Saturday, 8 August 2015

Compression and W. R. Evans

I wrote in a postscript to my blog of the sixth of July (see here) that I could not find anything about W. R. Evans, who had used the term 'compression' to describe the reduction of diphthongs to simple vowel sounds. Jack Windsor Lewis in his blog no. 502 of the 7th of August kindly referred me to the journal 'Phonetische Studien', in which Evans had published two articles which dealt with the Bell vowel system.

In volume 2 (1889) on p. 112 of said periodical I found an obituary for William Robert Evans:

Evans was an autodidact in matters phonetic. He "conducted" (as it pleased Evans to call it) the journal The spelling experimenter and phonetic investigator, which appeared in two volumes from 1880 to 1883. Evans ran a small print shop in London. He died from pulmonary consumption in London on the 21st of June 1888.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Phonetic difficulties of German EFL learners - pt. 1

I plan to write several blogs on some phonetic differences between German and English and the problems arising from them for German learners, though in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive.

Today's blog first deals with the question: "Which English is to be compared with which German?" Looking back on my thirty or so years of teaching English phonetics and pronunciation at a German university the overwhelming majority of my (almost 2000) students were native speakers of German.
What kind of English should they acquire and what sort of German do they speak? The answers determine the results of the comparisons, and they determine, of course, the patterns learners should aim for.

Among the many variants of English spoken by native speakers two are usually taught at German schools and universities - General British (aka RP) and General American (and - if I'm being nasty - Denglish as a third variant). Textbooks and reference books describe and illustrate at least one of these accents, and school curricula stipulate one of them. As for German variants used by native speakers of German there's also a wide variety of accents, one of them being the codified or reference accent called "Standardlautung" by DUDEN1. This reference accent displays no regional features, is socially unmarked and preferably used in more formal situations.

I will restrict my comparisons to General British (= GB) and German "Standardlautung" (which I prefer to call 'German reference accent' or GRA for short). None of these reference accents can be delimited with great exactness, but when it comes to learning GB as a language in addition to German as one's mother tongue, it's much more important to look for problems and traps.

Next I'd like to draw your attention to pitfalls in the area of spelling. Does spelling cause any interferences? The answer is 'yes'.
We are all too familiar with the inconsistent reflection of pronunciation in spelling. Here are a few examples.
German /yː/ as in Krümel, wühlen, Thymian, Juist, Avenue.
German /v/ as in Suite, Wahl, Vase.
German /ʃ/ as in Busch, Prosciutto2, Chassis, Ski.
German /k/ as in Ochse, Hecke, König, Okklusiv, Quai.
English /eɪ/ as in great, veil, gauge, face, rain, bay.
English /ɔː/ as in law, author, ball, board, door, four, hawk.
English /ʃ/ as in machine, shine, sugar, fascism, schedule, aggression, special.
English /v/ as in very, Stephen, savvy, of.
These inconsistencies make it impossible to guess the pronunciation of a word by simply staring at its spelling.

Native speakers of German intuitively know that initial <w> is always /v/ and that initial <v> is either /v/ or /f/. When they come across English words with an initial <w>, some will automatically associate it with the German letter-sound relation and pronounce it as /v/ or by confusion pronounce English <v> as /w/.

Then we have interlanguage homographs (at least if you ignore capitalisation), eg. G,E<wild> with E/waɪld/ and G/vilt/ or G,E<tag, mine, will, wind, wolf, warm, ...>. Some learners may assume the pronunciation of the English words is identical with the German way of pronouncing them.

Nor must we forget English words that entered the German lexicon and were adapted to the German sound system in some way or other. Here are a few examples:

German pron English pron
family /'fɛmili/ /'fæmli/
laptop /'lɛptɔp/ /'læptɒp/
cash /kɛʃ/ /kæʃ/
camping /'kɛmpiŋ/ /'kæmpɪŋ/
attachment /ə'tɛʧmɛnt/ /ə'tæʧmənt/
job /ʧɔp/ /ʤɒb/
single /'siŋl/ /sɪŋgl/
story /'ʃtɔʁi/ /'stɔːrɪ/
homepage /'hoːmpeːʧ/ /'həʊmpeɪʤ/
action /'ɛktʃn/ /'ækʃn/

It's completely normal to use the Germanised pronunciation of these loans in a German context; you  sound fairly la-di-da, if instead of saying /mainə fɛmili maxt ʃtʁɛs/ you pronounce the sentence like this: /mainə fæmli maxt stres/. If the wind stands fair, an incorrect pronunciation will not cause any misunderstanding, but ... A safe way to avoid spelling ambiguities is /trænskrɪpʃən/. And this means you have to learn to shift your attention away from what is said to how something is said, which is no easy task.

1Duden Aussprachewörterbuch (2000:34f.)
2Prosciutto, though being an Italian loanword, is frequently used by Germans.

Friday, 24 July 2015

From the press

Public Radio International has provided us with this breaking news:

"It looks like the distinctive, almost-rolling "R" may be dissapearing [sic] from the Scottish accent.

Eleanor Lawson is a sociolinguist at the University of Glasgow and Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh and has conducted research on the phenomenon.
In words like "car," "cart," and "first," speakers are no longer using the typical "rhotic r" but pronouncing the word more like a British or Anglican English speaker."
I wonder what the Anglican Church has to do with it.

BTW: The two journalists (or whatever they're called) seem to have a cavalier attitude towards spelling.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Is an experiment an expieriment?

Many of my German students of English who claim to speak GB pronounce experiment as  /e/ɪ/əkspɪrɪme/ənt/. Why? They either think of experience or picked up the GA pronunciation variant /-spɪr-/. This variant is attested in LPD3 and Merriam-Webster Online, but not in EPD18.

credit: dandelionmood

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Compression no. 2 (revised)

Compression as a phonetic term denotes the reduction of articulatory movements leading to
  1. a reduction of diphthongs plus schwa to diphthongs or monophthongs,
  2. a reduction of diphthongs to monophthongs,
  3. a change from a monophthong to an approximant, 
  4. a change from one vowel class to another or 
  5. coalescence. 
Here are some English examples illustrating the various subtypes:

1.1 a diphthong plus schwa becomes a diphthong: /ðə rɔɪəl fæmli/ -> /ðə rɔəl fæmli/ for <the royal family>
1.2 a diphthong plus schwa becomes a monophthong: /ən aʊər əweɪ/ -> /ən ɑːr əweɪ/ for <an hour away>
2. a diphthong becomes a monophthong: /ænjʊəl/ -> /ænjʊl/ for <annual>
3. a monophthong becomes an approximant: /reɪdiəʊ/ -> /reɪdjəʊ/ for <radio>
4. a change from one vowel class to another: /væljuː/ -> /væljʊ/ for <value>
5. coalescence: /wʊd juː/ -> /wʊʤʊ/ for <would you>

Monday, 6 July 2015

Compression as a phonetic term

The term compression in its phonetic sense denotes the reduction of articulatory movements leading to
  • a reduction of diphthongs plus schwa to diphthongs or monophthongs,
  • a reduction of diphthongs to monophthongs,
  • a change from a monophthong to an approximant, 
  • a change from one vowel class to another or 
  • coalescence. 
When was the term first used? The OED remains silent. It was by mere chance that I found a fairly early mention of the term in Notes on Spelling Reform of 1881 by W. R. Evans. On p.11 we read this:
During all the time occupied by these changes - the shifting of vowel-sounds step by step along the scale, the expansion of simple vowels into diphthongs, and the compression of diphthongs into simple vowel-sounds - the written form of the language remained nearly stereotyped as regards any indication of such changes, [...]

For earlier uses of the term it may be worthwhile to check "The Phonetic Journal", which was published from 1873 to 1905. It's a pity I don't have access to this journal.

BTW: I couldn't find anything on this W. R. Evans. The ODNB has but an entry on a clergyman by the same name. If any of my followers can enlighten me, I'd be most grateful.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

voice-over speaker on Mrs Bach

I recently watched the film Written by Mrs Bach broadcast by BBC Four. Amongst the academics who were interviewed on the issue of whether Anna Magdalena Bach could have been the composer of several pieces generally attributed to Johann Sebastian, there were two German specialists on Bach. They made their comments in German and accordingly had to be translated. Listen to this extract of the voice-over speaker and tell me if, like me, something strikes you as odd in her enunciation.


Monday, 9 March 2015

Some typical pronunciation mistakes by (my) students learning English

Students in my phonetics classes may choose between General American and General British pronunciation (native speakers of English are exempt).

Here are some more or less frequent mistakes which popped up in this semester's viva voces:
  1. word-final fortissification (e.g. bag -> back)
  2. the TRAP vowel is replaced by the DRESS vowel
  3. the word ending <-ction> is pronounced /-kʧən/
  4. /v/ and /w/ are mixed up
  5. word-initial /br, bl, dr, gr, gl, ʤ/ are replaced by /pr, pl, tr, kr, kl, ʧ/
  6. one man, but two /mən/ or /mɪn/
  7. he was /bjurɪd, bərɪd, bʌrɪd/ in a /tɒm(b)/
  8. determined may materialise as /'detəmaɪnd, dɪ'tɜːmaɪnd, 'diːtəmaɪnd/
  9. /dɪs'mɪʃəl/
  10. sentence-final hotel or unfair are stressed  /'həʊtəl/ and /'ʌnfeə/.
Students who claim to speak General British frequently pronounce got as /gɑt, gat/.
For some the phrase Edith's birthday poses serious problems.

    Saturday, 17 January 2015

    PhonetiBlog - part 6

    We're looking forward to blogs 503 - 600.