Tuesday, 25 April 2017

From the listening post

Paul Carley, our phonetic listening post, has spotted an interesting weakform. On BBC Radio 4 of April 24 one of the presenters of the news and current affairs programme Today said: "And the time now is half past six". The preposition 'past' is pronounced with a schwa (sheva). Listen:
The speaker is Nick Robinson, a member of the team of regular Today presenters. I guess the weakform tends to be used only in such fairly tight-knit phrases as "x past y".
Thanks, Paul!


  1. I agree with your statement:
    I guess the weakform tends to be used only in such fairly tight-knit phrases as "x past y"
    but with the proviso that both x and y are stressed. While I would not be surprised to hear, or to say myself, the weak form in 'half past six', I would be surprised to hear it (and don't think I would say it) in 'twenty past six' or 'half past eleven'.

    1. Due to the alternate stress rule/preference?

  2. Petr,

    I think not. I say: ˈtwenti pɑːs ˈsɪks and ˈhɑː(f) pɑːst ɪˈlevn. If the word 'past' were stressed, we wouldn't have alternating stress. Moreover, x to y phrases, for me at least, always have a weak 'to'. It's a mystery

    1. There's so much going on here. Firstly, your recorded voice is not RP/GBE but home counties SBE (listen to his 'now'). Regional SBE has always permitted more reduction than than was comfortable for RP and back in the 1950s it was guaranteed to prompt suggestions it was time to adopt RP. Thankfully that doesn't happen now. Secondly, there's another reduction here - elision of the middle consonant of three (so the /t/ goes in 'pas(t)one, pas(t) two, pas(t) three, pas(t) four, past six, past nine') but it remains in 'past eleven' (where I would regularly voice it, I'm not sure RP would). Intriguing if this is the only environment where 'past' is reduced (I can imagine it weakening so far that the vowel disappears and the /s/ becomes syllabic). 'Past' is accented in so many other situations - walk past, look past, past the church. And in 'just past' it's just that's weakened to schwa or syllabic /s/. And I'm sure you're correct that accentuation is involved - there's a very different rhythm in 'twenty past' (and Im sure you'll catch me saying 'twenny past' sometimes, would RP accept that?).