Archive 15 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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18/01/2009Some Suffixes and Compressions#150
15/01/2009A Good (Y)EAR for Pronunciations#149
07/01/2009JOBS and "English English"#148
06/01/2009A Case of Pronunciational Variability#147
04/01/2009ISAAC PITMAN#146
29/12/2008Vanisht t's and r's#145
13/12/2008'Important' aspects of the GB accent#144
12/12/2008Pronunciation Lexicography Problems#143
09/12/2008RUMBUSTIOUS and such words#142

Blog 150

The 18th of January 2009

Some Suffixes and Compressions

On Tuesday the 13th of January John Wells quoted himself in Musing on the ending -ean as saying
In some words this suffix is stressed (ˌEuro'pean), but in others stress-imposing (Shake'spearean). Both possibilities are heard in Caribbean.

Of course Carib`bean is much more usual than Ca`ribbean. There are more than half a dozen other words with both possibilities giving An`dean and `Andean, Archi`medean and Archime`dean, Bod`leian and `Bodleian, Hercu`lean and Her`culean, Mephisto`phelean and Mephistophe`lean, Pro`tean and `Protean, Tyro`lean and Ty`rolean (the commoner form first in each case). It’s often hard to see why a particular word has the suffix -ian or -ean.

There are a few words that have had both forms notably Shakespearian (but we must remember that Shakespeare’s name has been spelt in various ways not least by himself). Most often -ean has the main stress as /-`iːən/ in antipo`dean, Cri`mean, Euro`pean, Jaco`bean, Ko`rean, Pyre`nean, Pythago`rean etc. Yet that’s not so for ce`rulean, `Chilean, cru`stacean, `Joycean, `ocean, Pro`crustean, Pro`methean, Saus`surean, Singa`porean, subter`ranean, Mediter`ranean, Za`irean or Zim`babwean etc.

Murray in the OED gave the meaning of -an in 1884 as ‘of, or belonging to’ and in 1899 sed that -ian was ‘merely a euphonic variety of -an’. I’m inclined to think that -ean in its turn largely originated as merely a “eugraphic” (if the coinage can be forgiven) variant of -ian. In various cases it seems as if it has been preferred to -ian when that avoids changing the last letter of the noun its formed from eg `Boolean, `Chilean, `Joycean, Za`irean, Zim`babwean. Some other cases no dout depend on matters of etymology.

Compressions before strong vowels
I was pleased to read John Wells’s blog of Thursday 8 January 2009 which was about “the English phonological principle that disallows compression before a strong vowel”, a formulation which I believe he originated. EFL students may do well to conform to such a rule: perhaps in some rhythmic contexts that havnt occurred to me it can sound unsuitable. However, I don’t accept that applied to general usage it expresses more than a common tendency which was why I was happy to see him on this occasion qualify it in a parenthesis “(in slow speech, at least)”. I regard things like /hi ʃd̩ ˈmɒdreɪt ɪz ˎlӕŋwɪʤ/ He should moderate his language or /ˈtɜːn ˈɒn ðə ˎreɪdjəʊ/ Turn on the radio as perfectly commonplace.
On the term compression see my blog 123 etc.


Blog 149

The 15th of January 2009

A Good (Y)EAR for Pronunciations

Today’s Wells blog replies to questions about assimilation from a Cantonese speaker who asked (I substitute phonetic symbols seemingly not available to his correspondent)
Can ʃ-assimilation occur [thus] /lastsiə/ -> /lastʃiə/ -> /laʃtʃiə/?
John replied
It’s certainly not impossible. But I wouldn’t teach it to EFL learners.
My opinion exactly. But he continued:
A more usual thing would be just to elide the t, giving lɑːsjɪə.
Here we have an intresting example of how two careful very experienced observers of the same accent may make different judgments.
I certnly wouldn recommend an EFL user to adopt that alternative and I dout if it’s more usual than the correspondent’s type /lɑːʃtʃɪə/ which incident’ly  suggests “last cheer”. Also John’s other apparent preference lɑːʃɪə is certainly not what I hear from media newsreaders for this phrase. What I do hear from them very often (eg BBC Radio 4’s Charlotte Green) involves not assimilation but elision viz /ˈlɑːst ɪə/ which is of course homophonous with “last ear”.

The word year presents something of a problem for EFL lexicographers. When in 1988, three years after A. C. Gimson’s death, Dr Susan Ramsaran’s revision of the 14th edition of the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary appeared it showed as first entry at year the form / jɪə / which Jones, Gimson and the present writer in my CPD and the 1974 ALD had represented as heard usually as / jɜː /. The preference for showing first the diphthongal version was endorsed by Roach in the 1997 EPD 15th edition. It had also appeared so in the LDC from its first edition of 1978. It’s also the current preference in the ALD and ODP. Finally it was an item Professor Wells included in a 1988 questionnaire circulated to interested volunteers in connection with his preparations for his Longman Pronunciation Dictionary edition of 1990 when he found that 80% of his respondents, like the later editors, preferred the diphthong. OED2 in 1989 retained the Onions 1921 decision to show only one version /jɪə(r)/ as had been that of the COD in 1911.

I dont feel I know whether the majority of speakers with the accent which all these dictionaries broadly agree on displaying actually use predominantly either the one or the other of the two versions. Any dispute on such a topic could hardly be easily resolved. Undoubtedly both pronunciations are perfectly common and the notions of people who like to concern themselves with such matters have clearly demonstrated how they, at least, target the pronunciation of the word. Of course we must bear in mind that the responses to the Wells questionnaire, though they are of very considerable interest, will have in the main reflected fairly simplistic views.

However, one notices that a very large number, probably a majority, of native speakers of English who use the diphthong actually utter the word year on a considerable proportion of occasions without an initial yod /j/. Among frequent collocations in which year occurs are this year, that year, next year and last year in which I constantly observe the word uttered with the yod elided. In my own usage I tend to use the monophthong in unemphatic contexts but fluctuate between that and the diphthong when I up the emphasis as in eg absolutely years ago when I often have the diphthong with the yod. I tend to wonder whether eg she had a good ear for music and she had a good year for music are often distinct.

At §3.7.III.3 on this website it can be noted that I attribute this latter twentieth change in pronunciation preference regarding the word year to "notional spelling-value adoption". (§1 on this site shd elucidate any puzzling abbreviations.)

Blog 148

The 7th of January 2009

JOBS and "English English"

John Wells’s blogs constantly incite/invite one to comment and today’s is no exception. First he sez of the surname Jobs “Etymologically, Jobs is a straightforward patronymic, ‘son of Job’ ”. I hope he’ll forgive me when I say I’m afraid this is his slightly hasty assumption number one. If he cares to consult the OUP’s admirable Dictionary of Surnames by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges he’ll find that they give four different possible origins for this surname. I’m impressed to hear that his LPD provides two pronunciations for the word. It’s remarkable that he includes such a very unusual item at all: I’ve never he’rd of anyone else with the name and Google doesnt seem to have either. Some people who do seem very likely to’ve got their name from the Biblical source spell it Jobes, one notes, with presumably no doubts about its pronunciation.

Now as to his possible slightly hasty assumption number two. In the same blog he remarks about “RP and similar accents” that they “would much better be termed “English English”. He rightly of course himself never uses that unacceptably clumsy term. He goes on to apologise for his “continued use of the inaccurate term BrE (British English)”. He then adds “Jack Windsor Lewis’s preferred General British is open to the same objection as BrE, with its assumption that England and the English can be equated with Britain and the British.” This is rather a notable comment in view of the fact that at p.xix of LPD3 he remarks "British Received Pronunciation ... is to be heard in all parts of the country..." not having at all referred to England. 


Some people may wish to jump to the conclusion that I equate England and Britain but I insist that it’s a quite unwarranted assumption. I certainly dont claim that GB/General British is an ideal expression but I dont accept for one moment that it has any inbuilt assumption of that sort. I refer him to this website §12.5 ¶ 20 and my blogs 144 and 114 which latter ends “I don’t doubt that GB speakers are far fewer on the ground in Scotland [and I mightve added Wales] 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 [and patronising effect] of "RP". It's moreover a term easily comprehended and accepted outside the UK.

Blog 147

The 6th of January 2009

A Case of Pronunciational Variability

John Wells’s blog of the 20th of November 2008 in response to questions from a couple of correspondents, chiefly about the speech characteristics of the Queen, drew two blogs from me (139 and 140). I suggest that the comments of Wells, myself & Petr Roesel on those occasions offered students of phonetics  some interesting insights into matters which arent often delt with in any detail in most textbooks. I think it’s very easy for students to come away from reading descriptions of how languages are spoken with little idea of how frequently most speakers employ quite variable articulations of various parts of most words. This matter seems to be little mentioned by most writers and even at times counter-indicated by such things as misleadingly precise vowel diagrams.

In the penult paragraph of my blog 140 I commented on the quality of the Queen’s final vowel in the word briefly. The Official Website of the British Monarchy provides recordings which currently include a video of her 2008 Christmas message which occasioned that comment. Among other things, they give one an opportunity to invite students to listen to the varying quality of that word-final vowel. A very noticeable thing is that, tho she varies a good deal in the quality she produces for it, she’s more capable of making it exactly like her value of it in a strest monosyllable like bit than the great majority of speakers. She certainly has precisely the same quality in both vowels of /`hɪstrɪ/. However, we have to remember that there may be in that case a trace of tendency to “vowel harmony”.

By contrast it shd be noted that most of her happy vowels dont sound particularly non-mainstream. This is often no dout becoz theyre influenced by following vocalic sounds as in prosperity or good fortune, sixty years, many of us. On the other hand, she doesnt sound to me conspicuous either at eg safely home or keenly felt or even at certainly which occurs before a rhythmic discontinuity so has little likelihood of being influenced by any subsequent sound. This employment of a variety of different such articulations is very normal. Very few people do anything like staying in one place all their lives or keeping company with the same people at all periods of their lives. Changes of surroundings and companions often affect people’s usages quite unconsciously. Parents may even well be influenced by their children especially when they bring them up in different surroundings from which they themselves grew up in. I have friends here in Yorkshire who, like me, grew up a long way south from here and in whose speech I notice occasional pronunciations (even ones involving choice of different phonemes) they’ve more likely than not pickt up from their children. They’ve gone to schools here where the speech is of course likely to be in various ways different from their parents’.

Blog 146

The 4th of January 2009


Today is the 196th anniversry of the birth of Isaac Pitman (1813-1897) sometimes claimd as one of the founding fathers of modn English phonetics. The late David Abercrombie once equated his importnce with that of Alexander John Ellis and Alexander Melville Bell saying in 1937 that he had a “right to be regarded as at least their equal, if not their superior”. I dout that menny today wd endorse that view (first publisht in a pamphlet commissioned by the Pitman company) for which Abercrombie failed to make a convincing case. His biographer in the DNB summed him up much less generously as “not a thinker” saying “his contribution to linguistic science consisted in the stimulus he gave to a rising generation of phoneticians”.

At any rate he was a very remarkable man, hugely eccentric and fanatic in his outlandish Swedenborgian religiosity and his general asceticism. He was a vegetarian and fiercely agenst alcohol and smoking etc. He was one of the  sons of the manager of a weaving mill at Trowbridge in Wiltshire. He had a very sketchy education largely self-administered. Then, after only five months at a London teacher-training establishment, he was put in charge at the age of nineteen of a new elementry scool at Barton-on-Humber in north Linconshire. A cupple of years later he married a welthy widow and soon gravitated back to the westcountry a few years after which move he finally settld in Bath for the rest of his life.

He’d been for a long time intrested in methods of shorthand and had proposed to issue his revision of Samuel Taylor's System of Stenography when in 1837 the publisher he'd approached urged him (for better profitability!) to produce a new system of his own. This spurred him to devise one which was essentially a phonemic transcription of sorts. However, rather than the letters of the existing alphabet, it consisted of pen strokes and marks that lent themselves to rapid execution while also reflecting phonetic features — notably by thick and thin strokes for respectively voiced and voiceless consonants. Among other advantages, his system accorded such visual predominance to consonantal frameworks as to give the user the convenient choice to omit many vowel representations without obscuring words’ identities. It was at one time the most widely used shorthand in the world and still is so in the UK.

He also devoted himself to spelling reform in pursuance of which he entered into an occasionally uneasy collaboration with A. J. Ellis. In an offshoot from that work, aimed at facilitating literacy for the masses, Pitman made a (probbly first-ever) shot at an activity which was the forerunner of a valuable impetus to advances in phonetics in the twentieth century. He devised a spelling for the unwritten language, with the quaint name “Mikmak”, of a tribe of Indians of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia using which parts of the Bible were printed. In America in 1934 a whole large movement was set in motion to train missionaries to equip them to produce Bible translations for speakers of languages never previously written down. This organisation, known chiefly as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, “SIL”, is still active and has, among other things, made generally available fonts of phonetic symbols such as are used in these blogs (eg Doulos SIL). For a long time its president was America's most remarkable phonetician Kenneth Pike.

In the latter decades of his life Pitman turned to editing and publishing even setting up his own printing house. With this he devoted himself a good deal to spelling reform advocacy and the propagation of Swedenborgianism but chiefly he pursued indefatigably — and very profitably — the promulgation worldwide of his “phonography” as he came to term his system of shorthand. Three years before he died in 1897 he achieved the recognition of a knighthood.

Blog 145

The 29th of December 2008

Vanisht t's and r's

In my Blog 138 on Banking Words I didnt mention one interesting item because I hadnt yet he’rd of it at the time. It was applied to the Bernard Madoff fraud which surfaced in mid December and was referred to as a “Ponzi”.  That referred to Carlo Ponzi (1882 -1949) an Italian immigrant to the United States who had an amazing career as a serial pyramid-selling-type swindler. His name one gathers is always heard as /`pɒnzi/, or rather in most of America with its equivalent /`pɑnzi/, with no attempt to say it with the Italian /ts/ pronunciation of its <z>.
This need hardly surprise us because it’s exactly what usually happens to all such Italian words we’ve borrowed from stanza onwards including cadenza, influenza, extravaganza, romanza and the names Anzio, Cinzano and Lorenzo (in reference to “Lorenzo’s oil”, the subject of a popular 1992 film about a controversial medical treatment). Scientists have an expression “the Ponzo illusion” which refers to such optical phenomena as the way we perceive the sun or moon as larger when it’s close to the horizon — first explained by the Italian psychologist Mario Ponzo (1882-1960).
 Gorgonzola perhaps sounds a little less un-Italian as we say it because its Italian version has /dz/ rather than /ts/. The loans panzer and zeitgeist  from German similarly always have /z/. Another Romance loan bonanza is from Spanish. According to Webster this has an American (and more Spanish) minority version with /-nsə/. Bonzo was a jokey word made up in the 1920s by the editor of a publication called The Sketch

Graham Pointon's recent blog on “Vanishing r” raised a couple of points calling for comment.

He exprest puzzlement that in his 23 years at the BBC he never got complaints about the dropping of /r/ from veterinary whereas he got plenty regarding February and secretary. I guess the main reason for this was that veterinary was a very much less frequently he'rd word but also that, becoz it was so much less frequent, any newsreader wd tre'd especially carefully when required to use it. And outside of such fairly formal items the abbreviation vet wd be far more likely to occur anyway. In any case there are plenty of r-droppings in common words that the general public are obviously completely oblivious of and the poor lexicographer just doesnt want to know about. Listeners to radio and tv constantly hear the word programme and in a very high proportion of its occurrences it is either pronounced as /prəʊgӕm/ or /pəʊgrӕm/ (only very occasionally /pəʊgӕm/). Similarly I doubt if the dictionries’ sole versions /prə`skrɪpʃn/ and /prə`rɒgətɪv/ are as commonly heard as /pə`skrɪpʃn/ and /pə`rɒgətɪv/. 

He concluded with In the case of meteorological, either the /r/ or the first /l/ can go, but more often it is the /r/, leaving /miːtiəˈlɒdʒɪkəl/ - rather than */miːtiəˈrɒdʒɪkəl/. I don’t know of an explanation for this, but perhaps someone else can supply one.

I became rather careful to listen for this word over a number of years. Being a very poor sleeper I'm very often awake at 5.30 am and using my pillow loudspeaker to listen to the weather forecasts for shipping issued by the Meteorological Office. The many repetitions they contain make them specially interesting to the phonetic observer. Until a couple of years ago they always included the word meteorological. I'm not sure if I even once he'rd it as what the pronouncing dictionaries all recommend to their users viz /miːtɪərə`lɒʤɪkl/ or often in Graham's suggested /miːtiəˈlɒdʒɪkəl/. I'm certain I never he'rd a clear /miːtiəˈrɒdʒɪkəl/. The version I remember coming to take as the norm was /miːtrə`lɒʤɪkl/. Alas we only hear “from the Met Office” these days.

Blog 144

The 13th of December 2008

'Important' aspects of the GB accent

In 1999 the long-awaited Handbook of International Phonetic Association was finally published to replace the old Principles booklet. That had been over-optimistically abandoned in 1986. Unlike the Handbook it had been too slight at 50-odd pages ever to merit a hard cover version. It had contained 51 specimens of different languages etc in IPA phonological (rarely also tonological) transcriptions, all of the same Aesop fable The North Wind and the Sun in an unconversational spoken-prose style running to 112 words in its English version. This same text was used in the new Handbook for its 29 “Illustrations of the IPA” only one of which was of English and that, of what is widely roughly characterised as a “General American” variety, in a Californian subvariety.

    Of the 44 or so subsequent additions to these illustrations only a few have been of English. Among these we have now, thanks to Peter Roach, one of that best known form of the language (other than “General American”) which has no generally agreed most suitable label (my preference is to call it General British, GB for short). When it was published at pages 239 to 245 in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association Volume 34 Number 2 of December 2004 Roach decided on that occasion to entitle it “Received Pronunciation”. This decision was made even tho, in taking over the editorship of the (so-called) fifteenth edition of the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1997, he had expressed dissatisfaction with that “archaic name” and adopted in that work his preferred label “BBC English”. That label itself has a certain archaism about it in that, whatever suitability might or might not be claimed for it, it can be said to have come to be progressively much less appropriate over the last several decades. (Cf Cruttenden/Gimson 2008 §7.6.1)  His decision to use the term “Received Pronunciation” was due to the continuing “popularity of the name”.

Many agree with him about the unsuitability of the term “Received Pronunciation”. For example in the considerable part of the Handbook for which he was responsible, Francis Nolan chose to employ the (also regrettable) term “Standard Southern British English” (pronunciation). A principal problem is the fact that, in the absence of any consensus on the question of what term would be best to replace “Received Pronunciation” in recent decades, neither of those two leading authorities on the accent, John Wells and Alan Cruttenden, has seen his way to break with the practice that Jones initiated 82 years ago in 1926. It’s observable that people who dont reject the expression “received pronunciation” almost always employ the abbreviation “RP” no doubt on very many occasions an indication of fighting shy of the widely disliked full form. So many do this that it’s not unusual to hear people using the pleonastic expression “RP pronunciation”.

    I’m concerned here with examining what on the occasion of his production of this excellent very welcome specimen Roach termed the “most important aspects of this accent”. He set them out in four paragraphs “a” to “d”.

    At “a.” he sed “The number of 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 an accent of British English. It is an accent spoken by some English people.” I consider this wording to be rather unfortunate in that it is very open to misinterpretation as belittling the importance of the accent in question.

These three regional groups are better de·lt with separately. It’s perfectly true that neither in the Republic of Ireland nor in Northern Ireland cd it be claimed that any accent of England is perceived as anything but extraneous. However, numbers of people exist who passed most of their time and received most of their education in their teenage years in either Scotland or Wales whose accents do not obviously betoken that fact.

At “b.” he sed “The great majority of speakers of this accent are of middle-class or upper-class origin, educated at private schools and... university.” I have no information on what proportion of privately educated people carry on to university but I shdnt be surprised if he were right that a majority do so. However, my impression is that very considerable numbers of people in Great Britain who have not received private senior schooling but who proceed from state schools to universities end up (like Roach and myself) without very obviously regionally assignable speech. In my observation further very considerable numbers of state-school products who do not go to university also go through processes with similar results in the pursuit of various types of employment notably in the media.

    At “c.” he sed “The majority of speakers of this accent live in, or originate from, the south-east of England. This might anyway be expected because the population density of the south-east is about the highest in the country.

    At “d.” he sed “The accent is most familiar as that used by most ‘official’ BBC speakers of English origin (newsreaders and announcers on Radio 4 and Radio 3, and most television channels)...”
It may be of interest that when, in the sixties and seventies, I sent over a hundred questionnaires to newsreaders in the national media requesting them to provide me with information on their senior education, I found that a clear majority of them were not privately educated. An interesting number of them had been (at least aspiring) actors who are of course a group with special consciousness of the characteristics of their speech. Those who seek employment as teachers of non-native speakers of English are another such group.

Appearing to emphasise how few speakers there are of this geographically neutral accent tends unfortunately, however unintentionally, to play down its great significance, leaving out a very big one of the “most important aspects of this accent” namely as the common denominator among the accents of Great Britain. Even if I dont wish entirely to embrace Cruttenden’s latest definition of “RP” I very much sympathise with the spirit of his comment “...the percentage of speakers of RP cannot be claimed, as it often is, to be only in single figures...” (Gimson’s Pronunciation of English revised by Alan Cruttenden  7th edition 2008 p.xiv.)

Blog 143

The 12th of December 2008

Pronunciation Lexicography Problems

This week on one or two days I’ve listened to the well-known youngish actor Toby Stephens (incident’ly, son of those two remarkable actors Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens) on BBC Radio 4’s morning readings of their choice of “Book of the Week”. Like most actors he reads aloud with an “educated” accent that can’t be assigned confidently to the influence of any particular part of Great Britain. So I was interested to hear that he pronounced the loanword cortege as [kɔː`tɛːʒ]. This is exactly how I’ve been accustomed to say it for as long as I’ve known it and I’m fairly convinced it’s how a lot of other people say it in General British English pronunciation.

However, before I come back to that word I’d like to say something about how I note a number of loanwords have tended to acquire new versions since around the second quarter of the the last century adopting something closer to their original-language value. I have in mind French words like crèche which had been usually pronounced /kreɪʃ/ but has been by many and in this particular case by most people changed to /kreʃ/. I believe, in part at least, this has happened because of widespre’d rather better acquaintance with French pronunciation. It’s something of a puzzle that a number of words with such an open value as [ɛ(ː)] in French shd at one time have been borrowed by English speakers who identified that quality with that of their English face vowel. It possibly began at a period when there was no [ɛː] in fashionable British pronunciation and speakers of such English, having available as the closest thing only either [ɛə] or [eɪ], plumped for the latter because the former had an unacceptably strong association with following /r/. By the early twentieth century the schwa element of /ɛə/ was tending increasingly to be replaced by prolongation of the [ɛ] which perhaps me’nt that the objection became no longer felt.

 I had better mention that Murray in the OED in 1893 had identified the pronunciation of creche as what we shd now usually represent as /kreʃ/ but that was probably not a reliable representation of the then current usage in England. It may well have been very unfamiliar to him having not appeared in print before about 1860.

With creche we can compare the other word crème (de menthe) borrowed with subsequently the same new variant at the same period in the last century. Most such words have retained /eɪ/ forms at least as variants. All three pronunciation dictionaries (EPD, LPD and ODP) agree on giving either first or only /eɪ/ for crêpe, fête, mis-en-scène, suède and tête-à-tête. For bête noire only ODP fails to record an /eɪ/ version (tho it has such a one first for American usage). It’s noticeable, by the way, that discotheque with the same French vowel but not borrowed until the second half of the last century has never been recorded with /eɪ/.
Jones in 1917 was no doubt right in representing creche as normally then heard as /kreɪʃ/. It’s true that he added a French version that some speakers might aim at viz [krɛːʃ] but he had dropt that within a couple of decades and thereafter only offered /kreɪʃ/. On the contrary he (and Gimson when he took over EPD from him) maintained for cortège as well as /kɔː`teɪʒ/ an unnaturalised French version he’d presumably added for the benefit of the few who wd aim at [kɔr`tɛːʒ]. For this word ODP has /eɪ/ and /ɛ/ but not /ɛː/. LPD3 has only /eɪ/ and /e/. As I’ve sed, my preferred form is with [-ɛːʒ] which is listed in none of the pronouncing dictionaries. In the sixties I wasnt so sure that my version was so widespre’d and in my CPD I only gave the word as /kɔː`teɪʒ/. However, when I’d come to the word (La) Bohème I wasnt so cautious and gave it as /ˈlɑ bəʊ`eəm/ and /-eɪm/. LPD3, EPD and ODP all give it as /bəʊˈem -ˈeɪm/. I don’t question any of these but what about me and others who use [-ɛːm]? I don’t claim that there’s no-one who ever pronounces it [-ɛəm] but these days the great majority of GB speakers, whether they have a phoneme represented best as /ɛə/ or /ɛː/ (a disputed matter —  OED still has /kɛən/ but is set on turning over to /kɛːn/) have an allophone [ɛː] before consonants eg in a word like cairn which is usually [kɛːn]. So what about /kɔː`tɛːʒ/? I’m not that surprised that no-one else has shown it like that but they’re failing to include a common variant by not doing something of the sort. Maybe this is one pointer to agreeing to change from /ɛə/ to /ɛː/. That is something I don't really favour for general purposes but I do find it the least objectionable of Upton’s heresies, and it's been taken up in what many of us regard as a brilliant EFL textbook by Collins & Mees too.

Blog 142

The 9th of December 2008

RUMBUSTIOUS and such words

Comments have appeared recently on some lexical items that have forms that people seem possibly more often confused about than they are with most other words. John Wells (on the 27th of November) referred to having heard “rumbustuous” from a speaker on tv. He remarked The OED gives the pronunciation as rʌmˈbʌstiəs, which sounds very prissy to me ... The usual pronunciation is rʌmˈbʌstʃəs.

Graham Pointon (on December the 5th) commented on this: I agree with him. However, celestial, with an ending in the same category, does not sound at all prissy to me when pronounced /səˈlestiəl/. I agree with them both.

However, I think it shd be remembered that the OED2 team, faced with the prodigious job of converting all pronunciations from the ancient over-complicated Murray notation of 1884 to IPA symbols, chose largely not to attempt to reconsider their up-to-dateness on the same occasion. They’ve made a beginning on doing so with OED3 (which has been ongoing on-line since 2000 having delt first with M-Q plus) but it’s a long job especially as they’re now for the first time including (General) American pronunciations.

Another item is referred to thus by Graham: There’s also consortium, which is usually pronounced /kənˈsɔːtɪəm/, but which Leon Brittan (British Home Secretary.. in the mid-1980s) notably pronounced /kənˈsɔːʃəm/. I agree that one rarely hears this last form now but in OED1 in 1893 Sir James A. H. Murray gave only that. OED2 kept it in first place but added the /t/ form after it, which is what we have so far in OED3. 

The upshot of this is that rumbustious remains so far shown with the pronunciation that the 73-year-old Murray assigned to it only two years short of a century ago. One reason no doubt why celestial isnt treated by, Brits at least, in the same way is that the two words have different associations. It belongs in rather high-flown contexts. Rumbustious on the other hand might well have been described by Murray as he had classified bumptious as “colloq & undignified”. Americans, by contrast, it seems generally say /sə`lesʧəl/. An even greater contrast with our usage is their use of /`kɔːrʤəl/ for cordial.

Various extant or past or dialectal forms comparable to the unrecognised “rumbustuous” to be found in the OED include hiduous, ojus (odious, "Irish"), portentious, stupenduous, sumptious, tremendjous, tumultious, unctious and voluptious. Curiously “nuptual” is not to be found among them. 

Further examples beyond what OED provides on 17th and 18th century usages (in particular on forms showing alternation of /-dj-/ and /-ʤ-/ at p. 294) can be found in Henry Cecil Wyld's History of Modern Colloquial English (1936). Wyld was a pupil of Henry Sweet. The first person (as opposed to books) who ever taught me anything of phonetics was in turn a pupil of Wyld's, Professor Evan Clifford Llewellyn.

I think Graham is right in suggesting that many of these variants are not merely confusions but phonetic developments. He mentions recently hearing sexual as /ˈseksjəl/. I think that has very probably arisen in steps like / seksjuəl → seksjwəl → seksjəl/. I hear annually as /`ӕnjəli/ so often these days I even wonder if it’s become the predominant form via /`ӕnjwəli/ from /`ӕnjuəli/. Compare what’s happened to actually and gradually. And “sumptious” could surely well have been arrived at by the progression /sʌmptjuəs → sʌmptʃuəs → sʌmpʧəs → sʌm(p)ʃəs/. So it’s perfectly possible that people who say “nuptual” or “rumbustuous” are aiming to go back to a presumed more correct forms.

PS I've just heard a Government minister say insiduous. 13 Dec.

Blog 141

The 3rd of December 2008


On October 30th, 2008 Nigel Greenwood wrote

At what point does an anglicized stress become acceptable? This question was prompted by this morning’s In Our Time on BBC R4, in which the subject was Simón Bolívar. In the face of 3 Hispanists who all stressed the surname correctly, Melvyn Bragg doggedly persisted in saying Bólivar throughout the programme...

Graham Pointon responded:

I was surprised that Melvyn Bragg ... should have gone on with Bólivar, against all the evidence of his ears ... Either he or his producer should have checked with the Pronunciation Unit...and would have learned from that to say Bolívar.

Once agen I'm afraid I find myself at variance with Graham’s authoritarian views on such matters. I regret to report that he was completely right in saying that the present advisers at the BBC Pronunciation Unit wd countenance only /bɒ`liːvɑː(r)/ if consulted, as may be gleaned from their 2006 Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation (reviewed at §12.11 on this site). Its authors claim to recognise and recommend ‘Established Anglicisations’ but here as elsewhere  ignore the testimony of apparently all the usual reference books, British and American, that `Bolivar not Bo`livar is the usual anglophone stressing of the name.

So far from being “in the wrong” Lord Bragg was being sensible not to risk an effect that many might perceive as affectation by imitating the version of the three Hispanists. They, I shd say, may re’dily be forgiven for employing the Spanish stressing which they clearly used quite unaffectedly and certainly not aggressively. I’m afraid Nigel’s “doggedly persisted” said more about his personal reaction than the general impression given.

As the word Bolivar was a principal expression introduced by Bragg at the beginning of the 42-minutes discussion, it was often uttered by the participants on prosodies that, acknowledging it as "given matter", automatically neutralised the stress contrast between the two versions. This was so for example when the first contributor Professor John Fisher began speaking. It was not until about six minutes into the programme that he unambiguously strest the word as Bolívar. It was used similarly ambiguously at times (eg about 22 minutes in) also by Professor Anthony MacFarlane. Professor Catherine Davies used the word as Bo`livar about 24 minutes in and that was about the only time she did use it. So the overall effect was not a bit awkward to my taste.

Nigel asked whether our stressing `Bolivar was due to the analogy of Oliver. That may well have been some contributory influence but I’d say the general anglophone tendency with strange words of three syllables is to stress the first if it doesnt seem to be possibly perceivable as something like a prefix (as with Trafalgar), and especially if the last syllable is rhythmically strong. Compare commissarPanama and samovar all mostly front-strest in English but in their original languages end-strest.