Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Season 2014

credit: WallpapersWide.com

I don't want to miss the opportunity to send season's greetings to all my blog followers and to extend my best wishes for the dawning year!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

GA and GB prons in monolingual EFL dictionaries

Recently a thought crossed my mind (yes, this happens occasionally): When did general monolingual dictionaries intended for learners of English as an additional language include transcriptions of both main reference accents - General British (aka RP) AND General American? I walked to our departmental library shelves to find an answer.
One of the widely used dictionaries is The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English of which you see the dust jacket of the 2nd edition.

Neither the first nor second edition contain American English pronunciations. The first edition indicating them is the third of 1974. In the acknowledgment section written by the editor A S Hornby we read that it was Jack Windsor Lewis,
Jack Windsor Lewis and Albert Sidney Hornby in 1974 (photo credit: JWL)
at that time lecturer at the University of Leeds, who provided the transcriptions. That American English pronunciations were included is revealed in the section on "Pronunciation and stress" (pp. xii-xv). The letter r, which is almost always sounded in GA as it is a hyperrhotic accent, is not indicated in the transcriptions if it would be the only difference between GB and GA. Dictionary users who intend to speak GA are expected to add the /r/; in other words, when they look up the word form, they will find /fɔm/ only and are expected to adopt the pronunciation /fɔrm/ (I'm using the symbols proposed in the 3rd edition). Though it saves printing space it's a bit infelicitous in a dictionary intended for learners.
Matters become even less felicitous with words such as curry and furry. For curry we find /kʌrɪ US: kɜɪ/ - the reader must transform this to /kɜrɪ/ - , but in the case of furry the learner is told to pronounce it /fɜrɪ/.Don't get me wrong! There's logic in this. All I'm saying is that it is less comfy than what we are used to these days. Maybe Jack can tell us more about the editorial motives behind this policy.

Any changes in the fourth edition? More on this topic in a future post.

Update: See also the latest article by Jack on phonetics in advanced learner's dictionaries.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Monday, 24 November 2014

Ms Eleanor Maier (was 'uneasy listening') #4

Listen to the word smoking in this extract from Ms Maier's talk about the new verb to vape. She says:
[...] adopted both to circumvent smoking bans [...]

 In a narrow transcription the diphthong would look something like this: [ɛ̝ʉ]

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Ms Eleanor Maier (was 'uneasy listening') #3

"Throughout 2014 electronic devices which have enabled people to inhale smokeless nicotine vapour have become increasingly widespread [...]"

Ms Maier uses the less frequent pronunciation /'iːlektrɒnɪk/ for electronic.


In the case of nicotine the schwa is voiceless and reduced to a very faint hissing sound between the aspirations of /k/ and /t/ (see rectangle):


The phrase have become is actually [hæv̥kʌm]:


Friday, 21 November 2014

Uneasy listening #2

The very first word of Ms Maier's talk is this:


It sounds like [θræʊt], doesn't it? What I did next was to start with the first 30 ms of the word and then add 30 ms each time till the end of the word (30, 60, 90, ... 300, 330, 360 ms). Listen to this:


Here's the first word followed by the next one. Can you decode what she wants to say?


The problem of understanding this phrase (and many others in her speech) lies in the fact that she compresses a disyllabic word to a monosyllable. What may make things even more complicated is the fact that this compression happens at the very beginning of her speech when the listener's ears and brain have not become attuned to her dropping-one's-syllables style.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Uneasy listening

No, I'm not referring to the Finnish band HIM. It's rather about this lady's style of enunciation:


Ms Eleanor Maier - a senior editor of the OED and no doubt a lover of language - addresses a world-wide audience including many non-native speakers of British English. Has it never occurred to her or to the other OUP staff responsible for this video clip that this speech is difficult to understand, distracts listeners from the contents because they are forced to concentrate on guessing where all the syllables have gone that she dropped? You may judge me as being too harsh in my verdict, but I think she should take a few elocution lessons before she produces another video clip addressed to a world-wide audience.

I'm going to look into her enunciation in a later post.

I forgot to mention that it was Alex Rotatori who drew my attention to this clip. Sorry for my negligence!

Monday, 17 November 2014

listening comprehension - top down or bottom up - #2

Sidney Wood - one of my blog followers - commented on my previous post on listening comprehension by saying that the extract sounds like [ɘˈləðə]. What follows is the section (highlighted in the waveform in dark grey) which for my ears corresponds to [ɘˈləðə]:


What you see below is the waveform of the snippet in my previous post:

The latter includes the verb 'have'.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

ejectives again

On the 26th of December 2011 I wrote a blog post on ejectives in English. I've come across another sample recently. BBC Radio 4 announced an analysis of the impact of the Scottish referendum to be broadcast on the 18th of November 2014. In this announcement one could hear the voice of a lady (probably Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) using the verb 'think' twice. The first version is the one with the ejective k-sound.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

listening comprehension - top down or bottom up - #1

Try to understand this snippet (text is repeated once):


Here is the whole sentence:


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

smoothing #2

"Investigators are trying to find ou what caused a serious fire in a cooling tower of a power station."1 This is a sentence read by Sarah Montague, BBC news presenter, on the 20th of October this year.

Listen to the sentence and concentrate on the words in red.

Sarah Montague (credit: BBC)

If you are an EFL learner, you might want to make a recording of your own version of this sentence. Then compare it with Ms Montague's and concentrate on the vowels in these three words. Does she pronounce fire as  /aɪə/ or /aə/ or /a:/? What about the other two words? Do YOU pronounce them with a diphthong plus schwa or even with a monophthong? Try to imitate the way she pronounces them. Needless to say that you do not have to pronounce these and similar words like that, but it's a nice exercise.

Besides: Can you pronounce the initial phrase "[i]bvestigators are trying to find out" at a similar speed? Try this as well.

1My thanks go to Paul Carley

Sunday, 9 November 2014

picture = pitcher?

LPD 3 offers two pronunciations for picture, one of which however is marked with a special symbol indicating that though this variant pronunciation is very frequent it is not considered correct in GB/RP:
I've recently come across this 'yucky' pronunciation while I was listening to one of the instalments of the BBC Radio 4 series "Germany: Memories of a Nation". "One Nation under Goethe" was introduced by a female speaker who said:
Today he [= Neil MacGregor] is in Frankfurt and he has with him a picture of a young man.
BTW: EPD 18 makes no mention of this variant.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


I wrote a blog post on smoothing here and here. I'd like to add another post on this topic. The BBC presenter Shari Vahl on the 28th of this month in the BBC Radio 4 programme You & Yours said:

Shari Vahl (credit: RadioTimes)
In 2015 the Care Act will merge health and social care in the biggest reform of its kind in sixty years.
Paul Carley believes he can hear a difference between the two versions of the word care. He writes (on Facebook):
The first 'care' has the [ɛə] variant (though not by any means the most extensive off-glide), the second has the [ɛː] variant.
I listend to the two words myself several times: I can convince myself to hear an offglide in the first version, but then after a while I am certain it's a monophthongal [ɛː] just like in the second version. This is not unusual if and when the differences (should they exist) are so minute and if it's a sound track most likely compressed in quality for the purposes of the internet.

Listen for yourselves (you're going to hear Care1 and care2 in a row, first at normal speed and then slowed down by 30 per cent):


Even slowing down the playback speed doesn't convince me thoroughly.
Next I looked at the spectrograms:
care1 (= Care Act)

Not much of a difference, is there?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

When's Chewsday in LPD and EPD?

credit: burnspetfood

I checked various editions of both EPD and LDP to see when the pronunciation of Tuesday as /ʧuːzdeɪ, -dɪ/ was first 'licensed' by the respective (and respectable) author(s).

LPD1 (1990) has it as a second entry indicating it's a "variant derived by rule" (p. xxviii).
EPD14 (1977) does not show it as a variant but EPD15 of 1997 does1.

Go on chewing then!

1 Thanks to Jack Windsor Lewis for checking!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Jon Arvid Afzelius, Engelsk Uttalsordbok, (1909)

source: http://sok.riksarkivet.se

This is to inform the phonetic community that Jon Arvid Afzelius's dictionary "A concise pronouncing dictionary of English" ("Engelsk Uttalsordbok" is the Swedish title) is now available online as a pdf version. Go to this site and click "Klicka här för att ladda ner filen".

order, please!

Paul Carley spotted yet another interesting phonetic feature. It illustrates nicely that phonetic processes have to operate in a certain order to lead to a particular result.

Kamal Ahmed (credit: BBC)
First, listen to how the BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed pronounces the word 'strength' in this sentence (repetitions of words and hesitation sounds are omitted):
[...] we are less worried about the strength of European banks than we were earlier.
Does he say /streŋkθ/? - No, he doesn't
It's rather /strentθ/. The /t/ is particularly difficult to hear, so I slowed it down by 30 per cent for the last two snippets.

Now which processes are needed in which order to make the change from /streŋkθ/ to /strentθ/ plausible?
1. Delete the /k/.
2. By regressive assimilation the /ŋ/ becomes /n/ due to /θ/.
3. An epenthetic /t/, which is dental, is inserted surrounded by dental /n/ and /θ/.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

How to pronounce 'population'

LPD3 offers this pronunciation for the GB version of population:

EPD18 has this entry:

Both dictionaries have a yod as onset of the second syllable. Now listen to Bishop Richard Harries and General Sir Nicholas P Carter using this word without yod.
Bishop Harries says this
[...] up to 60% of the population

and this:
[...] 15% of the population at the time

General Carter, head of the British Army, says:
[...] but I'm absolutely confident that the majority of the population in central Helmand will be secured by Afghan forces.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Thought for the Day as a phonetic treasure trove ..

... well, at least sometimes.
Here is the text of the Thought for the Day broadcast on the 10th of October, 2014 by BBC Radio 4.
The plague that swept through Europe in the middle of the 14th century may have killed some 200 million people, up to 60% of the population. Even as late as the 17th century the great plague in London was responsible for 100,000 deaths, 15% of the population at the time. Indeed for most of human history it was assumed that plague, along with pestilence, war and famine was just one of the things we were stuck with. Now, however, we take it for granted that epidemics, like the Ebola outbreak, which has so far killed nearly 4000 people, can and should be controlled. With the advent of scientific medicine in the 20th century we work on the assumption that we can eventually discover the cause of a particular disease and find a cure for it, and that with proper public health measures we can in the meantime control its spread. There could be no bigger contrast between the attitude of almost every previous age and our own. We believe the responsibility is ours. The ball’s in our court. It’s not predetermined, it’s not fated. It’s down to us. We can do something about it.

There was a time when this line of thought seemed a threat to a religious view of life - at least to some people. They believed that the more it was our responsibility, the less it was God’s and vice versa, as though we were two actors competing for the same stage. But that is not how it is. The Bible is clear from the start that we human beings have been given real responsibility. Indeed that is what it means to be created. It is to be given a life of our own, to make something of, and a world to help shape. What’s so different about our time with its scientific medicine and the ability to take safeguarding measures on an international scale is our larger capacity, our greater responsibility.

And some reported words of Jesus seem particularly salutary:
Where someone has been given much, he said, much will be expected of him; and the more he has entrusted to him the more will be demanded of him.

From a Christian point of view God not only holds the world in existence, he works in and through human beings at all levels, especially those who seek to respond to human need. And I think especially of that woman doctor in Nigeria, Ameyo Adadevoh, and her small staff team at an ordinary family clinic whose quick thinking managed to stop Ebola spreading from a patient they had diagnosed, so far limiting deaths in Nigeria to only 7. Four of the dead are health workers, sadly including Dr Adadevoh herself. Our choices, at both a political and personal level, literally make all the difference.
Bishop Richard Harries (credit: wikipedia.org)
The speaker is Bishop Richard Harries.
He was born in 1936, educated at Wellington College, Berks. He went to Sandhurst and after having been transferred to the reserve of officers he read theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Further details on his military and church career can be found in the internet.

The speech I'm going to write about seems to have been scripted.

I intend to write several blog posts on this speech because it illustrates several interesting features of (written-to-be-)spoken English. Some - though not all - of these features are recommendable for EFL learners to incorporate into their pronunciation habits.

For this first blog post I've highlighted the word "plague", which appears three times in the text. First, you hear each variant embedded in a short phrase and then the word in isolation.


It's interesting to note the variation in the articulation of the consonant /l/ and the qualities of the following diphthong. Moreover, the Bishop does not audibly release the word-final /g/.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

unetymological r-liaison / intrusive r / epenthetic r

In my blog post of the 1st of October this year I drew your attention to two of the many finds made by Paul Carley. They were about epenthetic r or intrusive r or unetymological r-liaison. There's a nice, succinct description of this phenomenon in the 3rd ed. of Practical Phonetics and Phonology by Collins and Mees on p. 124.
As the authors rightly state, the /r/ pops up mostly after word-final /ɑː ɔː ə/ and after diphthongs ending in schwa. The majority of cases involves the vowels /ɔː, ə/, less often is the /r/ heard after words ending in /ɑː/.
Our reliable phonetic phenomena spotter and rapporteur Paul has recently come up with two examples of unetymological r-liaison after a PALM vowel (i.e. /ɑː/):

1. "[...]to do the cha cha ch /r/ isn't it."


2."It's a 7-foot grand piano made by Yamaha/r/ * uhm It's'n amazing piano."


This second snippet seems to be less straightforward because I hear the /r/ and next a /z/ followed by a very brief hesitation sound and then, finally, the "it's'n" is uttered.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

weakform of something

In LPD3 the pron of something as /sʌmɪŋ/ is described as casual; EPD18 doesn't indicate any weakform for it. Paul Carley with his truffel-spotting ears discovered a recent sample of this weakform. It was used by the philosopher etc. Raymond C. Tallis

credit: www.3quarksdaily.com
in a BBC Radio 4 speech titled "The Waiting".
Here's the phrase: "Indeed, a story could be described as something that is withheld."


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

progressive/perseverative assimilation

Here are two snippets of a BBC Radio 4 interview with a 93-year-old gentleman by the name of Bob Lowe1. The general topic is loneliness.
credit: BBC
Listen closely to how Mr Lowe pronounces the phrases " [...] and I know all those [...]" and "[...] and in that way [...]". Can you spot the progressive assimilations?



Answers to my questions will be added at a later time although I don't think you need them or do you?

There's another sample of perseverative assimilation to be heard in the sentence "Nearly all those stories are given to us by other journalists" uttered by Ian Hislop1 in a speech on the malpractice of journalists - the so-called Leveson inquiry.


And here's yet another one pronounced at a fairly slow tempo. Victoria Coren Mitchell1 says this:
[...] you've chosen this to be quite an early question [...]


1My thanks to Paul Carley for digging up these samples.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


I'm sorry if I'm boring you with my repeated analysis of Canon Tilby's radio broadcast. Today I'd like to look at her use of r-liaison (aka linking r). (I won't go into unetymological r-liaison/intrusive r.) Canon Tilby is a speaker of GB - an accent of low rhoticity.

We find three possibilities in her address. A word ends in the letter <r> and
  1. the following word begins with a glottal stop plus vowel; no /r/ is pronounced;
  2. the following word begins with a vowel; no /r/ is pronounced though the two words are linked;
  3. the following word begins with a vowel; the /r/ is sounded.
ad 1) "[...] a strong sense of their ʔown desirability [...]."


ad 2) "The undercover journalist was working fo(r) a Sunday paper [...]."


ad 3) "[...] a psychic space where desire and fear play themselves out [...]."


In total there are 12 phrases in her address in which r-liaison would be possible. Out of these eight phrases contain a word-initial glottal stop (= case 1). Case 2 appears only once and proper r-linking (case 3) is to be heard three times. The large number of glottal stops, which prevent r-liaison, is probably due to the fairly formal speech style unless it's a general habit of hers.

Monday, 6 October 2014

an infelicitous implosion

There are roughly 200 English words ending in the letter sequence <-sion> - from abrasion to vision. This ending is pronounced either /-ʒ(ə)n/ or /-ʃ(ə)n/. Is there a rule behind this? Look at this list:

abrasion - accession
adhesion - aggression
collision - aversion
conclusion - convulsion
decision - declension
elusion - emulsion
implosion - impression
infusion - intension
lesion - mission

The first word of a pair always has /-ʒ(ə)n/, the second always ends in /-ʃ(ə)n/. The rule is quite simple (at least theoretically): If the letter preceding the <-sion> represents a vowel, it's always ezh (or yoghurt if you prefer the latter term), a consonant letter (silent or not) leads to /-ʃ(ə)n/. (See also Jack Windsor Lewis's website, section 4.5).

Listen to Canon Tilby's way she pronounces the word implosion in this sentence:
"If when an invitation comes, you find yourself scheming your way to turning your fantasy into reality you run the risk of implosion."
 None of the big three pron dictionaries records a variant with esh.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

a classic case of degemination?

credit: blogjam.name
Degemination, as John Maidment describes it in his Speech Internet Dictionary (= SID), is the

"[...] change from a geminate (long) sound to the equivalent single (short) sound. [...] An example is the pronunciation ˈpraɪ ˈmɪnɪstə instead of ˈpraɪm ˈmɪnɪstə."
Consequently, a geminate is a
"sequence of two identical sounds."
Canon Tilby in her Thought for the Day of the 30th of September pronounces the following sentence:
credit: Christ Church, Oxford
"In Christian spirituality this is a classic case of failure to resist one of the universal temptations."
I highlighted the phrase in which a word-final /k/ and a word-initial one abut. Pronounced as a geminate plosive the hold stage would be longer than that of a singleton. Listen to the whole sentence and then to the phrase "classic case" in isolation. After this decide if it's an instance of degemination:


Is it an easy decision to make? BTW, the hold stage is ~94ms long. For comparison I've cut out other phrases containing a word-final /k/ pronounced by her (hold stage durations in parentheses):
1. public life (~48ms)


2. comic story (~95ms)


3. public interest (~38ms)


4. psychic space (~66ms)


5. risk of (~56ms)


The longest hold stage is that of the /k/ in comic stage. This and the auditory impression rather indicate degemination. What's your opinion?