Thursday 3 March 2011

police, send the please!

John C Wells in his blog of the 2nd of March drew our attention to a BBC Radio 4 interview of Peter French by Dominic Arkwright. Professor French is Honorary Professor of York St. John University at the Dept of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York, and director of J P French Associates, a forensic laboratory specialising in the analysis of speech, audio and language. I made a recording of that interview for later listening.

Two things struck me right away. At around 8:52 minutes of the recording Peter French talks about mobile phone 999 calls. At one point he says: "So very often what you hear is the victim phoning up saying "I'm under attack. Please send the police" or ...". Listen to the section "please send the police":

Please and police are almost identical.

The second striking feature was French's pronunciation of the adjective adhesive in the phrase "self-adhesive envelope flaps" at about 2:03 minutes. Listen to that one as well:

One of John Wells's blog followers (= mallamb) points to the fact that Peter French drops the /h/ in this word. This, of course, doesn't turn Professor French into an aitch-dropper.

(photo credit:
(sound credit: BBC Radio 4)


  1. Your witticism might be interpreted as being at my expense, so I hope you don't mind me adding that my point was that the h-less variants of 'adhere' and its derivatives are extremely widespread (I should have said in BrE non-aitch-droppers, shouldn't I?) but are not in LPD3 or any of 45 online dictionaries I checked, including OED and even Wiktionary.

    BTW I hear z̥ in both 'please' and 'police' and əˈdɘi̯z̥əv for 'adhesive'. I think this is all something to do with his accent being near-RP, but I'm hopeless at dialectology, and I can't tell which regional variety. I did say that if I were a forensic linguist, his pronunciation of 'adhesive' would be no help to me, but the truth of the matter is that not much would!

  2. @mallamb: I did not mean to be witty at your expense. If I caused that impression - my apologies!

  3. I shd like to express full agreement with commenter mallamb's opinion that "the h-less variants of 'adhere' and its derivatives are extremely widespread". As he sez, it's not in LPD. Nor is it in ODP but, tho it was never listed in EPD in the time of Jones or Gimson, it has been included there since Roach, Setter & co took over EPD in 1997. The earliest occasion known to me of its being placed on record as a common General British usage dates from 1972 when it appeared in my own (OUP) CPD.

    Regarding Professor French's pronunciations of
    'please' and 'police', I find them both completely

  4. Kraut said "Professor French is Honorary Professor of York St. John University"

    I'm afraid I'm nowt of the sort. (And 'owzat for General English!)

    Yours truly

    Peter French
    (Hon Prof, Dept of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York)

  5. @Peter French: Thanks for the correction. I hope I won't be under surveillance of your lab now ;)

  6. Professor French's pronunciation of 'please' and 'police' seems to be so normal that none of the pronunciation dictionaries (CPD, EPD, LPD, ODP) mentions it.

  7. Some (but not all) comments of one of my followers are marked as spam. This is a false positive label. I apologise for this weird behaviour of the spam filter, but at present I don't know what to do about it except for marking them as non-spam to place them online.

  8. JWL,
    Thanks for your impressively backdated support for my observations of h-less 'adhere'.

    I agree that the pronunciations of 'please' and 'police' are within the normal range: I hear z̥ in 'please' because of assimilation to the s- of 'send' largely devoicing it but leaving it lenis, and in 'police' because the lack of pre-fortis clipping makes it sound more lenis than if one listens to it in isolation. But the consequence is that as Kraut says, 'please' and 'police' are almost identical. Of course he's being facetious about none of the pronunciation dictionaries mentioning such pronunciations.