Archive 38 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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03/01/2012An Accentuation Exercise#380
02/01/2012Spelling Pronunciations (i)#379
22/12/2011EFL Pronunciation Symbols (iii)#378
21/12/2011EFL Pronunciation Symbols (ii)#377
16/12/2011EFL Pronunciation Symbols (i)#376
05/12/2011Innovative Pronunciations (ii)#375
03/12/2011Innovative Pronunciations (i)#374
29/11/2011Looking Speakers in the Face#373
24/11/2011Anomalous Tonic Assignments#372
15/11/2011Another Advanced Transcription#371

Blog 380

The 3rd of January 2012

An Accentuation Exercise

At the end of last month John Maidment, in a blog he called Where's the Tonic?, offered a neatly devised exercise for ambitious users of English as an extra language who might like to test themselves on how good they are at the most difficult job they have in the field of spoken English prosody ie locating where it's appropriate or not to place the tonic stresses (a process I like to call 'accentuation') in conversational exchanges. It proved so popular that I thaut I'd take leaf out of his book and offer one too. So here goes:
1.    Bill: We need some new light bulbs.
2.    Jim: There isnt anywhere we need new bulbs.
3.    Bill: We want them in plenty of places.
4.    Jim: All the lamps in this room are okay.
5.    Bill: That one over there isn't.
6.    Jim: What other lamps d'you mean, then?
7.    Bill: My bedside light's not working.
8.    Jim: You never read in bed, anyway.
9.    Bill: One of the outside lamps isn't coming on.
10. Jim: I guess the switch is faulty more likely than the lamp.

If you've got this far and want to accept the challenge yourself, be careful not to scroll any further till you've made your version.

Right! Now, as a matter of fact, one cou·d say that the really hard thing to do is less to decide where to put the tonic stresses than to decide where to avoid putting a tonic which might sound an unnatural place to a NS (native English-speaker). You have to avoid what I call 're-accenting re-occurrences'. However, you mustnt let that cause you to fail to highlight a contrast. You can find out more about this balancing problem on this website Section 8 at its first article called simply 'Accentuation'. Be warned that it's quite complicated but take heart from the thaut that NSs have to be pretty forgiving if you break the rules at times because so many of them so much of the time fail to observe them completely regularly themselves. When NSs say something clumsily they hardly ever take a prosodic slip of the tongue so seriously as to correct themselves.

Let me illustrate what I mean by giving you first a version that identifies (in blue) the danger spots where you need to be careful not to have tonics.

Bill: We need some new light bulbs.
Jim: There isn't anywhere we need new bulbs.
Bill: We want them in plenty of places.
Jim: All the lamps in this room are okay.
Bill: That one over there isn't.
Jim: What other lamps d'you mean, then?
Bill: My bedside light's not working.
Jim: You never read in bed, anyway.
Bill: One of the outside lamps isn't coming on.
Jim: I guess the switch is faulty more likely than the lamp.

Finally let me repeat the dialog (with tones and) showing (in red) where most of  the tonics are likely to be placed by NSs.

Bill: We ˈneed some ˈnew `light bulbs.
Jim: There isn't `anywhere we need new bulbs.
Bill: We want them in `plenty of places.
Jim: `All the lamps in `this `room are oˏkay.
Bill: `That one over `there ˏisn't.
Jim: What `other lamps d'you `mean, then?
Bill: My `bedside light's not working.
Jim: You never `read in bed, `anyway.
Bill: ˈOne of the out`side lamps isn't coming on.
Jim: I guess the `switch is faulty more likely than the ˏlamp.

Blog 379

The 2nd of January 2012

Spelling Pronunciations (i)

"The Real Professor Higgins", the magnificent biography by B. S. Collins and I. M. Mees of the greatest British phonetician of the first half of the twentieth century, Daniel Jones, chronicles indirectly the sociological upheavals of that era of two world wars by reference to Jones's reactions to them. His earlier works reflected the patronising, now quite feudal-seeming, attitudes he at first shared with the generality of the upper classes to which he belonged. His steady progress to a more sensitive outlook is documented in that book eg at p.65 which records that he later became so embarrassed with the 1909 first edition of his Pronunciation of English that he sed of it "every copy should be burnt". Another of Jones's works he was no dou·t glad to see remain unreprinted was his 1913 Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language produced with a German collaborator Hermann Michaelis. The book's Preface, saying that "The pronunciation represented is that generally used by persons of culture in the South of England", contained items that time has made to look sadly ill-considered.

It contained the remarks "Teachers in elementary schools have to teach children to do dictation ... [They] cannot help making innumerable mistakes; the teacher is accordingly constrained, often quite unconsciously, to pronounce the words in such a way as to indicate the spelling. These spelling-pronunciations are naturally adopted by the children, and in the course of time become definitely incorporated into the language. Thus Margate trippers now generally speak of  ́mɑːgeit  instead of                  ́mɑːgit; teachers in London elementary schools now often say ek ́sept for ik ́sept 'except', ekstrə ́ɔːdinəri for iks ́trɔːdnri 'extraordinary'́ɔftən for  ́ɔːfn [Footnote: In spite of the fact that the form   ́ɔftən is described as vulgar in the Concise Oxford Dictionary.],   ́fɔːhed for    ́fɔrid... This...will soon bring us to    ́kwainain for kwi ́ni:n (as often in America),    ́gri:nwitʃ for     ́grinidʒ ...   We feel that such artificialities cannot but impair the beauty of the language..." All of the above condemned items have become respectable if not predominant GB (General British) today except that /`kwaɪnaɪn/ and /`grinwɪʧ/ are not he·rd in GB, tho the latter seems to be favoured by some New Yorkers, and the former has a common front-strest GB variant/`kwɪnin/.

A dozen years later H. W. Fowler, one of the brothers reponsible for the Concise Oxford Dictionary, in his Modern English Usage of 1926, showed the same snobbishness regarding /`ɒftən/ saying "The sounding of the t is practised by two oddly consorted classes—the academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours' & the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell..." Much has changed but one can't say that traces of such attitudes have yet entirely disappeared from the columns of some British newspapers.

The latest edition of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary has a slightly curious brief note at the entry for often as follows. "The pronunciation with /t/ is sometimes cited as an example of spelling pronunciation, but there is no evidence that it is a recent introduction." Perhaps there's some implication for the reader that might be missed here. Does one detect a whiff of protection for the reputation of the t-maintaining version? Whatever might've happened in the past, it wd be absurd if anyone were to suggest that inclination to employ the "optional" /t/ has not latterly been encouraged in a great many speakers by the impulse to 'honour' its presence in the official orthography.

Blog 378

The 22nd of December 2011

EFL Pronunciation Symbols (iii)

 A similar situation to the problem of whether to preserve the traditional GB /eə/ or adopt a new symbol /ɛː/ occurs over the matter that so many former /t/s in GA now sound more like /d/s. The Merriam Webster company took the bit between its teeth half a century ago and began showing them as /d/s. This has not become universal practice. The rather absurd notation (t is by definition voiceless so its identical correlative differing only by having voicing is by definition  d) of a [t] with a subscript IPA voicing symbol [ˬ] is a popular compromise with British lexicographers, pragmatically maintaining visually the connection between the new d-type sounds of most GA speakers and the traditional [t] sound all use in non-intervocalic situations.

Such an inclination to replace the previous ordinary /t/ with a type of [d] that's a weaker articulation lightly tapped (with voicing usually maintained in the [t] replacement between the two voiced sounds that abut it) is far from unknown among GB speakers. For example, despite the ignoring of the fact by lexicographers, for some time the ordinary GB pronunciation of the very common word hospital has ended clearly differently from the less common word orbital.

There are minor diff·rences of GA notation where one style favours /ər/ and /ɜr/, showing a separate /r/, and the other /ɚ/ and /ɝ/, using a symbol embodying an 'r-colouring' hook. The choice theoretically hinges on whether the syllable is regarded as having 'r-colouring' thruout its articulation or only after the beginning. This hair-splitting sort of issue can be completely ignored for practical purposes. LPD and CEPD both now prefer /ɝ/.

GA notations generally prefer to show what in GB are /kᴧp/ and /əˈkɜːrɪŋ/ as /kəp/ and /əˈkərɪŋ/ (for cup and occurring). GA strest /ə/ and GB /ᴧ/ may mostly slightly differ but for plenty of speakers the two items have practic·ly the same quality. Yet another matter which shou·dnt worry the user of English as an extra language. The same sort of triviality applies to the choice by LPD to show eg GA manner as /ˈmӕnər/ whereas CEPD prefers /ˈmӕnɚ/.

Three diff·rent policies are to be encountered in the question of whether, and if so how, to represent  syllable divisions within words. The slightness of the importance of this can seen from the fact that some offer no such judgments at all. Others do so on diff·rent principles and in diff·rent manners. CEPD adopts the IPA procedure by inserting [.] wherever the state of affairs isnt made clear in any other way such as by the presence of stress marks. LPD has its own unique procedure of inserting spaces inste·d of such 'dots'. Each of these methods is explained in terms of a particular theoretical stance. None of these procedures is completely satisfying but situations which cause any notable problems are so few that agen the matter can reasonably be ignored by all but the most intensely theory-devoted students.

A novel quite judicious blend of approaches occurs in the recently published OAAD aimed at learners of GA. It has unsurprisingly no colons, favours /ɛ/ in ten etc but adopts the so-called "voiced t" notation for butter etc. Happily it prefers /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ to non-IPA equivalents yet perfectly reasonably uses /y/ to represent yod rather than IPA /j/. I don't think we'll need /y/ for the mainstream English /uː/ vowel just yet.

Blog 377

The 21st of December 2011

EFL Pronunciation Symbols (ii)

Readers of the first part of this discussion have gathered that usually all the characters that lexicographers and textbook writers etc employ to represent GA and GB  are drawn from the set of symbols known as the IPA ie the International Phonetic Association's official alphabet. They've been cautioned regarding the need to be aware that the exact uses by these writers of those borrowed symbols may not necessarily conform to the "rules" laid down for their use in the general phonetic applications that are the fundamental concerns of that Association. If this fact is kept clearly in mind by anyone who is simultaneously a student of both the English language and the science of Phonetics, there shd be no need for confusion. It's true that some commentators have either overlookt or refused to recognise the difference of purposes we've mentioned and criticised lexicographers and others for, as they ill-advisedly see it, failing to comply with the dictates of the Association. Fortunately none of these have yet advocated substituting the more IPA-rule-conforming but rather awkwardly undistinctive symbol [ɐ] for the traditional EFL etc /ʌ/. However, ODP has shown what appears to be an unwarrantedly dialectologically oriented outlook in preferring [a] for the hat vowel. It has also unfortunately, in a manner that it has failed to satisfact·rily defend, adopted the contrastive notations [ᴧɪ & aʊ] in place of the customary /aɪ & aʊ/. Practic·ly all other ref·rence works etc (except ODP's OED stablemate) have shown due consideration for preserving the valuable consensus that has now existed in GB notation for an unprecedented whole generation.

The contrast between one publication and another may depend on mere matters of opinion notably when change is occurring. In GB it's now fairly clear that a majority of younger GB speakers don't use a diphthong /ɛə/ any more but have replaced it with a monophthong /ɛː/ in exactly the way that about three generations ago there was general abandonment of the diphthong /ɔə/ in words like four in favour of the simple vowel /ɔː/. Deciding when the 'tipping point', to use that recently popular metaphor, is reached in such developments isnt a simple matter. At the present time no-one shd be dogmatic about whether the traditional /ɛə/ or the innovatory /ɛː/ is the more appropriate representation of current GB usage overall. What seems quite possible is that those most likely to be advocates of change, may be reacting agenst hearing positively old-fashioned varieties of /ɛə/ that sound as if they might better be notated as /ӕə/ or /ɛᴧ/. Mainstream moderately diphthongal /ɛə/ values dont seem to've begun to sound obtrusively old-fashioned to the majority of the population as yet: when they do so, there'll no dou·t be a consensus for a transcription change as there was when /oə/ gave way to /ɔː/.

To be continued.

Blog 376

The 16th of December 2011

EFL Pronunciation Symbols (i)

The GA (General American) and GB (General British) qualities and length values of their vocalic phonemes ie the twelve simple vowels /iː, ɪ, e, ӕ, ɑː, ɔː, ʊ, uː, ᴧ, ɜː ə/ and five diphthongs /eɪ, oʊ, aɪ, aʊ, ɔɪ/ in some cases have (mainly minor) variants that are not shared by the other variety. However, there's so much overlapping in their ranges of variation that the non-overlapping differences neednt concern learners. Certain sets of symbols encountered may differ from others in ways that may not seem obviously understandable to students but are really quite easily explained. The fact is that reference works that show both GB and GA generally use sets of IPA symbols that, when they differ from each other, do so largely for relatively trivial reasons. The most noteworthy sets are those of eg the ALD, EPD, LPD, MM, OAD and ODP ie the current editions of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, the MacMillan English Dictionary, the Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation.

An obvious contrast between the GA and GB sets is that the letter symbols for five of the simple (as opposed to double ie diphthongal) vowels are accompanied by IPA length marks regularly employed in representing GB pronunciations but not used by Americans. This is merely a matter of tradition so that the British choice of /iː, ɑː, ɔː, uː, ɜː/ as opposed to American /i, ɑ, ɔ, u, ɜ/ doesnt correspond to any significant length differences at all between these phonemes in GB and GA. There's a very simple historical reason for these (in truth quite unnecessary) added (triangular-shaped) dots. For his 1978 revision of the highly respected Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary, A. C. Gimson completely justifiably decided to make drastic changes to its transcription which included assigning to each vowel a distinctive symbol letter. (For example in Jones's original transcription the vowels of street and quick were both [i] but they were distinguisht from each other  solely by the length mark placed after the [i] in the first case because he made no use of the distinctive letter [ɪ]). The effect of this was to make each length mark, which had formerly been an indispensable component of the identification of its phoneme, no longer essential. Gimson chose to keep the now redundant marks at least nominally in the int·rests of legibility. It was also true that their retention softened the blow somewhat for traditionalists who disliked his changes. So, as we've sed, it wd be quite wrong for any student to imagine that the length marks used in this solely-British tradition signify that the vowels they accompany are at all significantly longer than their GA counterparts.

As it happens, the vowel that LPD and EPD symbolise as /ӕ/ for both their GA and GB entries cd just as reasonably be represented by /ӕː/ because it's very often fully long. Another notable point is that tho ALD, EPD, LPD, MM, OAD and ODP, unlike dictionaries produced in the US tradition, employ only IPA-recognised symbols, they may use some of them in ways not promoted by the IPA. An example of this is their conveniently continued use of [ᴧ] to represent the cup vowel which was typically a back type in early twentieth century educated London speech but had become a central type by the end of that century. By a similar tradition British lexicographers continue to use the IPA (front) semi-half-open symbol /ӕ/ symbol when in GB the hat vowel to which it originally applied has become typically distinctly more of a fully open vowel than its GA counterpart. This means that it's perfectly feasible to represent the GB vowel with the IPA symbol for a fully open (and fully front) vowel ie [a]. That's what ODP has done, but keeping to /ӕ/ conveniently preserves harmony between transcriptions of the two varieties in the representation of that phoneme even tho the GA type is now closer to half-open. (Cf CEPD 2011 p.viii §ii). In practice the change to /a/ wd be of no benefit but wd mean losing a usefully distinctive symbol. No-one ever in the first place learns to make the sounds of any language from printed symbols.

Altho the most characteristic value of the GB spot vowel is slightly rounded and that of the corresponding GA is not rounded and fairly long, quite a high proportion of their ord·nary occurrences are in both cases neither markedly long nor noticeably rounded. In other words, if you snipped out a number of these ''short o" vowels from a recording and played them back, in many cases you cou·dnt tell whether they were from a GA or a GB speaker from the vowel's character alone.

Another of Gimson's EPD innovations concerned the change of representation of the initial element of the diphthong of coat, the IPA back vowel [o], to the central vowel symbol [ə]. That GB diphthong had changed in the early twentieth century by having its initial value come nearer to central than it had been. It hadnt been fully back but typically only rather back so that some observers (for example Abercrombie) regarded that change as unnecessary. One suspects that Gimson, in making his perfectly reasonable change, had in mind discouraging learners from making the /oʊ/ so very back and (as tended to happen at the same time) markedly rounded that it did sound rather strange used in speaking English. Anyway, tho the spread of GB variants of /oʊ/ has a centre of gravity about central, the mainstream GB type is not very markedly different from the mainstream GA value. So the notation /oʊ/ coud be considered reasonable for both varieties. The rather important thing for the student to avoid is starting this diphthong, as some speakers especially of Germanic languages are inclined to do, so far forward that the resulting [eo] sounds like a comic impression of a very old-fashioned posh British accent.

A similarly unfortunate distortion is to make the central vowel /ə/ so open, at least at the ends of words, that the word Russia sounds to GB speakers' ears exactly like rush-hour/`rʌʃ ɑː/. Apart from being careful to keep pairs like shoed (past tense of the verb to shoe) and should distinct, there's only a little more to know about when it comes to vowel and diphthong qualities. We shall deal with some other minor points in our other blogs on this topic. More on the history of these matters can be seen at Section 5 of this website.

Blog 375

The 5th of December 2011

Innovative Pronunciations (ii)

By contrast with the totally unestablisht innŏvative of our last blog, today's new pronunciation is dou·tless on its way into wide usage. I've not noticed it until this year, but the word provenance has clearly undergone transformation in certain quarters at least. I've he·rd it used a number of times during television programs involving the visual arts. The latest OED-online revision came to the word as recently as September. The relevant sense of it on the occasions I've noticed it as changing is as defined thus: "The history of the ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality... A distinction is sometimes drawn between the ‘origin’ and the ‘provenance’ of an article..."

It's noted in OED3 that "An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1909". That NED was aka OED1. The first formal retitling of the NED as the OED was in 1933. OED2 of 1989 gave its pronunciation as (ˈprɒvənəns) as in NED, by converting Murray's complicated NED pre-IPA notation to recognised IPA symbols. Much the same appears in OED3 viz "Brit. /ˈprɒvᵻnəns/ , /ˈprɒvnˌəns/, U.S. /ˈprɑvən(ə)ns/". What Google calls the "pseudo-IPA" symbol ᵻ ie a barred 'Latin small letter capital I' (Unicode) is a neat cover symbol acknowledging that both /ə/ and /ɪ/ are current usage. The former overtook the latter in frequency in General British usage in the second half of the last century. The second British value is obviously misprinted. The OED's sister Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation printed it correctly with the low vertical stroke beneath the n inste·d of after it /ˈprɒvn̩əns/ indicating that the /n/ is syllabic. This is an unfortunate typo becoz the non-expert will very prob·bly take it to be a stress mark belonging with the final syllable. The more phonetic·ly sophisticated reader will know that in the OED transcriptions of British usages such a stress indicator doesnt appear before a schwa. The US transcription, agen in contrast with the sister work, apparently set out to indicate, by bracketing the second schwa, the existence of a variant /ˈprɑvənns/ which must presumably be intended to be [ˈprɑvənn̩s] tho that seems hardly more common than [ˈprɑvn̩əns] or [ˈprɑvnəns].

The Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary gives ˈprɒv.ən.ənts, -ɪ.nənts, US ˈprɑː.vən.ənts ie alternately ˈprɑː.vn̩n̩ts etc. The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary gives ˈprɒv ən ənts -ɪn- ǁ ˈprɑːv- - nɑːnts. None of these four sources records the new Frenchified variant(s) that I've been hearing /`prɒvənɔːns/ or /`prɒvənɒns/. It's offen hard to tell which of these is the speaker's target. Among the people I've he·rd using this kind of pronunciation for the word are the senior BBCtv news etc presenter Fiona Bruce (on the BBC series Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune) and the Daily Telegraph art critic Alastair Sooke.

The most recent development I've observed of such Frenchification is that demise began a couple of decades ago to acquire a variant with its end syllable /-miːz/. John Wells put this in LPD1 in 1990 but no-one else seems to've noticed it. The reverse happened to profile which was shown in OED2 in 1989 as (ˈprəʊfaɪl, -fiːl, -fɪl) but was known to Murray in OED1/NED in 1908 only as the second and third of these three. Jones in 1917 in EPD1 only recorded it with /iː/, adding the /ai/ version in second place twenty years later. By 1963 the /iː/ variant had gone into second place with the label 'old-fashioned'. I expect when we get the complete revision of this OED3 new entry we'll see among the etymological matter some account of this hist·ry.

Since posting the above yesterday I have been reminded  by reader in Calfornia that I failed to check with Merriam-Webster online who show an exotic variant for provenance \ˈpräv-nən(t)s, ˈprä-və-ˌnän(t)s\. The single spoken illustration provided the final syllable as for the schwa-less first alternant but the recording actually employed the schwa only shown for the second. He also recommended me to try which had the non-IPA transcriptions [prov-uh-nuhns, -nahns] which also included a Frenchified-style second version. It let us hear their first version clearly spoken tho with some excessive sibilance in the recording of the final /s/.

Blog 374

The 3rd of December 2011

Innovative Pronunciations (i)

One of the irritations, but at the same time fascinations, of the traditional orthography of English resides in the embarrassing proliferation of variant pronunciations that can exist for so very many single words, especially polysyllabic ones. A rather irresistible frequent childish impulse I find myself subject to is the inventing (usually only in moments of enforced idleness) for my private amusement of non-existent pronunciations by re-interpreting words' spellings. It's occasionally rather piquant to find these perverse figments of mine actually turning up in the serious speech of users of English, both native and non-native tho especially the latter, who are entrapped by these tiresome ambiguities into involunt·rily calling into existence phantom audit·ry versions of various words. Examples like /`detəmaɪnd, `eməʤənsi/ and /sɜː`kᴧmstənsɪz/ are legion. Our Blog 358 has more and provides help for anyone who might need those transcriptions elucidated.
Anyway, this present disquisition was triggered by my hearing the very distinguisht British scientist, Professor Molly Stevens, clearly pronounce the word innovative as /ɪ`nɒvətɪv/. She only sed it once but so completely clearly and unhesitatingly that it seems unlikely that she'd never sed it like that before. We may dou·tless dismiss any likelihood th·t it was for her a consciously coined alternative. She's prob·bly unaware that she's currently very much on her own in using it. I was able to check my initial impression by rehearing, as offen as I cd wish, the podcast transmitted on the 16th of November of her interview with Professor Jim Al-Khalili /ӕl kə`liːli/ [that's his own way of saying his name] in the splendid BBC series "The Life Scientific". Anyway, saying the word as /ɪ`nɒvətɪv/ seemed completely new to me and if, as is perfectly possible even likely, she's not the only person who sez it that way, ie with that /ɒ/ vowel, such a form is very unusual at the moment at least.

All the current major British pronuncation dictionaries are in complete agreement in not recording such a version but in listing the similar /ɪ`nəʊvətɪv/ and yet regarding the stressing /`ɪnəˌveɪtɪv/ as the predominant version of the word. They have been so since the 1990s. The word appeared in 1990 in the first edition of the J. C. Wells Longman Pronunciation Dictionary which reported the responses of 275 British native speakers (southerners, northerners, Welsh and Scots) to a postal opinion poll question about the word. All but 6% of those who exprest an opinion accorded priority to stress on the first syllable. In Daniel Jones's day the word itself was never listed in his EPD (English Pronouncing Dictionary); nor did it in the days of Gimson's exclusive editorship of that book. It first appeared in that work in its 1991 "fourteenth" edition squeezed into a fifteen-page supplement added by Susan Ramsaran. The non-initial stressing has not, it seems, gone on record in any notable US reference book. Remember that fact when someone comes up agen claiming that all English language innovations hail from across the Atlantic.

The mechanics of the development of pronunciations, particularly with regard to neologisms, my topic for this posting, has been suggested to me as such by this occurrence. This new or at least unfamiliar pronunciation of innovative cou·d, I suggest, quite possibly begin to spre·d. After all it's a logically unimpeachable form. It apparently simply doesnt happen to've come into existence till now. It might almost as well have first come into use in her version. Compare it with the way the unusual word donative is listed by the OED as either /ˈdɒnətɪv/ or /ˈdəʊnətɪv/. Words like nova and novice have the same etymon but havent come down to English with the same strest vowel. Many people have, it's true, a feeling that a so-called 'long' vowel is more appropriate to precede a single consonant (plus further vowel) because a short vowel is usual before a double consonant or consonant combination — but there are loads of examples of short vowels occurring before such single consonants. At any rate, that notion is what I imagine has led to that establisht vowel of the not-initially-strest version of the word. All we need for the /ɒ/ version to go viral tho, and possibly exceed the frequency of the other is, in these present fastest-ever conditions for the dissemination of new verbal variants, th·t it shd occur in some fairly popular broadcast that becomes very widely repeated.

Postscriptally, I have pleasure in drawing readers' attention to a posting yesterday (the fifth of December) by the lively bloggist "Kraut" at commenting on my remarks about the version of innovation mentioned above. He included pictures of the lady and of her interviewer and a six-second sound clip of her saying [ ˈjə ˈnəʊ | ju kən | `riəliː | biː | ɪn`kredəbliː | ɪ`nɒvətɪv | ən baʊns | ə `lɒd əv aɪˎdiəz....] Incidentally, her pronunciation of lot of didnt strike me as not normal General British relaxed usage tho she has spent quite some time in America. She has twinkles of higher than GB rhoticity at times but they may just as easily reflect her early Bristolian background as her Californian sojourns. No information seems available about her schooling.

PS About three weeks after writing this I collected another /ɪ`nɒvətɪv/ from a casually taken in but clearly he'rd apparently-American speaker on a BBC Woman's Hour program.

Blog 373

The 29th of November 2011

Looking Speakers in the Face

I've just been looking at a website, called "embedplus" which proclaims that using their facilities you can "Search for a word and you'll not only get audio of how to pronounce it, but also tagged videos of real people in real situations naturally speaking and using the word in context ... With videos like [the one they provide] you get to not only hear the word but actually see facial gestures that [they claim] can help you reproduce pronunciations ... having someone in front of you pronouncing the word ..., as videos provide, can significantly benefit a learner".

This is not a fully developed enterprise as yet. It reasonably starts from home dealing only with American pronunciations tho they express the intention of ultimately getting round to the learner of British ones as well. I dont dou·t that many students with the savvy to handle it will find this apparently free facility fun and stimulating to experiment with. It enables you to chop out bits of YouTube etc videos and replay them with repeater and other study facilities.

I expect that most who take it up will find that it supports their gen·ral comprehension of the speech studied. I'm not so sure that it'll greatly help to improve their articulatory performance. My reason for saying this will be readily apparent to anyone who knows anything about the sort of "speech reading" that many profoundly deaf people use. A key word in this context is 'homophene' which the OED defines as a 'A word that looks the same as another during vocal articulation'. Not just words but pairs of single phonemes are offen 'homophenic'.

All spoken English words are made up from a limited set of forty or so distinctive sounds most phoneticians call 'phonemes'. When we look at a person speaking we mainly, in terms of articulation, only see their lips. There are rather few contrasting postures the lips can assume: these are from fully-closed to open with or without a slight, mod·rate or consid·rable degree of rounding. That's just about half a dozen contrasting parameters. Additionally, if the mouth is open enough, we can see, for only two of our twenty-four consonants /f/ and /v/, when the lower lip has contact with the upper teeth. From a small minority of speakers sometimes we may be able to see the tip of the tongue coming between the upper and lower teeth in producing another pair /θ/ and /ð/. The upshot of this is th·t, for three-quarters of the phonemes uttered, each one isnt distinguisht in appearance from sev·ral or more other phonemes.

The same appearance to the eye will be regularly presented by /p, b, m/: but that same lip posture appears frequently, after any vowel or consonant, when speakers stop speaking altogether or break their rhythmic flow within sentences etc. That consonant then has a dual articulation. For example people gen·rally dont realise that they're disregarding the fact that they're offen hearing not simple /n/ but /n/ plus a simultaneous /m/ when a speaker stops at a word like John having articulated it as [ʤɒn͡m].

About half of the twenty-four GB (General British) consonants namely /t, k, s, d, g, z, ŋ, θ, ð, l, h/ have no fixed lip gesture. Three /p, b, m/ share the same type of lip action. Some GB speakers may ordinarily have no rounding at all on their /r/ tho the majority do have a certain amount most of the time. At least quite an amount of rounding accompanies /ʧ, ʤ, ʃ, ʒ, w/ for all GB speakers.

Of the twelve GB simple vowels, eight  /iː, ɪ, ɛ, ӕ, ɑː, ᴧ, ɜː, ə/ are characterised as canonically unrounded tho influences of adjacent sounds may cause them to become rounded from time to time. Four /ɒ, ɔː, ʊ, uː/ normally have a degree of rounding, sometimes rather weak but offen strong at least on /ɔː/. Of the eight diphthongs, four /eɪ, aɪ, ɪə, ɛə/ are canonically unrounded; two /ɔɪ, ʊə/ begin rounded; two /əʊ, aʊ/ end rounded. The semivowel /j/ anticipates the lip posture of what it precedes.

A rather amusing ilustration of the problems involved in taking photography-produced models as a guide to the lip postures to be used in learning English occurred in the earlier part of the last century. Daniel Jones included pairs of photographs, in the first two editions (1918 and 1922) of his hugely successful EFL-dedicated Outline of English Phonetics, to illustrate the lip values of vowels and semivowels. The first one of each pair was labelled "as pronounced in normal speech" and the second "pronounced with exaggerated distinctness". It seems that the normal versions were so discouragingly undifferentiated from each other and unlike the avowed exaggerations that they must've dismayed readers so seriously that at the third edition (1932) he withdrew the 'normal' ones. However, he kept the exaggerated ones in the text — but now not indicating that there was anything abnormal about them!

Such discrepancies between widely accepted norms of lip shapes vis-à-vis phonemes and actual postures widely adopted frequently occur. Non-phoneticians have no idea of how diversely people actually perform in this sort of respect. Countless numbers of speakers have idiosyncratic labiodentalised or labialised articulations. Some quite large numbers with certain types of dentition involuntarily labiodentalise most consonants. An example is that one can hear from time to time things like thousand uttered with an initial labiodentalised dental fricative as [ f͡θaʊznd].
Non-specialists also have no idea how (necessarily and rightly) idealised and regularised the descriptions and illustrations in phonetic text books are. Individual speakers perform all sorts of prosodic procedures that are best not featured in pronunciation teaching materials. Students need to learn what are prosodic and other pronunciational norms and arent helpt by close study of the kinds of idiosyncratic performances that surely abound in for example YouTube clips. They might well be confused to see some of them and cert·nly ill advised to try to imitate them in many cases.

We may also mention that paralinguistic·ly-engendered varieties of lip postures are common and quite varied tho apparently not frequently described. Lip spreading seems to be used by many to reinforce suggestions of preciseness and, when of a tense type, a wincing sort of effect. It also for very many GB speakers is used simply in emphasising a syllable containing a front vowel or a front-beginning diphthong. Rounding can signal some degree of judiciousness in some circumstances or at other times be grimacing to some extent. Sometimes it seems to function simply as an accompaniment to emphasis notably with the vowel /ɜː/.

SOLUTIONS to the problem accentuations given in our previous blog on Anomalous Climax Tone Assignments

1. We 'all 'know | he's got an `axe to grind.
2. I'm a'fraid | the 'boot's on the other `foot.
3. 'That's 'burning the 'candle | at 'both `ends.
4. `Sights like `ˏthat | 'make my `blood boil.
5. I 'haven't got 'eyes | in the back of my `ˏhead.
6. This 'just 'needs | a 'few 'finishing `touches.
7. I `hope she doesn't `give the `game aˏway.
8. I see they're 'getting 'on | like `house on fire.
9. She `knows which `side her `bread's ˏbuttered.
10. It's a case of the 'blind leading the `blind.
11. Let's `go there | and 'see how the `land lies.
12. So he'll have to 'stew in his own `juice.
13. I su'spect 'that's | the 'thin end of the `wedge.
14. 'Tell her to 'mind her own `business.
15. He's `known to have | a `bee in his bonnet.

Blog 372

The 24th of November 2011

Anomalous Tonic Assignments

Advanced Students of English are very fortunate in having available to them from Longman (LPD) and Cambridge (CEPD) two absolutely first-class dictionaries of pronunciations of very large numbers of words. They give both British and American usages with generous coverage of the many variant forms that so many English words exhibit. Even our vast numbers of compound words, tho inevitably covered less than completely are very far from neglected. However, there's another very considerable element of the English vocabulary consisting of phrases which dictionaries of pronunciation traditionally so far do neglect. In doing so they fail to provide information that students of English as an additional language may one day expect in their pages. Such entries, very many of which have vastly more common currency and thereby usefulness than numbers of the more outlandish or abstruse entries that've tended to appear increasingly in the major pronunciation dictionaries, have come to be found more and more adequately de·lt with in advanced learners' gen·ral dictionaries in recent decades.

These items are usually grouped under the rather loosely applied heading of 'idioms'. They certainly don't all exactly fall within the definition of "groups of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from the meanings of the individual words" (OED). Anyway, the problems they present to students are mainly those of selecting the appropriate one of the words they contain on which to place the climax (aka tonic) stress. They may well be metaphorical phrases whose meaning is fairly easily perceptible, such as to be 'born with a silver spoon in one's mouth'. The climax stresses they contain may be allotted in ways that to the student may seem to be unexpected, irregular or even irrational. This may be for instance simply the denying of the customary climax stress to the last content word in a sentence. It may be  the failure to de-accent a word already accented within the sentence etc. It may be because an expression of contrast expected at the use of a word such as own, other, new, end, side etc is felt to be lacking. It may be  that suppression of an expected stress occurs comparable to the curiously idiomatic way to be seen in many English declarations of happenings.

There are fortunately nowadays quite a number of these general dictionaries which do provide very many of the accentual notations we've been discussing including, very literally 'first and foremost' Oxford's, in this respect pioneering, Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Readers of our Blog 288 may remember that we gave ten common examples of these so-called accentual 'idioms' and, by the way, warned readers that the important stress markings the parent books contain are, for undisclosed reasons, not necessarily to be expected to be found in their online versions. For the benefit of advanced students, as an exercise in their identification, we now supply some expressions that may or may not involve phrases that can give problems of climax stress assignment. Try and decide the word that you think shd take the climax tone in each case. Our next blog will give solutions. More on this topic can be seen at our other blogs 134, 309, 313 and on the main division of this website at Section 8.1.
1.    We all know he's got an axe to grind.
2.    I'm afraid the boot's on the other foot.
3.    That's burning the candle at both ends.
4.    Sights like that make my blood boil.
5.    I haven't got eyes in the back of my head.
6.    This just needs a few finishing touches.
7.    I hope she doesn't give the game away.
8.    I see they're getting on like house on fire.
9.    She knows which side her bread's buttered.
10.    It's a case of the blind leading the blind.
11.    Let's go there and see how the land lies.
12.    So he'll have to stew in his own juice.
13.    I suspect that's the thin end of the wedge.
14.    Tell her to mind her own business.
15.    He's known to have a bee in his bonnet.

Blog 371

The 15th of November 2011

Another Advanced Transcription

In his article in JIPA (the Journal of the International Phonetic Association) Volume 36 Number 2 of December 2006, with the title ‘The North Wind versus a Wolf’, David Deterding /`detədɪŋ/ offered us an ingeniously concocted alternative 'short text for the description and measurement of English pronunciation’. Like my (178 words Blog 369) direct-speech version of the North Wind and the Sun, at 195 words it was longer than the recommended IPA text but a notable improvement on it by reason of its including features useful for many purposes such as occurrences of all the English phonemes and of various of their allophones. The transcription of it offered here is the same phonemic and tonetic type as was explained in our Blog 369. The style of reading represented may be described as the usual one for the spoken-prose type of narrative passage.

ðə ˈbɔɪ | hu ˈkraɪd ˎwʊlf

1.    ðeə wz ˈwᴧns | ə ˈpɔ `ʃepəd ˏbɔɪ | hu ˈwɒʧd ɪz ˏflɒks |
2.    ɪn ðə ˈfildz | neks tu ə `dɑk `ˏfɒrɪst | nɪə ðə ˈfʊt əv ə ˎmaʊntɪn.
3.    ˈwᴧn ˈhɒt | ɑftə`ˏnun, | hi ˈθɔt ˈᴧp | ə ˈgʊd ˏplӕn |
4.    tə get sm `kᴧmpəni fr ɪmˏself | ən ˈɔːlsəʊ ˈhӕv ə lɪtl  ˎfᴧn.
5.    `reɪzɪŋ ɪz `fɪst ɪn ði `ˏeə, | hi ˈrӕn ˈdaʊn | tə ðə `ˏvɪlɪʤ |
6.   ʃaʊtɪŋ `wʊlf, `wʊlf ! ə `sun əz ðeɪ `hɜd ˏɪm | ðə ˈvɪlɪʤəz
7.   ˈɔl ˈrᴧʃt frm ðeə `ˏhəʊmz | `fʊl əv kn`ˏsɜn | fər ɪz `ˏseɪfti,
8.   ən `tu əv ˏðm | ˈsteɪd `wɪð ɪm fər ə waɪl. ðɪs `geɪv ðə ˏbɔɪ
9.  `səʊ mᴧʧ `ˏpleʒə | ðət ə `fju deɪz `ˏleɪtə | hi traɪd ɪg`zӕkli
10.   ðə seɪm ˏtrɪk| ə`gen, ən ˈwᴧns ˏmɔː | hi wz sək`sesfl.
11. haʊ`evə, ˈnɒt ˈlɒŋ ˏɑftə | ə ˈwʊlf | wəz ˈlʊkɪŋ fər ə `ʧeɪnʤ
12.  ɪn ɪts juʒl ˏdaɪət | əv ʧɪkɪn ən ˏdᴧk | səʊ ɪt ˈӕkʧli
13.  `dɪd kᴧm `aʊt | frm ðə `fɒrɪst | n bɪgӕn tə `θretn ðə ˎʃip.
14.  ˈreɪsɪŋ ˈdaʊn tə ðə ˏvɪlɪʤ, | ðə `ˏbɔɪ | əv ˏkɔs| ˈkraɪd `aʊt
15.   `ivn `ˏlaʊdə | ðən bɪ`fɔ, bət `ӕz `ɔl ðə `ˏvɪlɪʤəz |
16.   wə kn`vɪnst ðət i wz `traɪɪŋ, tə `ful ðm ə `θɜd `ˏtaɪm,|
17.  `nəʊbɒdi `ˏbɒðəd | tə ˈkᴧm ən `help ɪm. ən ˈsəʊ | ðə `ˏwʊlf | had ə `fist.

The Boy who Cried Wolf

1.    There was once a poor shepherd boy who watched his flocks
2.    in the fields next to a dark forest near the foot of a mountain.
3.    One hot afternoon, he thought up a good plan
4.   to get some company for himself and also have a little fun.
5.    Raising his fist in the air, he ran down to the village
6.   shouting “Wolf, Wolf.” As soon as they heard him, the villagers
7.    all rushed from their homes, full of concern for his safety,
8.   and two of them stayed with him for a while. This gave the boy
9.    so much pleasure that a few days later he tried exactly
10.    the same trick again, and once more he was successful.
11.    However, not long after, a wolf was looking for a change
12.    in its usual diet of chicken and duck, so it actually
13.  did come out from the forest and began to threaten the  sheep.
14.   Racing down to the village, the boy of course cried out
15.   even louder than before, but as all the villagers
16.  were convinced that he was trying to fool them a third  time,
17.   nobody bothered to come and help him. And so the wolf had a feast.