Archive 9 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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17/04/2008Apostrophes in Contractions#090
14/04/2008Unsound Advice on Sounds#089
11/04/2008Humming and Hahring#088
08/04/2008A Nut Case#087
07/04/2008Interrogation in Wonderland#086
06/04/2008Names in the News#085
04/04/2008Angry Young Glutton#084
03/04/2008The Collector#083
01/04/2008Harold the Unready#082
30/03/2008Stampede for Salvation#081

Blog 090

The 17th of April 2008

Apostrophes in Contractions

Blog 90 has now been replaced by Blog 236

Blog 089

The 14th of April 2008

Unsound Advice on Sounds

I've just searched in vain to see if the BBC were making known to us on the Web the recommendation to English-speakers by their Pronunciation Unit on how to say the name of Jacques Rogge the Belgian president of the International Olympic Committee. Why can't they give more up-to-date stuff about pronunciations instead of things that were talking points a month or more ago? 

During this quest I came across a reference to a site calling itself “ The online language laboratory” and offering, among various other things (some charged for) pronunciations of “Words with Controversial or Difficult Pronunciation in British English”. The 25 words given are a very odd mixed bag. Three of them are so unusual that probably most native speakers wouldn't be able to say them with complete confidence. The first of these is anthropomorphic which is spoken in a way recorded in none of the three major pronouncing dictionaries LPD, EPD and ODP with its second syllable as /-θrɒp-/. The second is inchoate and the third is prescience which is made to sound like /`preziəns/, a version one wdnt expect to find in any dictionary.
    A rather more useful item is archipelago which sounds incorrect as /ɑːkiə`peləgəʊ/. Another is isthmus which is given only as /`ɪsθmʊs/ sounding at its latter vowel as if it's being quoted from a Latin text. All the three dictionaries give first the version /`ɪsməs/ though ODP inserts a non-committal bracketed /θ/. Rightly again none of them give medieval with two strong /iː/ vowels /mediː`iːvl/ as it's heard here.
This may seem pretty poor stuff but elsewhere on the site there're some comically amateurish shots at using their own phonemic transcription and some sentences given to practise intonations accompanied by pitch indications that are absolutely hair-raisingly inappropriate.

Blog 088

The 11th of April 2008

Humming and Hahring

John Wells in his blog of the 10th of Apr 2008 said
“Phonetically, um is most often əm. (To what extent do people say ʌm as use rather than mention?)”
I have certainly observed from time to time, tho not very frequently, speakers who do hesitate on what is representable conveniently  as /ʌm/. It strikes me that those who do so can tend to sound more tiresomely deliberate than the majority who tend to use /əm / or /ɜːm/.
Of course it's not very satisfactory to use these phonological symbols because what we're talking about are not phonemes but noises that can coincide with the values we give to phonemes. And people may use for the same effects a noise which coincides with neither of these phonemes but can using phonemic notation be effectively represented as /ɑːm/. Writers seem never to try to represent speakers as saying ahm.

Similarly, tho I  think a fairly centralised [ɑː] isn't very unusual to express hesitation in much the same way as er does, there are no records of writers using ah to represent such hesitation noises. This is no doubt because the spelling ah is already preëmpted for well marked other meanings. We may compare the way the spellings O! and Oh! have become clearly differentiated in their semantic applications even tho no difference of pronunciation is involved.

Wells continued
“The variant ... uh is more usually written er in British English, since it is phonetically like a long schwa, ɜː.”
It's no surprise that users of the r-keeping "General American" pronunciation of U.S. English reject the spelling er as inappropriate to represent at least the longer type of hesitation noise they employ. It seems clear that American writers have an established usage of employing the spelling uh to represent a hesitancy sound of any length.

He added a comment which I'm probably failing to understand:
“To my way of thinking, the spelling uh is appropriate only for American ʌ.” It's hard to find any recognition on either side of the Atlantic in any dictionary of the isolate use of uh. OED alone has it and only for Scottish English as an interrogative noise. This is odd because [ə] on a highish rising tone is surely perfectly commonly and widely heard as a completely informal usage which one would naturally represent as Uh? Exactly as Huh? is used.
This last reference to Scottish usage reminds me that the Scots do indeed have a peculiarity in that many of them signal a hesitation with [eː]. I remember being particularly struck, when many years ago I was serving in the British Army, by hearing an education officer of Scottish extraction who not merely had this hesitation noise but constantly began speaking using it immediately followed by the more usual [ɜː] that most of his audiences were used to. I never dared ask him whether he did so by way of catering for all tastes as it were or was beginning in a way he regretted and deciding immediately to correct himself.

Please note that the selections from my book People Speaking which I've been alternating with other blogs hitherto will now all be transferred to the People Speaking site §4.1 for technical reasons.

Blog 087

The 8th of April 2008

A Nut Case

People Speaking # 20

You know, you remind me of my uncle's brother.

`·ju nəʊ, ˈjuː rɪˏmaɪn mi | əv maɪ ˈʌŋklz ˋbrʌðə. [1]

He was always on the move, that man. Never without his passport.

ʔi wəz ˈɔːwɪz| ɒn ðə ˎmuːv, ðӕt ˏmӕn. ˈnevə wɪˈðaʊt ɪz ˎpɑːspɔːt. [2]

He had an eye for the girls. Very much your build.

(h)i ˎӕd n ˋaɪ | fə  ðə ˎˏgɜːlz. ˈveri mʌʧ ˈjɔː ˋbɪld. [3]

Bit of an athlete. Long jump specialist. Had a penchant for nuts.

bɪt əv ən ˎӕθliːt. ˋlɒŋʤʌmp speʃlɪst. ˈhӕd ə ˈpɒ̃ʃɒ̃ | fə ˋnʌts. [4]

Couldn't eat enough of em. Peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, monkey nuts...

kʊdn iːt əˋnʌf əv əm. ˈpiːnʌts,|ˈwɔːnʌts,|brəˈzɪlnʌts|ˈmʌŋki nʌts...[5] 

He wouldn't touch a piece of fruitcake. That was a funny business.

ɪ ˈwʊdn tʌʧ| ə ˋpiːs ə ˋˏfruːtkeɪk. ˋðӕt wəz ə fʌni ˏbɪznɪs. [6]

Your spitting image he was. Married a Chinaman. Went to Jaˋmaica.

jɔː ˈspɪtɪŋ ˎɪmɪʤ i ˈwɒz. ˏmӕrɪd ə ˋʧaɪnəmən. ˈwent tə ʤəˋmeɪkə. [7]

The elision of the /d/ of remind in line 1 is unremarkable in the context. The elision of the  /l/ of always in line 2 is commonplace in General British usage; that from walnuts in line 5 is much less so. Whether there is an aitch at the beginning of line 3 is hardly decidable: if so it's masked by paralinguistic breathiness.

The non-sequiturs and other illogicalities are typical of Harold Pinter's characterisations of canny Cockney types. This extract is from his play The Caretaker. Another Pinter hallmark is the long pause the actor makes in line 6 after fruitcake, the longest in all the half hour of the People Speaking texts.

Blog 086

The 7th of April 2008

Interrogation in Wonderland

Who are you? said the Caterpillar.
ˈhuː ə ˎ juː? sed ðə ˎkӕtəpɪlə. [1]
This was not an encouraging opening
ˈðɪs wz ˈnɒt |ən ɪnˋˏkʌrəʤɪŋ ˋˏəʊpnɪŋ [2]
for a conversation. Alice replied rather shyly:
|fr ə kɒnvəˋseɪʃn. ˊӕlɪs rɪˏplaɪd| rɑːðə ˎ ʃaɪlɪ [3]
I — I hardly know, sir. Just at present at least
aɪ—aɪ ˋ·hɑːdli ˊˋnəʊ, sə. ˋ·ʤʌst ət ˋˏpreznt. ӕt ˈliːst|[4]
I know who I was when I got up this morning
aɪ ˈnəʊ| huː aɪ wɒz wen aɪ gɒt ˋʌp ðɪˏsmɔːnɪŋ| [5]
but I think I must have changed several times
bət aɪ ˈθɪŋk aɪ ˋ·mʌst əv ˋʧeɪnʒd| ˈsevrl ˋtaɪmz [6]
since then. What d'you mean by that?
sɪns ˋˏðen. ˈwɒt dju miːn baɪ ˋðӕt [7]
said the Caterpillar sternly. Explain yourself.
sed ðə ˎkӕtəpɪlə ˎˏstɜːnli. ɪkˋspleɪn jɔːself. [8]
I can't explain myself, I'm afraid,
ai ˋkɑːnt ɪkspleɪn maɪself, aɪm əˏfreɪd | [9]
because I'm not myself, you see.
bəkəz aɪm ˋnɒt maɪself, ju ˏsiː.

You may notice that, altho LPD and EPD show the word encourage only with /-ɪʤ/ our narrator in line 2 sez /ɪnkʌrəʤɪŋ/ with a schwa. This is completely normal. It's one of the things a pronouncing dictionary may or may not to try to convey but, when such an /ɪ/ occurs in a medial rather than a final syllable, it readily (even probably more usually) turns into a schwa. Actually the Oxford DP, unlike the other two, does manage to convey the fact for this word and words like villager and villages by using its (not IPA recognised)  symbol  made up of /ɪ/ with a crossbar such as IPA employs for the close central Cardinal Vowel [ɨ]. This indicates that both /ɪ/ and /ə/ are used by General British speakers in such syllables. ODP does the same thing with the /ʊ/ symbol to have it stand for either /ʊ/ or /ə/.

In lines 4 & 6 you may notice that I have used an alternative notation / ˋ·/ for the Fall-Mid tone. In line 4 Alice sez the word “at” so quickly that it's surprising that she hasn't used its weakform. Yet it doesn't sound particularly careful: I put it down to a form of hesitancy.

Blog 085

The 6th of April 2008

Names in the News

I'm certainly no Shona specialist but I've been exceedingly puzzled by the different versions I've been hearing of the surname of the Zimbabwean leader of the opposition Mr Morgan Tsvangirai. I haven't been worried at all by the fact that one more often seems to hear it stressed on its first syllable than the apparently "correct" last one. English speakers don't easily take to being asked to toe the line on such matters.
     What really troubles me is how the way it has been recommended to be pronounced by the BBC and generally taken up by most of its newsreaders etc differs from the way it's spelt. I've only been able to consult one native speaker of Shona and he said it repeatedly for me producing exactly what I wouldve expected from its spelling. He had no marked lip rounding.

Of course it may well be that we are looking at a difference between dialects of Shona and the people who have advised the BBC may have different ones from the one on which an established orthography has been based. The BBC recommendation certainly isn't the only version I've heard from African speakers on the media who seem to have begun it with either [(t)s] or [ʃ] with less liprounding than English /ʃ/ or /ʧ/and no trace of the the [v]. The fact that a Shona sound is involved that seems to be the one that has been referred to by some writers as a “whistling” sibilant contributes to the mystery. Such a sound would presumably have close lip-rounding. On Radio 4's Any Questions one of the panel who had met the gentleman himself didn't seem to be saying /ʧ-/ either. Anyway the BBC Pronunciation Unit Co-Ordinator Dr Catherine Sangster has kindly furnished me with the following comment:

“The Unit's recommendation to broadcasters ... renders the initial cluster as "ch". This is not our own innovation, but follows the advice of Zimbabwean journalists, who tell us that the v is not "pronounced" and the best way for English speakers to approximate the right sound for the -ts- (which one described as "whistling") is to use an English ch. This is also what we were advised in 2000 by the Zimbabwe High Commission.”

    Not nearly so puzzling but also interesting is what's been happening to the first name of Barack Obama. The BBC has, reasonably one wd think, recommended adoption of the version one hears normally from General American speakers [bəˈrɑ(ː)k] which for General British speakers would rhyme with arc. However, most British people I hear are calling him /bəˈræk/ and some /ˈbærək/ like the soldiers' quarters if not /ˈbærɪk/ which is what Somerset folk say when they refer to their Barwick and Yorkshire folk say when they refer to Barwick-in-Elmet.
I suspect a good deal of the trouble lies in the fact that the senator's forename is spelt in a deceptively Anglo-Saxon way which is very unusual for such a word. In words of exotic derivation — and we gather that this name is of Arabic origin — we don't usually find the very English-looking sequence “ck” but just “k” alone used eg as in Mubarak, Dak To, tombak. What's more we have no words in which “ack” sounds like arc or ahk.

Blog 084

The 4th of April 2008

Angry Young Glutton

People Speaking # 14

You're like a sexual maniac. Only with you it's food.

ˈjɔː ˈlaɪk |ə ˈsekʃuəl `meɪniӕk. əʊni wɪð ˏˌ juː ɪts ˋfuːd. [1]

You'll end up in the News of the World, boyo. You wait.

ˈjuːl ˈend ˈʌp | ɪn ðə ˈnjuːz ə ðə ˋwɜːld, bɔɪəʊ. ˈjuː ˋweɪt. [2]

James Porter, aged twenty-five, was bound over last week

ˈʤeɪmz ˎpɔːtə, ˈeɪʤ twenti ˎfaɪv, wz ˈbaʊnd ˈəʊvə | ˈlɑːst ˏwiːk| [3]

after pleading guilty to interfering with a small cabbage 

ɑːftəˋ-pliːdɪŋ ˋˏgɪlti | tu ˈɪntəˈfɪərɪŋ | wɪð ə ˈsmɔːl ˈkӕbɪʤ | [4]

and two tins of beans on his way home from the Builders' Arms.

ən ˈtuː ˈtɪnz əv ˋˏbiːnz |ɒn ɪz ˈweɪ ˈhəʊm | frm ðə ˈbɪldəz ˎɑːmz. [5]

The accused said he hadn't been feeling well for

 ði əˈkjuːzd ˈsed | i ˈhӕdn biːn ˋfiːlɪŋ ˏwel | fə  [6]

some time and had been having blackouts. He asked

ˈsʌm ˋtaɪm | ən əd biːn ˈhӕvɪŋ `blӕkaʊts. hi ɑːst | [7] 

for his good record as an air-raid warden second class

fər ɪz  ˈgʊd ˎrekɔːd | əz ən ˈeə ˈreɪd ˈwɔːdn | sekn `-klɑːs |[8]

to be taken into account.  

tə bi ˈteɪkn ɪntu əˎkaʊnt. [9]

In line 1 “only” with its /l/ elided is completely normal usage. The News of the World used to have more scandal than any other newspaper. The term of address “boyo” is a regionalism associated with Wales from which this character in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger purported to come. The language parodies that of the reporting of court cases. 

The stressed pronoun of “You wait” in line 2 isn't an ordinary accentuation: it's an animation stress combining with the grammatically also rather special expression of the pronoun in a command to produce its admonitory finger-waggingly mocking effect. Also in line 2 the use of the weakform of “of ” with its /v/ elided is completely normally in fluent speech when the next word is “the”.

In line 3 any contrast between “aged 25” and “age 25” would be very elusive. In line 6 “hadn’t” with its /t/ elided is commonplace. Contractions ending “-nt” all readily drop the /t/ unless a pause follows. In reference to line 7 the past form of “asked” is more often /ɑːst/ than /ɑːskt/.

Blog 083

The 3rd of April 2008

The Collector

People Speaking 12

You and your old antiques! You spend our hard earned money on some ugly old bedpan.
ˎ juː ənd ʒər ˌəʊld ӕnˌtiːks! ju spend ɑː ˈhɑːd ˈɜːnd [1]
ˎmʌni | ɒn sʌm ˈʌgli ˈəʊld ˎbedpӕn. [2]
Warming pan, dear.
ˋwɔːmɪŋ pӕn, ˏdɪə. [3]
Never mind. You must be going crazy. After all
ˌnevə ˏˌmaɪnd. ju ˏmʌs bi gəʊɪŋ ˋkreɪzɪ. ˈɑːftər ˈɔːl [4]
 it cost us to have central heating put in, too.
 ɪt ˎkɒst əs tə hӕv ˈsentrl ˋhiːtɪŋ pʊt ˎɪn, ˋˏtuː. [5]
But look, darling! Do be reasonable.
bət ˋ-lʊk, ˏdɑːlɪŋ! ˋ-duː bi ˏriːznəbl. [6]
It's dated sixteen eighteen, you can see.
ɪts ˈdeɪtɪd ˋ-sɪkstiːn | eɪˋtiːn, ju kn ˋsiː. [7]
Sixteen eighteen my foot! Who cares?
ˌsɪkstiːn eɪtiːn maɪ ˎfʊt! ˈhuː ˋkeəz? [8]
After all, a thing like a genuine Jacobean bed
 ˌɑːftər ˎɔːl,| ə ˎθɪŋ laɪk ə ˎʤenjuɪn ˋ-ʤӕkəbɪən ˋˏbed [9]
warmer is an investment, you must realise.
wɔːmə | ˊɪz ən ɪnˋvesmənt, ju ˌmʌst ˎˏrɪəlaɪz. [10]

The wife's opening words are spoken on a highly idiomatic prosody. Nominally the only word stressed is “you” which is followed by a long low tail. The lower the pitch is maintained in an utterance the more lacking in normal cheerfulness it sounds. She is of course strongly expressing disgruntlement.
His low rise on “dear” is markedly conciliatory.
Notice that “our” as /ɑː/ in line 1 is a weakform that appeared to have not been recognised as such by anyone until my 1965 article Gradation in Conversational English and is not so by all even now. LPD recognises that for some speakers /ɑː/ corresponds to a strongform /aʊə/ (which can be [ɑə] etc) but doesn't offer any opinion on which proportion of GB speakers have /ɑː/ all the time and which have the variation. In my opinion the predominant usage is the latter.
On a semantic point, an ancient warming pan was indeed a pan (containing hot coals etc) inserted between bedclothes to heat them but the husband understandably objects to her calling it a bedpan because that term is now exclusively employed in hospitals etc for a quite different purpose.
In line 6 he's being maximally conciliatory/sympathetic by his use of wide pitch ranges and Rise climaxes. In line 8 she is still disgruntled hence her use of a long low (pre)head and low-pitch climax viz a Slump. He's being quite restrained as we see from his use of a Slump-Rise not a Fall-Rise as his final climax tone.

Blog 082

The 1st of April 2008

Harold the Unready

If you wish to hear the sound file that accompanies this item, please look at People Speaking i.e. item 4.1 on this site, where you will find these texts & commentries repeated.

People Speaking # 11

For the last time. Are you coming?
fə ðə ˈlɑːs ˏˌtaɪm. ˊɑː ju ˋkʌmɪŋ [1]
Now, now. Take it easy.
ˈnaʊ, ˌnaʊ! ˏteɪk ɪt ˋiːzi. [2]
We promised we'd be there by three fifteen
ˈwi ˋpromɪst wɪb bɪ ˏðeə | baɪ
 ˏθriː fɪˋftiːn. [3]
And we shall be. Never fear.
ˈӕnd | wi ˋʃӕl bi. ˏnevə ˏfɪə. [4]
Ah! You are exasperating, Harold.
[ˋɑh!] ju ˌɑːr ɪgˋzɑːspəreɪtɪŋ, ˏˌhӕrld. [5]
You musn't let yourself be exasperated,
 my sweet.
ju ˊmʌsnt ˈlet jɔːself ˋbiː ɪgzӕspəreɪtɪd,
 maɪ swiːt. [6]
Anyway, we've missed the ten fourteen
train, now.
ˋeniweɪ, | wiːv `mɪst ðə ten fɔːtiːn
treɪn ˏnaʊ. [7]
Let's get a taxi then, old girl.
ˈlets | get ə ˋtӕksi ðen, əʊl gɜːl. [8]
You know very well we can't afford taxis
 on your salary.
ˈjuː nəʊ ˊveri ˎwel | wi ˎkɑːnt əfɔːd ˎtӕksɪz
ɒn ˋjɔː ˏsӕlərɪ. [9]

The lack of any /t/ on last in the first line is a completely normal elision — much more likely to occur than not. So is the assimilation giving /b/ at we'd in line 3.

If you thaut that in that line it was strange that the second syllable of fifteen is shown beginning with /f/ rather than /t/, compare it with the teen of fourteen in line 7. The /t/ of that is aspirated because it begins a syllable. The other /t/ isn't aspirated because it's in its syllable's second position. We don't usually aspirate the /t/ of sixteen either: six deans and sixteens are normally indistinguishable. All the other teens are like fourteen.
In line 5 we've written [ɑh] to roughly indicate the noise she makes which doesn't consist of items of her phoneme system. What she utters cdve equally been written as Oh! Such exclamations are conventionally written with ordinary letters but they vary a lot and are really just noises.

You can't say that their different values for the stressed vowel in exasperated indicates that either is using a regionalism but you do find that more southerners favour her choice and more northerners his.

You notice that there are no accents on ten or fourteen in line 7. This is a good simple example of the way any potential accents are not realised if they wd return to a topic already raised in a recent conversation or are well to the fore in the minds of the speakers even tho they have not recently actually mentioned them.

Perhaps I shd confess to my EFL readers that the title of this item is something of a pun. Every English schoolboy has learnt of the king Ethelred II, the Unready (978-1016). In his case the nickname that has always stuck to him doesn't mean 'unprepared' but has the archaic sense of 'ill-advised'.

Blog 081

The 30th of March 2008

Stampede for Salvation

If you wish to hear the sound file that accompanies this item, please look at People Speaking i.e. item 4.1 on this site, where you will find these texts & commentries repeated.

People Speaking # 9 

Did you read about the woman who went to the mass 

`-dɪd ju |riːd əbaʊt ðə ˏˎwʊmən | hu went tə ðə mæs [1]

meeting of a certain American evangelist at Earl's Court?

ˎmiːtɪŋ | əv ə ˌsɜːtn əˌmerɪkən ɪ`vænʤəlɪst ət ɜːlz ˎkɔːt? [2]

She went forward to declare herself for love or whatever

ʃi ˈwent ˈfɔːwəd | tə dɪˋ-kleər əself fə ˏlʌv | ɔː wɒtevr [3]

it is, and in the rush of converts to get to the front

ɪ`-tɪz | ən ˊˋɪn ðə rʌʃ əv ˋˏkɒnvɜːts | tə get tə ðə ˋˏfrʌnt |[4]

she broke four ribs and got kicked in the head.

ˈʃi ˈbrəʊk | ˈfɔː ˏrɪbz | n ˈgɒt ˊkɪkt ɪn ðə ˋhed. [5]

She was yelling her head off in agony but with fifty

ʃi wəz ˊˋjelɪŋ ə ˋhed ɒf | ɪn ˋˏӕgənɪ | bət wɪð ˋfɪftɪ |[6]

thousand people putting all they'd got into Onward

ˋθaʊzn | ˋpiːpl | ˏˎpʊtɪŋ | ɔːl ðeɪd gɒt | ɪntu ˋɒnwʊd [7]

Christian Soldiers, nobody even knew she was there.

ˋkrɪsʧən ˋˏsəʊlʤəz, |ˏˋnəʊbɒdi iːvn ˎˏnjuː | ˊʃiː wz ˋðeə.[8]

This speaker has a peculiar rhythm on woman in the first line stretching its second syllable unusually. His in the rush of converts demonstrates by its rhythmical integration with what follows what a crude descriptive device the division between heads and climaxes (or nuclei) really is. The first complex tone isnt just a sep'rate climax. 

In she broke in line 5 we have an example of what Kingdon wdve called a high prehead and notated differently from a high head substituting a high horizontal stroke for our Alt mark but this is an area in which I see little or no gain. The speaker is plainly not emphasising the word she (hence my indication of it not as /ʃiː/ but with its weakform) and the two Alts are in a sequential downstepping relationship. 

Note that he uses tellingly four times vivid Climb-Fall tones on in the rush, yelling, agony and nobody. These last two words and the word fifty in line 6 are a good illustration of how difficult it is to classify what vowel quality an individual speaker has for the final-y sort of sound. The speech lexicographers Wells and Roach agree on referring to their use of /-i/ to represent this sound as a "neutralisation" but I find this categorisation unsatisfyingly an over-simplification. I think most speakers have clearly in mind a target which is either /i/ or /ɪ/ (or increasingly but still very much in a minority /iː/). The majority these days aim at /i/ though in Victorian times a much larger proportion — tho I'm by no means certain a majority — plainly aimed at /ɪ/. What does happen is that everybody's target value is liable to be departed from under the influence of particular phonetic contexts. Any weakly stressed word-final vowel is subject to much variation. Here we have a speaker who has, I think, either /ɪ/ or an actual — not a conditioned — neutralisation as his target yet we can hear that in the context of a following close vowel in nobody even he clearly has an /i/ value. It shd be clear to EFL users of a British accent that /i/ is their appropriate target. German native speakers for example often seem to have /iː/ as their target.

This passage was taken from the play Look Back in Anger by John Osborne.