Archive 12 of JWL Blog
Index of All Blogs
Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.
Transcription for EFL/EAL
I’ve been fortunate to’ve often had the pleasure of
teaching English to students of very high achievement. Many of them
have been keen to set themselves very high standards of approximation
to native-speaker usages. I haven’t urged them to adopt such
goals because I’ve not felt they were necessary or even desirable
but how far along such lines one shd aim is not a very easy matter to
decide. Anyway, at whatever level one might aim, I’ve always
thaut it an excellent exercise for them to attempt to transcribe
phonemically what they judged wd be native-speaker spontaneous practice
given short dialogues representing conversational (tho not highly
colloquial) usages. I early on found that requiring transcribers to
decide not only what phonemic forms words shd be given but also to
predict what stresses wd be used by the speakers in such dialogues was
complicating matters more than need be — altho I know that is what most
of my colleagues are accustomed to do when setting exercises of this
Accordingly I’ve regularly supplied passages for
transcription in which I’ve provided indications of what
intonations the speakers are to be taken to use. This is in my opinion
a better procedure for various reasons than only supplying stress
marks. They can involve unfortunate ambiguities and in any case
levels of stress are notoriously difficult to agree about. Tone
marks are free from commitment to any decisions in this field. They
are for the most part extremely easy to interpret because almost any
tone mark is also in effect an indicator of stress. I’ve usually
employed tone markings that, after the fashion largely established by
J. D. O’Connor & G. F. Arnold, distinguish between accentual
and non-accentual syllables notably in the situation where the point of
(non-accentual) Rise of a Fall-Rise tone is conveyed by a degree-type
I consider allophonic transcriptions longer than a phrase at a time to
be too complicated an exercise to be made much use of. I have on
various occasions required quite advanced students to apply tone marks
to short passages in ordinary spelling but this is an activity that
according to my impression few others seem to favour. It certainly
hasn’t figured in examinations known to me such as those of the
IPA. Even so I consider that it can be a worthwhile exercise to be
performed by those who are sufficiently advanced in their studies of
English intonation to be able to attempt it. I plan to offer readers
some examples of such things in the future but for now I sh'll limit
attention to phonemes and so here I append an example of a
passage I’ve often set to students. I intend to offer a model
answer for it in a later blog.
Instructions: Copy the tone marks onto your transcription taking
account of their indications of the rhythms. Use LPD symbols but with
spaces as in ordinary spelling. Give EFL target values but don’t
give alternatives. Include the title.
`I didn’t know the Robinsons had got a ´kitten.
`Oh, `yes. She’s a ´`dear little thing.
ˈHow long have they `had her, ˏHarold?
ˈSome `time. She was a `Christmas present.
ˈWhat does she `look like?
Sort of `ˏtortoise˳shell | with ˈbits of ˈginger and ˈwhite |
on her ˈface and `paws.
And ˈwhat have they `called her?
`Fluffy. But the `ˏchildren ˳call her `Clawry-Paws.
They’re ˈalways ˈgetting so many `scratches from her.
(Note: The symbol ˳ indicates a stressed but unaccented
syllable denoting where the rise actually occurs after a Fall-Rise tone
has been in signalled. )
Tsvangirai, the mystery thickens
As I sed in in my recent blog (#116), I've already referred to the
email I received on the fifteenth of March 2007 from Dr Catherine
Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit. In that blog I reported that
I'd now heard a Voice of America recording saying This pronunciation comes from a recording of Mr. Tsvangirai saying his own name
In the meantime I've been able to listen to a VOA three-minute
interview with Mr Tsvangirai. This didnt sound exactly like the voice
the VOA extract claimed to be of him but of course different
surroundings and different recording equipment can affect such
judgments. However, what was perfectly clear was that I was able to
confirm a general impression that Mr Tsvangirai's quite effective
English is firmly of the low-rhoticity British type and that he showed
no departure from that model in the direction of inserting /r/ sounds
under the influence of the spelling. Then I went back to the VOA
recording where it seemed pretty undoubtable that the speaker was
inserting an American-quality /r/ into the pronunciation of the name Morgan.
His interviewer was a person with the usual kind of General American
fairly high rhoticity, it's true: so one cannot entirely rule out this
having some influence in the situation. Nevertheless my confidence in
accepting the VOA claim that he was saying his own name has undergone a very considerable shaking.
To quote what Matthew Parris said in his Times Online note of April the tenth:
When the BBC started mispronouncing the surname of Morgan Tsvangirai as
Changirai, I didn't pipe up because I thought the poor man would soon
be snuffed out anyway. But the leader of the opposition party in
Zimbabwe is now going to matter, so let's get his name right. I was
raised there, and though at school I struggled with the grammar of the
Bantu languages of Southern Africa, they are not ... especially hard to
pronounce. The missionaries who first transcribed them simply chose the
Roman letters closest to the actual sound.
The “Tsvang-” of Tsvangirai is most assuredly not
pronounced “chang”. Just try saying “its
vanguard” and (subtracting the initial “i”) and you
will handle the letters tsvang fine. But when one person mispronounces
confidently, others follow ... So I'm hopeful the BBC's pronunciation
unit will reconsider “changirai” too.
He must have been rather disappointed the following day when Jo Kim of the BBC Pronunciation Unit logged the following:
"One of the names that has been frequently mentioned in the news of
late is Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic
Change in Zimbabwe.
The Pronunciation Unit's recommendation of Tsvangirai's surname is
chang-girr-IGH (-ch as in church; -ng-g as in finger; -irr as in
mirror; -igh as in high). This recommendation has recently stirred up
public and media interest, inside and outside the BBC (eg Matthew
Parris' column in Thursday's Times), because of different opinions of
how the Shona -tsv cluster should be pronounced in English.
Although written with the same Roman alphabet, the -tsv consonant
cluster in Shona is not equivalent to -tsv in English (as in the phrase
"its vanguard" minus the "i"); Shona has what are commonly referred to
as "whistling" fricatives ("s" and "z"), which sound and are produced
differently from English "s" and "z". The "v" does not have the same
quality as English "v"; for many Shona speakers, the "v" in -tsv is
co-articulated; that is to say, the quality of the "v" adjusts to that
of the neighbouring consonants.
In the case of the anglicisation of foreign names, when the BBC is not
able to verify the pronunciation preferred by the person concerned, we
consider a number of factors before making a recommendation: the
phonetics and phonology of the relevant language, the opinions of
native speakers on how they might expect it to be anglicised, and the
ease of pronunciation for our broadcasters.
Our original recommendation TSVANG-girr-igh was made following consultation with our colleagues in Network Africa.
In 2000, a journalist, who personally knew Tsvangirai, contacted the
Unit to advise us that chang-girr-IGH was a more preferable
anglicisation (-ch as in church; with stress on the last syllable).
We also consulted native speakers of Shona at the Zimbabwe High
Commission who favoured the anglicisation chang-girr-IGH. Our
Zimbabwean colleague also confirmed that while neither English "tsv" or
"ch" sounds were equivalent to the Shona -tsv, producing the Shona -tsv
cluster as an English "ch" (as in church) was acceptable."
Well, well! I still have misgivings.
Intonation; Papal Linguistic Fallibility
The John Wells blog of the 18th of June 08 included this observation and question.
'Don’t waste a 'drop.
You would think the most
important word would be waste, or even don’t. Yet we place the
main accent on neither of those items, but on the apparently rather
There’s no kind of contrast involved. We’re not contrasting drop with bucketful or litre.
So what’s going on?
My answer to his question is a direct contradiction of his
assumption. In my opinion we actually are by implication contrasting
other possibilities with drop — in this situation possibilities
like "large amount" or "moderate amount" or "small amount". That
"waste" is the topic under discussion will no doubt have been
adumbrated by the precontext or at least been taken to be so by the speaker. So it's "given" matter which
can't be accented. We always have to take account of all the
circumstances in assessing whether an accentuation is appropriate
Some of his other examples I shd say are equivalent to these including:
It's not that visibility is only rather poor but it’s that I can't see a single thing.
It's not that I shall merely be careful to whom I reveal what you've told me but that I shan't tell a soul.
It's not that I'm just a bit short of money but that I havent got a penny.
Looking back at his similarly surprised comments at the 27th of May 08
concerning the placement of the climax tone ("nucleus") in items like Good for `you and 'Search `ˏme
we see that, altho contrast is the trigger, the contrasting matter may
not have been actually mentioned but be available to the listener by
inference from what the speaker sez or possibly their circumstances.
Thus Good for `you tends to be an ironic way of hinting “at least you are fortunate if others may not be” etc and 'Search `ˏme
of saying very informally and perhaps slightly quizzically
“It’s no good asking ˋme that ˏquestion: you should be
directing it at someone else”.
It was interesting at the weekend
to hear the Pope speaking in English at length from Australia. It was
clear that papal infallibility doesnt extend to linguistic performance
which of course was hardly to be expected. On the other hand he spoke
perfectly fluently and intelligibly in an accent reasonably
unsurprising for his German-language background. His delivery was
quite innocent of any of our dental fricative consonants but he managed
an impressively English fall-rise tone at one point. He sounded fairly
"mid-atlantic" which was perhaps pretty suitable. He did have one bit
of bad luck, however, when he came to use the vivid expression
"spiritual desert" because as far as English native speakers are
concerned what he said was really for us the rather inappropriate
"spiritual dessert" which only goes to show that, bearing in mind our
regrettably treacherous spelling, EFL users need to be careful to check
with their dictionaries on the stress values of so many words.
The John Wells blog for Tuesday 4 March 2008 sed:
Palatoalveolars and the like
By 1949, when the Principles of the IPA booklet was published, Jones [at p.14] recommended sf, sv or sɥ, zɥ ... for the ‘whistling fricatives’ of Shona, which are adequately [sic] reflected in the orthography as sv, zv. ... Now you know how to pronounce the name of the Zimbabwean politician Morgan Tsvangirai.
I'm afraid that's not what one can safely say. I've
been digging in the literature and I've found nothing to
de-mystify the fact that the spelling <Tsvangirai> seems
universal tho the pronunciation /tʃaŋgɪ`raɪ/ has only occasionally
been challenged by a few including the popular columnist
Matthew Parris who it seems spent much of his schooldays in southern
In my blog 024 of the 26th of March
2007 entitled 'Spelling “versus” pronunciation' I remarked
that I've been assured by Dr Catherine Sangster of the BBC
Pronunciation Unit that people at the Zimbabwe high commission and
World Service broadcasters they have consulted are all agreed that
English "ch" as in church is the best possible approximation to the
sound that Shona speakers produce corresponding to the initial
“tsv” that they spell the word with.
I've been deeply suspicious that there could well be some explanation of this mystery like the
possibility of the authorised orthography for Shona having been based
on a different variety of the language from the one used by those
consulted by the BBC. That matter for me largely remains mystifying
but I have now found at a Voice of America Pronunciation Guide website
a sound file that's accompanied by a note reading unequivocally This pronunciation comes from a recording of Mr. Tsvangirai saying his own name. I hear it clearly as [ʧaŋgɪ`raɪ].
In my review of OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation)
due to appear in JIPA next month of which a revised version is to be
seen on this site I've sed “For Tsvangirai /tʃaŋgɪ`raɪ/ is
recommended but /tsvaŋgɪ`raɪ/ would have been better judging from the
speaker I’ve talked to”. That person said the word
repeatedly for me in a consistent manner which I shdve been happiest to
transcribe with [sv] or [sf] with no feeling that I ought to have
included any notational feature that wdve indicated that the fricative
should be called "whistling".
Incidentally, despite the BBC recommendation, I seem at least as often
as not to hear it from their newsreaders and others stressed
A Wales Placename again and [ɬ]
John Wells’s blog of the 17th of June 2008 had comments like this:
I was interested recently to see on TV a feature about Llantwit Major ...
It was striking that the locals all pronounced the name with an
ordinary voiced approximant initial l. The visiting reporter, on the
other hand, made a great effort to produce a Welsh ll, ɬ. He
shouldn’t have bothered. It’s ˈlæntwɪt ˈmeɪdʒə
(confirmed by the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names).
Thinking back I was a bit surprised that John seemed to find it striking that local people
name with /l/ not /ɬ/ and of course he was wise to check with the BBC
dictionary. This village (population apparently these days about
in the middle of the coastal area stretching between Cardiff and
Porthcawl known perhaps rather misleadingly as the "Vale" of Glamorgan.
This area has been English-speaking for a number of centuries and I shd no
more expect someone local to it to use /ɬ/ in its name than I shd to
hear them so pronouncing the name Lloyd. In the same way no-one brought up in Cardiff in my day at least wd dream of using /ɬ/ in Llandaff
/`landəf/. Welsh-speaking incomers (usually naturally tho in some cases
defiantly re-conquering linguistically what they feel they lost in the
past to anglicisation) generally fail to adopt this usage of those they
come among. There is evidence that many of these names were spelt Lantwit etc until in the nineteenth century by pedantic antiquarian revisionists the double-l spelling was foisted on them.
The visiting reporter who by local standards mispronounced Llantwit
by using /ɬ/ was no doubt far from a local person. The BBC in
Wales has always it seems had a policy of using only or largely
bi-lingual reporters, presenters and newsreaders which means that in
practice they virtually all come from the minority Welsh-speaking
John's blog also said
According to the Dictionary of
the Place-names of Wales both the English Llantwit and the Welsh
Llanilltud have the same Welsh origin, llan- ‘church’ plus
Illtud, the name of a monk ... English -twit, according to the authors,
is traceable to an early variant Illtwyd from an Irish (!) genitive
Rather disappointing to think there hasnt really been a Welsh saint
called St Twit a rather droll possibility that no doubt others than
myself have tended to imagine with some pleasure.
PS Certain rather curiously amateur "BBC Home" web pages at "Voices" are now providing a recording in which you can hear a more normal pronunciation of names like Llangollen
from a lady at present a hotel manager at that town who was braut up
not far from it and is a Welsh native speaker. There are interesting
comments on her accent at the same spot from Jonnie Robinson, Curator,
English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive.
General British Pronunciation
One of the pleasures of the World Wide Web is that you never know what
you’re going to come across next. I recently happened upon
“english forums”, a commercial website that subtitles
itself as “The world’s largest EFL/TEFL social
network”. There it gave you a choice of items including
“FORUMS” where I came across a posting by a forum
“member” who said:
What is known as "Received
pronounciation" in the UK is seen as the "posh" way of speaking
English. This is how the Queen speaks, and was the way all TV
presenters had to speak a few decades ago ... What could be
called General British pronounciation
would probably be the way people from some parts of the South of
England speak, people who speak like this are generally seen as having
While not exactly able to applaud everything about his
spelling and punctuation etc, I noted with interest that he
seemed to show lack of enthusiasm for the term “Received
Pronunciation” which, after two whole generations in which it
remained current only as a technical term within the phonetics
community, has (like the other regrettably inappropriate term Estuary
English) in the past couple of decades caught on in the media. It was
in essence launched into the linguistic world in 1926 by the British
phonetician Daniel Jones whose authority was so great that almost all
British linguistic writers subsequently tended to employ it including
myself in my first publications on English phonetics. He had introduced
it quite apologetically having in the previous two decades employed the
very unsuitable terms Standard Pronunciation and, only briefly, Public
School Pronunciation. For more on this topic including the
expression’s earlier adumbrations in the works of A. J. Ellis and
H. C. Wyld see my article British Non-Dialectal Accents republished as
Item 7 § 4 on the main part of this website.
It never ceases to puzzle me that especially in these days of increased
consciousness of the undesirability of employing expressions that are
invidious to many people — known ironically as political
correctness — so many of my colleagues are insensitive to the
undeniably offensive implication that the speech of those who do not
use “RP” is not accepted. Part of the reason is no
doubt that they’ve become so accustomed to using the two-letter
abbreviation that they tend to forget what it means. Of course the
great respect justly accorded to the leading works on the subject from
those of Jones to the Cruttenden-Gimson major description of the accent
and the writings of J. C. Wells has been no doubt the most important
Nevertheless there have been signs of lack of enthusiasm for the term
in various quarters. It was not espoused by Jones’s
contemporaries and colleagues such as A. Lloyd James and J. L. M.
Trim. J. C. Wells used Southern British Standard in his first
book in the field. When he took over the editorship of the Jones
dictionary (EPD) in 1997 P. J. Roach announced “The time has come
to abandon the archaic name Received Pronunciation”. This was
exactly a quarter of a century after I had written in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary
(p.xiv) “It is a convenient parallelism with the term General
American and a welcome avoidance of the ‘less than happy’
archaic-sounding term ‘Received’ to abbreviate [the title
of the accent] to simply General British pronunciation (GB)”.
Incidentally, the words ‘less than happy’ applied to
Received Pronunciation had been quoted on that occasion from the first
page of Wells’s Journal of Linguistics
article of 1970 ‘Local accents in England and Wales’.
Roach’s also less than happy decision was to replace RP with a
term that has also had some popularity in the media ‘BBC
It was understandable why this last term shdve had some unofficial
currency thirty or more years before that decision because in the
period of the last world war and several years afterwards there was so
little broadcasting in the UK — only about a dozen home service
newsreaders at any one time — that there was considerable
uniformity among them. To a man (there were no women) almost every one
was a public school product. Then the sixties saw an explosion of
activity which brought about a greatly increased variety of speakers
and the public no longer heard everything from weather reports to
fatstock prices entrusted only to announcers. By the nineties not only
were regionally flavoured accents commonplace but even non-native
speakers could be heard to read World Service news bulletins.
Anyway, contrary to what has often been said, it was never official BBC
policy to completely avoid speakers with any regional features.
Perhaps it is of interest in the context of Roach’s speculative
claim that “The great majority of native speakers of this accent
are ... educated at private schools...” that when I was
systematically collecting data on BBC newsreaders in the decade or so
from 1963 and received from very many of them responses to
questionnaires I sent them which asked for details of their education,
I learned that only a minority of them were so educated.
Very properly the International Phonetic Association has never
officially endorsed any particular label for any British accent. When
its new Handbook was
published in 1999 it contained no specimen of any type of British
pronunciation but a reference was made at page 30 to the accent we are
discussing where the editor largely responsible for that section,
Francis Nolan, used the term Standard Southern British English. This
has been preferred to RP by various writers recently but I’m
afraid the term ‘standard’ is too invidious to be
acceptable: are all other forms of British English to be considered
non-standard or substandard? And GB speakers may be thickest on the
ground in the south but there are plenty of them in the rest of the UK.
In December 2004 (in JIPA Vol 34 No 2) Roach contributed a valuable
specimen of what he headed as ‘British English: Received
Pronunciation’ but added “given the popularity of the name
Received Pronunciation, this has been used for the description which
follows”. In introducing it he made some rather controversial
comments including: "The number of native speakers of this accent who
originate in Ireland, Scotland and Wales is very small and probably
diminishing, and it is therefore a misnomer to call it British
English". My impression is that anyone whose senior schooling takes
place in Ulster is very unlikely indeed to be a GB speaker. However,
this is less so in Wales tho, for what the comment is worth, the
commonly listed public schools include none in Ireland but two or three
in Wales. I've known GB speakers braut up in Wales and even come
across people who were native Welsh speakers who sounded also native
equivalent in GB. I don’t doubt that GB speakers are far
fewer on the ground in Scotland than probably anywhere in England but
I’ve heard (without including Gordonstoun) various speakers who
had gone to certain Scottish schools including Fettes who sounded
completely GB to me.
Anyway, one of the advantages of the term General British is that it
avoids the shockingly complacent parochiality of "RP". It's a term
easily comprehended and accepted outside the UK.
Until now I havnt welcomed the new third edition of LPD (the Longman
Dictionary of Pronunciation) which came out in March. While there are
no startlingly new features in the printed text there are plenty of
welcome improvements showing that a good deal of thaut has gone into
this revision. Personally I was delighted to see that the whole book is
upgraded for legibility — something very valuable in a tightly
packed reference book. By this I mean that the introductory matter is
set in a distinctly larger typeface and also that now the entry
headwords preceding the phonetics are set still bold but in a fairly bright blue
which proves to be a more effective use of colour than in the second
edition where the non-bold phonetics coming after the headwords tended
to look comparatively feint whereas now they are clearer partly because
the “main pronunciations (recommended as models for learners of
English)” are in bold black.
This is the same style as has been already used rather effectively in
the EPD (the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) but LPD3’s
new larger type now beats EPD for legibility. (LPD 1 of 1990 used
colour only for its phonetic symbols.)
Minor matters commented on are the decisions no longer to recommend
American wh-words to be pronounced with /hw-/ and re-classification of
words only formerly considered recommendable pronounced /tjuː/ and
/djuː/ which are now countenanced with /tʃuː/ and /dʒuː/. Some other
points are mentioned which are less notable. Not referred to at
all is the excellent improvement of the presentation of the very
interesting now over 260 graphics by which the LPD2 horizontal bars to
display the relative scores of different forms in the opinion polls of
reader preferences are now replaced by more effective pie charts.
Neither beats ODP (the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation) for
legibility but that book's very comfortable layout of having a separate
line for every headword and a new line for every significantly
different alternative pronunciation of each word is paid for with
greater bulk and, compared with the other two, inferior coverage of
words and their variants. In addition it suffers the disadvantage of
being to a tiresome extent pointlessly out of line with general practice
in respect of matters such as choice of phonetic symbols and definition
of the variety of British English represented. Unlike EPD, LPD3
uses bold colour for its selections of compounds and phrases which both
books provide in paragraphs after certain headwords in order to save space by
avoiding extending the number of headwords undesirably. LPD3’s
use of bold black for its “main” pronunciation of each word
is better than the LPD2 (2000) style where the non-bold blue was, as we noted above,
unfortunately rather feinter than the non-bold black used for the
variant pronunciations which followed.
None of these to-my-mind important matters is even alluded to in the
“Foreword to the third edition”. Unsurprisingly it
proclaims first the addition of three thousand new headwords. Of course
items like Wikipedia, burqa, latte, Rowling, Sentamu and alQaeda
will be welcome but the fact is that there is a law of diminishing
returns operating when such a work makes additions beyond the 15,000 or
so words that are the core that everyone needs to have.
Fortunately these additions have had no discernible effect on the bulk
of the volume which is now xxxvii + 922 pages long. (LPD 1 was
xxviii+803; LPD2 xxvi + 869). It is in width and depth exactly like EPD
but a centimetre less in height. Even the cover designs and colours
seem to have a family resemblance.
Very good news indeed is the fact that now, catching up with EPD, the
complete text of the dictionary is available on a CD-ROM “with
all words and phrases spoken aloud in both British and American
English”. That was the good news: the bad news is that
you’ve got to be in thrall to Microsoft software to access it.
This was not the case when Cambridge published Wells’s 1906 English Intonation nor when Routledge this year issued the new edition of the Collins & Mees Practical Phonetics and Phonology. Deplorable! On the disc there is also something called the Longman Pronunciation Coach.
LPD 3 remains more clearly than ever, despite certain questionably
justifiable complexities, the best dictionary of English pronunciation
ever produced. EPD continues to be a strong rival but fails to take the
opportunity to offer something equally authoritative but less
intimidatingly complicated. It even outdoes LPD’s complexities in
some ways. I’m far from enamoured of, or convinced of the
usefulness of, the LPD spaces to show syllabification but the
cluttering of dots EPD offers instead gives too many entries a painful
appearance. When one thinks as well of the many fascinating
transcriptions offered of foreign-language loanwords in their original
values, LPD3 is certainly the work of its kind I’d least like to
In his blog today John Wells asks
which parts of intonation are
universal and which are language-specific. I am referring only to the
linguistic (systemic) use of the pitch of the voice, not the
paralinguistic (presumably non-systemic) factors such as pitch range,
speech rate and voice quality.
My response is to question whether his overall assumption that use of
pitch range is not linguistic/systemic is justified or, for that
matter, whether there is even at all any sharp difference between
linguistic and paralinguistic features. I think certain basic simple
tones have definite broad meanings even tho they may be so unspecific
as to admit of no existing label and be very difficult to define.
For example in my opinion any simple tonal movement which descends to
the bottom of the speaker's vocal range conveys some order of finality.
Also any simple movement which ascends to the highest range of the
speaker carries the opposite signification ie of incompleteness.
Anyway, as to universality, it seems to me that speakers of all the
languages I have been able to observe, even including tone languages,
have in their repertoire some non-word noises which can be used on the
first tone I've just described to indicate what I can only call
recognition (probably assent is too narrow) and the second tone to
indicate desire for elucidation (no doubt interrogation is also too
narrow). Use of a completely level tone similarly indicates
non-commitment (hesitation being similarly too narrow a definition
because only applicable to more or less prolonged utterances of the
These universal usages I shd classify as linguistic. One can
probably add to these three any ascending simple pitch movement which
doesnt climb into the speaker's top range as indicating some idea of
continuation. I suspect that to attempt to be more specific about the
meaning of any other simple tone wd not be appropriate. It's obvious
that most exclamations are the least tentative kind of expressions so
we may well expect full-descent tones to be used for them.
Other features of variants of the tones we have described may well be
classified as paralinguistic. For example the higher the pitch involved
and/or the wider the pitch movement and/or the greater the
loudness with which the tonal syllable is uttered the more animation is
indicated. And vice versa.
When one comes to consider the large numbers of minor contrasts that
exist between one language or dialect and another, it seems to me that
they are essentially trivial in relation to simple communication. They
involve huge amounts of ambiguity and often remarkably different pitch
patterns with little or no difference of signification. One example
from English is the striking physical difference between on the one
hand a limited drop from an upper pitch and on the other hand a
wide full descent followed by a considerable upward movement from the
of that fall. These two tonal features seem to be completely
interchangeable. O’Connor liked to call them allotones. See O’Connor
1970 at page 15 of Le Maître Phonétique 133 “there is an allotone of
the Fall-Rise which is a fall to a medium pitch”.
It follows from all this that, for meaning, the differences between the
tonal choices in various languages within the broad categories we
described above are too trivial to prevent satisfactory communication.
Hence it shdnt be surprising that Esperanto speakers have no real
difficulties in communicating with each other attributable to
differences of intonation systems in their native languages.
The main features I've described above are universal and taken together
can be said to cover most of the repertoire of many languages. Only
languages with tonemes are in one way to be excluded but they seem to
show overall patternings that correspond after a fashion to these
fundamental ones. At least, learners of English with tonemic native
languages seem in general to have no more trouble with English
intonation than anyone else. Much along similar lines may be seen in my
articles in Section 8 in the main part of this website especially items
3 and 4.
Aitch Dropping and Restoring
Aitch Dropping and Restoring
This item has now been superseded by Blog 335.
One Way Pronunciations can Change
I suspect that changes in the pronunciations of individual English
words are happening more quickly than they ever did in the past now
that we have the auditory global village braut about by the
universality of sound recording equipment nowadays. I think I may have
detected an example of this on the second of this month when I heard a
BBC Radio 4 broadcast in a series called In Our Time on the subject of the seventeenth
century “metaphysical” poets.
There were four speakers involved. The chairman was Lord Melvin Bragg,
whose speech has perceptible traces of Cumbrian influence, and three
scholars with chairs at British universities. These were firstly Thomas
Healy who exhibited an unusual mixture of intermittently high-rhoticity
American and somewhat socially conspicuous British features which I
found very faintly reminiscent of the notorious Loyd Grossman. The
second, Julie Sanders, exhibited a perfectly ord’nry General
British (perhaps vaguely southeastern) accent of the distinctly younger
(under 40) generation. The third, Thomas Cain, had a noticeably older
style generally quite neutral but leaving me with the slight suggestion
of the odd faint trace of a Lancashire background.
Now I come to the thing that struck me as strange. All four of them, three
of them of course authorities on the subject of the discussion,
pronounced the surname of the very well known poet Andrew Marvell in a
way I have no recollection of ever having heard before as /mɑː`vel/.
Their authority is likely to influence numbers of their students to
adopt the same version and in a generation or so it cd be that the
traditional pronunciation may become old-fashioned. There is no trace
of this new version in any reference book I’ve consulted: LPD3,
EPD and ODP all give /`mɑːvəl/ and that alone. There is no trace of it
in my oldish (1966) American Random House Dictionary
tho one feels that its adoption has something at least parallel with
the American perception of the word as a borrowing from French — which of
course it is very likely to have been even as a surname.
EPD didnt record similar late stressing for Purcell till 1977: it’s now been common for a long time.
For anyone who’d like to know what he was referring to when John Wells today remarked
Jack Windsor Lewis will be
delighted to know that one of his invented examples, illustrating ...
pre-fortis clipping, has turned up in real life. BBC Radio Four has an
assistant producer called Jo King
the reference was to my Item 4 § 3.9 on this website
"Suggestionisms" – a 'Banned' Lecture" subtitled "Rhythmic etc
distortions of English speech and their consequent involuntary false
impressions" where a whole family of “Kings” was mentioned.