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!)


  1. It's interesting that the first time Barker says [fɔːkandls] it is on more or less level pitch, making it difficult to perceive where the intonation nucleus is. For "fork handles", of course, it should be on [fɔːk]. For "four candles" it should be on [kæn].

    In most accounts of English pronunciation there is the phenomenon of "clipping". This means that a vowel is shorter if it is followed in the same syllable by a voiceless consonant. So the vowel in "fork" ought to be shorter than that in "four". It is not very noticeable in this clip and anyway it doesn't seem to help Ronnie Corbett at all.

    I think you are quite right to transcribe with [s] rather than [z], by the way.

  2. John M,
    thanks for your detailed comment. In my draft version I had the nucleus marked on [kændls], but then removed it because, as you write, it's difficult to decide where it is precisely. Maybe, level pitch was used deliberately.
    As far as fortis clipping is concerned, I measured the /ɔː/-vowel durations (without normalising them for differences in speed of enunciation):
    Ronnie Barker: 125, 166, 188 ms.
    Ronnie Corbett: 113, 140 ms.
    The differences are not very pronounced.
    Couldn't one argue that the nucleus could also be on 'handles' in 'fork handles' if B wants to make clear to C right from the beginning of this sophisticated conversation that it's handles he wants, not forks?

  3. Jack-of-all-trades26 October 2010 at 23:26

    For technical reasons I can't hear the sketch now, but, as far as I can remember, when I heard it a few days ago, I heard more or less [fɔːkandls].

    Now, what strikes me is the [s] at the end. Why is it unvoiced (if it is)? Is this devoicing a feature of popular speech?

  4. Hello Mr. Kraut,
    this might be relevant to your interests,
    a very funny contemporary sketch involving accents