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.