronounced.

PS John Wells has emailed to remind me of what in fact I do well remember namely that he has shown the pronunciation /`emnəti/ in his LPD since its first edition of 1990 accompanying it with the traffic-style warning triangle ⚠ (with an internal exclamation mark) by which he vividly indicates th't that pronunciation is "considered incorrect". One wonders why it seems that no-one ever inclines to pronounce indemnity /ɪn`denməti/. It seems to me plain that /d/ and /b/ provide a more easily perceived difference than /n/ and /m/ no doubt because the common nasality of the latter pair reduces the degree of their mutual contrastiveness. I'm inclined to suspect that the word criminal uttered completely fluently in mid sentence would largely pass unnoticed if articulated as /krɪnɪml/. Some speakers of English as foreign language can be very vague about which nasal consonant to end a word with. It's not suprising that Spanish speakers are amongst these when one notes the fact that Biblical names such as Abraham, Adam, Bethlehem (Sp. Belén), Jerusalem etc end in n in their Spanish spellings. English retains signs of the same phenomenon in having doublets like pilgrim and peregrine, solemn and sullen etc. I've heard some very well educated English native speakers talking about the writer Somerset /mɔːn/. It’s possible that in some cases they were confusing his name with the other surname Maughan which is in fact the source of the variant “Maugham” but I’ve observed the /n/ form being used by people who were fully aware how he spelt his name.   

Blog 064

The 22nd of February 2008

Welsh Placenames into GB

His examination of a recently published book, a Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales by Hywel Wyn Owen and Richard Morgan, has led John Wells to meditate upon how the monoglot English-speaking population of southeast Wales might be expected to pronounce the evidently Welsh-language names of their area. His conclusion was that, apparently despite his initial doubts about the matter, "members of the non-Welsh-speaking majority in Wales can often nevertheless pronounce Welsh names in a Welsh, as opposed to an anglicized, way." 

I was born and brought up in Cardiff in the middle of the most anciently, indeed immemorially, English-speaking coastal area stretching from Barry in the west to Newport in the east so that I am keenly aware of the fact that there are two quite distinct types of monoglot English pronunciation in (non-Gower) Glamorgan and Monmouthshire as they were traditionally known. I've given a brief definition of these two accents of English in my article on The Roots of Cardiff English at Section 7 Item 7 on this website.

Speakers of the Cardiff type of accent differ from the other type, for which I adopted the term Cymric /`kɪmrɪk/ when many years ago I wrote my (unpublished) book Glamorgan Spoken English (1964), in that the latter type has a large number of phonetic features in common with the adjacent forms of the Welsh language evidently due to the fact that their forebears relatively recently gave up the use of Welsh. The Cardiff accent by contrast has arguably no such features other than the many phonetic characteristics etc that it shares with various parts of England. The upshot of this is that Cardiff-type speakers are much less likely to use un-Anglicised versions of Welsh-language names. 

In going through some place-name elements Wells remarks that “mynydd becomes Mynd [mɪnd] in the name of the Shropshire hill The Long Mynd” tho it’s hard to see the relevance of the comment to his theme. At any rate, none but the most unsophisticated speaker has any trouble with saying /`mʌnɪð/ for Mynydd and surely no-one at all would dream of pronouncing it /mɪnd/. He continues “Welsh Llwyd becomes English Lloyd”. There is no well-known placename with this element but I doubt if anyone in Wales wd pronounce the Mid-Glamorgan place Llwydcoed with the version [lɔɪd] he seems to expect it to receive at least from some folk if I understand his drift. Llwynypia is /(ɬ)luɪnə`piə/.

He rightly says that “Pen anglicizes with no difficulty” but that goes only for stressed syllables: the usual pronunciation for Penarth is /pə`nɑːθ/. He says “the article -y- becomes English [i] in for example Pontypool/Pont-y-pŵl” but my recollection is that it was, at least when I lived in Wales, most often /pɒntə`puːl/ in the same way as Tonypandy is /tɒnə`pandi/ and Pontypridd is normally /pɒntə`priːð/ tho the informal reduction of that to /`pɒnti/ never has a schwa.

I confirm his impression that all (except possibly the least sophisticated) are fully accustomed to producing [x] in at least some Welsh-language names, eg Machen /`maxən/, but I query the suggestion that a normal Welsh-language value of ll as simply [ɬ] is produced commonly. I feel sure that it is not usual. Of course nobody in Wales says Llanelly as /la`neli/ but the normal pronunciation to be heard from people who are not native speakers of Welsh is not [ɬa`neɬi] but [ɬla`neɬli] if they don't make it [(θ)lə`neθli] as I and many others do. See my article A Notable Welsh Sound which is Item 1 in Section 9 on this website.

Words containing the Welsh-language double-l spelling like Llandaff have often had a well-established traditional pronunciation without any [ɬ] (in this case /`landəf/) amongst educated Cardiff-area speakers  which incoming residents from other parts of Wales may fail to observe — especially those from areas where Welsh is spoken. This applies to Llandough /lan`dɒk/ near Cardiff but /lan`dɒf/ near Bridgend, Llanishen /lan`ɪʃən/, Llantwit /`lantwɪt/ and Llysworney /lɪz`wɜːni/. In the case of Lisvane /lɪz`veɪn/ (a name occurring elsewhere in Wales spelt Llysfaen) an old spelling also has been retained (as at Lampeter, Loughor and perhaps Landore). Wenallt, a name which unlike these is not in the DBN (ie the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names), I remember hearing as /`wenəlt/, is particularly difficult for non-native Welsh speakers in having [ɬ] adjacent to a consonant. Few native speakers of English, even those who've lived all their life in Wales, can manage such combinations as are found in Bedwellty in the area under discussion and elswhere in places like Cysyllte, Pwllheli and Ystradfellte

Anglicisation is very generally applied in the form of preference for schwa over the Welsh unreduced vowel in weaker kinds of syllables eg as in Baglan /`baglən/, Dinas /`dɪnəs/, Dowlais /`daʊləs/, Ebbw (Vale) /ˈebə/, Merthyr /`mɜːθə/ Pontar(d)dulais /pɒntə`dʌləs/, Pontrhydyfen /ˌpɒntrədə`ven/, Radyr /`radə/. Long schwa may be favoured in various words where Welsh has vowel plus /r/ eg Merthyr, Hirwaun/`hɜːwɪn/ and Pentyrch /pen`tɜːk/. Native English-speakers at times fight shy of [ŋ] minus a following [g] eg in Senghenydd /seŋ`genɪð/ and Llanfihangel /(ɬ)lanvi`haŋgəl/ as they do with German names like Engels. Although they have no problem with making /ð/ for Welsh double-d many habitually say /`rɒndə/ for Rhondda despite the fact that DBN refused to acknowledge it as an educated English variant. Another DBN oddity was its suggestion that /pɔːθ`kaʊl/ was a variant of Porthcawl with any real currency. I was once shocked to hear in an English-language news bulletin from a Welsh BBC station /pɒrθ`kaʊl/ but the only normal pronunciation of the name is surely /pɔːθ`kɔːl/. Placenames of the area contain many other curiosities of such as hybrid spellings and pronunciations etc eg Abertillery /abətə`lɛːri/, Caerphilly /kə`fɪli/ Clydach /`klɪdəx/, Maindy /`meɪndi/, Maudlam /`maʊdləm/ (not in DBN and perhaps an English item influenced by Welsh), Treorchy /tri`ɔːki/, Resolven /rə`zɒlvən/, Rhigos /`rɪkɒs/ (locally only according to DBN), Velindre /və`lɪndrə/ etc.

Nikolas Coupland's Dialect in Use: Sociolinguistic Variation in Cardiff English (1988 University of Wales Press) has much of interest to say in this field.

One of the better known poems of the Monmouthshire linguistic originary W. H. Davies (1871-1940) called Days that have Been contained the stanza

Can I forget the sweet days that have been,
The villages so green that I have been in;
Llantarnam, Magor, Malpas, and Llanwern,
Liswery, old Caerleon, and Alteryn?

I shd expect that he pronounced these last two lines
/lanˈtaːnəm |ˈmeɪgə |ˈmalpəs ən lanˏwɜːn |
lɪzˈweri | əʊl(d) kəˈliːən | ən alˊterɪn.

Blog 063

The 21st of February 2008

Accentuation Matters (ii)

The John Wells blog of 14 February 2008 referred to what was described as a “terrible Essex joke” in yesterday’s Guardian.

Nurse, in casualty, to injured patient:
Where are you bleeding from?

Patient: I’m from bleedin’ Romford! 

As John pointed out as a spoken joke this doesn’t actually work. Of course reading it and being familiar with the common mainly southeast-of-England demotic expletive use of bleeding one gets the joke intended.  The fact is that this is nothing like a new joke. It was to be found used in one of the seven popular British comic films (1954-1970) based on the novels of Richard Gordon and called Doctor in the House etc.

An entertaining character in them was the dictatorial Sir Lancelot Spratt, played by the burly James Robertson-Justice. He was often represented as testing trainee doctors on his rounds of hospital wards. On one occasion he barked out the question "What's the bleeding time?" This referred to a standard medical test which "measures the time it takes for small blood vessels to close off and bleeding to stop". The confused recipient of the question looked at his watch and replied something like “ˈFour o’ˎclock”. For me at least this joke fell rather flat becuse the actor completely failed to say it on a prosody that might have worked. If the director had had him fail to respond the first time and obliged Spratt to repeat the question with a prosody that by expressing exasperation dissolved the contrast of an accent being necessarily on either bleeding or time it could have made the joke relatively unforced viz “ˏWhat's the ˏbleeding `time?”

For other examples of this tonically ambiguous prosody of an "insistent" rising head before a falling climax tone see on this website Section 8, Item 1, § 5. 

PS This expletive use of bleeding is curious. In the outer London area and beyond it seems to be, among the least elevated social classes, used to the exclusion of expletive bloody which is common elswhere in the UK and among those rather a step up the social scale in London. It looks as if it might have originated as a softening of the once stronger bloody and subsequently plunged downhill. It's not attested before 1858.

Murray in 1887 in OED1 said of bloody (adverb):

As an intensive: Very....and no mistake, exceedingly; abominably, desperately. In general colloquial use from the Restoration to c1750; ‘now constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered ‘a horrid word’, on a par with obscene or profane language, and usually printed in the newspapers (in police reports, etc.) “b—y”’.

It's been commented by some that George Bernard Shaw in having Eliza Doolittle say “Not bloody likely!” was representing her as less authentically Cockney than he, as an Irishman, realised.

Blog 062

The 21st of February 2008

Accentuation Matters (i)

The subject of John Wells's blog of the 19th of February 2008 was prompted by his overhearing of a piece of conversation as follows

Girl: \/Daddy, | 'I want to sit on the \window side.
Boy: But you’re \on the window side!

on which he commented
If it were me, I think I would have said
But you \are on the window side!
General principles lead us to say that accenting on would be avoided, since it is a repeated item... 

But on reflection I think this is not the whole story, and that adult native speakers probably could put the nucleus on on, just as the boy did. (/Couldn’t they?)

My reply to his question is that they certainly could. I think where he's going wrong is his apparent assumption that people usually avoid accenting any repeated item. I don't find any problem with this accenting of on. I could certainly do it myself and it doesn't sound at all juvenile to me. What's more I could be equally happy in this context with 

Boy: But you’re `sitting on the window side!

which of course accents an alternative repeated word.

The "general principle" I commend is the one given on this website at §8.2 which refers to "Avoidance of re-accenting of re-occurrences of words or even merely syllables which are identical or constitute or embody the same matter." That is, if a re-occurring word has not been previously accented, it seems to me that there isn't regularly any very strong feeling on the part of speakers that they shd refrain from accenting that repeated word. 

That section goes on to exemplify apparent exceptions to this "rule".

Blog 061

The 20th of January 2008

John Laver

Today, on his seventieth birthday, we salute Emeritus Professor John D. M. H. Laver of Queen Margaret University College Edinburgh. His original and significant contributions to the science of phonetics, especially his unique achievements in the phonetic description of voice quality (the title of one of his many publications), have earned him a place in the very highest category of its annals. His large number of richly deserved honours need not be detailed here but they include the Presidency of the International Phonetic Association (1991-95). Nor is this the place to give a list of his publications but suffice it to say that anyone who is not familiar with them already would be well advised to begin by reading his magnificent but highly approachable 700-page general book on the Principles of Phonetics which its publishers, Cambridge University Press, justifiably describe as "an invaluable resource for all serious students of speech and language".