Sunday 31 October 2010


Hallowe'en (or Hallow-e'en or Halloween, pronounced /ˌhæl əʊˈiːn/ in General British) is literally taken from All Hallow Eve(n). The word even is a poetic and dialectal but otherwise fairly old-fashioned word for evening. The apostrophe in the spelling Halloe'en indicates the omission of a letter - here <v>. There aren't many words in English, by the way, which signal the omission of a letter (or two) by an apostrophe. I won't go into apostrophes - just a few examples may suffice: Jack-o'-lantern, sou'wester, fo'c'sle, ha'penny, 'cause, isn't, O'Leary etc.

Hallow is derived from Old English (= OE) hāliȝ meaning 'holy'. One of its inflected forms is hālȝa. This developed into halȝa (shortening before Cs). The <ȝ> was pronounced [ɣ] before back vowels in OE times; in unstressed syllables this sound became an u-like vowel, and later on probably due to the preceding [l] a diphthong containing an [u] as its second element - written <ow> - came into existence. According to OED the word hallow was little used after 1500 (see date chart):
Hallowe'en seems to have Celtic origins according to Nicholas Rogers (2002), Halloween, OUP . In the medieval Irish calendar the festival of Samhain (pronounced /saʊn, ˈsɑːwɪn, ˈsaʊən/) was celebrated to mark stock-taking, the yearly harvest, to greet the imminent winter etc. Rogers continues: 
It was also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad, spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. (12)
So it was basically a non-Christian, heathenish festival. And what is it today? Ask me not!

Friday 29 October 2010

The Two Ronnies - four candles (3)

Here's the second section of Four Candles:
B: [ɡɒtni
ˈplʌɡz] {= got any plugs}?
C: [
plʌɡs] {= plugs}?
B: Yeah.
C: [wɒʔkaɪndəplʌɡs] {= what kind of plugs}?
B: A rubber one – [ˈbɑːfrʊm] {= bathroom}.
C (shows two different bath plugs): What size?
B: [ˈθɜːʔiːn] {= thirteen} amp.
C: It’s electric plug, electric bathroom plugs you call them in the trade. Electric bathroom … (inaudible). (puts one plug on the counter.)

Two things are worth mentioning here:
- th-fronting and
- glottal replacement.

TH-fronting is found widely in England; it's also a feature typical of the Cockney accent.
With th-fronting /θ, ð/ become /f, v/. In a blog entry of the 1st of November of 2006 John Wells reports on a short survey:
As we know, in England the dental fricatives /θ, ð/ are on their way out.One of our second-year BA Linguistics students, Sam Wood, reports some interesting findings about TH fronting in London. He carried out a small-scale Labov-style survey in three London department stores, and found that the use of [f] rather than [θ] in third (floor) correlated not, as expected, with the speaker’s social class, but rather with ethnicity. Salespeople categorized by their appearance as black (= of African descent, including West Indians) used [f] in 40% of cases, those judged to be white (= European) in 31%, east Asian (= Chinese etc) in 17%, and west Asian (= Indian etc) in 13%. The pronunciation [fɜːd] rather than [θɜːd] also correlated, much more highly, with (estimated) age: it was used 80% of the time by those judged to be up to 20 years old, but 33% or less by all older age groups. So in London the sound change seems to be being spearheaded by young blacks.
The fact that it was the blacks who came out as most likely to use TH fronting is all the more striking given that in Caribbean and African English the tendency is to replace dental fricatives not by labiodental fricatives but by alveolar plosives. 
Many German speakers tend to sibilation to [s, z] (as do the French) and they often get knotted tongues when it comes to pronouncing s-th-clusters.

Glottal replacement (or glottalling) is increasingly heard particularly in British English. Ronnie Corbett uses the glottal stop to replace the /t/ in what and Barker replaces it in thirteen. The glottal stop as an allophone of /t/ is found in syllable-final positions after vowels or sonorants.

Thursday 28 October 2010

a letter that can give you an 'ell of an 'eadache

'Arriet: "Wot toime his the next troine fer 'Ammersmith?“
Clerk: "Due now.“
'Arriet: Course Oi dawn‘t now, stoopid, or Oi wouldn‘t be harskin‘ yer!“
This joke appeared, if I remember correctly, in Punch.

Dropping one's aitches - a cardinal sin for many -  was and still is a shibboleth of seemingly incorrect pronunciation. Hundreds of thousands of native speakers of English eschew the /h/ consistently, many more omit its pronunciation most of the time. Although harm and arm, hand and and, heart and art become homophones, we still understand those people due to the redundancy of language. Many people living in England believe that dropping one's aitches is a sign of low education - a social stigma. The presence of /h/ in word-initial position is believed by many people to be related to educatedness and its lack to lower class and ignorance. For a detailed description of this socio-phonetic phenomenon see Lynda Mugglestone's book Talking Proper of 2003 (2nd ed.).

credit: Richard Howell
Heir, honest, honesty, honour, hour are pronounced without /h/ by almost every Brit and American with at least a decent amount of education.
With hotel usage is devided: LPD 3 lists both pronunciations - with and without /h/, as does EPD17; ODP withholds the h-less pronunciation. OED 1989 has both versions with the h-less one marked 'old-fashioned'. OED online in its draft revision of 2010 indicates /ˌhəʊˈtɛl/, /hə(ʊ)ˈtɛl/ only (obviously under the influence of Clive Upton).

Historical is sometimes pronounced without /h/ when preceded by an as in
- an historical novel,
- an historical account,
- an historical outline.

The pronunciation of the letter <h> is changing as well. LPD3 indicates /eɪʧ/ as the standard General British form and marks /heɪʧ/ as "BrE [= British English] non-RP". In his opinion poll the author John C Wells found that 24% of the British English speakers born since 1982 prefer /heɪʧ/; so it seems to be spreading.

Have, has and had as auxiliaries frequently lose their /h/ in colloquial speech as do the pronouns he, his, him, her in unstressed positions.

There are other droppings such as
w-dropping (or wyn-dropping),
s-dropping and - not to be forgotten -
bird dropping.
This list is far from being complete!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

dramatis personae

One of the readers of this blog indicated to me that it would be a good idea to show the pronunciation of the literary term 'dramatis personae', which I used in my blog on the sketch Four Candles. I'm only too happy to comply with this request. 

ˌdrɑːmətɪs/ˌdræmətɪs/drəˌmætɪs pɜː/əˈsəʊnaɪ/pɜː/əˈsəʊniː

'Dramatis personae' is, of course, Latin and means 'persons of a/the drama'. It's a fairly formal and technical term referring to the characters of a drama. I used it in a jocular manner in my blog on Four Candles.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The Two Ronnies - four candles (2)

This is the first part of the sketch:
Scene: An ironmonger’s shop
Dramatis Personae:
  • Ronnie Corbett (= C) as shopkeeper
  • Ronnie Barker (= B) as customer
  • Mr Jones
Stage directions are set in italics; my glosses are between braces.

(B enters the shop)
B: [fɔːkændls] {= 'fork handles' is what B wants}.
C: [fɔːkændls] {= 'four candles' is what C understands}?
C (gets 4 candles): Here you are, four candles.
B: No, [fɔːkændls] {= fork handles}!
C: Well, there you are – four candles!
B: No, [fɔːkændos] {= fork handles}! [ʔændls] {= handles} for forks!
(C gets a fork handle.)
C: […] fork handles.

The misunderstanding mainly rests on h-dropping, so that /hændl/ becomes [ʔændl]. The /l/ in 'handles' sometimes sounds almost like an [o], which would illustrate l-vocalisation.

Here's a link to the video clip in its full-length version.
(Suggestions/improvements are welcome!)

Sunday 24 October 2010

The Two Ronnies - four candles (1)

The sketch I'm writing about was first aired by the BBC on the 4th of September 1976. There are two versions actually - an earlier one played and recorded in front of a very quiet live audience and a later one, which had been re-written, and acted in front of a much noisier audience. The sketch was handwritten by the late Ronald ("Ronnie") William George Barker (1929-2005) under his alias George Wiley. The original title was "Annie Finkhouse". The script begins like this: "An old ironmonger’s shop. A shop that sells everything — garden equipment, ladies’ tights, builders’ supplies, mousetraps, everything. A long counter up and downstage. A door to the back of the shop up left. The back wall also has a counter. Lots of deep drawers and cupboards up high, so that R. C. [Ronnie Corbett] has to get a ladder to get some of the goods that R.B. [Ronnie Barker] orders. (Please discuss)  [sic]
(R.C. is serving a woman with a toilet roll. He is not too bright.)"

The two main actors are Ronald ("Ronnie") Balfour Corbett, who is one of the finest British sketch comedians, and Ronnie Barker. Corbett plays the shopkeeper and Barker is the customer. The acquired title of the sketch is "Fork Handles" or "Four Candles". It's under this title that you can find the video clip in the Internet. (My thanks to John Maidment for drawing my attention to it).

The sketch is phonetically interesting, and I should like to make some comments on the sketch in future blog entries.

Saturday 23 October 2010

chameleonic pronunciation (3): for instance

In normal colloquial General British the phrase 'for instance' is pronounced /fər ˈɪn(t)stən(t)s/. In case you want to sound pedantic, say /fɔːr ˈɪn(t)stən(t)s/. In casual, rapid speech it may become /fr ˈɪns(t)əns/, and in very casual enunciation it may be reduced to [frˈn̩s(t)n̩s].

Friday 22 October 2010

an elevator controlled by Scottish English

If you like Scottish English and want to have a good laugh you might wish to watch this clip. (My thanks to James Kirchner). But I must warn you: the language is very explicit at times. The clip is unseemly for squeamish people. If they insist on watching it, they should have 'sal volatile' ready.

The clip is taken from a comedy sketch show called Burnistoun, which is a fictional Scottish city. The two gentleman are Iain (what else!) Connell and Robert Florence.

Thursday 21 October 2010

chameleonic pronunciation (2): create

The verb create and forms derived from it may undergo yod dropping in General British. Thus we might get /krieɪt/ -> /krjeɪt/ -> /kreɪt/.
Jeremy Hunt, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown (my thanks go to Jack Windsor Lewis for drawing my attention to Mr Brown's pronunciation of create) are speakers who fairly regularly drop the yod in this verb. Until recently we've had three swallows to make an estival yod-dropping. A few days ago I stumbled upon a 'royal swallow' - Charles Philip Arthur George Windsor, better known as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles recently published a book entitled Harmony. A separate audiobook is available with recordings of the voice of the prince. Sample tracks can be founded on the Internet. At one point he says: "For many years I have been working to create effective partnerships between the private, public and non-governmental organisation sectors, [...]." Create is pronounced /kreɪt/ in this sentence.
The yod-droppings observed could have been caused by sentence rhythm and speed of enunciation. Four swallows don't make a sound shift. In other words, we have to wait and see what happens in the near future, but maybe it's an edging towards a complete loss of yod.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

o tempora, o pronunciationes!

Graham Pointon in his blog entry of the 18th of October  bemoans the trend-setting attempts of a now credit:'e-meritus' professor of modern European history, Tim Blanning, staff member of the revered University of Cambridge, at giving birth to a new pronunciation of the word 'protagonists' as /prəˈtæʤənɪsts/. Was it a singular, individual bent of a professorial mind? A slip of the tongue? The etymology is straightforward: proto + agon + istes. Jack Windsor Lewis in his blog #308 comments: "Some people may wish to retort that there are clear analogies to guide one how to say such words which are usually patently loans from the classical languages but I’m afraid the pattern is muddier than they may think. Many highly educated people tend to be misled by presumed analogies etc." Yes, Jack, this explains or may explain Prof Blanning's tongue movements, but it does not excuse them. Moreover, if Tim Blanning regularly pronounces 'protagonist' this way, why hasn't anyone of his peers, staff members, students ever told him: "Sorry, mate, but it's /prəˈtægənɪst/!" They are to blame too, aren't they?
Addition: If  you can find the broadcast In Our Time (BBC Radio 4, the 14th of October) on the Internet, listen to Tim Blanning saying (at about 33:30): "[...] and yet two of the protagonists are going off to fight against the rebels." Also, at about 29:10 he says: "[...] the tutor feels obliged to castrate himself." Prof Blanning pronounces the verb castrate as /kɑːˈstreɪt/. None of the three leading pronunciation dictionaries lists this as a variant.
Another blunder must have caused red faces among classicists at Cambridge University in May this year. A new extension was built to the faculty building in Cambridge with front doors made of glass. Academics decided to have a student-inspiring inscription across the glass doors. It is the first sentence of Aristotle's Metaphysics: "πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει" (all men by nature desiring to know). The famous line was engraved in capital letters. When the handiwork had been accomplished and the glass doors had been installed, one could read ΦΥSΕΙ instead of ΦΥΣΕΙ.  It was made public by staff member Winifred Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the department, in her blog of the 21st of May for TLS. Mind-boggling question: What is 'blog' in Latin or Greek?


Tuesday 19 October 2010

Hugh Laurie reading aloud

You are probably familiar with the YouTube video clip in which Hugh Laurie (a British actor) and the chat show host Ellen DeGeneres (an American TV entertainer) sit together in a show and exchange what they call "slang" terms. Hugh Laurie reads out from a card his first British term "chin wag", which he pronounces /ʃɪn wæɡ/. He does so several times and even when Ellen repeats it as /ʃɪn wæɡ/, the mistake obviously escapes his notice. He finally becomes aware of his mispronunciation when he explains the meaning of the term. The next expression is "chuffed to bits", which is read three times by Mr Laurie; he makes the same mistake when he pronounces it the 2nd time saying /ʃʌft tə bɪts/. The other two repetitions are okay.

As we all know the pronunciations of 'chin' and 'shin' are very similar. Phonologists who subscribe to the notion that /ʧ/ is a single phoneme call the two words a 'minimal pair'.

'To chin wag' means 'to chat' and 'to be chuffed (pleased, thrilled) to bits' stands for 'to be very much pleased'.

Monday 18 October 2010

chameleonic pronunciations (1): obviously

Like many English words, OBVIOUSLY can be pronounced in different ways:
In slow, careful enunciation it's /'ɒbviəsli/ in General British; in colloquial speech this normally becomes [ˈɒb̪visli] or [ˈɒb̪vəsli]. In extremely casual, rapid enunciation you may hearɒvəsi] or even ɒʃi]

None of the three pronunciation dictionaries – LPD, EPD, ODP – tells you this. 
More on such chameleons in future blog entries!

Friday 15 October 2010

Phonetic Transcription Editor (3)

I was asked to publish the American English transcription of the text (see October 12). Here it is:

Do take something more. That's not enough to keep a bird alive. Well I won't be having any meat. I'm a vegetarian, you know. Oh! Well, do have more vegetables. More potatoes, would you like? Well, I don't usually eat starchy foods. I'm on a diet, you see. I'm sure you don't need to be. I only wish I was as slim as you are. Well, I'm not really overweight, of course, but I do it for my health's sake. Oh! Is this your own idea or are you following your doctor's orders? Actually I've never been in the habit of setting much store by physicians. Oh! Perhaps, you're like Prince Charles into alternative medicine, then?| də ˈteɪk ˈsəmθɪŋ ˈmɔːr | ðæts ˈnɑːt əˈnəf tə ˈkiːp ə ˈbɜːrd əˈlaɪv | ˈwel ˈaɪ woʊnt ˈbiː ˈhævɪŋ ˈeni ˈmiːt | ˈaɪm ə ˌvedʒəˈteriən | ju ˈnoʊ | ˈoʊ | ˈwel | də həv ˈmɔːr ˈvedʒtəbl̩z | ˈmɔːr pəˈteɪtoʊz | ˈwʊd ju ˈlaɪk | ˈwel | ˈaɪ ˈdoʊnt ˈjuːʒəwəli ˈiːt ˈstɑːrtʃi ˈfuːdz | ˈaɪm ˈɑːn ə ˈdaɪət | ju ˈsiː | ˈaɪm ˈʃʊr ju ˈdoʊnt ˈniːd tə ˈbiː | ˈaɪ ˈoʊnli ˈwɪʃ ˈaɪ wəz əz sˈlɪm əz ju ɑːr | ˈwel | ˈaɪm ˈnɑːt ˈrɪli ˌoʊvəˈweɪt | əv ˈkɔːrs | bət ˈaɪ də ˈɪt fər ˈmaɪ ˈhelθs ˈseɪk | ˈoʊ | ɪz ˈðɪs jər ˈoʊn aɪˈdiːə ˈɔːr ər ju ˈfɒloʊɪŋ jər ˈdɑːktərz ˈɔːrdərz | ˈæktʃəwəli aɪv ˈnevər ˈbɪn ɪn ðə ˈhæbət əv ˈsetɪŋ ˈmətʃ ˈstɔːr ˈbaɪ fəˈzɪʃn̩z | ˈoʊ | pərˈhæps | jər ˈlaɪk ˈprɪns ˈtʃɑːrlz ˌɪnˈtuː ɒlˈtɜːrnətɪv ˈmedəsn̩ | ˈðen |

The option to display syllable boundaries was deactivated for this task.

PS: I was informed by the developer of the tool that the database was updated a few days ago. With the new version the word "doctor" is correctly transcribed  in General British.
I was also informed by a blog follower that the ezh symbol /ʒ/ is not displayed properly in his MAC-versions of Safari and Firefox. I'm sorry for this, but in my WIN-version of Firefox the ezh is displayed correctly.

Thursday 14 October 2010

comments on comments on PhoTransEdit
Jack Windsor Lewis in his blog #307 kindly took the trouble to subject the longer text sample (see my blog of the 12 of October) automatically transcribed by the 'PhoTransEdit'-tool to close scrutiny. His overall verdict: "[the tool] ambitiously makes a remarkably good shot at the job." I also fully agree with his inference that "[t]he most serious problems are failure to recognise certain grammatical categories." I need not comment on his line-by-line observations; rather, readers are referred to his blog #307 (vide supra). JWL opines that vertical bars are redundant as indicators of a speaker change. But since the source text does not indicate a change of speaker I'd say that those vertical bars are not superfluous.

There are two major options to be selected or de-selected:
(1) show/remove stress marks,
(2) show/remove syllable boundaries.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Intonation idioms (?)

John Wells (= JW) in his two blog entries of the 6th and 7th of October writes about what he terms "intonation idioms". To give some examples (all taken from JW's blog):

    What’s ˈthat supposed to mean?
    You can say \that again!
    \There’s a clever dog!
    Now \there’s a  thought!

 JW then continues: "My ideal is to supply EFL learners with an algorithm that enables them to predict with confidence an appropriate spoken intonation pattern for any written fragment of dialogue. Where I fail in this ambition, I may need to refine my rules. Failing that, I call the pattern idiomatic."

Any advanced EFL learner and certainly an EFL teacher should be able to use the appropriate prosodic pattern for, say, "Now there's a thought!" as a response to someone else suggesting "Let's have another drink." What kind of construction is this sentence? Taken literally "now there's a thought" means something like "at the time of speaking a thought exists" or "at the time of speaking some thought is over there". Both readings do not make sense as a comment on or reply to the preceding suggestion of having another drink. Since the sole application of morphosyntactic and semantic rules does not lead to the proper meaning, the sentence is called an idiom. The borderline between an idiom and a non-idiomatic expression is fuzzy, of course.

Applying the rules for nucleus placement gives "Now there’s a \thought!", which is not what native speakers say. Since the application of nucleus placement rules does not lead to the proper prosodic pattern, the sentence is an idiom -  now in a double sense: semantically and prosodically.

What term should we use to express this duality of idiomaticity? When we call an expression 'idiomatic', most of us, I guess, automatically think of its grammatical and semantic irregularity. I was tempted to name them 'idioms squared', but refrained from doing so. I chose the (probably not very felicitous) term 'abnormal idioms' (see my blog entry of the 27th of September); on second thought 'double idioms' may be a more apposite term. JW uses 'intonation idioms'. I'm not very happy with this coinage, because it's not the choice of the intonation contour which is idiomatic but rather the choice of the word within the phrase/sentence to which the nucleus is assigned. Jack Windsor Lewis dislikes the coinage as well (see his blog #288) and proposes 'accentuation idioms', 'stress idioms' or 'tonicity idioms', which are much more appropriate. But ... when I read 'accentuation/stress/tonicity idiom' it seems to me that a phrase classified as such is an idiom due to its irregular accentuation only. My impression may be wrong, but there it \is.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Phonetic Transcription Editor (2)

A follower of this blog asked me to publish a larger stretch of text transcribed by the editor tool. Here it is:

Do take something more. That's not enough to keep a bird alive. Well I won't be having any meat. I'm a vegetarian, you know. Oh! Well, do have more vegetables. More potatoes, would you like? Well, I don't usually eat starchy foods. I'm on a diet, you see. I'm sure you don't need to be. I only wish I was as slim as you are. Well, I'm not really overweight, of course, but I do it for my health's sake. Oh! Is this your own idea or are you following your doctor's orders? Actually I've never been in the habit of setting much store by physicians. Oh! Perhaps, you're like Prince Charles into alternative medicine, then?| də teɪk ˈsʌm.θɪŋ mɔː | ðæts nɒt ɪ.ˈnʌf tu kiːp ə bɜːd ə.ˈlaɪv | wel aɪ wəʊnt bi ˈhæ.vɪŋ ˈ miːt | aɪm ə ˌve.dʒɪ.ˈteə.rɪən | ju nəʊ | əʊ | wel | də həv mɔː ˈve.dʒɪ.təb.l̩z | mɔː pə.ˈteɪ.təʊz | wʊd ju laɪk | wel | aɪ dəʊnt ˈjuː.ʒə.li iːt ˈstɑː.tʃi fuːdz | aɪm ɒn ə ˈdaɪət | ju siː | aɪm ʃʊə ju dəʊnt niːd tu bi | aɪ ˈəʊ wɪʃ aɪ wəz əz slɪm əz ju ɑː | wel | aɪm nɒt ˈrɪə.li ˌəʊ.və.ˈweɪt | əv kɔːs | bət aɪ də ɪt fə maɪ ˈhelθs seɪk | əʊ | ɪz ðɪs jər əʊn aɪ.ˈdɪə ɔːr ə ju ˈfɒ.ləʊɪŋ jə ˈdɑːk.tərz ˈɔː.dəz | ˈæk.tʃuə.li aɪv ˈne.və biːn ɪn ðə ˈhæ.bɪt əv ˈse.tɪŋ mʌtʃ stɔː baɪ fɪ.ˈzɪʃ.n̩z | əʊ | pə.ˈhæps | jə laɪk prɪns tʃɑːlz ˈɪn.tə ɔːl.ˈtɜː.nə.tɪv ˈ̩ | ðen |
As you can see there are quite a few mistakes in it. Although I checked British English as the reference accent to be used, the word "doctor's" came out as /ˈdɑːk.tərz/. Nonetheless, I believe that correcting the mistakes made by the PhoTransEdit tool is less time-consuming than having to write the whole text using the Unicode Phonetic Keyboard provided by UCL.
If you'd like to see the same text transcribed in Amercan English, write a comment, and I am going to put the AE-version online. See my blog entry of the 15th of October.

Monday 11 October 2010

inconsistent stress marking in OALD 8

One of my occasional pastimes is to thumb through dictionaries and let some random entry 'greet my eyes'. One of my latest purchases is OALD 8, so I took it from the shelf and opened it. Reading the dictionary entry for ACCOUNT I found several idioms in it, some indicating the main stress, some not. I am informed that the main stress is on ac'count in on your own ac'count, of no ac'count, of little ac'count but am left in the dark about how to stress by all accounts, not on any account etc. A bit of a disappointment!

Saturday 9 October 2010

Now there's a thought

In one of his recent blog entries John Wells writes about the "intonation idiom"
Now there's a thought!
I checked it in the OALD 8: nada!

Thursday 7 October 2010

English Transcription Editor v1.7

The English Transcription Editor PhoTransEdit is a free Windows tool to make written transcriptions easier. All you have to do is to enter the text to be transcribed in regular orthography and to press the button 'Transcribe'. If all the words are found in the database provided, the transcribed text appears on the screen. You can then copy and paste it into your word processor.
Here's a screenshot: is where you can read more about it and also download the installation file.

Saturday 2 October 2010

double idioms (4)

On the 29th of September I asked you to mark some more stress idioms. Here's the solution:

Oxford idioms
to do/perform/stage a disap'pearing/'vanishing ACT
(+) do only
(+) do only
a hard/tough ACT to 'follow
to get one's 'ACT together

(headword is set in capitals)
+ = idiom listed and principal stress indicated by '
(+) = idiom listed, but no stress marking
– = idiom not listed

Oxford Idioms Dictionary for Learners of English (2001).

credit: Oxford University Press
Before I forget to mention it: OUP offers a small Idioms dictionary for learners of English (2001), which lists and explains idioms only. Principal stress is indicated. There's a 2nd ed. of 2006, which, however, I have no access to. Included in the book are a few "fun illustrations" as they are called. Here's one for you to enjoy:

Friday 1 October 2010

a sketchy survey of marking stress idioms in OALD

The first and second editions of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary do not indicate the principal stress in an idiom. From the 3rd edition onward the dictionary user is able to find or deduce the principal stress in idioms such as make a person's flesh creep or throw doubt upon.
J Windsor Lewis
The editor of the 3rd edition (first published in 1974) was Albert Sydney Hornby. Pronunciation adviser/editor was Jack Windsor Lewis (see my blog of the 30th of September). With the publication of the 4th edition in 1989 the editorial baton was passed on to Anthony P Cowie (who had already been involved in revising entries of the 3rd edition). Susan Ramsaran became phonetics editor. A P Cowie writes on p. vii: "The job of  Phonetics Editor was taken on and very ably carried out by a close colleague, Dr Susan Ramsaran. She has provided, as a new feature, a full treatment of variant pronunciations and of stress in idioms and illustrative phrases." This is, as Jack Windsor Lewis rightly points out (see here), not quite correct.
Susan Ramsaran

Let's check 2 of the idioms I used in my previous blog entry and an additional new one:
1. make s.b.'s flesh creep
2. stew in one's own juice
3. there are more/other fish in the sea.
OALD4 indicates stress marks for all 3 idioms, so the dictionary user no longer has to keep a rule in mind needed to 'disambiguate' an idiom unmarked for stress, a rule which he can apply only if he's read the respective introductory section (have you read it?).

With the 5th edition (published 1995) Jonathan Crowther (pseudonym Azed) became chief editor, who put Michael Ashby in charge of  "the phonetics in the dictionary, and in particular [the] overhaul of the treatment of stress in phrasal verbs and idioms, always a difficult area for foreign students." (vi) All 3 idioms indicate stress marks. It is interesting to note, however, that with there are more/other fish in the sea the principal stress on more/other in OALD4 has moved to fish in OALD5.

Michael Ashby still is phonetics editor of the OALD, and the policy of indicating the principal stress with idioms has been fully maintained (excepting the online version) since Michael's 'approbation'.