Archive 35 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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28/06/2011M or N - New Perceptual Puzzle#350
21/06/2011ACCEPT /ɪ/ a changed pronunciation#349
14/06/2011Reductions of GOING TO#348
07/06/2011Curious Pronunciations#347
01/06/2011Phonetic Symbol Names#346
30/05/2011More on Elisions of Ell#345
27/05/2011Elisions and Insertions of Ells#344
21/05/2011The GB Diphthongs /ɪə/ etc agen#343
16/05/2011Ticklish Words (vii) ATTITUDE#342
12/05/2011A Festschrift for John Wells#341

Blog 350

The 28th of June 2011

M or N - New Perceptual Puzzle

Some of you may remember that my topic a few months ago in Blog 330 was 'Catching Spoken Words' when I suggested that people offen under-estimate how much they take in of what's being spoken on the basis of their expectations rather than what they actually do hear. I've been reminded of that recently in a way that made me also recall a remark A. M. Weekley made in 1914 in his book The Romance of Names (p.31): "We all know the difficulty we have in catching a new and unfamiliar name..." I don't know anyone who'd really disagree with that and I hope it gives encouragement to my many readers who are teachers or other users of English as an extra language. They have to remember that it can quite offen be as mystifying to us native speakers to be confronted with a word we don't already know, or at least recognise, as it is for them.

Anyway, my recent experience along these lines was like this. I listen very offen to the BBC Radio 4 midnight news bulletin which, as it happens, is the longest of the day and is usually re·d by someone who doesnt operate in the daytime s·hedules. Some months ago I noticed that one of them was the possessor of the rather unusual pair of names which I he·rd, with it not occurring to me that I might be at all mistaken, as Zeb Soames. After some weeks in which I'd he·rd him give his name a number of times, I decided to look up what was available about him to satisfy my curiosity as to what his obviously abbreviated forename was short for. This turned out to be not my guess Zebedaiah but the to-me rather unfamiliar Zebedee. However, the shock I got on that occasion was that his surname was actually Soanes. The plot thickened some time later when Mr Soanes was moved onto the daytime s·hedules when I cd hear his name not only from him but from various other speakers sometimes half a dozen times on mornings when his name was given by the gen·ral presenter saying that Zeb Soanes was to be the reader of the news bulletin that was the next item on the program. 

Altho much less common than Soames, Soanes is a name not at all totally unknown to me, so I naturally wondered how I cdve been making such a mistake. I considered that there might be two possible at-least-partial explanations. One was that because, every time I he·rd it, it came at what was at least in effect the end of a sentence. Because speakers offen close their lips in such a situation I cou·d be hearing it on praps most occasions not ending as [səʊmz] but as [səʊm͡nz] with a final consonant that was neither exactly one nor the other but a blend of [n] and [m]. The other and praps more convincing suggestion was that I was hearing no nasal consonant at all but just [sə̃ʊ̃z] the nasality remaining only in the diphthong. I have to point out that the speakers who named him as the reader of what followed were offen relatively briskly uttering a very routine expression rather than making the kind of effort of clarity that they'd be inclined to employ when they were conscious of saying something that'd be probably very new or unfamiliar to their listeners. I'm not confident that either of these conjectures is the right solution. I'm most inclined to think that, without firmer etc than ordinary articulation, these two nasal consonants are not really distinct in ordinary English conversational and similarly unselfconscious speech. The frequency with which they've swopt in the histories of English and of other languages seems to support this view, but illustrations of this phenomenon will have to wait for another occasion.

Blog 349

The 21st of June 2011

ACCEPT /ɪ/ a changed pronunciation

In the last decade or so I've been struck by the rapidly increasing regularity with which the traditional form /ək`sept/ of the very common word accept (along with its derivatives such as acceptable and acceptance) has come to be replaced by a version formerly associated solely with the other also very common word except. This means that I'm inclined to think that things seem now to've moved on a degree from the Cruttenden 2008 (p.109) assessment that "the potential oppositions between /ɪ/ and /ə/" in the pair except and accept have become not merely "commonly" lost in favour of /ɪ/ to the extent that they can be sed to be predominantly so.

In the very first 'fascicle' in 1884 of the NED, later better known as OED(1), Murray gave it solely as "˘kse·pt)" but with an important combining breve over its ӕ [which my software is refusing place properly] making it equivalent to /ək`sɛpt/ in IPA symbols. The OED3 online gives only /ækˈsɛpt/ following the 1989 re-transcriber who failed to take into account that breve over the ash vowel which indicated that it was "obscure", that is to say it didnt  have the value of the ash in /mӕn/ but was ord·narily /ə/. Both the Wyld (1932) and Baker (1932) single-volume dictionaries gave only ash. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology of 1966, by the Murray OED co-editor Charles Talbut Onions, gave initial /ə/. Daniel Jones in 1917 in the first edition of his EPD had "ək ́sept [ӕk-]" which has remained the record in EPD to this day. The same two forms in that order appeared in ODP in  2001.

In my CPD (OUP 1972) I felt inclined to record the existence as a common variant of the form beginning /ɪk-/. The one beginning /ӕk-/ wasnt sufficiently ord·nry-sounding to include in a text offered to users of English as an extra language. No previous dictionary known to me had recorded the /ɪk-/ variant. When LPD first appeared in 1990 it contained /ɪk-/ as a third form and still does so. In recent years that /ɪk-/ variant seems to be becoming the preponderant version that I hear used in the broadcast media. A generation or so ago such a version seemed distinctly less usual than /ək-/ which tended in those days to be more associated, by me at least, with an Australian accent.

OED3 is wrong also in currently showing /ɛkˈsɛpt/ as the sole pronunciation for except, not in this case because the editorial assistant entrusted with converting the NED 1894 transcription into IPA had slipped up, but because the brilliant Henry Bradley who Murray recruited to share the editing with him failed to notice that his idea of the most general pronunciation for the word was mistaken. He was plainly, from other evidence, at times influenced by what were dou·tless his own speech habits. Until he was almost forty he'd lived only in northerly counties, including during schooldays in Derbyshire, where it was usual to employ the same vowel in both syllables of except. He showed the same initial vowel at eg entangle but we may note for comparison that, when Murray came to transcribe disentangle only a year or so later in 1896, he used "(ė-)" at the -en- syllable which the NED 'Key to the Pronunciation' glossed as the second vowel of added and the first of estate — which OED3 shows satisfactorily as "/ɪˈsteɪt/".

Blog 348

The 14th of June 2011

Reductions of GOING TO

Alex Rotatori's blog on Thursday the second of June began with a quote from page 123 of Practical Phonetics and Phonology (2008) by Beverley Collins and Inger Mees: “When going to is used as a tense-former, it is typically pronounced /ɡənə/, e.g. What’s going to happen /ˈwɒts ɡənə ˈhæpən/. This form .. is often criticised by prescriptivists, but is in fact the norm in colloquial NRP and all other varieties of native-speaker English.” (NRP stands for 'Non-Regional [British] Pronunciation'). Alex sed 'I find this description of the contracted weak form of the phrase going to correct, but not totally'. He continued by saying that the usage is 'not at all restricted to colloquial RP. It can, in fact, also be found in more formal/less relaxed styles of speech' and corroborated his opinion with video clips from YouTube of Prime Minister David Cameron. Unfortunately, the two most recent of these have now had to be withdrawn by YouTube, but there are plenty more available that'll no dou·t amply bear out Alex's claims about his use of the expression.

I certn·y think that, if they were to be taken as def·nit·ly advocating to teachers of English the active adoption of this usage as something indispensable, then they didnt say enough. They shd've de·lt also with at least the most usual variant before words beginning with vowels namely /gənu/, something that Alex clearly points out. However, I very much dou·t th·t that was their purpose in informing their readers about the usage. I wasnt surprised to see that Alex chose examples by Cameron. He was the first person that came to my mind in the context. His style of public speaking plainly relates to a wish to project an image of openness to change and of unstuffy progressiveness. I dont think even Tony Blair, who was heading in that direction, was offen so informal as Cameron. And more than twenty years ago you wdntve expected it from any prime minister.

Cameron, it seems, in his use of /gənə/ may well prove to be leading the way to bringing about its general acceptance in British public speaking but I dont think we've quite reached that point yet. You certn·y don't hear it incorporated into the scripts of newsreaders yet. So I'm not inclined to believe that the time has come to teach its active use in serious contexts and I suspect C & M take a similar view. They were notably careful to point out that it's "often criticised by prescriptivists". Students who're tau·t its use'll have to discriminate between items like "I'm just going to." which wd sound pretty abnormal except as /aɪm 'ʤᴧs(t) `gəʊɪŋ tu/ and "I'm going to ask her." which wd need /gənu/.

 Anyway, I can't help feeling there's something pretty ironic about C & M being taken to task over their comments on this topic. What other comparable textbook even mentions its existence leave alone firmly insists, as they so rightly do, that it's the "norm" in conversational English. That's something for which I'm inclined to congratulate them.

Blog 347

The 7th of June 2011

Curious Pronunciations

I'm a compulsive collector of curious, odd, unusual, extr·ord·n·ry, remarkable etc pronunciations. Some of them are truly strange; others may be ones that I've merely failed to notice the peculiarity of before; and others are just unfamilar kinds of new developments. One of the latest ones in this last category is a new form of create and its derivatives that I can only think of transcribing as /kr̩`eɪt/. It's certn·y two syllables, so it's not homophonous with crate /kreɪt/, tho a compression of it can occur in such a form. However, that doesnt seem to occur in isolate or lexical situations. Similar compressions do occur occasionally to items like correct, marine, forever etc but /kr̩`eɪt/ involves a compression not of /kər-/ but of /kri-/. I g·ess when I first he·rd it I tended to dismiss it as on·y a sort of tongue-slip. However, I have he·rd it repeatedly, particularly memorably at the general election a year ago when the words creative etc cropped up sev·ral times spoken by two of the party leaders, Messrs Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, at the televised session in which the three party leaders each gave their ans·ers to questions put to them by the audience.

Quite unconnected with the above is my puzzlement over the item 'sarnie' ie /`sɑːni/. OED sez "repr[oduction of] colloquial or (north[ern]) dialect pronunciation of initial element of sandwich". If it is derived from sandwich, I can't imagine why it's not "sannie". It might be a tad more credible if it were a southernism. The placename Sandridge, clearly derived from sand and recorded for Hertfordshire since the Doomsday Book, amazingly is apparently tradition·ly /sɑːndrɪʤ/ which cou·d be deemed to be one parallel development. Another curiosity!

A rather small set of items I'm permanently puzzled by, in the UK at least, perfectly well known to ev·ryone, is the group anythink, everythink, nothink and somethink. My problem with them is that, with all the vast numbers of English words ending with weak syllables having final -ng, not one of them outside of these four, is ever he·rd with that added /k/. It surely can hardly be connected with the /θ/ beginning the syllable because it doesnt happen to the uncompounded word thing however weakly it's strest nor to words like badmouthing, bathing (the British /bɑːθɪŋ/ for 'taking a bath'), earthing, berthing, birthing, frothing, sleuthing etc. A particularly int·resting fact about it is that I can't think of any usage that's more totally unfashionable. I'm surprised not to've detected any mention of it in Lynda Mugglestone's comprehensive account of minimally "received" usages in her Talking Proper. We have plenty of people in public life these days who with very few inhibitions employ various "uneducated" and regional pronunciations but these few items must surely be among the most likely of all to be avoided by them. I'm not very clear what currency this usage might have in other parts of the English-speaking world. In the UK I dont associate it with Scotland but I cd eas·ly 've just not noticed it from Scottish speakers.

Blog 346

The 1st of June 2011

Phonetic Symbol Names

In his blog of the thirtieth of May John Maidment, giving a list of symbol names viz schwa for [ə], esh for [ʃ], ash for [ӕ], eth for [ð], yod for [j], wynn for [w], enɡ for [ŋ], theta for [θ] and wedɡe for [ʌ], asked "Does anyone have short, snappy names for [a] and [ɑ], or [ɒ] or [ɔ]….?" How about CV4, CV5, CV13 and CV7 for them. If neither CV13 nor 'reverse script a' is acceptable, praps 'cut, topless or decapitated b' wd serve if one simply wants to  remind students what it looks like. A 'b' with its upriser removed has much that appearance. Of course, what referents you favour must depend on the context in which you wish to employ them. I guess John's question was in terms of gen·ral f·netics. However, for those who might like an an·ser relevant to the very large audience of teachers of English as an extra language, I'd recommend referring to the set of vocalic phonemes of the variety being tau·t according to some set of numbers.

In 1932 Daniel Jones's Outline of English Phonetics introduced for the first time a system of numbering of the British vowel phonemes. He started it from the highest and frontmost item carrying on around the vowel area anti-clockwise and ending with the three central ones. In practical tutorial work various vowel contrasts have to have constant attention drawn to them and the most efficient way I ever found of tackling students' frequent use of ambiguous vowel values was to ask eg "Are you aiming at number 4 or number 10 in that word?" I've never askt anyone to memorise the vowel numbers but I've expected ev·ryone in a practical class to keep to hand a checklist of vowels and corresponding keywords.

'Wedge' for [ʌ] is something I've not come across. Geoffrey Pullum and William Laduslaw in their Phonetic Symbol Guide (1986, 1996) suggested that it's offen been used in the USA, adding, with a rather curious bracketed comment, that ᴧ is "sometimes (incorrectly) called “caret”". I can't see how correctness comes into it. If homophony with carrot is a worry, then say it as /`kӕret/. Of course you can call it CV14. John gives esh for ʃ which incident·ly the Charis SIL I'm typing this in has a not exactly IPA-authorised back-leaning ʃ. Anyway, why not ezh for ʒ. It's snappier than the name 'yogh' for it and that doesnt even match the sound. I personally prefer edh for ð because eth suggests θ to me. I'm gratified to have John's approval of 'wynn' which I confest to adopting in my blog #053 (using it also in #240) saying I was “borrowing a name from the futhorc (runic alphabet) in the way we've all borrowed "yod" from Hebrew”.

When it comes to a snappy name for [ɛ] I shd prefer 'Greek e' to epsilon (whether as /ep`saɪlən/ or /`epsɪlən/). I dont like upsilon either for [ʊ]. In the absence of anything I liked better, I've long been accustomed personally to call it the amphora. That hopefully suggests its gen·ral appearance quite well, but I'm coming to think that praps 'horseshoe' is a better choice. Quite a few years ago, when I was teaching at the University of Oslo, with certain courses I tried out using the now-discarded iota [ι] and closed omega [ɷ], a pair that Gimson felt Jones had rather foisted on the IPA during the war in preference to the traditional [ɪ] and [ʊ]. I liked the iota a good deal better than the omega which I found the students referring to as what wd be most closely translated from their Norwegian  as 'the bum letter'.

John didnt ask for snappy names for any other consonants but I for one am very happy to be able to resort to referring to aitches by that name inste·d of as 'h’s'. I've experienced a similar feeling about having only "l" in discussing the phoneme /l/. That, combined with the awkwardness of the frequent visual indistinguishability in many founts of type of the letter "l" and the numeral for 'one', has prompted me in my two previous blogs to this one to adopt the form "ell". On many occasions I've found the necessary pluralisings where writers have to resort to  l's, l's, /l/s or [l]s very ungraceful looking. Best of luck with your browser, dear reader, but some of my symbols I fear wont appear for some of you as I hope they do for most of you.

PS In writing the above I considered but rejected the idea of mentioning "schwi", the invention of the late Sir James Pitman for use as a word-form substitute for the phonetic symbol ɪ, because it's had such little currency. Within a week it turned up in a Wells blog when he was as·t by a reader
Do you regularly have a schwi in character?
John Wells said...
I can use either schwi or schwa.

Blog 345

The 30th of May 2011

More on Elisions of Ell

Continuing our historical examples of ell appearances and disappearances, assault, default, fault, somersault and vault, all loanwords from French, were mainly acquired with no ells in Middle English. Regarding fault, Dr Johnson, remarked that in conversation its ell was generally suppressed. As to vault, Thomas Sheridan indicated no ell in its pronunciation in his General Dictionary of the English Language (1780). A curious item is the word colonel which, despite its spelling, has no /l/ tho it has had, and still does have, an /r/ ie for speakers of higher-rhoticity accents. Spelt also coronel in the sixteenth century, it had a complex history. OED describes as "In decent use only as a legal term" the word bugger which is commonly (in two senses of that word) employed as a synonym for 'person'. This is a doublet of Bulgar the connection being alleged 'unnatural' practices of medieval Bulgarian monks. Of solder OED sez Benjamin Smart's Walker remodelled. A new critical pronouncing dictionary of the English language (1840) gave only /ˈsɔːdə(r)/. Walker himself in 1791 had only listed it with an ell. Of soldier Walker noted that only one of his fellow orthoëpists omitted its ell but it had certainly largely lacked one in its earlier history. In relatively recent times the apostrophes of the originally only informal spellings shan't and won't were inserted to signify loss of the ells of shall and woll of which the latter was a now-obsolete variant of will.

We mentioned the word vulnerable as having an ell-less form apparently unrecorded, for GB at least, until the 1990 first edition of Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. That also, unlike EPD and ODP, perfectly justifiably gives italic ells in sev·ral compounds of all, viz already, alright, although and always indicating that they are "sometimes optionally omitted". In Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) Edward Artin similarly showed bracketed ells in his transcriptions of GA already and alright and also gave always with an ell-less variant. In the UK neither EPD nor ODP has ever admitted such forms. None of our three major PD's (pronunciation dictionaries) admits such GB variants at certain very common words which now probably predominantly (at least when unstrest) exhibit elisions of ell. These are only, certainly, occasionally and suddenly. In my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary (Oxford 1972) I (confidently, tho for the first time in any PD) listed the form /`əʊni/ noting that it doesnt usually occur (strest) "finally" ie before a rhythmic break. Unstrest it's a common weakform in the whole English-speaking world. When strest it's a perfectly ord·n·ry GB usage in all styles of speech. An example of its use in a very measured, dignified style within the past week  was its emphatic utterance in a televised public address to President Obama by the Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Hayman. LPD acknowledges the existence of /`əʊni/ but, in a rare misjudgment, lists it with the "§" sign as "non-RP". The word also has an unrecorded emphatic GB variant with its /-l-/ by post-assimilation converted to /n/ viz /`əʊnni/. Anyone who wishes to hear how perfectly normal /`sɜːtni/ and /ə`keɪʒni/ sound in fluent but unhurried speech may listen at this website to recordings made to accompany my book People Speaking (OUP 1977) at eg Section 4, Item 1, Passage 13, lines 3 and  7 respectively.

Certain common double-ell degeminations tend to be omitted by the three big PDs: eg goalless with single ell is shown in ODP but only as a GA variant. Such a version for wholly seems to be chiefly a weakform. Really and cruelly never normally sound both ells; nor do words like gravelly and scoundrelly with final weak syllables in the base word but eg coolly, palely and genteelly normally do sound both ells. The common replacement of /l/ with a not-much-rounded /ʊ/ in railway has long seem·d to raise no eyebrows leave alone hackles, but the general question of GB ell-vocalisation is beyond the scope of these notes. See our Blog 341.

Finally, we offer a few examples of some proper-type words that have silent-ell forms namely placenames like Alnwick, Calne, Falkland, Folkstone, Holborn, Kirkcaldy, Lincoln, Norfolk, Olney, Stockholm and personal ones such as Chalmers, Colqhhoun, Hawkins, Homes, Sauter and Waters. How Cholmondely, Fanshaw & Featherstonehaugh came to belong with these was suggested in our Blog 018.

Blog 344

The 27th of May 2011

Elisions and Insertions of Ells

This note is about "ells", ie l's or /l/s, in the General British Pronunciation of the English language [in short GBPE or GBE or simply GB and also known by various other less satisfactory terms such as RP, SSB(E) and BBC(E)]. I apologise for introducing the unorthodox word 'ell' but the simple letter 'l' has certain disadvantages notably the fact that in very many type fonts it's indistinguishable from the numeral '1'. GB is generally agreed to have currently 44 constituent phonemes. These consist, rather satisfyingly, of two evenly divided types — vocalic and consonantal. The 22 vocalics, except for two of them, are all either vowels or diphthongs. There are twelve ("simple") vowels which may or may not tend to contrast with each other in length but each of them sustains an unchanging articulatory posture. The eight GB phonemes referred to as 'diphthongs' all involve some degree of tongue movement and so necessitate pairs of vowel letters to designate each of them.

The remaining two of the vocalics are set apart from the other twenty because they always initiate syllables and are by reason of their weakness and/or shortness markedly less prominent than the syllabic vowels etc that follow them. This functional feature has caused these vocalic items /j/ and /w/, perfectly reasonably, to be more offen than not groupt with the consonantal set. They can be sed to belong to a consonant subset, along with three other items /l, r/ and /h/. These are together widely known as 'approximants' and are characterised notably by being weaker articulations than the other seventeen. It is this weakness which has in the past and still today accounts for frequent 'disappearances' of ells as well as of the others in the set.

So-called 'silent' ells survive in about thirty mostly either very or fairly familiar simple common-type words a few of which have minority forms in which an /l/ has been introduced or re-introduced. They are almond, alms, balm, calm, malmsey, qualm, palm, psalm, salmon /sӕmən/; calf, half, calve, halve; calk, stalk, talk, walk; baulk, caulk, haulm; folk, yolk, holm; could, should, would. Regarding the item could, OED has the comment "The current spelling is erroneous: l began to be inserted about 1525, apparently in mechanical imitation of should and would, where an etymological l had become silent...". LPD3 lists subvariant forms with /l/ of almond, calm and palm on the last of which 85% of the respondents to a questionnaire preferred the form with no /l/. The items alms, almond, balm, qualm and psalm by contrast have their /l/-containing variants labelled with the § "non-RP" sign, judgments that one isnt inclined to dispute.

The compounds halfpenny, and halfpennyworth, traditionally /heɪpni/ and, formally, /`heɪpniwɜːθ/ or ordn·rily /heɪpəθ/, are now archaic. The word falcon, now rarely he·rd without an /l/, had no orthographical ell in Middle English and was listed by John Walker in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791/1849) with no ell.  The word salve meaning 'a balm' or 'to soothe' usually has an ell these days. The word vulnerable, was given in OED in 1920 by Craigie only as "(ˈvʌlnərəb(ə)l)", to quote the 1989 transliteration of his Murray-style NED transcription. This was the only type that Daniel Jones or Gimson ever recorded in the EPD from 1917 to 1977. By 1990 we find LPD1 listing a new ell-less subvariant form /`vᴧnrəbl/ which also appeared in EPD in 1997 but was not included in ODP in 2001.

Blog 343

The 21st of May 2011

The GB Diphthongs /ɪə/ etc agen

    A correspondent in Argentina recently asked "Are there any changes in the diphthong /ɪə/ such as the ones in the other two centring diphthongs?"
I have occasionally he·rd the like of It's here spoken as [ɪts `hɪː] sentence-finally but I'd describe the articulation as pretty unusual from speakers with otherwise unmixt General British accents. When, on rare occasions, I've noticed it from UK speakers (as opposed to others such as Australians) they seem to've been southeasterners with rather mixt accents. For more detail on this topic I refer readers to my Blogs 249, 250, 251 and 341 which contain a discussion of and some links to the int·resting observations and opinions of the distinguisht phonetician John Maidment.

All three of the GB centring diphthongs are very commonly he·rd with monophthongal allophones. Traditionally these wd not be used before breaks ie at the ends of rhythm units. However, the case of /ɛə/ is different. The use of a strest unit-final [ɛː] wd indicate that the speaker must be categorised as possessing a phoneme /ɛː/ replacing the traditional /ɛə/. This was at one time distinctly a minority usage: Daniel Jones in 1958 only sed "[o]ccasionally one hears [it]". However, it's now for sev·ral decades become less and less so.

Up to the present time no statistical research has been published of an adequacy to persuade one that the speakers who have [ɛː] in all situations constitute a majority among GB speakers. If such a piece of research were carried out it might well turn out that that is so. In view of this uncertainty,  from the practical point of view, there can be no problem for teachers of British English as an extra language who wish to recommend the monophthongal type for general use. See agen my Blog 341.

As to /ɪə/ and /ʊə/, tho acknowledgment of their monophthongal allophones is not yet to be generally found, except notably at Cruttenden/Gimson 2008 pp 149 and 152, they do exist quite commonly. They're usually long as eg in [`hɪː ju ˏɑː] Here you are and [`kjʊːriəs] Curious. By contrast, tho Daniel Jones ignored them (or at least wasnt willing to accept them as 'received'), others drew attention to the case of /ɛə/ as long ago as Laura Soames (1840-1895). She, writing in 1891 before the days of phoneme theory, listed [ɛː] as one of the English long simple vowels as in [fɛːri] fairy. See agen my Blog 341.

Any reader who cares to hear a few examples of what happens to the phoneme /ɪə/ in conversational-type speech can turn to 'People Speaking' Section 4.1 on this website and listen to the following dialogs. In number 5 at the word really in line 3 it'll be clear that the /ɪə/ there is a perfectly monophthongal [ɪː]. That comment applies also to another occurrence of that word in Dialog 10 line 4 and to the word serious in line 5. But contrast the word realise in #12 at line 10 which has clearly the diphthongal principal allophone. In #14 at line 4 at interfering the /ɪə/ has little if any diphthongisation. We can here see evidence of an important thing to remember namely that in ordinary completely fluent speech a fair proportion of tokens of /ɪə/ and /ʊə/ will not be able to be confidently recognised as either diphthongs or monophthongs. Another point is that, for praps a majority of GB speakers, for example the word bid spoken, as it might easily be, drawled slightly but sufficiently lengthen·d to match an average duration for the word beard, wdnt sound as if beard was being sed. On the other hand, the word gourd may well sound from many speakers as if they're saying in slightly drawling fashion the word good.

Blog 342

The 16th of May 2011

Ticklish Words (vii) ATTITUDE

Regular readers'll remember that the organisers of the BL (British Library) 'Evolving English' exhibition which ended in early April requested their worldwide internet followers to record for posterity, if they found the bedtime story Mr Tickle too long to tackle, a halfdozen particular words the last of which was attitude. The comments on the responses to their appeal began, in the case of each of the six words, with a reference to what they found in the OED on its pronunciation. In five of the six cases it wdve praps been better to omit these comments altogether. A better procedure wdve been to quote the opinions of the three twenty-first-century specialist pronunciation dictionaries, the LPD (the Wells Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), the CEPD (the Roach-&-Co Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) and the ODP (the Upton-&-Co Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation).

Their problem with OED3 (the online great Oxford Dictionary), to which they confined their attention, was that it's undergoing an inevitably protracted fundamental revision of the OED2 text. So far, for the most part, the re-drafting has been confined to only about thirty percent of its wordlist namely the letters M to R. The digitisation of that 1989 second edition during the period from 1984 to 1992 was such a stupendous task that, for all but a handful of entries, no attempt was made to update the pronunciations. The editorial staff limited their work to 'translating' the pronunciations, most of which dated from between 1884 and 1928, from the original obsolete notation devised in pre-IPA days by the chief editor James Murray into a modern version based on the recommendations of the International Phonetic Association. Thus when the BL curators came to attitude they commented "The OED only includes a pronunciation in which the final syllable sounds like 'tyood' (i.e. not like ‘tood’ or ‘chewed’)". This exactly reflected what Murray had written 126 years ago in 1885. What the OED3 is likely to say about the word now can be deduced from looking at a comparable up-to-date revised item like platitude at which we find "Brit[ish] /ˈplatᵻtjuːd/ , /ˈplatᵻtʃuːd/ , U.S. /ˈplædəˌt(j)ud/" in which the symbol /ᵻ/ indicates that both /ə/ and /ɪ/ are current variants. Both LPD and CEPD tell much the same story.

The BL account of the responses they received on attitude was "All the US English voices use ‘tood’, although again Canada shows some variation with 3 out of 10 speakers offering ‘tyood’ and 1 speaker clearly using ‘chewed’. In Britain and Ireland ‘tood’ is completely absent, while 10 out of 60 speakers use 'tyood' (generally, but not exclusively, older speakers) and 50 out of 60 use ‘chewed’".
In dictionaries one of course expects the first-given version to be that considered predominant among the speakers with the accent indicated. The LPD pie-charts and graphs of poll respondents' preferences offen vividly highlight contrasts between the generations. Observing my own habits, I find that I vacillate to quite a degree with words that have either /ʧ/ or /tj/ tending to chiefly use /ʧ/ in very common words like attitude, tube, Tuesday, tune etc but more offen employing /tj/ in less familiar ones like tulle, tumour, tumult, tutelage etc.

Blog 341

The 12th of May 2011

A Festschrift for John Wells

This month has seen the delayed publication by the English Phonetic Society of Japan of a 235-page volume combining the 14th and 15th issues of that Society's periodical 'English Phonetics' in the form of a "Festschrift Commemorating the Retirement and the 70th Birthday of Emeritus Professor John C. Wells" edited by Professor Masaki Taniguchi of Kochi University. After a brief account of Wells's main publications it contains six "Congratulatory Messages" and twenty-one articles of about ten pages each three of which are in Japanese.

A particularly enjoyable item, by the current President of the English Phonetic Society of Japan Masaki Tsudzuki on 'Some Phonetic Rules Regarding the Adaptation of Foreign Loan Words into Japanese', includes the comment on certain Japanese compound words containing the word 'American' that the word's first vowel was 'not heard by Japanese and was thus left out'. Such an 'aphesis' /`ӕfəsɪs/ is not unknown among native English speakers — tho it's probably mainly confined to demotic and childish use. Even so, I don't expect to see any eyebrows raised when I say in casual conversation eg “/`mɛrkənz dəʊn seɪ ˏðӕt/”. We learn from this article also that both ear and year may be heard from Japanese speakers as /`iːɑː/ reminding one of the losing of initial yod from /jiə/ by GB speakers who so offen say things like /nekst `iə/ for next year. Another rather amusing item was 'dommai' an expression of sympathy (especially directed at someone bungling an action at baseball) derived from 'don’t mind' that, in undergoing Japanese transformation comes; out like the reduced articulation of a sleepy or drunk English native speaker /dəʊm maɪ/.

Several of the articles are on matters particularly of British pronunciation. The first of these is a discussion by John Maidment on 'Transcription and the changing vowel system of English' in which he sez that "It may well be time ... in our transcription of GBE [General British English] to abandon /ӕ/ in favour of /a/". ; This change has, of course, already been implemented by Clive Upton in OED3 and its sister publication ODP. So has the suggestion to 'update' from /eə/ to /ɛː/ on which Maidment warns, "To retain the standard symbol for very much longer runs the risk of causing confusion, both for native speakers learning phonetics and, especially, for non-native speakers who consult pronouncing dictionaries or who make use of published accounts of the features of GBE". The leading EFL textbook Practical Phonetics and Phonology (2008) by Collins and Mees has used /ɛː/ since 2003. Stimulating, if rather alarming, are his speculations on whether we shd soon be changing /ɪə/ to /ɪː/ and back vowels to perhaps more strictly IPA-conforming notations such as /ʉ, ᵿ, əᵿ, aᵿ/ or even /ɨː, ᵻ , əᵻ, aᵻ /. That last one has been he·rd occasionally from the Queen and Prince Charles but he was for a while so frequently caricatured as saying 'ite and abite' for 'out and about' etc that he has since evidently avoided the usage.

L-vocalisation in British speech is the subject of two contrasting items. One, by Mitsuhiro Nakamura, concentrates on a 'parametric' approach focusing 'on the continuous activities of the organs of speech'. The other, 'The l-vocalization trend in young London English speech — growing or declining?' by Patricia Ashby, reports an investigation that notably challenges certain commonly accepted assumptions in relation to this development.

The sixteen-page article 'The stops that aren’t' by Michael Ashby and Joanna Przedlacka, whose title consciously echoes that of a 1980 JIPA paper by the volume's dedicatee, reports on the many lenitions that can occur to British stop consonants which their acoustic analyses have shown to "commonly deviate from the norms assumed for them". Their searching approach has produced evidence against dismissing occurrences of lenited stops as merely instances of casual articulation. I once received a slight shock on playing back a high-quality studio recording of my very careful saying of the words "People Speaking" introducing the recordings accompanying my book of that name. It was perfectly clear that what I'd sed was not [spikɪŋ] but [spixɪŋ]! Not that it sounded at all unusual.

'Acoustic features of the rise-fall in English' by Nobuo Yuzawa is another item on British English. The rest of the papers are, in various ways, mainly about English in relation to Japanese learners. However, among unusual topics are Hiroshi Miura's 'Frisian monophthongs and English vowel change' and a multiply-authored study of 'Finnish learners’ auditory perceptions of English pronunciation by Japanese speakers'. The only item which has no direct connection with English phonetics is the nevertheless rather int·resting description of how South Korean phoneticians have devised an enthusiastic·ly received course to help North Korean 'defectors' to the South to acquire a less unpopular accent for their new linguistic environment. Other prosodic matters also receive notable attention. Unfortunately, on this occasion it's not possible to deal with more than these brief samplings from this very worthwhile volume.

PS: My revised information is now that to purchase a copy (postage will now be free) one can remit 4500 yen to the following account:
Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank,
Fujigaoka Branch # 252.
Account holder: Eigo Onsei Gakkai.
They promise to despatch the book as soon as the remittance is confirmed.