Friday 25 February 2011

transcription text - course 1 - typical mistakes

Here are some of the 'proposals' by my students who pretend to speak General British:

bereavement bɪreɪvmənt, beriːvmənt, bɪreɪfmənt, bərɪvmənt, bəriːfment
business bɪsnəs, bɪzɪnəs, bɪznes, bɪznəz
endurance endʒərens, ʌndʊrʌnz, əndjuːrænz, ɪndʊrænz
language læŋwɪtʃ, læŋgwɪtʃ, lænɡʊɪdʒ
scriptwriter skrɪptwraɪtə
sense senz
skilled skɪlt

Thursday 24 February 2011

transcription text - course 1

I was asked by a follower of this blog to publish the transcription text I mentioned in my previous blog entry. Here's the text for the first of my four phonetics classes together with the instructions:

Transcribe the text in a phonemic transcription according to the conventions of the IPA either in Received Pronunciation or in General American assuming a colloquial speech style

The business of bereavement is boring. It takes a very skilled scriptwriter indeed to convey the weight of grief, the sense of endurance, the slow drip of endless tears that follow what is, in effect, an emotional amputation. We just don't seem to have a language for it. (48 words)

And here is a model transcription (without indication of variants, stress or intonation):

| ðə bɪznəs əv bɪriːvmənt
ɪz bɔːrɪŋ || ɪt teɪks ə veri skɪld skrɪptraɪtər ɪndiːd tə kənveɪ ðə weɪt əv ɡriːf | ðə sens əv ɪndjʊərəns | ðə sləʊ drɪp əv endləs tɪəz ðət fɒləʊ wɒt ɪz ɪn ɪfekt ən ɪməʊʃənəl æmpjuteɪʃən || wi dʒʌst dəʊnt siːm tə hæv ə læŋɡwɪdʒ fɔːr ɪt ||

Wednesday 23 February 2011

finals #1

I've managed to mark the final test on theory questions in phonetics (remember the secondary cardinal vowels that do not exist in most romantic [sic] languages?). The failure rate is 15 per cent. My next task will be to mark the transcription part of the final test. My young professionals had to transcribe a text of some 40 words in ordinary English spelling either into General American or General British. Let's see how well they'll do in this part.

Saturday 19 February 2011

lemurs and Sir David

There are two blog entries (here and here) dealing with the question of how Sir David Attenborough pronounced the word lemur in his documentary on Madagascar aired by BBC Two on the 9th of February.
John C Wells writes: "But what David Attenborough said on TV last night, repeatedly, was ˈliːmʊə. I don’t think I have ever heard that before." The other blogger, Jack Windsor Lewis, opines: "This [= JCW's observation] very much surprised me becoz [sic] I too watched that program and, tho [sic] I he·rd [sic] him say that word more than twenty times, on no occasion did it strike me as ending with /ʊə/."
Who is one to believe? Well, the best thing is to listen for oneself! So one listened to episode one.
I spotted 22 instances of the word lemur/lemurs in this episode of nearly 59 minutes of length. Sir David's pronunciation vacillated between an unstressed mono- and diphthongal second syllable. If it was a monophthong (N = 17) it was mostly a schwa or /ɔ, ʌ/, otherwise (N = 5) I heard /ʊə/ or /ɔə/.


Addendum: I also watched the second and third episodes of the documentary on Madagascar: Again Sir David's pronunciation vacillated between a mono- and a diphthongal second syllable in the word lemur.

Friday 18 February 2011

romantic cardinal vowels?

Well, well, well ...
One of my questions in the written final test was: "What distinguishes primary from secondary cardinal vowels?"
One of my promising young professionals wrote: "[...]. The secondary cardinal vowels are vowels not used in most romantic languages." Thank you, Sören, for brightening up my day!

Thursday 17 February 2011

another howler

credit: Jojo Mendoza
Here's another howler from my pronunciation assessment sessions:
ˈkjuːrənt vəˈkɛnsiːs ʔaː
ʔˈʌpdeɪtət ʔɒn ə ˈwiːklɪ ˈbɛsɪs

Noice - innit? No, it's not nice - it's frustratinɡ, depressing, exasperating, discouraging, …
Those poor lads and lassies had 7 to 9 years of English at a German secondary school. They proudly wear their Abitur laurels granting them access to university studies. But some of them have a pronunciation which is beyond repair within the confines of a semester’s course. I don’t expect them to know how to pronounce words like ‘mien’, ‘agraffe’, ‘estafette’, ‘muleta’ or ‘theologaster’; but ‘basis’, ‘current’ or ‘vacancies’??? End of rant of a temporarily cantankerous old man.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

finals in English phonetics

This is the week of the oral exams in English pronunciation. My students have to read a text they had time to prepare for
about a week in advance and a series of short sentences which they can have a look at a few minutes before it's their turn.
Guess which sentence is intended:

ɛə wɒs ə tɒmp ʔɪn ðə sɛntə ʔɒf ðə bjuːrɪəl ʧɛmpə]

Sunday 13 February 2011

English cocks

There are many English cocks, aren't there? One sort is called shuttlecock /ˈʃʌt(ə)lkɒk/ (formerly also shuttle-cork) as in the name of the game "battledore and shuttlecock".

Battledore (pronounced /ˈbæt(ə)ldɔː/) may etymologically be related to the Provençal batedor ‘beater’.

Saturday 12 February 2011

a most useless blog post by an EFL purveyor

Mind you, I think it's about as useless a word for discussion by EFL purveyors as it's possible to find at least in regard to current Brit usages.

Friday 11 February 2011

R & R #2

credit: Garnet Education
R & R stands for the title Rhymes and Rhythm, a book written by Michael Vaughan-Rees (see my blog post of the 7th of February). Today I'd like to tell you a bit more about the contents of this book.

Part I (= chapter 1) deals with polysyllabic words and stress. Students are asked to count the number of syllables in words, find out which syllable is stressed, spot the schwa in unstressed syllables, practise strong and weak forms and are given exercises on sentence rhythm and word linking. Here are some examples of what these exercises look like (I do hope M V-R and the publisher don't mind my using some isolated examples; my wording of the tasks is slightly different):

1. Decide how many syllables there are in each of the following words:
policeman, unabridged, ...
2. Where is the stress? Japan, Peter, ...
3. Which syllable is stressed? Jemima, Manchester, ...
4. Listen to words with schwa. support, parade, ...
5. Circle the syllables containing schwa. Argentina, workmanship, ...
6. Listen to the four-beat rhythm of sentences while concentrating on strong and weak syllables: Those are the people we drove to the party, Tom's not as tall as the rest of the family, ...
7. Listen to how words are linked together: two_wapples, three_yapples, necks_tweek, ...

Some of these exercises are too easy for my German students of English, but others are exactly what they need. More to come soon!

Thursday 10 February 2011


While watching a video clip of the pilot series "Are you being served?" yesterday I ran into a word I had long forgotten - haberdashery. Its General British pronunciation is /ˈhæbəˌdæʃərɪ/. According to OED the etymology of <haberdasher> is doubtful: 
Has the form of a derivative of haberdash n. [...], or of the Anglo-Norman hapertas (quasi *hapertassier, *haberdassier); but the actual nature of the relationship between these words is left doubtful by their relative dates, as well as by the undetermined relation in which haberdash and hapertas stand to each other.
As to the meaning(s) of <haberdashery>:
In British English you can buy buttons, hooks, needles, ribbon, thread etc. at a haberdashery.
In American English, Merriam Webster tells us, it denotes a place where men's clothing and accessories are sold.
Here's the OED2 date chart for the word (there seem to be no date charts in OED3 any more):

Have you been to a British haberdashery lately?

A colleague of mine from the American Studies Dep. told me that Harry Truman had been a haberdasher before he became 33rd President of the US. He opened a haberdashery together with his close friend Edward Jacobson in Kansas City, but the store went bankrupt in 1921.
Truman-Jacobson haberdashery around 1920

Tuesday 8 February 2011

feel for English sound sequences

credit: Evelyn Gonzalez
I asked my students (with 7 to 9 years of EFL at a German secondary school) where in the phrase wet blanket they would expect assimilation to occur. The overwhelming majority correctly spotted the word boundary. Additionally I made them guess what kind of change was likely to take place. To my disappointment many of them opted for /wed blæŋkɪt/. Definitely not a native speaker's first choice, is it?
Next they had to classify the change from /wet blæŋkɪt/ to /wep blæŋkɪt/ according to the criteria I had introduced before:
  1. direction
  2. extent
  3. distance
  4. parameter
  5. obligatoriness
Congratulations to those who came up with this answer:
Optional total regressive contact assimilation of place of articulation.

Monday 7 February 2011

Rhymes and Rhythm

I just received a copy of Rhymes and Rhythm by Michael Vaughan-Rees (2nd ed. 2010). The book has 112 pages and comes with 1 CD-ROM and 1 DVD. I got it for GBP 22.69. The 1st ed. was published in 1994 by Macmillan.
Here's the table of contents:
  • Part I - Syllables, stress and rhythm
    •  Ch. 1: Syllables, stress and rhythm
  • Part II - Stress in words and phrases
    • Ch. 2: Stress in verbs
    • Ch. 3: Stress in nouns and adjectives
    • Ch. 4: Stress in compounds and phrases
    • Ch. 5: Stress patterns in words and phrases
    • Ch. 6: Stress shift
  • Part III - Fast, natural speech
    • Ch. 7: Introduction to fast, natural speech
    • Ch. 8: Elision
    • Ch. 9: Assimilation
  • Part IV - Playing with poems
  • credit:
    Michael Vaughan-Rees
    • Ch. 10: Limericks
    • Ch. 11: Other types of poem
    • Ch. 12: Similes, sayings and sounds
  • Appendices
    • Appendix 1: Key to the tasks
    • Appendix 2: Completed poems
    • Appendix 3: Book map
    • Appendix 4: CD-ROM thumbnails
More on the book's contents in a later post.