Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Wilhelm Doegen

In his BBC Radio 4 broadcast "RP RIP" of the 6th of August, Melvyn Bragg mentioned a certain Wilhelm Doegen, a scholar who had made recordings of British PoWs held in German camps during World War I. Who was Wilhelm Doegen? What did he do with the recordings? Are they accessible?

credit: Humboldt-Universität
Wilhelm Doegen was born in Berlin on the 17th of March 1877. He first completed a bank training program, then studied business law and economics. As a guest student he attended lectures in English Studies held by Alois Brandl at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin (now Humboldt-Universität). Brandl inspired him to study modern languages. In 1899 Doegen spent a term in Oxford, where he studied under Henry Sweet.

This was to become a crucial experience for Doegen. He finished his studies to become a teacher of English, French and German at a German grammar school. The title of his thesis was "Die Verwendung der Phonetik im Englischen Anfangsunterricht" (= the use of phonetics in elementary instruction in English).

While he was a teacher he developed a series of books and records produced by the record company Odeon with the title: "Doegens Unterrichtshefte für die selbständige Erlernung fremder Sprachen mit Hilfe der Lautschrift und der Sprechmaschine" (= Doegen's teaching booklets for the self-instruction in foreign languages by means of phonetic transcription and the speaking machine (= vulgo: record player)).

credit: J.-K. Mahrenholz
On the record label it says (as far as I can make it out):
Line 1: English 13
Line 2: Mark Antony's Oration over the
Line 3: Body of Caesar
Line 4: Jul. Caesar [III?], [II?], Beginning (Shakespeare)
Line 5: W. J. Holloway1, London
Line 6: A 66024
Line 7 (circular): Aufgenommen unter der Leitung von Prof. Wilh. Doegen (= recorded under the direction of Prof. Wilh. Doegen)

These records seem to have been fairly popular among German schools and universities. One source2 speaks of about 1000 institutions using them.

In 1914 Doegen made a request to found a "Königlich Preußisches Phonetisches Institut" (= Royal Prussian Phonetics Institute). A committee was founded in 1915, the "Königlich Preußische Phonographische Kommission" under Carl Stumpf (a psychologist) and Doegen as its managing secretary.
credit: Humboldt-Univ. Berlin

Among the roughly 30 members was Alois Brandl, one of the founders of the Institute for British and American Studies at Humboldt. Brandl was responsible for English dialects. From 1915 to 1918 more than 250 sound recordings of languages and dialects were made on 1650 shellac records. Members of the committee visited more than 70 German prisoner-of-war camps. English PoWs were to speak the numbers 1 to 20 or the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, 11ff.) in their local dialects.

Here are four sound samples (credit: The Guardian):

In 1920 the "Lautarchiv" was founded by Doegen; the archive became annexed to the sound department of the Prussian State Library. Africanist and phonetician Diedrich Westermann became director of this department.

In 1947 Doegen got a chair for English Studies which he held until 1951. He died on the 3rd of November 1967.

Among his publications is a booklet of about 40 pages with the title "With Camera and Record throughout England", accompanied by 13 records. The labels on the records reveal that the texts were spoken by A. Lloyd James and E. [= his wife Elsie?] Lloyd James. Here's one double-page spread from the booklet:

credit: Humboldt University
To my knowledge the recordings are still not available to the public. It is planned, however, to digitise them and even to put them online.

1Holloway was a famous Australian actor in his day.
2Parts of this blog entry relied on research done by staff members of the sound archive of the Humboldt University in Berlin, especially by Jürgen-Kornelius Mahrenholz. Their work is gratefully acknowledged.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Paul Tench's Transcribing the Sound of English is out now!

More on it in a later blog entry.

BBC Radio 4 feature by Baron Bragg - part 2

Melvyn Bragg mentiones Daniel Jones again by noting this:
At the beginning of the 20th century the phonetician Daniel Jones strove for precision tracking back to reveal how spoken English had evolved over the centuries. He was passionate to communicate the fluidity of pronunciation - and for him - how RP was clearer and simpler than a dialect spoken in the 14th century as he described in "Our Changing Speech". 
What one then hears is Daniel Jones talking about case and verb inflectional endings which vanished during the development of the English language. Your Lordship: Daniel Jones spoke about simplifications in morphosyntax, not about RP, not about the fluidity of pronunciation. And: by what standards was Chaucer's English flowing less easily and clearly? Chaucer's was the time of Early Middle English and RP didn't emerge until the 19th century. As Jack Windsor Lewis in his PhonetiBlog of the 12th of August aptly and succinctly puts it:
These remarks of Bragg's were an embarrassingly garbled representation of Jones's aims and attitudes, evidently concocted in desperation at the absence of any other recording of Jones more, or rather at all, relevant to his theme.
A few celebrities are mentioned and heard who dropped or had to drop their local accents to become successful in their jobs, e.g. Vidal Sassoon (who had to get rid of his Cockney accent to gain access to the salons of Mayfair) or the broadcaster Joan Bakewell, who had been sent to elocution lessons to eradicate her northern accent.

Next - and this is a kind of membrum disiectum - MB offers his listeners several sound samples of British soldiers held in German prisoner war camps during the First World War. These samples illustrate a variety of regional accents. They were recorded by the German scholar [wɪɫnhɛɫm dɜːɡən] (this is the way MB pronounces his name; I will post a separate blog entry on Wilhelm Doegen in due time). Those young captives read the parable of The Prodigal Son or recited poems or sang songs. After having played the snippets, MB continues:
If you listen carefully though [sic] what you can hear is the fascination Doegen had with regional variation.
No, Your Lorship! What you hear are the voices of regional speakers with crackles and other noise superimposed. No fascination is detectable in them!

MB then makes mention of the BBC and its considerable influence on the development of RP. An Advisory Committee was founded by Lord Reith in 1926. Its aim was to advise announcers on words of doubtful pronunciation. The initial board members were Robert Bridges, L.P. Smith, A. Lloyd James, J. Forbes-Robertson and D. Jones. As problems grew on how to pronounce particular words the committee was considerable enlarged. Jack Windsor Lewis describes the committee as a "club"

[...] packed with titled people, professorial people and so on. It really was a  ... a sort of club where people got together and swapped their prejudices except for Daniel Jones. There was hardly anybody who had a proper training in observing speech.
Not a very favourable verdict.

In sum, it must be said that what we are served in this transmission is very much of a hotchpotch: trivial information mixed with interesting snippets.What is sorely missed is a straight line of arguments; instead, MB prefers to zigzag. If all MB wanted to convey to us is that RP is on the decline and regional accents are preferred, then the transmission could have ended after about 6 minutes, but it went on and on for almost a full hour.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

BBC Radio 4 feature by Baron Bragg - part 1

On the 6th of August 2011, BBC Radio 4 transmitted a programme called "RP RIP". Its author is Melvyn Bragg.
credit: BBC
Melvyn Bragg (= MB) was born in 1939 in Wigton, a village near Carlisle. In his childhood he spoke General Cumbrian and the village dialect of Wigton, the latter being a dialect which contains a lot of Romany words. Both dialects are closely related to Old Norse. He attended Nelson Thomlinson School, a grammar school in Wigton, and then read Modern History at Wadham College, Oxford. During these years a (not so) near-RP accent was 'drummed' into him. Illustrating his own speech development is how he begins this BBC 4 feature entitled "RP RIP". This immediately reminded me of MB's BBC Radio 4 series 'Routes of English' broadcast at the turn of the century, in which he also talked about Wigton and its dialects in a special feature called "Talking Posh", which was transmitted in 2001.

credit: Pembroke College
credit: BBC
Among others Professor Lynda Mugglestone from Pembroke College, Oxford, and Clive Upton were interviewed in 'Talking Posh'. In 'RP RIP' they appear again, and also a new expert is to be heard, who is introduced by MB as "pronunciation lexicographer": Jack Windsor Lewis.

To call Windsor Lewis a lexicographer is much too narrow a description and illustrates the somewhat superficial research undertaken by MB. 'Speech sound observer' (or 'phonetician') would probably be more appropriate.

There was ('past tense' because the feature is no longer available) a chance to hear sound snippets of quite a few (partly historic) voices, e.g. those of

- - Daniel Jones, phonetician
- - G.B. Shaw, Irish playwright
- - John Ebdon, former BBC presenter
- - Beryl Bainbridge, English novelist
- - David Liddiment, trustee of the BBC Trust
- - Baroness Joan Dawson Bakewell, English journalist and TV presenter
- - Baron John Charles Walsham Reith, former director of BBC
- - Arthur Lloyd James, phonetician
- - Alistair Cooke, journalist and broadcaster
- - Tord Alvar Quan Lidell, BBC announcer
- - Wilfred Pickles, Yorkshireman and BBC newsreader
- - Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister.

After having described his own speech-forming years MB reports the results of an article in a recent edition of the Journal of Sociolinguistics (not even the year of publication is mentioned; I found the source in the meantime, so here's an update: vol. 11 (2001), issue 1, pp. 74-93; Coupland, N., Bishop, H.: "Ideologised values for British accents") in which the authors report that 70% out of 5000 people across Britain "are proud of their accent". This includes, of course, RP speakers, does it not? MB then raises the questions: "Whose [= accent] do you like? Who could you trust?" A few seconds later, a similar proclamation is issued when he tells us that "today we seem to prefer it [= a regional accent] to RP". To corroborate this, Susie Dent, a broadcaster for Channel 4's word game 'Countdown' tells us that she "dreams of suddenly coming out on Countdown in a sort of broad Lancashire burr". MB repeats his mantra: "RP has ruled supreme [for 400 years], but today it's losing its appeal".

Enter Lynda Mugglestone. In her usual enthusiastic and lively manner she proposes the idea that some regional accents are an index to honesty, as can be seen in the banking sector where Scottish and Irish speakers are employed. Her daring hypothesis is that "RP is gradually being marginalised". One must not forget, however, that in 1974 Peter Trudgill had published a statistic that displayed a figure of 3 per cent for British RP speakers. If this figure is correct, then one must say that in the seventies of the last century RP was as much a marginal accent as it is today.

Next, we hear several sound snippets of voices who criticise regional accents, e.g. Beryl Bainbridge. MB then turns to Daniel Jones. Jack Windsor Lewis is interviewed (what was MB's question?).

credit: JWL
He describes the terminological changes Jones undertook, first calling the accent Standard English, then Public School English and finally Received Pronunciation. MB does not take this up but makes the following comment: "Jones' version of RP, once a voice to inspire trust, a voice that wouldn't lie, an emblem of truth, has become the accent of duplicitous politicians of the disconnected elite", which he pronounces as [ˈɛliːt]. And what about all those business people, scholars or members of the clergy who speak RP? (Another of MB's minority pronunciations is /'i:məneɪt/ for <emanate>.) And once again the message that "RP [...] is slowly going out of fashion" is drummed home.

credit: Guardian
The story then takes a new twist, when Cheryl Cole is mentioned, who was sacked from the American TV show X Factor because of her Geordie accent. Producers of the show were concerned her Geordie accent would be too difficult for an American audience to understand.

I listened to several interviews with Miss Cole and I must say that though she has a regional accent she is not very difficult to understand once your ears are tuned in to it, which doesn't take long.

MB tells us that Americans seem to prefer the "voice of the upper-crust English" such as Hugh Grant and Stephen Fry. They represent the "lovable fops" as MB puts it. However, RP voices are also used to indicate villains, such as Ralph Fiennes in 'Harry Potter', Terence Stamp as the principal villain in 'Superman 2', Ian McKellen as Magneto in the 'X-Men' films, Paul Bettany as Silas in 'The Da Vinci Code' etc. All of them are classified as "posh Brits" - what a hubris! MB's theory is that this development is the "fault of Alec Guinness in 'Starwars'". Your Lordship, would you care to give us some facts corroborating your theory? No? It's not a theory then, but a mere conjecture.

MB then tells us that in April of 2010 Helen Mirren hit out at Hollywood casting Brits as villains in movies. Were there any reactions from the American film industry? We aren't told. What's it got to do with the assumed marginalisation of RP? We've got to draw our own conclusions.

To be continued

Friday, 5 August 2011

Table of Contents, continued

credit: CUP

Part II            . . . and Discourse
        7 Rhythm
            Auxiliary verbs
            Modal verbs
            Just, not, so, there
            Syllable elisions in lexical items and phrases
                  Transcription text 1 Goldilocks
                  Transcription text 2 Travelling to Italy
                  Transcription text 3 9/11

        8  Intonation: tonality
            Tonality and grammatical contrasts

        9 Intonation: tonicity
            Neutral and marked tonicity
            Broad and narrow focus
            Final adjuncts
        10 Intonation: tone
            Statements and questions
            Social interaction

        11 Intonation: secondary tone
            Secondary tones
            Heads and pre-heads

        12 Intonation: paratones


I'm really looking forward to this book!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Table of Contents

Part I Words . . .
            Why transcribe?
        1 Vowels
            The short vowels
            The long vowels
                  Monophthongs (‚pure’ vowels)
            The weak vowels

        2 Consonants
            Syllabic consonants

        3 Word stress
            Compound words
        4 Allophones
                  Glottal reinforcement
                  Voiced flapping
                  Fronting, backing and rounding
                  Summary of allophones for each consonant

        5 Accents
            Lexical sets
            West Country
            North of England
            Northern Ireland
            A foreign accent

        6 Phrases

Part 2 will be put online in another blog post.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

new book on transcription

This new workbook by Paul Tench from Cardiff University promises a "didactic approach to the study and transcription of the words, rhythm and intonation of English" (quotation taken from the web pages of CUP).
credit: CUP

Here is what we are to expect:

Table of Contents

Part I Words ... : Why transcribe?
1. Vowels
2. Consonants
3. Word stress
4. Allophones
5. Accents
6. Phrases
Part II … and Discourse:
7. Rhythm
8. Intonation: tonality
9. Intonation: tonicity
10. Intonation: tone
11. Intonation: secondary tone
12. Intonation: paratones

(What's the difference between chapters 8-11 and chapter 12?) Amazon offers some pages for preview, which led to some corrections and additions here. A more detailed table of contents will be put online later.

The accent assumed is SESP = Southern England Standard Pronunciation. Yet another term!

The book is said to be available "from August 2011". Sorry, but I have my doubts.
The book seems to be out now! I've ordered a copy and will tell you when it arrives.

The price is just below 16 GBP.

Monday, 1 August 2011

cardinal vowels that touch your heart

I'm correcting and marking (grading) written exams in English phonetics. One of the questions was about the reference system Jones had developed. I asked for the name of that system. Most students gave the correct answer. One of my students offered a new name: "Cardio vowel system".

This reminds me of a message I received from one of my blog followers, who recalled an even more hilarious term: "/kɑːnəl vaʊəlz/"