Saturday 30 April 2011

Royal Wedding (Kate and William)

The wedding ceremony has an interesting phonetic side to it because one can hear fairly clearly the voices of two different generations of RP speakers - the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, representative of the generation of older RP speakers - and Kate and William, who illustrate a more modern type of RP. Of particular interest are those sections in which William and Kate repeat what the archbishop says first. You can watch the video clip here, but I don't know for how long. That's why I downloaded it for further analysis.

Here's the text of the interesting section (A = Archbishop of Canterbury, W = William, K = Kate)
A: I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.
A: William Arthur Philip Louis, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
W: I will.
A: Catherine Elizabeth, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?
 K: I will.
A: Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?
A: I, William Arthur Philip Louis,
W: I, William Arthur Philip Louis,
A: : take thee, Catherine Elizabeth
W: take thee, Catherine Elizabeth
A: to my wedded wife,
W: to my wedded wife,
A: to have and to hold from this day forward,
W: to have and to hold from this day forward,
A: for better, for worse:
W: for better, for worse:
A: for richer, for poorer;
W: for richer, for poorer;
A: in sickness and in health;
W: in sickness and in health;
A: to love and to cherish,
W: to love and to cherish,
A: till death us do part,
W: till death us do part,
A: according to God's holy law;
W: according to God's holy law;
A: and thereto I give thee my troth.
W: and thereto I give thee my troth.
[same procedure follows]
K: I, Catherine Elizabeth, take thee, William Arthur Philip Louis to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy law; and thereto I give thee my troth.
A: Bless, O Lord, this ring, and grant that he who gives it and she who shall wear it may remain faithful to each other and abide in thy peace and favour, and live together in love until their lives' end. To Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
A: With this ring I thee wed.
W: With this ring I thee wed.
A: With my body I thee honour.
W: With my body I thee honour.
A: And all my worldly goods with thee I share.
W: And all my worldly goods with thee I share.
A: In the name of the Father
W: In the name of the Father
A: and of the Son
W: and the Son
A: and of the Holy Ghost
W: and of the Holy Ghost
A: Amen.
W: Amen.
A: Let us pray [...]
credit for all photos on this page "The Royal Channel"
More to come in a later blog entry!

Sunday 24 April 2011

/ˌhæpi ˈiːstə/ to All of You

I wish my blog followers a Happy Easter and a lot of nests for their eggs [sic].

Saturday 23 April 2011

transfer from /ʊə/ to /ɔː/

Should we write an elegy on the imminent demise of the diphthong /ʊə/? It's much too early I should say. The diphthong persists doggedly in an increasingly smaller number of words. One of the words which has surrendered almost completely to the monophthong /ɔː/ is poor (along - though to a lesser degree - with words such as sure, tour, your(s), you're, moor). LPD2 and LPD3 contain graphs for poor illustrating this change from a diphthongal to a monophthongal pronunciation - graphs which are based on pronunciation polls carried out by the dictionary's author John C Wells for the 2nd and 3rd editions.


One clearly sees the steady rise of the pronunciation /pɔː/; around 80 per cent of those aged around 40 or younger indicated that they pronounce the word with a monophthong. However, nobody knows if the pendulum will swing back.
Most of my EFL students (who are in their twenties) use a diphthong in poor, which is probably due to the fact that their teachers at secondary school used or still use a diphthong. To present them with a 'younger' pronunciation model I changed my pronunciation from /ʊə/ to /ɔː/. Doesn't make me younger physically - alas!

Friday 22 April 2011

Good Friday

This is an off-topic entry.
Why is the Friday before Easter called Good Friday? There are at least two explanations offered in the literature:
Some authors say that it's a translation from Latin. There are sources in which the day is called "bonus dies Veneris". To call this day bonus = good can be made plausible by pointing to the fact that Christ was so good to mankind that he sacrificed himself. But what about "Veneris", which is the genitive case of Venus? The good day of Venus? (See comment below by @luke) Other authors assume that good is a corrupted form of God, the original expression being God's Day. Does any of my followers have a (more) plausible explanation?

Monday 18 April 2011

A plum in your mouth

I'm re-reading A plum in your mouth by Andrew Taylor. Here's one of his cute little stories:

Taylor describes an event at his grammar school when he was a young boy of 15. They had a young French assistant, Danny, with a French accent. One day Danny gave Taylor and his classmates a written test: "I am going to give each of you a piss of pepper." Naturally the class howled with laughter. Danny got angry and puzzled at the same time: "I don' see why it is so fonny to 'ave a piss of pepper. Okay, so I don' give you a piss of pepper, I give you a shit of pepper."

It's similar to Pierre (who's not mentioned in Taylor's book), who tries to explain his favourite sports: "I will fuckus on bitch sucker". Okay, Pierre, tell us more about it ...

Friday 8 April 2011

Sir Peter Tapsell - #2

Let's listen more closely to Sir Peter's problems with r-sounds. Here are the first three sentences:

I wish to speak in support of new clause 7, so ably moved by my honourable (1) friend, the member for (2) Broxbourne, and to comment on the (3) related issues of the (4) number  ͡  of MPs and the (5) number  ͡   of Ministers with which it deals. (6) Paragraph 24 of the coalition (7) programme for government, the contents of which we are, in part, debating today, starts with the words:

"The Government believes that our political system is (8) broken. We urgently need fundamental political (9) reform".
Listen to samples (1), (2) and (3):
Of the three samples "related" is the least conspicuous one.

Samples (4) and (5) are interesting to listen to because they illustrate if and how Sir Peter makes use of linking-r:
In (4) there's neither an r-sound nor a glottal stop; in (5) I hear a fairly regular, inconspicuous [ɹ ] which links "number" to "of Ministers".

Finally, samples (6) to (9):
 All the r-sounds are replaced by [ʋ].

From time to time I have a student in my phonetics classes who shares this infelicitous speech behaviour with  celebrities such as Roy Jenkins or Sir Peter Tapsell. Which hints can be given to these students? An attempt at an answer will be given in one of my future blog entries.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Sir Peter Tapsell, MP

In John Wells's blog of the 6th of April, John writes among other things about the replacement of /r/ by [ʋ]. The speaker he mentions in this context is Sir Peter Tapsell, MP for Louth and Horncastle, who has also been Father of the House since 2010. Listen to the extract that I recorded and put online for you (I've slightly amplified the sound and cut out some of the pauses; credit: BBC). Here's the text of the section I recorded:

I wish to speak in support of new clause 7, so ably moved by my hon. friend, the member for Broxbourne, and to comment on the related issues of the number of MPs and the number of Ministers with which it deals. Paragraph 24 of the coalition programme for government, the contents of which we are, in part, debating today, starts with the words:

"The Government believes that our political system is broken. We urgently need fundamental political reform".

Mr. Chairman, I totally disassociate myself from that, to me, shameful statement. If it is true, then all political leaders of recent years ought to resign their seats because they would be responsible. Our "political system is broken" the document says. That was the slogan of Oswald Mosley and the British fascists when I was a boy. Mosley spent the war  ͡   in prison, and the political system he despised and described as broken triumphed at home and abroad. Our political system is not broken. We have had some nincompoop Front Benchers, some expense-fiddling Back Benchers and even some who managed to qualify under both categories [laughter], but our political system is basically sound and, in parliamentary terms, not very different from what it was in 1945, 1918 and 1850. It is the duty of an incoming Government in a democratic country to work within the rules and conventions of its political system, not to change those rules and conventions to fit its temporary party political convenience – that is a privilege usually reserved for banana republics. That is why I am opposed to all so-called constitutional changes proposed in the coalition programme. The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday – appropriately on "Desert Island Discs" – that when he met the leader of the Conservative party after the election, they agreed together that in the general election both their parties had lost. We should try to reverse that decision of the electorate not by changing the rules of the game but by raising the standard of government. We do not have too many MPs: we have too many Ministers and too many placemen, to use Sir Robert Walpole's phrase to describe the proliferation of what Disraeli later described as the Tadpoles and Tapers of politics, who are now being proliferated to an astonishing degree. In 1900, Mr Chairman, when we were the richest and most powerful nation in the world, there were nine Parliamentary Private Secretaries. By 2000, it had gone up to 47 and now it is rising daily. The total number of MPs involved in Government had by 2000 already gone up from 42 in 1900 to 129 in 2000.
BTW: Woy Jenkins (sorry: Roy Jenkins) and [lɔːd mǝntgʌmǝʋɛh] also illustrate this 'whim of nature'.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

some more French weak-forms or: filum phoneticum Petri Frenchi

I've transcribed the interview of Peter French (= PF) by BBC presenter Dominic Arkwright (= DA).
Dominic Arkwright
credit: BBC

credit: J P French
As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, understanding PF wasn't difficult (nor was it difficult to understand DA). Much more difficult, at times even impossible to understand, were the various sound samples of telephone recordings of suspects. As you can imagine, the quality of a telephone line is frequently poor, and criminals try to disguise their voices. So I had to leave out most of those parts of the recording.
Here's the beginning of the interview:

Cassette tape voice: I'm Jack. I see you are still having no luck catching me. I have the greatest respect for you George, but Lord! you are no nearer catching me now than four years ago when I started. I reckon your boys …[voice fades out]
DA: In June 1979 John Humble sent a cassette tape to the police claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper. It followed a series of similar letters from Humble and was enough to send the police investigation off in the wrong direction hunting for the anonymous Wearside Jack. Twenty-six years later with the help of DNA and forensic acoustic evidence Humble was caught and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Cassette tape voice: See you soon! Bye!
DA: Professor Peter French from York University is an expert in forensic acoustics.
PF: Initially it was a speaker profiling case way back in the late seventies when the murders were being carried out. (1) I think you’ll remember this was a series of (2) thirteen murders, which were carried out principally in West Yorkshire by a man who turned out to be from Bradford, Peter Sutcliffe, (3) and, of course, during the course of the ongoing investigation, I think between the twelfth and the (4) thirteenth murder, the investigating officers received some letters and also a recording from somebody professing to be the Ripper. And, of course, they put all their eggs in one basket and started to try and have that voice profiled, which was done by a man called Stanley Ellis mainly, who was able to say ‘Well, your caller is from the north bank of the Wear’. They never ever found the hoaxer – of course, Peter Sutcliffe was subsequently convicted and sentenced for the murders – until 2006, and that was a cold hit DNA. What the police had done was to preserve the envelopes, the letters and the cassette have come in; and, of course, in those days - it was before self-adhesive envelope flaps – you licked them, (5) and there was enough DNA on that to run against the national database, that turned up a man called John Humble, who was indeed from the very area living within two miles of the place that the linguist Ellis had sleuthed him down to purely on the basis of his accent. 

Sentences, phrases or words I'd like to comment on are marked red. They illustrate certain features of normal colloquial English, neither particularly striking nor extraordinary - not even obligatory, but they're good examples of what unrehearsed, natural, colloquial English sounds like. Learners of English as a foreign language should waste a thought or two on (at least some of) these processes and properties of connected speech.
(1) I think you remember
The whole phrase lasts a bit longer than 700 ms with 'I think' only about 250 ms in duration.The phrase 'I think' is fairly unimportant for the speaker, which is why he compresses it.
(2) thirteen murders
We have stress shift here. Thirteen - said in isolation -  regularly has the primary stress on the 2nd syllable. As the following word (= murder) starts with primary stress, two syllables with primary stress would abut in the phrase thirteen murders. Native speakers tend to avoid this and move the stress from -teen to thir-. So we get ֽthirteen 'murders. Other examples would be Japa'nese but ֽJapanese 'girl, pictur'esque but ֽpicturesque a'ccount.
(3) and, of course, during
The conjunction and is heard in one of its several reduced forms. During has an initial voiced affricate, a variant which is used by more than 50 per cent of GB speakers according to the poll figures in LPD3.
(4) thirteenth murder
Like in (2) there's a stress shift in thirteenth from the ultimate to the penultimate.
(5) and there was
Existential there + be is normally weakened. Peter French complies with this habit.

Friday 1 April 2011