Archive 52 of JWL Blog


Readers who need explanations of any of the abbreviations used may find them at Section 1 of the Home Page.

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17/07/2016People Speaking 39 Name Dropper#520
16/07/2016Weakforms (xvii) it, January, just#519
29/06/2016No Glory for the Lory#518
09/05/2016People Speaking 38 Film Critics#517
03/05/2016Weakforms (xvi) I, if, I'll, I'm, in(to)#516
26/04/2016A Peculiar New Pronunciation Dictionary#515
18/04/2016People Speaking 37 Discord#514
16/04/2016Early Spelling Reform#513
25/03/2016KEYWORDS for English#512
09/03/2016Weakforms (xv) hundred#511

Blog 520

The 17th of July 2016

People Speaking 39 Name Dropper

/ `neɪm drɒpə/

1. / ´hav ju ˈsin ðə ˏpleɪ /   Have you seen the play?

2. / `wɒt pleɪ. ði ɪmˈpɔtns əv biɪŋ `ˏɜnɪst /  What play?  The Importance of Being Earnest?

3. / `nəʊ. ˈə ˏweɪst | əv `mᴧni /    No. A Waste of Money.

4. / ðəz ˎnəʊ pleɪ kɔld  ˎˏ ðat. /  There’s no play called that.

   /  `nɒt ə ˎweɪst | əv ˎˏmᴧni. /   Not A Waste of Money.

     / ju ˈmᴧs ˈmin | ə ˈteɪst əv `hᴧni/. You must mean A Taste of Honey.

5. / ˈəʊ | `ðats (ð)ə neɪm ɒv ɪt, ˏɪz ɪt /  Oh! That’s the name of it, is it?

      ˈhu | `rəʊt ðə θɪŋ/   Who wrote the thing?

6. /ə ˈjᴧŋ `manʧəstə gɜl./  A young Manchester girl.

      /ɔr  ət eni reɪt ʃi `wɒz wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt. /  Or at any rate she was when she wrote it.
    /´`veri jᴧŋ | ˈstɪl ɪn hə `tinz  aɪ bəliv ɪn fakt. /  Very young. Still in her teens, I believe, in fact.

7. /ˎrɪəˈli | ju ə`meɪz mi./  Really? You amaze me.

The title is a feeble pun on senses of the verb ‘ to drop’. One refers to the man’s failiure to ‘catch’ the proper name of the play ie he fails to perceive or hear it properly. The other sense refers to a person who draws attention to the fact that he/she personally knows certain important persons by ‘dropping’ ie ‘casually’ bringing into a conversation their names.

The play referred to in the second speaker-turn is of course the famous comedy by Oscar Wilde which itself is another demonstration of the Englishman’s weakness for punning.

Turn 4 begins with a weakform of ‘there’s’ which is a reduction of the phrase  there is /ðɛr ɪz/.

At Turn 5 the bracketed /ð/ means that the sound is either so weakly articulated as to be too difficult to hear or has been omitted completely.

At Turn 6 the pronunciation /`manʧəstə/ may be for this speaker a choice of a weakform of the word for greater rhythmical ease in this context when otherwise she sez it as /`manʧestə/ as her regular pronunciation of the word. This latter probability is the less likely.

At Turn 6 with non-advanced students one might’ve thaut it most helpful to transcribe ‘when she wrote it’ not like this /wen ʃi `ˏrəʊt ɪt/ but like this /wen ʃi `rəʊt ˏɪt/ because not marking the word ‘it’ as rising mightve been puzzling. ‘It’ does rise but not coz the speaker wants to emphasise ‘it’. She wants to emphasise ‘wrote’ but at the same time wants at least to hint that there is another idea she has in mind which she doesnt want to go into at the moment.

Blog 519

The 16th of July 2016

Weakforms (xvii) it, January, just

The LPD comment at ‘it’ that there is ‘no distinct weak form in RP’ is fair enuff. But occasionally it’s possible to hear it in casual GB speech as simply / ɪ /. I’ve noted it before /w/ in ‘It was…’ and it can occur before some other consonants as a reduction of an assimilated sequence /ɪt ˈmeɪɪm ˈmeɪ ɪ ˈmeɪ…/. It does seem capable under minimal stress of weakening to /ɪd/ but not to [ɪɹ] that is with the approximant [ɹ], the ordinary GB /r/, that’s increasingly often heard in casual utterances of get, put and a few other monosyllabic function words ending with /t/ after a short vowel.

For any new readers, or old ones that forget, I shd mention that I prefer to use the word ‘weakform’ not for an unaccentable form of a word but for a variant (which may well be accented) that has developed from the original form of the word by reduction of its articulation.

For comments on expressions like it is as /tɪz/ and it was as /twɒz/ I refer the reader to my Blog 238. Occasionally it becomes very weakly articulated losing its vowel /ɪ/ and so becoming sentence-initially simply / t / eg in  /tɒvɪsli `msnt/ It obviously mustnt. Sentence-initial, so strest as to be accented ’Tis /ˌtɪz/ and ’Twas / ˌtwɒz/  are markedly archaic in style as in eg Jabberwocky
/ ˈtwɒz | `brɪlɪɡ | and ðə ˈslaɪði ˈtoʊvz |…etc
But if the style is very casual and the stress is of the weakest kind then one can hear eg I knew it wasnt true as /aɪ `nju twɒzn tru/.

January, when the first months of the year are spoken briskly and casually. may often take a bisyllabic weakform as in / ˈʤanri, ˈfebri ˏmɑʧ…/ ie January, February, March...

Just is recorded in LPD as an adverb with three strongforms /ʤᴧst, ʤəst & ʤest/ and with two weakforms /ʤəst/ and a second /ʤɪst/ which last is ‘sectioned’ (with §) so that we gather Wells doesnt classify it as a GB usage. I agree that from urban speakers it sounds rather markedly southeastern-regional. Of course any word ending with /-st/ will have a common weakform with the /t/ elided before most closely following consonants. What you cannot count on findng at just any dictionary entry is the fact that the adverb, in any of its three forms, may elide its /t/ even before some (weakly strest) vowels.
Examples wd be Just as I say… as /ʤəs əz aɪ `seɪ…/ or Just ask him as / ˈʤəssk ɪm/.

The very common adjective little can be he·rd from GB speakers with its /t/ articulated sometimes in a manner comparable to a typical General American way which some US dictionaries (not uncontroversially) and OED transcribe as /lɪdl/ something in LPD termed ‘voiced t’ and in CEPD ‘flapped t’, both books transcribing it with  t accompanied by a subscript ̬.

Anything like a fully strest word such as middle and a very weakly strest little wd not be felt to be a very natural rhyme by most GB speakers.
A notable occurrence in GB is of very weakly strest  use of the adjective little as a sort of emotive enclitic, rhythmically attached to adjectives like nice, dear, lovely etc.
I ˈdont ˈmind a `small ˏhouse | but it ˈmust ˈbe a `nice small house. ˈNot ˈjust `any small ˏhouse |
They live in a very `nice-little house. — It’s a `lovely-little house, I a`gree.

Blog 518

The 29th of June 2016

No Glory for the Lory

Our old fr·end Tami Date has written to some of his colleagues as follows:

Many teachers concur that drama is a very useful means of practicing English intonation, but non-native teachers often experience a big problem with expressions said with set or idiomatic intonation, one of which is “I beg your pardon!” as in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland Chapter 3.
At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out,
“Sit down, all of you, and listen to me... ”
”Ugh!” said the Lory, with a shiver. [A lory is a kind of parrot.JWL]
I beg your pardon!” said the Mouse, frowning, but very politely. “Did you speak?”
“Not I!” said the Lory hastily.
“I thought you did,” said the Mouse.
As far I know, the phrase in question, in addition to the standard falling tone, can be said with three other approximate ones but when it comes to the above passage, it seems to me that (iii)  is the most appropriate one. What do you think?

(I imagine that by‘standard falling tone’ Tami means: I ˈbeg your ˎpardon)

A set of impressionistic drawings he supplied I interpret, in my usual broad notation, as
 (i) I ˏbeg your ´pardon   (ii) I ´`beg your ˎˏpardon   (iii) ´I  `beg your ˏpardon
A rebuking manner can of course be produced by various effects of voice quality, loudness and/or tempo accompanying any of the four intonations mention. And a serious rebuke wd gen·rally be uttered with a rather ‘tight’ voice quality and with a ‘deliberate’ rhythm. But, assuming a maximally neutral style with no such features:

(ii) seems the most appropriate because of the wide range of its pitches giving a very emphatic effect, quite vehement at the high climbing-and-falling tone on beg.

Next most likely is:

(iii) on account of the slightly surprised effect of the first (high climbing) tone on I and
    also coz that first word has rather special prominence since it’s usually toneless in such a phrase.

For good measure here’s the excerpt with a full set of intonations and a phonemic transcription:

ˈAt ˏlast | the `ˏMouse, /at lɑst ðə maʊs,
who seemed to be a person of au`thority aˏmong them,
| ˈcalled ˈout, |
hu sim(d) tə bi ə pɜsn əv ɔθɒrəti əmŋ ðm, kɔld aʊt
“ ˈSit ˎdown, `all of you, | and ˈlisten to ˎme... ”
sɪt daʊn ɔl əv ju ən lɪsn tə mi
“ `Ugh” said the Lory with a shiver.

[ɵɣ] sed ðə lɔri wɪð ə ʃɪ  
“I `beg your `ˏpardon!” | said the ˏMouse, `ˏfrowning,
but `very po`ˏlitely.
aɪ beg jɔ pɑdn sed ðə maʊs fraʊnɪŋ bət veri pəlaɪtli
“ ˈDid you ˏspeak?”
dɪd ju spik
“ `Not `ˏI!” | said the ˏLory | ˎˏhastily.
nɒt aɪ sed ðə lɔri heɪstɪli
“ ˈI ˏthought you `did,” said the Mouse.

aɪ θɔt ju dɪd, sed ðə maʊs /

Blog 517

The 9th of May 2016

People Speaking 38 Film Critics

1.  / ˈdɪʤu ˈevə ˈsi  | ˈkat | ɒn ə hɒt tɪn ˎˏruf /

     Did you ever see Cat  On a Hot  Tin  Roof?

In ordinary conversation, such coalescence of the final /d/ of did
with the the initial yod of you to produce /ʤ/ is completely normal.

The Alts (upper level tones) form a sequence with two steps down.
The break ‘|’ before cat means that we begin a new tone phrase
whose single word therefore moves to an upper level pitch that is
higher than the previous stepped-down Alts but in this case happens
not to be such a very high pitch as she used for her first word.

The rhythmic break after ‘cat’ is very slight.

2. / ðə ˈfɪlm ˈvɜʒn | əv ˈpʊsɪz rɪˎven(ʒ) | baɪ ˈklɔd ˏhænz /

   The  film version  of  Pussy’s  Revenge by Claude Hands?

The word version hasnt been recorded earlier than the 16th century.
As a loan from French it initially retained a voiceless value /s/ for its ess.
Eventually the sequence /sj/ coalesced into /ʃ/. It then remained only
as /`vɜʃn/ for Walker (1791) and Sheridan (1780) in the 18th century and
also for OED editor Craigie in 1917 and in the same year for Jones in his EPD1.
In the course of time, an apparent anticipatory assimilation to the voicedness
of the final /n/ by some speakers began converting the /ʃ/ to a /ʒ/. This variant
was first recorded for GB by Gimson in the 1967 13th EPD. British
lexicographers have since all included the /ʒ/ variant in second place.
Kenyon in 1944 and the subsequent Webster dictionaries have all indicated
it as the usual choice of GA speakers.

    The (genitive/plural type) second vowel of /`pʊsɪz/ which was predominant
in GB in the first half of the last century now seems to’ve  become the less usual
choice than /`pʊsiz/.

The man is making a jokey pun here based on the fact that
the name /klɔd/ coincides in pronunciation with the past tense
of the verb ‘claw’ ie ‘scratch’ which cats are notorious for.
The simplification of /handz/ to /hanz/ is completely normal.

3. / `veri ˏˌdrəʊl | `ɪt wz baɪ | ˈtenəsi `wɪljəmz ɪn fakt /

      Very droll!      It was by   Tenessee Williams, in fact

Her ‘Rise-Bass’ (as I call it) tone at the word droll isnt a common one.
Unlike the low-to-mid ordinary Rise, which  usually sounds fr·endly,
this rise hardly moves at all from the gloomy ‘Bass’ register indicating
her displeasure which might’ve even amounted to irritation.

4. /aɪ rɪ`membr ɪt | ˈəʊld`wɒtsəneɪm wz verɪ ˌgʊd ɪn ɪt |

      I   remember it. Old What’s-her-name  was very good in it.

The elisions here of the third vowel of ‘remember’, the aitch of ‘her’
and vowel of ‘was’ are all in completely normal conversational style.

     ˈðats |  ði ˌəʊnli ˌgʊd ˌθɪŋ  | ʃi ˈevə `dɪd /

    That’s  the  only  good thing she ever  did.

A phonetic transcription of this very simple (‘broad’) type really only
tells you what phonemes the speakers have used. It wou·dnt be practical
to go beyond stress marking to indicating how strongly an expression is
uttered or how very weakly as is the case with the very the first one here.
If you’ve studied intonation it’s no dou·t been pointed out to you that a
succession of Alts (aka upper level tones) steps downward but you’re very
unlikely to have he·rd the reverse process of upward stepping in low heads
of successive Basses (aka low level tones) mentioned. The movement is
usually less marked than in the other type but you’ll find it happening
here at ‘only good thing’. It also happens in the first sentence of Turn 5.

5. /[?] ˌwʊdn ˌseɪ  ˈðat |  ʃi  wəz `eksələnt |

     (I)  wouldn’t say that.  She was  excellent

     ɪn ˌhuz əˌfreɪd | əv vəʤɪnjə ˎwʊlf /

    in  Who’s Afraid   of  Virginia  Wolf.

On grammatical grounds the first word she utters needs
to be ‘I’ but actually she has a sort of articulatory mishap
which means that the noise she produces can’t be that.
It’s most suitably termed a ‘splutter’.

This first tone phrase ends with a climax tone on ‘that’
which is unusual by reason of being level. It serves to
suggest quite positive lack of sympathy and /or concern.

 The word wouldn’t and others ending in the suffix
 -n’t are very often indeed to be heard with elision of their
 final /t/ when they are not completely final in a sentence.
Another example is wasnt in Turn 6.

6. / ˈˏ jes | (aɪ) səpəʊz ʃi   wɒzn ˎtu bad | ɪn ˏðat /

        Yes.    (I) suppose she wasn’t too bad  in  that.

Books like Wells’s 2006 English Intonation, admirably
tho it achieves the largely prescriptive goals which it set
itself, displays very liittle int·rest in any representation of
varieties of tone. The first tone occurring here provides
an example of a tone type which such books make no
attempt to discuss and even have no title for. It’s what I
call an Alt-Rise. Its initial level element tends to suggest
lack of concern etc. The high-to-low-to-mid movement of
a usual Fall-Rise suggests  by its initial wide movement
some degree of emotive involvement.

Blog 516

The 3rd of May 2016

Weakforms (xvi) I, if, I'll, I'm, in(to)

I: LPD3 sez of I, This word has no true weak form in RP, though in rapid, casual speech it may become monophthongal a. In Gen Am it is sometimes weakened to ə’. It’s my impression that this [a] form can sometimes be long enuff to suggest identification with the PALM lexiset. It has (as GA has) a fairly common schwa form in casual GB eg in /(ə θɪŋk) ə `nəʊ wɒt tə ˏdu/ (I think) I know what to do.

if: LPD sez ‘In RP this word has no separate weak form; but in some other varieties, including Gen Am, it may have a weak form əf’. I’m inclined to think that /əf/ is far from totally absent from markedly casual GB speech as in eg /ˈwɒt əf wi …/ What if we
There’s also an occasional casual variant /f/ in GB. It was recorded as occurring in GA in a 1944 article by Lee Hultzén on The Pronunciation of Monosyllabic Form-Words in American English. He gave the example I’ll see f it’ll fit which wd surely not sound at all impossible in a GB casual style. Casually GB speakers are also perfec·ly capable of saying If I were you as /`faɪ wə ˎˏ ju/. No British dictionary includes this /f/ weakform but this isnt surprising when we remember that GB phonetic dictionaries are mainly patronised by and very much compiled with in mind EFL users.

I’ll: The LPD representation of I’ll as only \aɪᵊl\ has been amazingly in contrast with my observations made before and since my 1972 Concise Pronouncing Dictionary. I’ve found the form /ɑl/ of extremely frequent occurrence accented as often as unaccented. See my  Blog 401 which includes an explanation of my dissatisfaction with the common definition of weakforms as unaccentable.

I’m: By contrast with the common and accentable GB weakforms /ɑl/ of I’ll, weakforms like /ɑm/, [am] or [m] of I’m are pritty unusual and not really accentable.

in(to): LPD sez ‘There is no separate weak form [of in] in RP; but in some other accents, including Gen Am, there is a weak form .. ən’. Casual GB has the syllabic weakform /n̩/. This cd be he·rd from Princess Anne saying ‘I did that in [n̩ ðə] the Girl Guides’. The distinguisht actor Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder in the famous 1981 Granada tv serial Brideshead Revisited said ‘I should get into bed’ with /... ɡet n̩ tə bed/. Other examples of casual vowelless in are late in the evening as /ˈleɪt n i `ivnɪŋ/ and the man in the street as /ðə ˈman ɪ ðə `strit/.

The Early Modern English weakform /ɪ/ for in can hardly be sed to survive in current GB. Even when the text is spelt i’, Shakespearian actors seem to feel free to substitute /ɪn/. There are situations where current types of elision produce what can hardly be viewed as re-inventing the EME weakform as with in my view becoming /ɪ `maɪ ˏvju/. And there is a vocalic-only fully nasalised form quite often occurring in non-casual GB especially in the sequence in which.

Blog 515

The 26th of April 2016

A Peculiar New Pronunciation Dictionary

CUBE Current British English
 searchable transcriptions

is the title of a new online-only English pronunciation dictionary. It is credited jointly to Péter Szigetvári, Head of the Department of English Linguistics in the School of English and American Studies of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest and Dr Geoff Lindsey who  is based in the UK where he has an association with University College London which includes the Directorship of the famous annual Summer Course in English Phonetics. He is one of the most outstanding and original scholars currently operating in the field of English phonetics.

'CUBE' is highly unconventional in a variety of ways. A rather tiresome minor one is how they refer to it as ‘cube’ denying it the conventional initial capital even when it begins a sentence. Altho it has the appearance of an abbreviation derived from initial letters of a full form there’s no trace of any second constituent beginning with U. A drawing of a hollow wooden cube accompanies the title.

Acknowledging that it’s ‘core database is drawn from a transcription dictionary by Ádám Nádasdy and Szigetvári (Huron’s English Pronouncing Dictionary)’ the authors, who regularly refer to themselves as 'CUBE' , declare rather turgidly that Its focus is on allowing the user to find and explore pronunciation patterns in English which are phonetically up to date and presented in a flexible way for both practical reference and research purposes’.

Examination of it will certainly soon dash the hopes of anyone looking to find as practical reference’ a more user-fr·endly alternative to the rather user-challenging LPD (the Wells Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), or CEPD (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) or the cumbersome and less adequate tho more user-comf·table ODP (Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English) now ominously unrevised in fifteen years. 'CUBE' ‘give only one recommended pronunciation per entry’ saying ‘no attempt is made to indicate variability of pronunciation’. This policy seems unfortunate in an online work where pressures upon space sh·d be no problem. ‘However,’ they add, ‘inflected forms are shown, by means of separate entries (eg live, lives, living, lived; life, lives)’ a feature whose utility strikes one as mimimal. They also say ‘There are many complex forms (generally compounds), and words may occur in several forms, eg new, brand-new, New Orleans... All such forms are given separate entries rather than being grouped in any way’. This again seems of dubious usefulness.

They say that 'CUBE' ‘does not give definitions; however it does contain extensive and searchable grammatical information’. It unfortunately ‘also has no audio component; users are recommended ‘as far as possible to hear words in context, eg through news media and YouTube’. This may seem to be a somewhat discouraging comment for many prospective users in view of the consideration that YouTube’s content exemplifies by far for the most part American speech when 'CUBE' are ‘at present restricted to British English’. That statement is followed in the same sentence by the remark ‘but its transcriptions are phonetically appropriate to the contemporary accent’ a wording I find a bit nerdy-wordy.

However, it’s certainly excellent advice that they offer to students to familiarise themselves with the extremely valuable wealth of material that YouTube has to offer to those who wish to cultivate their ability to grasp what English speakers are saying in all sorts of accents and styles of speaking, especially where they are presented with their invaluable word-by-word transcriptions in their series entitled youpronounce in which ‘You type in a word and it goes through all the subtitled videos on youtube and provides you with that bit of the video where the word turns up… Type in an ordinary word and there are thousands of tokens of it’. A YouTube site called YOUGLISH lets you ‘hear the pronunciation of English words by viewing videos of native speakers, spoken by real people and in context. Type in a single word or phrase, choose UK, US, or all pronunciations, then a captioned video appears in the results and starts playing automatically’.

Most dictionaries’, 'CUBE' say, ‘only allow the user to input a full word in its normal spelling, in order to find its pronunciation [but they permit the user] not only to enter part-words, but also [to] search for word beginnings and word endings. Eg you can find all the words beginning with th by entering #th in the spelling box; you can find all the words ending in th by entering th# in the spelling box; you can, in fact, find all the words beginning and ending in th by entering #th.*th# in the spelling box’. In case you’re wondering, I think that’s thirteenth, thirtieth, and thousandth unless they extend their definition of ‘word’ to include hyphenated compounds. Indication again that their content isnt aimed at the vast majority of EFL students.

They say they currently have 102,871 entries, each of which includes spelling, phonetic transcription and also information on grammar, frequency and syllable count…You may list all the words ending in a diphthong followed by two consonants by entering !d!c!c# in the transcription box, you may even find words that have all the voiceless plosives in any order by entering p, t, k in the transcription box’. This seems likely to be of some value to some researchers and some game players but one wonders who else.

A uniquely impressive feature is their Note: if a ‘full word’ search gives no result, an automatic notification is sent to us; and if the word exists, we will add it to cube, generally within 24 hours. You can actually request the addition of words which are missing from cube by searching for them with the ‘full word’ box ticked. There are some aspects of pronunciation which can be symbolized in more than one established way, and 'CUBE' ‘allows a range of options. So you can change the way long vowels, diphthongs, the consonant r, and affricates are represented in the phonetic transcriptions, as well as the symbols of ‘fronted’ vowels. These options may help some users to better understand the intrinsic imprecision/flexibility of phonetic transcription (where the wide usage of the now ageing traditional system may have given a false sense of ˈabsolute truthˈ)’.

I have to apologise that the degree of novelty and complexity of what CUBE offers has only totally inadequately been sampled in the present very brief posting. One last feature that must be mentioned is ‘Transcription searches must be input in ascii characters’ for which a key chart is supplied. I do propose to return to discussion of CUBE soon if only in order to consider separately the kind of phonetic transcription they offer.

Blog 514

The 18th of April 2016

People Speaking 37 Discord

1. /səʊ jɔ ˈnɒt veri `kin ɒn mjuzɪk, ðen /
    So you’re not very keen on music, then.
Notice that this transcription is mainly the usual Gimson one but that it omits the optional, not  to say superfluous, length marks as here from /ɔ, i & u/.

2. / ˈmjuˏzɪk | ˈju ˈkɑn ˈkɔl ˈðɪs ˈpɒp ˈtraʃ ˏmjuzɪk /
      Music? You can’t call this pop trash music.
There’re an unusual six successive upper level tones here. Remember that in a tones-indicating transcription like this its to be understood that successive upper tones proceed in slight downward steps. A sequence of so many reflects the very insistent quite bullying style this speaker adopts. The dropping of the t from the end of cant is commonplace in colloquial styles.

3. / ˈwɒt də `ju kɔl mjuzɪk, ðen
   What do you call music, then?
The word then has two very diff·rent meanings:‘at that time  and  ‘in that case.  In the first sense  it will usually be found to be strest /ðen/. In the second sense, as we find it here, its most often unstrest and may take a weakform /ðən/ but not if its final — hence its strongform here and in Turn 1.

4. /´`eniθɪŋ | bət ˎðɪs rɔkəs ˏʤᴧŋk /
    Anything but this raucous junk.
The Climb-Fall tone (´`aka high rise-fall) is more emphatic than a simple Fall. To suggest being startled, it
s offen adopted by speakers whore being sarcastic.

5. / ˈgəʊ ˏɒn ðen | ˈtel əs ˈsᴧmθɪŋ ju ˏlaɪk /
     Go on, then. Tell us something you like.
She sustains the upper level tone on go and relatively also on the word something which can have the effect of suggesting that shes (reluctantly) being patient.

6. / `ləʊdz əv θɪŋz | `handlz ˎlɑgəʊ | ˈɑveɪ məˎriə | `ʃubəts ᴧnfɪnɪʃ ˎsɪmfəni | `beɪthəʊvnz ˎfɪf |             `eniθɪŋ wɪð ə disnt `tjun tu ɪt /
     Loads of things. Handel’s Largo. Ave Maria.Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Beethoven’s Fifth.
     Anything with a decent tune to it.
The drawn-out emotive intonations suggest pride in and/or admiration and/or sentimental reverence for the items he quotes. Another minor departure from the Gimson transcription here is my pref·rence for /iə/ rather than /ɪə/. The elision of the final /t/ of 'unfinisht' which reduces the sequence /ʃts/ to /ʃs/ isnt at·all unusual. The apparently elided final /θ/ from 'fifth' may have been articulated but too weakly to be audible.

7. / `´tjun | `kɑnt kɔl `beɪthəʊvnz `fɪfð ə ˏtju(n) | ˈfɔ ˈnəʊts | ən ˈθri əv ðəm ɔl ðə `ˏseɪm /
      Tune? Can’t call Beethoven’s Fifth a tune. Four notes and three of them all the same.
The Fall-Climb (aka fall-rise) on Tune is both exclamatory and interrogative. Omission of you before can’t is a very common colloquialism. The weakform of them is here followed by a vowel sound so it tends to keep its fuller form with a schwa.

8. /ˎɑ `wel | ɪts wɒt hi `dᴧz wɪ ðəm ðət ˏkaʊnts | and ðɛ ˈdu | hapən tə bi `ᴧðə ˏmelədɪz | əz wel əz ðə         `feɪməs ˏbɪt /
       Ah! Well! It’s what he does with them that counts. And there do happen to be other melodies as         well as the famous bit.
The elision of the /ð/ of with before the /ð/ beginning them is quite usual. The word and is rarely pronounced /and/ except occasionally, as here, when it begins a sentence. The monophthongal /ɛ(:)/ replacing Gimson's /ɛə/ is becoming preferred becoz [ɛə] suggests too strongly old-fashioned markedly diphthongal versions of this phoneme. As with the other Gimson long-vowel representations, the length marks are optional. Another  revision is to replace /æ/, which over 50 years ago accorded with the IPA Cardinal Vowels system, with /a/ which accords better with twenty-first-century GB values.

9. / ˈju ˈnəʊ | `aɪ dəʊn θɪŋk juv evə prɒpəli `lisn tu a gʊd ˏgrup /
        You know, I don’t think you’ve ever properly listened to a good group.
The first two words were uttered very lightly so much so that it isnt very clear whether the first one wd be better transcribed as its casual weakform /jə/. Its a rather meaningless expression that very offen seems to be used to give the speaker a moment to decide how to begin. The elision of the /d/ from the sequence /lɪsnd tu/ probbly happens more offen than not.

10. / ˈlɪsˏnd | ju `kɑnt lɪsn tʊ ðm | ju get bɒm`bɑdɪd baɪ ðm/
        Listened! You can’t listen to them.You get bombarded by them.
The syllabic /n/ of listened is particularly drawn out here for expressive effect.
Unstrest them tends to take its fuller weakform /ðəm/ when another syllable follows.

11. /aɪ `bet | ju kʊdnt ivn `neɪm | ə ˈsɪŋɡl ˎgrup /
      I bet you couldn’t even name a single group.  
12. /aɪ kə(d) tel ju `hips ɒv ðm /
       I could tell you heaps of them.
The brackets around the /d/ of could is a confession by the transcriber of inability to decide whether the d is present or not. This time them has no immediately following sound so has no schwa.

13. / ˈgəʊ ˏɒn ðen | `tel əs ə fju /
       Go on, then. Tell us a few.

14. / [ʔ] ˈɔˎraɪt. `nɔɪzi | ən ði `iə splɪtəz /
        All right. Noisy and the Ear-splitters.
        The glottal plosive is a noise not a phoneme: hence the square brackets. In informal speech the phrase all right offen has no /l/.

15.  /ˈgəʊ ˏɒn /
        Go on.
Once again the prosody of a quite low variety of Alt (aka upper level tone) and markedly narrow slow Rise tone is indicative of suppressed impatience.

16. / `grɒti | ən ðə ˎsəʊp səʊp ʃᴧnəz /
        Grotty and the Soap Shunners.
 His quite wide pitch ranges suggest enthusiasm and/or enjoyment.

17. / ɪts ˈnəʊ ˈgʊd | ɑgjuɪŋ wɪð ˏ ju /
       It’s no good arguing with you.
Her only moderately high upper level tones and slowish low Rise climax (aka nucleus) tone reinforce the effect of reluctant patience.

18. /`stɪŋki | ən ði `ɛ bifaʊləz | `snɒti | ən ðə `nəʊz pɪkəz/
      Stinky and the Air-Befoulers. Snotty and the Nose-Pickers.
His continued lively prosodies end with a rallentando victorious cadence.     

Blog 513

The 16th of April 2016

Early Spelling Reform

Phonetics as a modern science in Britain began in the middle decades of the nineteenth century with the work of a mere handful of scholars. Outstanding among them was Alexander John Ellis (1814-1890). One of his many int·rests was spelling reform. This enthusiasm he shared with Isaac Pitman the inventor of the famous system of shorthand. Their collaboration was presumably facilitated by their both happening to live for a while in southwest England in the Bath area. Both produced publications in phonetic spelling among which were quite a variety by Ellis including his 1849 version of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He used a notation for it which he claimed to admit of the sounds of words being accurately expressed. The introduction of such an alphabet constitutes the [sic] Spelling Reform, the object of which is to render the education of the poorer classes possible, by making the art of reading pleasant, and easy to acquire’ (p.ii)

His notation used 40 letters 24 of which were ‘the same as those of the romanic alphabet’, as he termed the traditional English set. His letters were to be understood to sound exactly and only as in saying them in isolation. Thus ‘a’ was to be always and only /eɪ/. For /a/ he used italic ‘ɑ’. Two ancient letter shapes employed by Ellis and Pitman, ʃ and ʒ, were later in the nineteenth century to become items in the set of symbols adopted into their alphabet by the International Phonetic Association. Unlike the designers of the IPA alphabet, Ellis employed a set that was provided with the unfortunate complication of capital forms for all its symbols, included among the less bizarre of which were Σ for capital ʃ and its mirror image for capital ʒ. The letter ‘o’ was assigned to the sound /ɒ/ and a symbol ‘ɷ’ stood for /əʊ/. The Greek ɛ was used for /ij/ and a barred o-letter ‘ɵ’ for /ɔ/. For /aɪ/ a letter ‘į’ was created by adding to ‘i’ a subscript hook. The symbol set also included the use of an apostrophe signifying that a following consonant was syllabic as in \sev’n\ and \dev’l\. This device was incorporated into Murray’s set of symbols for the OED from its first edition in 1882 and continued so to be used until 1989.

The very optimistic claim to be providing an accurate reflection of spoken English was distinctly odd in the light of his decision to represent every word as it is spoken carefully in isolation. In fact in some cases he produced a pronunciation found in no variety of English as when ‘equal’ was given as pronounced /ikwal/. At other times he produced pronunciations some of which suggested Scottish English better than the southern English of the rest. Examples were allegory, assured, church, ecstasy, persist, serene, whip & word being shown as \ alijgᴧri, a`ʃurd, ʧᴧrʧ, ekstesi, persɪst, sijrijn, hwɪp & wᴧrd \. All r-letters were given a pronunciation even if, in many positions in the words in question, they were hardly at all heard any longer in most of the southern speech of Ellis’s day.

The text being quoted from is Ellis’s 1849 phonetic version of that famous allegorical book of Bunyan’s. Its author’s original calling wdve been known as ‘tinker’ tho he preferred the more dignified ‘brazier’. However, he became a most prolific writer. He lived almost all his life, 1628 to 1688, in the south of England in or near the county of Bedfordshire. Pilgrim’s Progress became an amazingly popular book so much so that some of its expressions have become part of the English language, notably the ‘Slough /slau/ of Despond’.

Cert·n int·resting indications of Ellis’s own speech crop up in the introductory matter. They include the aitchless ‘the umbler classes’ (, which was praps rather old-fashioned already by 1849. The use of /z/ rather than /s/ in the word ‘disorder’ was another variant now presumably obsolete but then common enuff to be the only one recorded in Thomas Sheridan’s General Dictionary of 1780 and John Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1791 a book which Ellis and Pitman knew very well. Ellis publisht a book he called Phonetic Walker. A new pronouncing  Dictionary.

Among others of Ellis’s well over thirty early phonetic publications were a Phonetic Primer, a ‘Horn Book or Sunday-school Primer’ (‘a leaf of paper containing the alphabet...protected by a thin plate of translucent horn, and mounted on a tablet of wood with a projecting piece for a handle’ OED). Many others were also religious materials. There was a weekly Phonetic News and The Phonetic Friend which was a monthly miscellany. There were also various stories, poems and plays he transcribed and very importantly his early book The Essentials of Phonetics (1849).

My most hearty thanks are due to our colleague Paul Carley for so kindly furnishing me with the handsome copy of this little book thus enabling me to offer the above remarks.

Blog 512

The 25th of March 2016

KEYWORDS for English

I’m afraid I need to apologise for having been tempted into what praps too greatly amounts to re-riding an old hobbyhorse in what follows by a circumstance mentioned in last December’s  Blog 506 where I referred to the excellent new feature that the great OED then had newly begun providing for our delectation in the form of frequency-of-occurrence indications for its 600,000 words.

Many publications make use of IPA symbols these days and the ones they apply to transcribing English now increasingly tend to use the Wells ‘lexical sets’ as keywords for vowels. This is surely quite a welcome harmonious development. People are tending to find it convenient to write for example ‘the kit vowel’ without having to conjure up a phonetic symbol. And this has come about to quite an extent by chance. John ‘dreamt [them] up over a weekend’, as he candidly admitted. What surely he didnt dream at the time was how widely popular they’d become. They now appear not merely in his own LPD (Longman Pronuncation Dictionary), as they have from its first appearance in 1990, but in recent years as keywords in the CEPD (Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary), and they are even popping up in leading instructional books such as the Collins-&-Mees Practical Phonetics & Phonology (2013) and various other textbooks.

They were an idea he hit on when he was planning how he shd carry out his ambitious aim of describing as many as possible of the world’s various forms of native-speaker English. He took as a basis the two forms for which there were the fullest existing descriptions. One of these was ‘General American’, the well-known convenient label for the educated speech of the non-coastal northeast and the northwest of the USA. As title for the other, he chose to retain the expression ‘Received Pronunciation’ which had been adopted apologetic·ly in 1926 by Daniel Jones the founder of the University College London Department of Phonetics where Wells had studied and was by then working. In an earlier book he had preferred the also unsatisfactory term ‘Southern British Standard’. An expression to which there are paps fewer disadvantages is ‘General British’.

Wells concluded that he cd ‘successfully match the vowels’ in these two varieties in relation to forms ‘of particular words for the vast bulk of the vocabulary’. This furnished for him the framework for what he decided to call his ‘standard lexical sets’. These he set about using for the comparison not only of ‘RP and GenAm’ (as he regularly abbreviates them) but also for describing the lexical incidence of vowels in all the accents he de·lt with. It turned out, he remarked at pp.122-3 of Volume 1 of his Accents of English, that there were twenty-four ‘matching pairs’ of strong vowels in his two ref·rence varieties. He chose to identify the representative of each pair which ‘exhibited the correspondence in question’ by a keyword always given in that text in small capitals. These keywords were devised so that ‘clarity is maximised: whatever accent of English they can hardly be mistaken for other words’. As far as possible they were chosen ‘so as to end in a voiceless alveolar or dental consonant’ in order to preclude any deflection from the characteristic form of each vowel.

He made an exception in the choice of ‘trap for the /æ/ phoneme, where no items in /-t, -s, -θ/’ seemed to him to be ‘altogether suitable’. He didnt detail his reasons why for example the more appropriately terminated gas was rejected or why hat or even sprat shd not have been preferred to trap. Final consonants in all words chosen were always simple ones tho clusters were freely admitted word-initially. In fact initial consonants had no prescribed requirements. In our Blog 445 in April 2013 we referred to the word-count quoted in the English Universities Press 1948 publication the Thorndike English Dictionary. Since December 2015 the OED has begun supplying information on the frequency that each word has in modern, meaning post-1970, English as derived from ‘Google Books Ngrams data cross-checked against data from other corpora’. These, like the Thorndike figures, generally confirm the validity of his choices. Certain further unstated pref·rences seemed to be detectable in th·t almost all the chosen keywords were nouns most of which represent relatively concrete rather than abstract identities. An exception was near where a noun alternative beer exists with an equal OED frequency rating. None of them are proper nouns. The keywords are mostly of high incidence the notable exceptions being  fleece, kit and strut for the choice of which explanations were given.

The OED frequency figures, with which Wells’s judgments gen·rally compare well, are presented in eight ascending bands. None of the Wells keyword choices occurs in any of the bottom three bands of least common words. Nor did one have a place in the top-frequency eighth category. His choice fleece was in Band 4 (compare street which is found in Band 6). His strut 4 (cf shut in 6 and but in 8). His kit was placed in Band 5 (cf sit in 7). The choices goat and goose we also find in Band 5 (cf note in 7 and boot in 6). The band for dress was 6 (cf set in 7) as also for lot (cf spot in 6), bath (cf pass in 7), cloth (cf loss in 7), nurse (cf verse in 6), palm (cf calm in 5 and half in 6), thought (cf taut in 5), mouth (cf house in 7 and out in 8), near (cf clear in 7), square (cf care in 7), north (cf short in 7) and cure (cf pure in 6). The band for foot was 7 (cf put in 7) as also for force (cf court in 7), for start (cf part in 7), and for choice (cf voice in 7). The anomalous trap figured in Band 6.

On a forgotten occasion I once askt John why he’d chosen to call them ‘Standard’ lexical sets upon which he confessed that offhand he wasnt able to recollect why. I believe I was privately somewhat inclined to think that he was rather ‘jumping the gun’. Some decades on, it now seems that he was simply being prophetic. Actually, later, in reply to a question from one of his blog readers as to why he called the set ‘Standard’, he wrote in his blog of 1 Feb 2010 I called them “standard” lexical sets because they were based on my two 'reference' accents of English, RP and GenAm.

"Readers who’d like a look at an earlier slightly diff·rent account of this topic shd go back to our Blog 445.  

Blog 511

The 9th of March 2016

Weakforms (xv) hundred

For our final weakform word beginning with aitch, ‘hundred’, the Wells LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) gives \ˈhᴧndr əd -ɪd\. British /hᴧndrɪd/ is the old-fashioned usage of a small minority. It is not the latest developed weakform of the word. Historically speaking, rather the reverse: the current almost universal /-əd/ was evidently the final weakening in the sequence /-ed, -ɪd, -əd/. The LPD American version \ˈhᴧnd ᵊrd\ shows an intresting contrast with the way the WNC (the Webster New Collegiate Dictionary of 1983 which Wells ‘regularly explored’ as he remarks at LPD3 p.ix) gives \ˈhᴧn-drəd, -dərd\. In its own transcriptional style, the Cambridge EPD gives exac·ly the same story as LPD. OED offers only Brit. /ˈhʌndrəd/, U.S. ️/ˈhəndrəd/ apparently regarding the Brit. /-ɪd/ variant as too unusual to be worth including. The GA audio by a rather y·ung-sounding female displays a markedly closer schwa than the GB, so much so that in neutr·l circumstances one might easily have taken it for /ɪ/.

There is no transcription of the sequence ‘hundred and one (etc)’ from any of the dictionaries. OED has an entry for the sweetmeat hundreds and thousands but in its parsimonious way in matters of pronunciation supplies no indication that it is he·rd normally only with a syllabic /n/ for the and.

It will be convenient here to  repeat paragraph 7 from our Blog 335:
A fact I havnt noticed any ref·rence to in the lit·rature is the consid·rable frequency with which the /h/ is elided in phrases in which the word hundred isnt accented such as `two hundred and, `three hundred and etc. Only a day or so ago in March 2016 I was reminded of this observation by hearing  an instance of its use by the GB speaker Justin Webb currently functioning as a BBC Radio 4 news presenter.

There exists an even more especially notable weakform, among GB speakers at least, for these expressions hundred-and-one etc. This takes the form of the very unusual occurrence of a syllabic plosive consonant /d̩/ as in /ˈhᴧn.drd̩.n̩`wᴧn/. The Wikipedia article ‘Syllabic consonant’ overlooks this and various other items, saying the ‘only time obstruents are used syllabically in English is in onomatopoeia, such as sh! [ ʃ̩ː] (a command to be quiet), sss [s̩ː] (the hiss of a snake), zzz [z̩ː] (the sound of a bee buzzing or someone sleeping), and tsk tsk! [ǀǀ] (used to express disapproval or pity)…’

Readers might like to look at our Blog 239 with its comment on John Wells’s phonetic blog of the 25th of Nov 2009 about “constraints on diacritics”, in the course of which he askt himself: ‘Is “syllabic” only for consonants? Normally yes, and then only for nasals and liquids. Some students imagine that looked should be transcribed lʊkd̩ (with “syllabic d”), but they are confusing phonetics with morphology. Syllabic plosives are a no-no.’ This last sentence wd be quite understandable in the context of the teaching of transcription to beginners but isnt su·table for work with advanced students. LPD itself lists the variant weakform \ʃd\ of should. So did the 1917 first edition of the Jones EPD. That work also gave the voiceless variant \ʃt\, in all the editions Jones himself was responsible for, with the added note ‘only occurs before breathed [Gimson 1977 ‘voiceless’] consonants’.

Our blog gave other examples of syllabic plosives including /sp.praɪz/ surprise and / success, and /ʃd.nt/ shouldn’t which is notably a two-syllable word with no vowel. Another very common sentence with two syllables but only one vowel is the unceremonious routine expression /`k.kju/ ie Thankyou with its first syllable ‘inaudible’, as it were, ‘except retrospectively’. There are also other words besides hundred /ˈhᴧn.drd̩/ with which one can easily feel it possible to produce a natural sounding articulation while feeling clearly that the tongue remains at the alveolar ridge thruout the final syllable which consists of the affricate /dr/ followed by syllabic simple /d̩/.