Thursday, 30 September 2010

double idioms (3)

The name of the treasure box is OALD - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Both the printed eighth edition and the CD-ROM provided indicate the stress mark; the online version, however, does not give it.
What about previous editions? As I wrote in my last blog OALD editions 1 to 3 do not indicate the stress of non-headword entries. In the unpaginated acknowledgements section of the introduction to the 3rd edition the then editor A. S. Hornby wrote:

"Mr. J Windsor Lewis, of the Department of Phonetics [University of Leeds], undertook the task of providing new phonetic transcriptions for all entries and the stress patterns added to all compounds and collocations."

Are they really added to ALL compounds and collocations? The phonetics adviser/editor Jack Windsor Lewis qualifies this statement (the reader is referred to pages xiii to xv of the introduction to OALD3). As a result we find stress marks with compounds such as `hockeystick, `English-woman, we have to apply a rule to throw doubt upon or to stew in one's own juice saying that the principal stress usually falls on the last non-grammatical word (resulting in throw `doubt upon and stew in one's own `juice). In the case of make a person's `flesh creep the stress on flesh is indicated because flesh is not the last non-grammatical word of this idiom. So, the stress pattern is not added to ALL compounds and combinations if 'add' is intended to mean 'add visible stress marks'.

Our thanks go to Jack Windsor Lewis for adding this lexicographic feature.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

double idioms (2)

Let him stew in his own 'juice!
The headword under which the idiom is to be found is underlined. The main stress is on juice. The dictionary in which you can find such stress patterns is the Oxford Advanced Learner's  Dictionary (= OALD). OALD 6, OALD 7 and OALD 8 all display the stress marks. No stress mark is give for this idiom in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd editions. I do not have the other editions at hand to check the respective entries. I checked OALD 5 and 6 in the meantime: The stress mark is there. I couldn't get got hold of the 4th edition in the interim. Stress is marked

Here are some more idioms for you to mark for stress:
  1. to do/perform/stage a disappearing/vanishing act.
  2. to get one's act together.
  3. a hard/tough act to follow.

Monday, 27 September 2010

double idioms (1)

In 2010 I had the pleasure of attending SCEP for a week as an academic observer (my thanks to Michael Ashby). SCEP is a fortnight's course in English phonetics run annually by University College London. In a strand of practical classes for (very) advanced learners of English the tutor presented idioms with the main stress falling not on a word which one would expect to be stressed but on some other word - 'stress idioms' or 'accentuation idioms' as the tutor liked and likes to call them. So they are idioms in a double sense - semantically and accentually. They look so innocent, so guiltless, so inculpable! But non-native speakers often fall into a trap laid for them and stress the wrong word. Not that the wrong stress renders the idiom totally incomprehensible, but it doesn't sound nativelike.

Here's an example:
Let him stew in his own juice!
Where does the main stress normally fall? On stew, own or juice?
Look the idiom up in a dictionary, please. Can you find the idiom and if so, does the dictionary tell you where the main stress falls? If it does: what's this treasure box of a dictionary called?
More to come soon!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

beyond motivation

This is a continuation of my blog of the 22nd of September:
Learning the pronunciation of English as a foreign language is not just a matter of motivating yourself properly. You've got to know what to do to produce a particular English sound or sound sequence. Explaining, giving examples and providing exercises is all a teacher can do besides motivating you.
A piano teacher can explain to you the fingering of a chromatic scale, the teacher can demonstrate it and she or he will then ask you to practise playing the scale until you can perform it flawlessly. But it's you who has to practise, and you have to practise hard. If you've ever tried to play an instrument you will know from experience what a long and winding road it is to be able to play a chromatic scale in, say, C major impeccably not only adagio but also presto.

From fingering to articulation (not far off, is it?):
Here are some hints and tips:
  1. Practise on a daily basis (make sure you understand the meaning of 'daily').
  2. Practising a sound problem for 10-15 mins per day is more efficient than one hour twice a week.
  3. Use the technique of soliloquy in case nobody is present who can monitor you; talk to yourself loudly repeating one or two of the problem sounds embedded in words or short phrases.
  4. Speak slowly – don’t rush! Give your articulators and your brain time to learn these rapid movements and delicate co-ordinations – you are a human being, not a robot.
  5. Make transitions between sounds smoothly. When you practise sound combinations that you have difficulties with, start at such a slow speed that allows you to articulate this combination smoothly, without any pause between the sounds; if you mess it up, produce it even more slowly.
  6. Have someone competent monitor your attempts. In all probability, your self-discrimination is very poor at the beginning. Mistrust your ears! 
  7. The person monitoring you has to combine in him- or herself three faculties:
    1. The person must have a good pronunciation and
    2. the person must be able to spot every mistake you make and
    3. the person must kick you in the shins whenever you make a mistake.
  8. Try backward-chaining complicated phrases, i.e. piece a complicated phrase together backwards. Here's an example:
    • thread
    • and thread
    • needle and thread
    • a needle and thread
    • for a needle and thread
    • looking for a needle and thread
    • I'm looking for a needle and thread
  9. Make and audio or video recording and evaluate your pronunciation critically - very critically.
  10. Shadow a native speaker of English, i.e. try to repeat what the speaker says while she or he is speaking.
  11. Don't trust a native speaker who says: "Oh, your English is so good!" He or she is simply being polite.

Friday, 24 September 2010


credit: LOLphonology at facebook
Jack Windsor Lewis, a purist in matters terminological (cf. his comments on 'rhotic' or 'RP'), in his blog # 299 of the 21st of September writes on epenthetic wyns, i.e. the unetymological, paralinguistic insertion of a w-like glide between the abutting vowels in go on or co-operate (and many other similar combinations) so that the latter is pronounced [kə(ʊ)wɒpəreɪt] (or even as a very emphatic [kə(ʊw)ɒpəreɪt]) to use a very broad phonetic transcription. As an aside he rejects the application of the term intrusive because it "[...] might be misconstrued as indicating a value judgment." Among phoneticians and linguists chances are very slim that they will use intrusive r as a depreciatory term. Rather, they seem to use it simply as a descriptive designation (some of them to deny the existence of such an epenthetic wyn). However, intrusive describes the property of intruding without having been invited or being welcome (OED 3: s.v. intrusive). Weighing all this up epenthetic is without doubt the more neutral term.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

György/George/Georg Klapka

I apologise for two reasons:
(1) for going off-topic and
(2) for writing about history without being a trained historian.
Here are a few lines about György Klapka, whose name I mentioned in a blog when talking about Jerome K Jerome's middle name Klapka. It seems that JKJ's parents had a lodger by the name of György Klapka, a Hungarian general and expatriate. When I first mentioned this I was wondering how on earth a Hungarian general came to live in England. So, here is what I found out:
Georg Klapka was a Banat Swabian born in Temesvár in 1820, who first served in the Austrian army and finished his military training in Vienna. During the insurrection of the Hungarians of 1848 - 1849 against the House of Habsburg Klapka fought against Austria. He became a general and conducted a series of fights but had to surrender on honourable terms in the end. Klapka had to accept a passport valid for England and America and immediately went to England, where he lived for many years and wrote his Memoiren (Leipzig 1850). This sketchy description makes the connection between Jerome Klapka Jerome and Georg/George/György Klapka a little bit more plausible.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Jerome K Jerome (2) and phonetics

In my previous blog I quoted a few sentences from JKJ's novel Three Men on the Bummel. For your convenience, I repeat just the first sentence: "I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless." Is JKJ right? If you try to press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx, this should prove impossible. The more serious question is: Are articulatory descriptions always useless? You probably guess what my answer will be - of course, not!
For the phonetically uninitiated they are almost a waste of time. For those who want or have to learn to pronounce English a few articulatory descriptions may be of help every now and then - less helpful with English vowels than with most consonants. But other things are important as well, if not more important. You must be able to hear the difference(s) between the sounds, rhythms, (non-lexical) tones, gradations, etc. of English and your respective mother tongue; and you must be able not only to discriminate these phonetic features when used by native speakers of English but also when YOU speak English.

Moreover, you must be prepared and willing to integrate these phonetic features into your personality; in other words, you must be ready to expand your articulatory personality and say: "Yes - when I speak English that's me as well!" How can you persuade your 'inner horse' to drink? How do you convince yourself to add a new wrinkle to your articulatory repertoire? Even if you're willing to surpass yourself how can you coax yourself into sounding pretty much like a native speaker of English?
Here are two suggestions:
  1. Fraternise with a native speaker of the opposite sex - or the same sex to be seemingly politically correct!
  2. Monitor English natives speaking your mother language (= L1) with a moderate to strong English accent. As soon as they can no longer attack you verbally or physically, try to imitate their way of speaking your L1 with an English accent! It's revealing! And when you manage to do this, use this very same accent when YOU speak English.
There's, of course, more to it than just boosting your motivation. I assume that you are capable of pronouncing your L1 perfectly (well - almost perfectly unless you are an elocutionist). You have been pronouncing those sounds since you started to talk. Your articulatory organs and the brain regions controlling them are well trained for this job. When you speak English as a foreign language there's every chance that your brain, your ears and your articulators have to get used to producing and controlling new movements for sounds that do not exist in your L1. English is also most likely to have sounds that are similar but not identical to your L1 sounds. I think the similar sounds are the most difficult ones to master. More on this in a future blog entry. (See my blog of the 25th of September)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Jerome Klapka Jerome (1)

There is a short section in Jerome K Jerome's book Three Men on the Bummel which I should like to draw your attention to (or brush up your memory on):
I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is the sort of instruction one receives: "Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost - but not quite - to touch the uvula, try with the tip of your tongue to reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath, and compress your glottis. Now, without opening your lips, say 'Garoo.'" And when you have done it they are not satisfied.
Allow me to write a few lines on Jerome before in a later blog I'll come back to the phonetic side of this short extract (which was written in 1900).

Who was Jerome K Jerome (/dʒərəʊm keɪ dʒərəʊm/)? Born on the 2nd of May 1859 in Belsize House, Bradford Street, Walsall, Staffordshire, (England, Great Britain, Earth, Universe) as the fourth child of Jerome Clapp and Marguerite Maine Jones. Jerome's siblings had been given quite spectacular names (here are a few fabulous first names for your baby):
  • Paulina Deodata Clapp
  • Blandina Dominica Clapp
  • Milton Melanchthon Clapp.
Before the birth and christening of Jerome his father changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome. I haven't read anything yet about the reason(s), but according to OED clap (inter alia) means gonorrhoea in impolite use. Understandably, Jerome Clapp changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome. (All this is a mere conjecture, of course). The fourth sibling, a son, was Jerome Clapp Jerome, the later author of Three Men in the Bummel and other writings. The story goes that the Clapp family had a lodger, an exiled Hungarian general called György Klapka (the mind-boggling question is how this general came to live in Staffordshire in mid-nineteenth century*); György Klapka's last name was pinched by Jerome's parents, and Jerome Clapp Jerome became Jerome Klapka Jerome or JKJ for short.

Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel are the two most well-known novels by JKJ. None of the three pronouncing dictionaries (CPD, LPD, ODP) lists the pronunciation of bummel. OED mentions two pronunciations -/bʊməl/ and /bʌməl/. Bummel is of German origin and means something like 'a leisurely stroll or journey' (OED, s.v. bummel). 
* An attempt at an answer can be found in my blog of the 23rd of September.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

RP as an institutionalised label

Jack Windsor Lewis (= JWL) in his blog no. 297 of the 18th of September 2010 casts doubt a) on my application of the term 'coiner' to the use of the phrase 'received pronunciation' by Lluyd and b) on the "institutionalised use" of said phrase by Lluyd and Walker. I fully agree with  JWL in his verdict that neither Lluyd nor Walker seemed to have intended to establish a "definitory label" as I called it. I explicitly made this clear in my blog on Walker; alas, I forgot to repeat myself in my blog on Lluyd (mea culpa!). As regards the term 'coiner' I intended to express what is contained in one of the various meanings of the verb 'to coin': to frame, shape, compose a new phrase or word. If an earlier source of the phrase 'received pronunciation' should be found attributable to a person other than Lluyd, then, well then the latter will have to be deprived of the title of coiner of the expression and the trophy will go to someone else.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Received Pronunciation - summary

And the winner is ...?
(1) Lluyd 1724 (= English term)
(2) Walker 1791
(3) Duponceau 1818.

It's only Walker who uses the term in connection with English pronunciation in England. Lluyd addresses the Welsh reader, and Duponceau seems to focus on the American English speaker of his time.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

'RP' - whence? No. 4 (Edward Lluyd)

credit: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
In a draft revision of March 2010 OED online lists Edward Lluyd as the first coiner of the term 'received pronunciation'. Lluyd (or Lhuyd, Llwyd, Lloyd) used the expression on page 4 of the preface to his first volume (titled Glossography) of the Archeologica Britannica. The Glossography was completed in 1707. The book was intended as a history of Wales and that of the first settlers in Cornwall, Wales, Brittany, Scotland and Ireland. Lluyd died before he could write a second volume.

In his preface there is a section in which he addresses Welsh readers: "AT Y KYMRY". It was translated into English by William Nic(h)olson, Bishop of Derry, and published as an appendix (pp. 216ff.) to his book The Irish Historical Library in 1724. On page 219, which you can see here, one finds the term "receiv'd Pronunciation".

Where is the avid reader to find a yet earlier record of the noun phrase?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

'RP' - whence? No. 3 (John Walker)

John Walker is much more well-kenned than Duponceau about whom I wrote in my previous blog. Walker occasionally employs the epithet received when discussing various types of English accent. He does so in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (= CPD) of 1791; other uses of received can be found in Walker's A Key to the Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names (1804, 2nd and later editions) (= KP).

In his musings on the pronunciation of the name Andronicus in Shakespeare's tragedy Titus Andronicus, Walker writes that Shakespeare "followed the received English pronunciation of his time" (KP 1798:80).

In the article accompanying the head word Palmyra Walker states: "Those, however, must be pedantic coxcombs who should attempt to disturb the received pronunciation when in English, [...]" KP 1798: 86). He rejects stressing the antepenultimate in the English pronunciation of the word.

In his opus magnum CPD Walker on page viii tries to characterise what is "most generally received" by referring a) to being "learned and polite" and b) to a quantitative criterion (= "bulk of speakers").

The next text passage is probably the most frequently cited one. In it Walker describes the area within which pronunciation is "more generally received" (p. xiii).

Finally I should like to quote from p.12, where Walker talks about the pronunciation of the letter <a>. In later editions of the CPD there's no comma between "received" and "pronunciation".

Like Duponceau Walker does not to intend to set up a definitory label; however, he does not simply posit the concept but tries to propose some characteristic features (polite, learned, bulk of speakers) - however vague they may be.

Monday, 13 September 2010

'RP' - whence? No. 2 (Peter Stephen Duponceau)

P. S. Duponceau
Pierre-Étienne Du Ponceau (1760-1844), born at St-Martin-de-Ré, France, emigrated to the US at the age of 17 as secretary and an aide-de-camp to Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Duponceau translated his forenames into English and called himself Peter Stephen DuPonceau (or Du Ponceau or Duponceau).

He was interested in linguistics, philosophy and jurisprudence, joined the American Philosophical Society and was President of it until his death in 1844. He doggedly collected data on Amerindian languages. This led to the publication of Languages of the Indian Nations of North America in 1838. He also wrote "English Phonology; or, an Essay towards an Analysis and Description of the component sounds of the English Language", which was published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series 1 (1818): 228-264.

He invented a lexical set of words to refer to the sounds he wanted to describe. Unlike John Wells's sets, which the latter 'dreamt up' in preparing his seminal three volumes of Accents of English, Duponceau's set consists of arbitrary names: for example, the vowel sound in people, key or scene is called "Elim" (254).The sound /r/ is given the name "RO" (262), by the way, perhaps paving the way for the epithet 'rhotic'.

Describing the diphthong in pure or endure Duponceau uses the expression "received pronunciation" (259; see the above scan). He is not very explicit about which accent he intends to characterise, but as he occasionally refers to Connecticut, the Eastern States or the English provinces, it seems justified to assume that he gives a description of the sounds of American English of his time. So here we are: General American = Received Pronunciation? No - not really! Moreover, Duponceau did not intend to set up an institutionalised definitory label.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

'Received Pronunciation' - whence? No. 1

No - I'm not going to talk about the suitability or appropriateness or applicability of the term Received Pronunciation. Rather, I'd like to refresh your memory on the origin of this adjective-noun combination.

Among the earliest authors who used the expression are Duponceau, Walker and Lhuyd. In tomorrow's blog I shall concentrate on Duponceau. Blogs on Walker and Lhuyd will follow.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

the commonest pronunciation of the digraph th

In a previous blog I chose to arrange the distribution of /θ/ and /ð/ according to the position of the digraph - initial, medial and final positions.
Probability is another one which may prove useful if one doesn't know how to pronounce the digraph and needs to take a shot in the dark. Blog commentator jwl has made some very valuable remarks here. I'd like to combine position and probability:
  1. isolated: commonest pronunciation is /θ/;
  2. word-initially: /θ/ is commonest;
  3. word-medially: /ð/ is commonest; 
  4. word-finally: commonest is /θ/.

How to say you're sorry with the proper intonation!

I found a nice collection of postcards (see the caption below the card). One of them lends itself to a short exercise in English intonation. It depicts 11 situations in which regret is expressed (or not). Try to put yourself into the person's shoes. How would you say "Sorry"?

If the text is too small for you to read, go to the webpages of the authors and click postcard no. 26. My apologies to the copyright-holders for adding numbers to their drawings.

Friday, 10 September 2010

to /θ/ or not to /θ/, no. 2

Mention should also be made of word-final <-the>. Its pronunciation is regularly /ð/, e.g. bathe, clothe, loathe. The same applies to inflectional forms derived from such words - bathing, clothing, loathing.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

to /θ/ or not to /θ/

Commenting on my blog on <th> as a digraph Jack Windsor Lewis nicely summed up the rules of thumb. It pleased him to arrange his various pieces of advice according to the types and classes of words containing <th>. There's nothing wrong at all with it. I'd like to give it a different twist and start with the position of the digraph:
(1) In word-initial position <th> is pronounced
  • /ð/ if it's a function word such as the, that, this, than; it's debatable whether you can call adverbs like then, there, thither, thence (the latter two also with voiceless initial <th> in General American) functions words;
  • /θ/ if it's a content word such as three, thick, thank, think, theatre, theme.
(2) In word-medial positions <th> is pronounced
  • /ð/ if the word is of Germanic origin: brother, father, worthy, weather, ...;
  • /θ/ if the word is of Greek, Latin or non-European origin: method, author, cathedral, Athapascan, ....
(3) In word-final position <th> is pronounced in GB
  • exclusively /ð/ in some cases: to mouth, eth (= letter name), with, smooth;
  • either /ð/ or /θ/ in booth, outwith, herewith, ...;
  • /θ/ only in bath, birth, month, north, ....

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


credit: Petr Kratochvil
In yesterday's blog I wrote that <th> in brothel is a digraph but not in hothead. Why? A sequence of two letters is called a digraph if these two letters represent a single sound (or alternatives of single sounds). Otherwise the two letters are just a sequence of two letters expressing two sounds.
The term digraph comes from Greek δι (= twice) and γραφή (= writing). English has a lot of digraphs, eg. <ui> as in fruit, <oo> as in food or <sh> as in fish. There are trigraphs such as <tch> as in catch and even tetragraphs: <augh> or <ough> as in caught and bought. Pentagraphs ...? Maybe, if you accept the proper name Nietzsche in its English pronunciation. Heptagraphs ...? Can YOU find one in English?
Now that we know what a digraph in the linguistic sense of the term is, we can return to the problem of the ambiguous letter-to-sound relation of <th>, which I shall do in my next blog.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

voiceless in brothel

In his blog of the 8th of July 2010 Jack Windsor Lewis comments on the pronunciation of the digraph <th>. His remarks were initiated by John Wells's observations on the pronunciation of the word brothel. Jack Windsor Lewis writes: "The digraph th is of course a completely ambiguous spelling that might equally stand for /θ/ or /ð/ in modern English". One should add that /t/ is another possibility as in Thomas, Thames (the river in Connecticut rhymes with James), or thyme. Sometimes the digraph can be silent as in asthma or clothes. In hothead, fathead or apartheid <th> is not a digraph. <th> as a digraph is ambiguous and a severe problem for learners of English as a foreign language. Students frequently approach me asking: "How do I know whether <th> is voiced or voiceless?" To which I reply that there is no straightforward, watertight rule. There are, however, some rough - very rough - guidelines. More about this topic in my next blog.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Are you paw?


Why do so many German students of English say /pʊə/ for <poor> and not /pɔː/?
According to the LPD almost 80% of the younger generation of General British speakers use the latter variant, but more than 90% of my German students use the former one. Probably, one of the reasons is that they were taught English by teachers whose English-speech-forming years were the 50ies and 60ies of the last century when the diphthongal pronunciation was much more rampant than it is nowadays. 
Should students worry? Actually not if they prefer to belong to the minority of native speakers of General British. If, however, they want to sound young and fresh they may want to switch to the monophthongal version.
BTW: If you're shore you saw the Shore on the shore, rest ashored that yore impression was caused by yore paw vision. (Can you spot the intrusive r-sound in the previous sentence?)

Saturday, 4 September 2010


Welcome to my new blog on English phonetics.