Friday, 24 October 2014

Thought for the Day (pt.1) as a phonetic treasure trove ..

... well, at least sometimes.

Part 1

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:
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

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?

And 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.


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?

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?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

sound sequences - 1

I'd like to come back to the 'Thought for the Day" broadcast of the 30th of October. The speaker was the Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby (see also here). At one point she said:
He’s not, of course, the only one who’s lived to regret a moment of wild indiscretion.
Listen to the sentence and concetrate on the consonants at the word boundary between "course" and "the".


Does she say /kɔːs ði/ or is it /kɔːs si/?. I think it's the latter rather than the former.


Canon Tilby used the word 'only' three times in her address. Here are the three instances:
1. He’s not, of course, the only one who’s lived to regret a moment of wild indiscretion.


2. It is only when the opportunity appears to realise those unlived fantasies that we have to make a choice of whether to pursue them or resist.1


3. Not only does your private world collapse in a highly embarrassing way but your outer world is ruined too.


It's the weakform /əʊni/

1 Thanks to Alex Rotatori for the hint to this.

Friday, 3 October 2014

consonant cluster reduction #2

Paul Carley inspired me to write another blog entry on consonant clusters (the previous one is to be found here). How does one pronounce the plural form of month - /mʌnθs, mʌntθs, mʌnts, mʌnʔs, mʌns/ - or what?
Listen to this extract from the morning news of the 2nd of October on BBC 4 (Paul, our truffel-finder, spotted it; the speaker is the International Development Correspondent to the BBC, Mark Doyle):
If the disease [Ebola] continues at current rates a million people across the West African region could die within months."
 Here is the whole sentence plus repetitions of months:


How does Mr Doyle pronounce months?Which of the above-mentioned variants does he use. The choice is actually between /mʌnts, mʌnʔs, mʌns/.
Let's look at the waveform first:

/mʌ/ ~ 100 ms
/n/ ~ 74 ms
pause ~ 58 ms
1st aperiodic low volume signal section ~ 39 ms
2nd aperiodic higher volume signal section ~ 160 ms.
The pause section seems to represent the hold stage of an epenthetic /t/ in /mʌnts/.

Could the speaker also have said /mʌns/? In that case the waveform would have looked something like this

and sounded like this:

Not much of a difference, is it?