Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

I wish all my followers a

Happy and Healthy 2012

Monday, 26 December 2011

ejectives in English

In his webblog of the 8th of December, 2011, John Wells wrote about ejectives in English. Our attention was drawn to an interview given by the snooker player Judd Trump who pronounced the words think and back with a word-final ejective [kʼ]. I also heard a [] in walk and an ejective [pʼ] in keep. Here are several extracts from the interview.

1. think

2. think
3. back
4. back
5. back

6. walk
7. keep

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

With the aid of the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers discovered this bipolar star-forming region in the Milky Way galaxy, called Sharpless 2-106. It looks like an angel spreading her wings. The nebula lies about 2,000 light-years from us, and it measures several light-years in length. It is heated by a young star, IRS 4 (= Infrared Source 4). The two lobes of super-hot gas, glowing blue in this image, stretch outward from the central star. This hot gas creates the 'wings' of the angel.

I wish all my followers a Happy and Peaceful Christmas Season!

Friday, 23 December 2011

a quick riddle

Find the right words for these two pictures and you have a minimal pair.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Waiting for God or: the impacts come closer - subtitles

credit: BBC

I'm watching the situation comedy 'Waiting for God' with Stephanie Cole (as Diana Trent) and Graham Crowden (as Tom Ballard). The story plays in a retirement home in England.
The series was transmitted between 1990 and 1994. It comprises 47 episodes, so it will take me a while to watch them all. It's the black humour, the witty repartees and double entendres which make me laugh. Here's a first taster from series 2, episode 1. The numbers are time stamps to be used with an *.avi file of the episode so that you will have subtitles to go with it

There's one utterance marked red which I didn't quite get. The utterance marked red could be clarified thanks to Jack Windsor Lewis

00:00:52,757 --> 00:01:00,120
VICAR: Man that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.

00:01:01,357 --> 00:01:11,045
He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

00:01:13,007 --> 00:01:23,528
In the midst of life we are in death: Of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, oh Lord, who for our sins …

00:01:24,019 --> 00:01:26,476
<i>Watch alarm beeps</i>

00:01:26,956 --> 00:01:30,523
HARVEY: I have to go. It's an important meeting.

00:01:31,399 --> 00:01:31,702
TOM: What did he say?

00:01:32,666 --> 00:01:38,727
DIANA: He says if he doesn't shut up and show a bit of respect, we are quite at liberty to beat him to a pulp, and bung him in on top of old Sid here.

00:01:39,974 --> 00:01:41,190
Carry on.

00:01:42,773 --> 00:01:44,270
HARVEY: I'll see you back at the ranch.

00:01:45,354 --> 00:01:49,319
Come on Jane. JANE: Harvey! HARVEY: He's not a resident anymore.

00:01:50,825 --> 00:01:54,297
Your job is with the living. And with me. JANE: Yes, Harvey.

00:02:01,410 --> 00:02:04,738
DIANA: Have you forgotten the words? VICAR: Certainly not. DIANA: Well, get on with it then.

00:02:05,622 --> 00:02:07,542
<i>Mobile phone rings</i>

00:02:07,542 --> 00:02:12,158
VICAR: Shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, LORD, most holy, …

00:02:12,158 --> 00:02:14,420
DIANA: What a farce. Poor old Sid.

00:02:15,090 --> 00:02:16,745
Where's his family. It's as if he'd never existed.

00:02:17,356 --> 00:02:18,312
TOM: Diana! DIANA: Mmmh?

00:02:18,312 --> 00:02:23,598
TOM: It's not Sid. DIANA: What? TOM: It's not Sidney, it's Harry Palmer.

00:02:25,358 --> 00:02:26,472
DIANA: Are you sure? TOM: Mmh – mmh!

00:02:27,478 --> 00:02:29,407
DIANA: Oh, I couldn't stand Harry Palmer.

00:02:32,006 --> 00:02:32,972
VICAR: Are you staying?

00:02:33,880 --> 00:02:37,845
TOM: Oh yes. I didn't mind old Harry. VICAR: Harry?

00:02:37,845 --> 00:02:39,170
TOM: Harry Palmer.

00:02:39,170 --> 00:02:45,204
VICAR: The name of the deceased is Esme Walters; Harry Palmer was this morning.

00:02:46,188 --> 00:02:50,406
TOM: Oh! Oh dear! I didn't know this lady.

00:02:51,292 --> 00:02:53,484
VICAR: Are you staying then? TOM: Oh, yes.

00:02:55,494 --> 00:03:00,584
How do you do, Miss Walters? I am sorry we didn't meet before this.

00:03:01,742 --> 00:03:00,584
Never too late to make a new friend. Do continue.

00:03:07,079 --> 00:03:12,249
VICAR: Like as a father pitieth his own children even so is the lord merciful unto them that fear him.

00:03:12,896 --> 00:03:17,252
For he knoweth whereof we are made and he remembereth that we are but dust.

00:03:19,880 --> 00:03:20,914
TOM: Poor old Harry.

00:03:21,954 --> 00:03:24,465
DIANA: Another green bottle falls off the wall.

00:03:25,166 --> 00:03:27,516
TOM: Yes, into the hole in the bottle bank.

00:03:28,321 --> 00:03:29,922
DIANA: Little chance of recycling.

00:03:30,517 --> 00:03:33,068
TOM: Oh, Harry will be recycled. He was a Buddhist.

00:03:33,739 --> 00:03:35,382
DIANA: Since when? TOM: Since Wednesday.

00:03:36,621 --> 00:03:38,287
He joined the whole lot just in case.

00:03:38,939 --> 00:03:42,472
Buddhists, catholics, Greek orthodox, even the Hare Krishnas dropped in.

00:03:42,964 --> 00:03:45,213
DIANA: Bet he hated them. All that chanting.

00:03:45,648 --> 00:03:47,693
TOM: Right! Push off, he said.

00:03:48,812 --> 00:03:54,143
In fact, that was the last thing he said as one of the silly sods tripped over his life support lead.

00:03:55,605 --> 00:03:58,173
DIANA: Is that true? TOM: No.

00:03:59,759 --> 00:04:02,928
DIANA: Pity, it has a certain glorious irony to it.

00:04:03,552 --> 00:04:05,045
TOM: Ah, Harry was a good man.

00:04:05,908 --> 00:04:08,725
He'll probably return as a humble peasant toiling in the fields.

00:04:09,146 --> 00:04:09,349

00:04:09,897 --> 00:04:16,646
TOM: Well, that's what they reckon is the last step before nirvana, a simple uncomplicated peasant.

00:04:17,021 --> 00:04:17,680
DIANA: Bollocks.

00:04:21,483 --> 00:04:27,248
That idea was invented by the rich bastards to keep the simple peasants happy in their rotten soggy fields.

00:04:28,222 --> 00:04:30,042
Believe me, I've been in a paddy.

00:04:30,236 --> 00:04:31,196
TOM: You're always in a paddy.

00:04:32,704 --> 00:04:34,827
DIANA: A rice paddy, you dingaling.

00:04:35,641 --> 00:04:39,462
If being a simple peasant is the top notch on the wheel of life, you can stuff it.

00:04:40,628 --> 00:04:42,275
TOM: Diana, you have no soul.

00:04:43,010 --> 00:04:45,641
DIANA: Tom, souls don't exist.

00:04:45,857 --> 00:04:48,036
TOM: That's only your opinion and you should keep it to yourself.

00:04:48,036 --> 00:04:52,261
DIANA: Rubbish, that's my holy mission in life, to blow raspberries at other holy missions.

00:04:52,832 --> 00:04:55,049
TOM: But has it ever occurred to you, you might be wrong.

00:04:55,049 --> 00:04:59,412
DIANA: Why should it? It never occurs to any of them, except possibly the Church of England.

00:05:01,087 --> 00:05:07,077
Poor old souls. They don't even know which way is up, never mind whether god's black, white, or green with three heads.

00:05:07,077 --> 00:05:10,232
TOM: Oh, come on Diana! Stop it. You must not blaspheme.

00:05:11,540 --> 00:05:12,923
You'll be struck by a lightning bolt.

00:05:14,328 --> 00:05:16,645
In fact, I think I'll stand over here.

00:05:18,088 --> 00:05:20,216
Never too sure about the old divine accuracy.

00:05:20,251 --> 00:05:22,519
DIANA: Oh, don't be so daft. It doesn't happen. Look!

00:05:26,657 --> 00:05:28,280
Come on God! You heard me.

00:05:28,769 --> 00:05:34,881
I don't believe in you, so how about a quick belt of the old megavolt frizzle frazzle.

00:05:34,881 --> 00:05:37,634
TOM: Diana, for God’s sake, I mean for your sake!

00:05:37,634 --> 00:05:42,874
Take no notice, God. She's old, she's senile, she's quite gaga.

00:05:43,564 --> 00:05:45,722
DIANA: Oh, no, I'm bloody not. TOM: Oh, yes, she is.

00:05:45,722 --> 00:05:47,790
DIANA: Oh, no, I'm not. TOM: Oh, yes, she is.

00:05:47,790 --> 00:05:49,180
DIANA: Am not. TOM: Is.

00:05:49,621 --> 00:05:52,815
DIANA: Come on, you big bully. Blow me away!

00:05:52,815 --> 00:05:54,970
TOM: She's drunk. DIANA: You don't exist.

00:05:54,970 --> 00:05:58,027
TOM: She had a terrible childhood. She's just kidding.

00:05:58,027 --> 00:05:59,634
DIANA: No, I'm not. TOM: Yes, she is.

00:05:59,634 --> 00:06:01,128
DIANA: No, I'm not. TOM: Yes, she is.

00:06:01,128 --> 00:06:03,620
DIANA: No, I'm not, and no returns.

00:06:14,263 --> 00:06:15,427
JANE: Who’re you shouting at?

00:06:16,137 --> 00:06:20,637
DIANA: What? Oh, no one in particular. Just having a bit of a shout.

00:06:21,287 --> 00:06:22,921
TOM: She was yelling at God again.

00:06:23,492 --> 00:06:26,506
JANE: Oh, you don't have to shout to be heard by God, Diana.

00:06:27,273 --> 00:06:30,600
God is omnipresent and he's all around us.

00:06:31,890 --> 00:06:33,540
DIANA: Well, God is a nosey so-and-so.

00:06:33,540 --> 00:06:35,769
JANE: Oh, Diana!

00:06:36,411 --> 00:06:40,333
DIANA: Look, what do you want, Jane, or did you just drop in for a bit of a light simpering?

00:06:40,799 --> 00:06:45,193
TOM: Don't you be rude to Jane. She is the way she is, there's no need to make it worse for her.

00:06:45,193 --> 00:06:46,087
JANE: Thank you, Tom.
(to be continued)

Monday, 19 December 2011

more on innovative Molly Stevens

I'd like to continue my observations on the pronunciation of Molly Stevens in her interview with Jim Al-Khalili broadcast by BBC on the 15th of November.
/ɑː/ -> /æ/
There are a few words illustrating the replacement of /ɑː/ by /æ/, e.g. /fæst/ (2:38), /pæst/ (18:58), /ʧæns/ (19:50), /gr
ænts/ (15:02 and 25:05);
2. non-prevocalic /r/
The /r/ is pronounced in words like were (as in were developing (6:15), were screaming (6:24), were pretty stunned (9:45)), sure (at 14:30 and in oh, sure, sure (17:40)), more (in more nervous (22:27)), far (as in gone so far (25:33));
3. intrusive /r/
South East Asia/r/ and ... (15:43), to analyse the data/r/ in ... (17:48), I saw/r/ a picture on the screen (19:03);
4. /t/-tapping/flapping
Molly Stevens's behaviour is inconsistent (she needn't be consistent): She taps the /t/ in betting (10:03) but not in meeting; there's a tap in better than I can possibly hope for (25:35) but not in a lot of research money (22:24), nor in a lot of our innovation (25:50). At 12:49 she probably says "a load of ideas around" which sounds almost like "a lot of ideas" with a tap in lot;
5. relaxed pronunciations
The word actually is one of her favourites - it appears quite often ranging from /ækʃli/ to /ækʃi/. Here are some more:
- /æpslutli/ (19:27) for absolutely
- /prɒpli/ (23:07) for properly
- /taɪps ə piːpl/ (27:02) for types of people
- /bikəz/ (25:59) or /bikəs/ (15:05, 15:49) for because.

Does anyone happen to know where and how Molly Stevens spent her speech-forming years?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

CEPD18 - preface and introduction

The new, i.e. eighteenth, edition of the CEPD (= Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) is out now. The editors are Peter Roach, Jane Setter and John Esling.

In the editors' preface we are informed that one of the major devlopments for the CEPD (from the 17th edition onward) is the electronic version (in the form of a CD-ROM), which allows users to listen to "both British and American spoken pronunciations for every word in the dictionary" (iii). If we take "word" to mean "headword", this is true. But there is a major technical snag which excludes a not inconsiderable number of potential users - customers, if you like, from this development. I'm going to come back to this when I peruse the CD-ROM.

The editors also mention what they call "a new study aid" (iii): It comprises six short essays of about 1.5 pages each written by R. Cauldwell, J. Jenkins, J. Windsor Lewis, J. Marks, C. Sangster and L. Shockey.

"Above all," the editors write, "the aim of the dictionary is to include information which is relevant to the needs of contemporary users and which is presented in the clearest possible way" (iii). The lives of editors must be really hard: They've got to foresee the needs of potential users, and they must make sure that the users are neither dead nor in a state of suspended life because otherwise the latter wouldn't qualify as "contemporary users".

The introduction (vi-xix) in its first section tries to answer three questions:
  • Why do we need pronunciation dictionaries?
 As there is no biunique relation between letter and sound in English, a dictionary that concentrates on the sound-letter relations is of great help. This, of course, applies to words borrowed from other languages as well.
  • Can I use the dictionary if I don't know anything about phonetics?
 The editors do not answer this question with a plain and clear "yes". Rather, the reader is told that the pronunciation information is based in the IPA symbol set and that these symbols are explained on the inside front cover.
  • What is the CD-ROM for? 
All words and transcriptions of the printed version "are also included on the CD-ROM" (vi). One can listen to a pronunciation either in British or American English, and in case you can connect a microphone to your computer you can also record your own voice. Additionally you can search for any combination of IPA symbols or Roman letters.

Section 2 deals with the sounds of English. The two accents which the dictionary is based on are termed "BBC pronunciation" (or synonymously BBC English or BBC accent) and "General American" (or GA for short). Next the vowels and consonants of both accents are described in greater detail (vii-xii).

Section 3 describes how the CEPD is organized. The question is taken up again which types of pronuncation are represented. As with the other two pronunciation dictionaries, we find two models - a "more broadly based and accessible model accent for British English" (xii) it's (infelicitously) called "BBC English" (xii) and a type of American English which is "frequently heard from professional voices on national network news and information programmes" (xii) termed "General American" (xii).

We are informed that for common words a pronunciation is proposed which is "typical of a more casual, informal style of speaking, and a more careful pronunciation for uncommon words" (xiii). For me the word laryngeal is quite common, but is it common for a car mechanic as well?

More on CEPD18 in a later blog entry.

      Sunday, 11 December 2011

      the pronunciation database of the Hessischer Rundfunk

      Not only does Auntie Beeb nurture a database to be consulted for words of doubtful pronunciation but also the German Public Broadcasting Corporation (ARD = Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) houses a similar database. It is run under the baton of Roland Heinemann of the Hessischer Rundfunk. There are some sample entries to be seen and heard here.


      The pronunciations are transcribed using the IPA set of symbols, and there's also a sound file for each entry. The database containing more than 230,000 entries can be accessed online by any TV or radio editorial office affiliated with the ARD.

      Saturday, 10 December 2011

      University Challenge & Alte Pinakothek

       In his blog entry of the 5th of December John Maidment informs us that, while he was watching the BBC quiz show University Challenge, the quizmaster, Jeremy Paxman, asked this question: "In which European city is the art museum known as the ['aɫteɪ 'pi:nə'kotek]?" A member of the Balliol College team replied: "[ˈmjuːnɪɕ]."

      The proof of the aarghing is in the listening:

      credit: BBC2

      Be informed that, as a consequence of this pronunciation zenith, John Maidment founded the Honourable Society of Aarghicians. The date and venue of the inaugural meeting will be announced in due time.

      Friday, 9 December 2011

      young phonetic professionals

      One of the questions in my latest in-class test was: "What does a shaded cell in the table of pulmonic consonants indicate?" Here are two elucidating answers:
      1. "The shading signals that this sound can't be produced by humans." (Your pet should give it a try.)
      2. "It means that the articulation is judged to be impossible. Some of the cells are shaded because we don't speak them." (How true!)
      The second group of students were given this question: "What does an empty cell in the table of pulmonic consonants indicate?"
      1. "An empty cell means that it is not possible to produce. Such sounds physiologically in any language. "(Huh?)
      2. "The shaded cells signify that its [sic] impossible to pronounce/voice it, whereas the white gaps show that it is possible to show, but there hasn't been found a way yet. (Maybe it was not found yet.)" (Oh my - those gaps!)
      3. "The empty cells signals [sic] phonemes (sounds) which are physically impossible to produce or phonemes which are not found yet." (Track - Rover!)
      4. "There are some empty cells because not every sound can be produced in every place and every manner. Apart from that there are more sounds in general but they do not exist in every language."
      I'm depressed, desperate, hopeless, on the verge of insanity. Om! ॐ

      Wednesday, 7 December 2011

      CEPD 18th edition

      The Postmaster General today delivered the 18th edition of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. It's the version with CD-ROM I've got. I'm looking forward to giving the dictionary and the CD a close look (and a sharp ear).

      Should your mind boggle about the spectrogram on the cover: It's the word 'Cambridge' as pronounced by one of the authors of the dictionary. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything new or am I?

      Monday, 5 December 2011

      innovative Molly

      Jack Windsor Lewis's blog is always a treasure trove of information; one should not miss the chance to 'forage' around in it. In his blog no. 374 he points to a fairly unique pronunciation of the word innovative by Molly Stevens, Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London.
      credit: BBC
      It occurred in an interview she gave on the 15th of November to Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics, who frequently hosts BBC productions about science such as the series "The Life Scientific".

      The whole interview is 29 mins long. At about 13:15 Prof. Stevens says: "You know, you can really be incredibly innovative, I think, and bounce a lot of ideas [...]". The languages of biology and medicine are full of polysyllabic terms of Latin and Greek origin with stress patterns which seem to defy logic. No wonder, one muddles them up at times so that innovative and Altzheimer's are stressed where they are normally not stressed. Moreover, we have alternative, conservative, definitive, derivative, discriminative, imaginative, infinitive with stress on the 2nd syllable and emanative, nominative or privative with stress on the 1st syllable (but also /praɪˈveɪtɪv/).

      Here's the short extract from the interview:


      Of course, this lapsus linguae of hers does not depreciate the importance of her research.

      Saturday, 26 November 2011

      Ashby, Patricia (2011), Understanding Phonetics - part 2

      I'd like to come back, if I may, to Patricia Ashby's book Understanding Phonetics (see my blog entry of the 1st of November) and continue my observations.

      Section 5 of it deals with "Airstream mechanisms". The majority of sounds produced as allophones of phonemes are pulmonic egressive ones, i.e. the air flows from the lungs to the oral and/or nasal cavity. As this stream of air passes through the larynx it can either be modified to produce voice or "it may flow without interruption through the open glottis and remain voiceless (for sounds such as [p s ʧ]" (p. 69). What about the glottal stop?

      And then we are informed  of some instances of pulmonic ingressive airstream events, e.g. in a dialect of an Austronesian language. What fascinated me much more, however, was a fact, hitherto completely unknown to me, yet existing in the not so distant neighbourhood - namely that there exists a "Fensterle region" (p. 69) in Switzerland. Wow! I was aware of the habit of 'fensterln', a verb which describes an old-fashioned courting custom (old-fashioned because we now have mobiles, smartphones, internet) of young men who tried to climb into the chambers of their girlfriends through the window (= 'Fenster'). What sense does it make to disguise your voice while you're courting a girl? She won't recognise you later on. This custom was not restricted to the Alpine region but could be found throughout Central and Northern Europe. But I was not aware of the fact that those young men talked while breathing in to disguise their voices. I wouldn't have termed the area 'Fensterle region' because the '-le' as a diminutive suffix rather denotes a tiny window (probably too small for the young man to climb through). Maybe, 'Fensterln region' would have been more appropriate (or 'Kiltgang region' to use a term taken from the Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (see headword Kiltgang)).

      Section 6 is devoted to the description of vowels. Mentioning and explaining the Cardinal Vowel System is a must here, and the author does explain them in detail. In ch. 6.2.5 P. Ashby tries to introduce the phonetic novice to the acoustic fundamentals of voiced sounds by explaining concepts such as periodic and aperiodic waveforms, simple and complex ones, superimposition of sinusoidals, amplitude, spectrogram - all this on roughly six pages. As I wrote in my previous blog entry: "I strongly doubt that a beginner will be able to appreciate all this." Less would have been more.

      How does one learn and remember the sounds of the CVs? Either a teacher provides the models or some recorded material. It's indeed helpful, as the author writes on p. 99, to have some real language vowels available which are close to the sound qualities of the CVs. But who is the rare bird to be able to know the differences between 'near French' and 'near Conservative Parisian French'? And, of course, we all know how the first vowel in the word Fuji is pronounced by older speakers of Japanese, don't we? P. Ashby writes: "Obviously, not everyone knows all of these languages [sic], but sometimes such mnemonics are useful" (99).Yes - obviously! Nit-picking, I might point to the fact that  "Conservative Parisian French" is not a language but a regional variety of a language.

      Thursday, 24 November 2011

      two souls - alas - are dwelling in my breast!

      Every now and then a student of one of my courses in English phonetics comes to see me to have their pronunciation assessed. A few days ago, it was a young lady speaking German with a slight French accent (at least that's what I thought) who came to my office. As part of the usual procedure I asked her for how long she had been learning English at school. "Eleven", was her reply. She then told me she was an Erasmus student from Glasgow. "How come you have a French accent in German", I asked her. She looked at me unconprehendingly, then said: "I'm from Estonia". Aaah! Of course - stupid me! Next I wanted to know which reference accent she preferred - General British or General American. "American English". Aaah! Of course - stupid me! Staying in Glasgow quite naturally means that General American is one's preferred accent. But her wish was my command. She then read the test words and sentences and I must say her pronunciation of (American) English was 'Estoningly' good.

      Friday, 4 November 2011

      slightly off-topic

      Cannibalism in Germany?
      Less off-topic now:
      Can this ambiguous phrase be disambiguated purely by phonetic means?

      Thursday, 3 November 2011

      listening to relaxed English
      If you are an EFL user/learner, you may have gained the experience that, when you overheard two native speakers (= NSs) talking to each other (in an English accent you're basically accustomed to),  you did not understand a single word (or fragments only) because the NSs were seemingly speaking much too fast. What you perceived as hasty or hurried speech was, in fact, the result of the employment of words pronounced by the native speaker with very little articulatory effort and less precision than would be needed to enunciate such words in their citation forms. Due to this low effort the words were pronounced more rapidly. The native speaker did so because he could be fairly certain that his communication partner would not fail to understand him. There are, however, persons who speak very fast in almost any situation (e.g. Robert Peston).

      Why do (even advanced) EFL learners fail in these situations and what can EFL teachers do against it?

      Richard Cauldwell, author of the Streaming Speech course-ware and maintainer of a blog with the same title, recently announced the publication of an application (a so-called 'App') for the iPod. The App will be called Cool Speech - a 'cool name'! What's it going to be about? Here's what the creator writes on it in one of his blog entries:

      A Hotspot is a moment in a recording that contains familiar words which are difficult to hear because they are spoken so fast. You learn to understand the words in these Hotspots by touching them on-screen. There are three kinds of touch:
      You can hear the whole speech unit,
      You can tap on the Hotspots, and hear them as they were originally spoken,
      You can tap twice on the Hotspots and hear them spoken slowly and carefully.
      The purpose is to teach you the relationship between fast unclear speech and slow clear speech, so that you will understand fast speech in everyday life.
      In another blog entry Richard Cauldwell explains the term 'hotspots' thus:

      [Hotspots] are moments in spontaneous speech where familiar, frequent words (including weak forms) are mushed out of shape and combined in such a way that are difficult to perceive. This happens in fast stretches of speech: typically those which precede, and lie in between, prominent syllables. Using the multi-touch capabilities of tablets, users will be able to do intensive listening, and improve their ability to perceive such words.
      So, let's assume that, when, for example, I hear [əŋənəbəˈleɪt] (this sample sentence is taken from Ashby, (2011), Understanding Phonetics, p. 7), I understand <late>, but not the preceding mélange of sounds. If I tap on the hotspot I hear [əŋənəbə]. If I tap on it twice, I probably hear [aɪm ɡəʊɪŋ tə bi] or even [aɪ æm ɡəʊɪŋ tuː biː] - we don't know yet. As of this moment I know that what the person had said should have been understood by me as: "I'm going to be late". 

      From what I've read about this application so far I don't quite see how learning in some systematic way will take place. Having been told that [əŋənəbə] pronounced as part of a particular longer stretch of speech by a particular speaker means <I'm going to be> does not ensure that I will able to decode another instance of [əŋənəbə] said by a different speaker at a different point in time as the same sequence of words, nor does it increase the probability that I will be able to decipher other 'hotspots'. Thus the question remains open how learning in the sense of the stable change of the skill of decoding relaxed speech is going to be achieved. To me it seems more like a light bulb moment. But, maybe, I'm wrong and there's more behind it than we've been told so far. 

      One should not forget that the number and types of reductions NSs have at their disposal are almost infinite and that in many a case it is only the cotext and/or the context which allows understanding a sequence of sounds "mushed out of their shape".

      Wednesday, 2 November 2011

      a tap in a penny

      This is an open call to my friendly followers who are native speakers of American English. Those of you who say [beɾi] for Betty, [beɾɪŋ] for bedding, or [leɾɚ] for letter, do you also say [pẽɾ̃i] for penny? In other words: Do you tap the /n/?

      Tuesday, 1 November 2011

      Ashby, Patricia (2011), Understanding Phonetics

      Patricia Ashby is Emeritus Fellow to the University of Westminster and has been a permanent staff member of said university since 1982. Many of my followers will be familiar with her book Speech Sounds, the second edition of which came out in 2005. Understanding Phonetics is her latest monograph. The contents of the book are supplemented by resources which are available at the publisher's webpages. You will need to register with Hodder Education to be able to access these digital resources.

      It was with some disconcertment that I read this in the introduction: "[...] my thanks also to my daughter, Christabel Ashby, [...] who kindly agree [sic] to let me use her head in a very literal way (in X-ray form in Figure 3.2) [...]" (p. x). It would never ever have occurred to me to do such a thing and I would never ever consent to having my daughter's head X-rayed for the sole purpose of a publication. Tsk, tsk! Besides: Figure 3.2 is of such a small size  - 1.7" x 1.5" or 4.3 x 3.7 cm - so that you can't see much anyway. The line drawing in Figure 3.3 is much clearer and fully serves its purpose.

      Next, the reader is presented with a list of transcription symbols based on the system used in LPD3 (p. xiii). The symbols /w/ and /ð/ are missing.

      Section 1 looks at the relationship between speaking and spelling, and it briefly characterises concepts such as accent, phonetics (with its usual tripartite division) and phonology.

      Section 2 is devoted to the function of the larynx. Important anatomical structures are described including the larynx as a voice source, a place of articulation and as a pitch modulator.

      Sections 3 and 4 describe places and manners of articulation. On page 43 one finds this exercise: "Listen carefully to yourself as you say the following sentence aloud. Try to decide whether you have an h-pronouncing or an h-dropping accent: Harriet hit Henry hard over the head with her handbag."
      This exercise automatically excludes most readers who are non-native speakers of English. A similar exercise is offered to assess t-glottaling. This 'Anglocentric' perspective seems to be intentional because the author writes in her preface: "Examples are drawn from a range of languages from across the world and are compared and contrasted with our shared language of English [highlightings are mine]" (p. x). (HUMOR ALERT: Is a non-native speaker of English entitled to file an action in the Court of International Justice against the author and the publishers because of linguistic debarment?)

      Can you recognise what is being described here: "A xxxx, on the other hand, is a function of the active articulator being drawn out of its inherent alignment with a passive articulator and then being allowed to spring back to its original rest position, striking once against the relevant passive articulator as it does so" ? Does this describe a tap or a flap? (The answer is to be found at the very bottom of this entry).

      Section 5 concentrates on pulmonic, glottalic and velaric airstream mechanisms.

      Section 6 turns to the description of vowels.The Jonesian Cardinal Vowels are introduced. For readers who are interested in the acoustic representations of vowels Ashby tries to cram some basic terms of acoustic phonetics and physics (sinewave, amplitude, complex wave, spectrum etc.) into six pages. I strongly doubt that a beginner will be able to appreciate all this.

      Section 7 then extends the description of vowels by introducing the concept of vowel quantity and the distinction between mono-, di- and triphthongs. The reader is informed about pre-fortis clipping and rhythmic clipping. There are additional paragraphs such as the ones on smoothing (e.g. /aʊə/ becoming /ɑː/) or diphthongisation (e.g. /iː/ becoming /ɪï̞ / as in tea).

      Section 8 takes up the topic of consonants again and explores ways in which consonant articulations can be varied by changing the behaviour of individual articulators involved in their production, e.g.:
      • variations caused by the vocal folds (fortis-lenis, VOT, glottal stop, glottalisation),
      • variations affecting the manner of articulation (affrication, incomplete plosion, etc.).
      Section 9 looks at connected speech. The focus is on acoustic cues (in chapter 9.1) and on coarticulation (ch. 9.2).

      The final section 10 is devoted to prosodic features (stress, accent, tone, intonation).

      All in all: The book is a pleasant read; novices in phonetics are introduced to important concepts in small doses; there are hardly any typos. I also like (most of) the exercises that accompany each section although accessing the webpages of the publisher to do the ear-training exercises is a bit clumsy. I would have preferred to have a CD-ROM accompany the book, but I must concede that this would in all probability have increased the price.

      Answer: The author describes a flap.

      Thursday, 27 October 2011

      Chladni figures - #2

      In my blog post of the 24th of October I mentioned the term 'Chladni figures'. I'd never ever heard of this term before I came across the video clip the other day. Chladni - is this a thing or a person, or what is it?
      Wikipedia tells us it's the name of a German physicist, musician and instrument maker: Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni (1756-1827).

      You're right in assuming that the spelling of his surname is untypical of German. His parents, Wikipedia reveals, came from Slovakia; Ernst, however, was born in Wittenberg, Germany. I would have pronounced the surname as /xladni/, but Wikipedia offers the 'germanised' pronunciation /ˈkladnɪ/.

      Anyway, he conducted some research on vibrating plates thereby inventing a method for visualising the vibration patterns of sounds (see pictures 2 and 3):
      picture no. 2
      credit: The Whipple Museum
      picture no.3
      credit: The Whipple Library
      The 3rd picture, which is an illustration of some vibration patterns, is taken from Chladni's book of 1802 "Die Akustik". This is the title page of the 1830 edition:

      picture no.4
      credit: European Cultural Heritage Online
       Nowadays the technique of visualising sound vibrations is called cymatics by some people. One can use simple metal plates or the Cymascope. The latter gadget can be admired in picture no. 5:

      picture no.5
      Just to make it clear: It's not a serious method for the phonetic investigation of speech sounds, I think. Disprove me if you can!

      Tuesday, 25 October 2011

      A Critical Introduction to Phonetics

      I've bought another book on phonetics. The author is Ken Lodge, and the title is A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. It was published in 2009 by the Continuum International Publishing Group. I would have been greatly astonished if the title had been An Uncritical Introduction ... .

      Here's the table of contents. More on the book in a later blog entry.
      (Phew, what a stack of books on my bedside table)

      Monday, 24 October 2011

      Chladni figures - #1

      Enjoy these figures! They're sceenshots taken from a video which you can watch here.

      The three sustained vowels are sung by a lady by the name of Vera Gadman.

      Wednesday, 19 October 2011

      Monroy-Casas, Rafael (2011), Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English

      Ch. 1 - Phonetic transcriptions: A brief overview - sketches on two pages the beginnings of transcription from the end of the 19th to the early 20th century, mentioning the IPA besides A.M. Bell's system. Two other names are dropped, namely Otto Jespersen and Henry Sweet. The author of the book under review then opens up a new chapter (= ch. 2, which comprises about 12.5 pages) which is more or less a continuation of the contents of the previous one though focussing on the basic principles and classificatory criteria of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

      Ch.3 takes a look at transcription systems used on the other side of the pond. On three pages the systems devised by Kenyon&Knott, Trager&Smith, Prator&Robinett (the latter two sources are not mentioned in the bibliography) and by Tiffany&Carrell (called Americanist Phonetic Alphabet (= APA)) are juxtaposed.

      Ch. 4 deals with the distinctions between phonetic and phonemic transcriptions.
      Section 2 now turns "From theory to practice" (it's the section title). Ch. 5 deals with the letter-sound relation of consonants (plosives, fricatives, liquids, nasals and approximants). The reader is asked to do a few exercises, e.g. the one on page 45:

      In paragraph 5.5, which treats "[c]onsonant assimilation", the author distinguishes between "allophonic assimilations" and "phonemic assimilations" (51). If "phonemes do not usually undergo a qualitative change (e.g. palatalisation, velarisation, etc. [sic])" (51), such changes are called allophonic. If, however, "although there may be a change in quality, there is no alteration of the phonemic status of the assimilated element" (51), they are called phonemic. Mmh ... these statements leave me quite puzzled; I wish there'd been at least one example illustrating the two types of assimilation.

      Ch. 6, which is titled "Transcribing English Vowels" contains a section with eight tables on strong and weak forms. The weak and strong forms of eight words are transcribed and model sentences are presented in which the respective word is to be found in initial, medial, final or emphatic positions (if applicable). It is to be pitied that the original manuscript was reduced to a format of roughly 5.8" x 8.9", because the reduction makes the text of the tables hard to read. Here's an example (the ruler has a metric scale).

      Section 3 - "Corpus of oral texts" - contains 18 texts neither the sources nor the purpose of which are revealed in this section. All the reader is told about the sources is to be found in the prologue to the book, where the author writes on p. 10: "[...] the excerpts used for transcription are oral samples taken randomly from radio and TV broadcasts [...]." The accompanying CD (of good recording quality) contains the texts read by Elizabeth Murphy, Cathy Staveley, Keith Gregor and David Walton, who seem to be staff members of the University of Murcia. Some of the voices exhibit a clearly audible Northern regional tinge.

      In section 4 we are presented with various transcription systems. The author chooses six different systems, which he illustrates by transcribing these 18 texts, sometimes with the help of the originators of these systems. As Jack Windsor Lewis in his review rightly states, it would have been much more comfortable for the reader to compare the systems, had a certain text been transcribed by all six methods followed by the next text - again transcribed using all six systems etc.

      Another feature - and this makes the transcriptions particularly awkward to appreciate - is the fact that the sample transcriptions are separated not only from the texts in their  ordinary spellings but also from the comments on the transcriptions: The ordinary spelling of text 1 ('the weather forecast') is on p. 63; the transcription following the Jonesian simplified transcription system is on p. 88 and "comments to the sample transcriptions" (88) (but NOT to this type) are to be found on pp. 191ff. A bit confusing!

      More confusion on the part of the reader is to be expected as a consequence of the fact that the transcriptions do not reflect the recordings. Here's an example - first the text, then the transcription following the EPD/LPD model:

      [...] and I hope you enjoyed the summer yesterday [...] (63)
      ən aɪ ˈhəup ju ɪnˈdʒɔɪd ðə ˈsʌmə ˈjestədeɪ

      The speaker pronounces the pronoun <I> actually as [a]. Why does the author replace this by the diphthong? I may have overlooked his explanation, but to me such a policy does not make sense. What is transcription about? It's to give a written record of what's been said and not what should or could have been said.

      What is the purpose of the whole book? Here's the author: "Our book [...] presents a whole array of transcriptional practices, providing answers to apparently different ways of representing sounds with [sic] English. With this knowledge, students and foreign language teachers alike will be in a position to choose the model that better suits their educational needs [...]" (9-10). Nit-picking, I might reply that it is only questions one can provide answers to and not ways of representing sounds. But apart from this petitesse, I strongly doubt that having read the book a student or a foreign language teacher will be in a position to make a well-founded decision on one of the systems. Moreover, let's not forget that for the last thirty plus years we've managed to arrive at a fairly uniform system and de facto standard of transcription, which is used in many a textbook and dictionary published in Europe. It should not be given up too hastily.

      Sections 3 and 4 are a very praiseworthy enterprise. To my knowledge there is no other book illustrating various transcription systems in this unique way. But - the author should have concentrated on this topic and not additionally include an historical survey.

      Sunday, 16 October 2011

      EPD 18th ed.

      The 18th edition of the EPD seems to be almost out. Amazon tells me that it will be dispatched within 2-3 weeks. The CUP price is 31.10 GBP. Amazon offers it for 23.93 GBP.

      On the webpages of CUP it says: "Published 06 October 2011". If I were to buy it from CUP they would add 3.99 VAT and 7.00 delivery charges. That's a total of 42.09 - scandalous! If I buy it from Amazon UK the grand total (including postage, packing and VAT) is 30.94. I think I wait till I can buy it for 30 pounds.

      Thursday, 13 October 2011

      yet another book on English transcription!

      October seems to be a fairly fertile month for matters phonetic. The German publisher ESV (= Erich Schmidt Verlag) announces the publication of this book:

      Schmitt, H. (2011), Phonetic Transcription.
      The price is € 16.90 (valid for Germany only).
      You can download the table of contents here.

      Wednesday, 12 October 2011

      Hall of Fame plaque unveiled

      The plaque 's been unveiled.

      The word I have in mind is /əˈnaʊntsmn̩ts/.

      Tuesday, 11 October 2011


      Who can suggest an English word which meets the following criteria:
      1. single word (no compound, no phrase),
      2. inflected forms are allowed,
      3. no proper name or place name,
      4. there's only one monophthong or diphthong in it,
      5. post-vocalically, the word contains at least five consonants in a row,
      6. one can articulate all five consonants (no elisions),
      7. colloquial, relaxed speech style and
      8. the word ends after the last consonant?
      A reward is advertised: You will see your name entered in the Hall of Fame (first come first served principle).

      Monday, 10 October 2011

      on me desk

      Two new books are lying on me desk waiting to be read:
      1. Monroy-Casas, Rafael (2011), Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English, (Bern etc.),
      2. Ashby, Patricia (2011), Understanding Phonetics, (London). (What a surprise - it's finally out!)
      see my blog entry of the 19th of October

      Thursday, 6 October 2011

      Would you like to go to a concert?

      videoJohn Maidment in his blog entry of the 25th of September wrote on the fall-rise and high fall versions of the sentence "would you like to go to a concert?" The fall-rise clip is the one which raised the question of whether there was a rise actually audible in the final syllable of the word 'concert'. Unfortunately the quality of the recording of this particular sound clip is poor. So I asked John to re-record it, with which he kindly complied, and he put a more recent version online. Listen to the clips. First you'll hear the high fall (which is uncontroversial), next the older version of the fall-rise (d'you hear a rise in <-cert>?) and finally the new version of it.

      Next you can see the fundamental frequency contours of the three clips.
      • High fall

        • Fall-rise (old version)

          •  Fall-rise (new)

          If the calculation of the fundamental at the end of the /ə/ in concert displayed in the second graph is correct and not an artefact, then the rise is really, really small, tiny, delicate, minute ...

          Sunday, 25 September 2011

          David Brazil died 25th Sept, 1995

          David Brazil

          Born on the 1st of May 1925 David Brazil first became a teacher of English, then a research fellow at Birmingham University and following this a staff member in the Department of English. From 1979 to 1983 he was a full-time lecturer there. He fully retired in 1986. Among his major publications are
          • The Communicative Value of Intonation in English (19972), Cambridge University Press
          • Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English (1994), Cambridge University Press
          • A Grammar of Speech (1995) Oxford University Press
          He died on the 25th of September 1995. A more comprehensive biography can be found here. If you're interested in a bibliography of Brazil's writings, click here.

          There will be a short break for a few days because I shan't be able to connect to the internet. Kraut's back to the keyboard!

          Thursday, 22 September 2011

          dissimilative elision

          After non-eliding dissimilation and dissimilative addition this blog posting is about dissimilative elision. A sound is dropped because otherwise two identical/similar sounds would be too close together.

          Credit must be given to Jack Windsor Lewis who coined the term dissimilative elision. It describes the deletion of "repeated sounds or syllables even when there is no logical objection to them." (source + examples here)

          1. Dissimilative elision of /r/
           - caterpillar (in GA)
           - particular (in GA)
           - surprise (in GA)

          2. Dissimilative elision of /l/
           - Pachelbel

          3. Dissimilative elision of /h/
           - hold her hand
           - he has

          I also wrote about dissimilative addition and about non-eliding dissimilation.

          Monday, 19 September 2011

          Lightning versus lightening

          How do you pronounce these two words: lightning and lightening1? In isolation, in their canonical forms, in careful speech probably /ˈlaɪtnɪŋ/ and /ˈlaɪtənɪŋ/. What about lightening in casual speech in a sentence like the sky was lightening on the horizon? [ˈlaɪtn̩ɪŋ] is an option - in more casual or allegro speech even [ˈlaɪtnɪŋ].
          Do these two pronunciations constitute renderings of a minimal pair in the phonological sense of the term? If they do, then the syllabic and non-syllabic n-sounds seem to be allophones of different phonemes.

          Let's clear this up! 
          For two sounds (= phones) to be called allophones of the same phoneme two conditions must be fulfilled:
          1. the distributions of the phones must be predictable and
          2. no meaning difference is established if one phone is substituted for the other in the same context.
          According to these conditions and assuming that we're talking here about two different sounds the two phones cannot be allophones of the same phoneme. Are they allophones of different phonemes?

          Recall that the syllabic [n̩] in the casual pronunciation of lightening is the result of a structure simplification process like the change of, say, bread 'n' butter or fish 'n' chips. What's left of the weak syllable is a nasal consonant. The vowel - here schwa - is deleted and the following consonant2 occupies the peak position; the consonant becomes syllabic. By this syllabic variant the syllable structure of the word is preserved. In the citation form the nucleus position is held by the schwa, the coda is occupied by the nasal. In the casual form we only have a nucleus, no coda, and this nucleus position is necessarily occupied by the /n/. As all phonemes in nucleus position are by definition syllabic, it's redundant to assign a syllabic status to the /n/. Moreover, a syllable is a syllable and a phoneme is a phoneme, i.e. they belong to different levels of analysis. 

          So the two n-sounds are incommensurable from a structural point of view. I wonder if there're any auditory or acoustic differences between [ˈlaɪtn̩ɪŋ] and [ˈlaɪtnɪŋ].

          1 My thanks go to Martin J Ball for providing this beautiful example.
          2 The interesting question is: Which consonants can be syllabic and which cannot?