Thursday 30 June 2011

oozlum bird

A follower of this blog known to me (inter alia) by the sobriquet of Limey introduced me to a word hitherto alien to me:
oozlum bird

The oozlum bird is such a rare bird so that even ornithologists are quite unaware of it. This bird must not turn left when flying. If it does, then it flies around in ever decreasing circles until it disappears completely in its own a---hole in a puff of blue air. These flight characteristics explain its rarity.

The phonetically interesting question is how to pronounce the name of the bird:

LPD remains silent as does EPD. OPD? Nada!
But OED is a reliable source here. For General American it suggests /ˈuzl(ə)m/, and for General British the proposal is /ˈuːzlʌm/ (why not /ˈuːzləm/ as well?).

Wednesday 29 June 2011


From a scene in Are You Being Served?:

Waiter: Madame, a nice apéritif!"
Mrs. Slocombe: Oh, thank you! And they're my own too."

Nice pun, innit?

Monday 27 June 2011

new codification in the Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch

 If you're familiar with the DUDEN Das Aussprachewörterbuch, the transcriptions of the new Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch might be a shock to you. They're more detailed. They're fussier. They're more difficult to read and understand, at least for a person who consults it and is not a trained phonetician or does narrow transcriptions every other day.

Here are three sample entries:

Biermixgetränk (beer-based mixed drink)
Empfehlungsschreiben (letter of recommendation)
Heuschreckenplage (plague of locusts)

If you feel happy with them - fine.

Sunday 26 June 2011

boat race

D'you know what a /ˈkɒksən/ is? It's a term used in nautical lingo and denotes the lad or lass in charge of a boat's navigation unless a superior officer is present. It's spelled <coxswain>. According to OED the term goes back to cock and swain. A cock or cock-boat is a small boat towed behind a ship. A swain is a young man attending to a knight. The spelling originally was cock-swain, but in the 19th c. the spelling coxswain established itself. Coxswain is often abbreviated to cox

Next question: D'you know what a coxed eight is? Well, there are boat races between colleges of various universities, e.g. between Oxford and Cambridge. The boat of a team sometimes has eight rowers and a cox; this is called a coxed eight.

Enough of this long 'foreplay'. What I actually wanted to tell you is this: There once was a boat race commentator for the Beeb - Howard Carpenter -  who came out with this double-entendre in 1977:

Isn't that nice! The wife of the Cambridge president is kissing the cox of the Oxford crew.

Thank you, Howard!

Disclaimer:  Any mis-interpretation of the above quotation is the sole responsibility of the reader of this blog post.

Thursday 23 June 2011

publication date postponed again

There's a further delay in the publication of Patricia Ashby's new book on phonetics, which was due out on the 29th of April this year. The new expected publication date now is the 29th of July.
Update: 30th of September

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch

2010 saw the publication of a new pronunciation dictionary of German - the Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch, which is a competitor for the well-established DUDEN Aussprachewörterbuch (now in its 6th ed. of 2005). According to its preface the new dictionary contains about 150.000 entries including a large number of word groups (e.g. Meistbegünstigungsklausel [~ most-favoured treatment clause], Dies Irae). The dictionary aims at a "Neukodifizierung der Standardaussprache" (p. vii). Unlike EPD or LPD the publisher (deGruyter) does not offer a CD-ROM with sound files of pronunciations for every word. What we are offered is a link to audio samples which are mentioned in the theoretical part of the dictionary.
This theory part is fairly long; it is divided in three main sections dealing with the
A. standard pronunciation in Germany
B. standard pronunciation in Austria and the
C. standard pronunciation in German-speaking Switzerland.

One of the most interesting chapters is section A.7.3.4, which deals with the germanisation of English names and words. This section (to be found on pp. 138-143) was written by William J Barry, former (1992 - 2008) Professor of Phonetics at the University of Saarbrücken, Germany.

There are three blog posts on this dictionary available here. They made me get hold of the book. The price is €39.95.

More on the dictionary in a future entry.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Scottish extraction


In my previous blog entry I announced a disclosure as regards my ancestry. Here it is:
My paternal great-great-grandmother was Scottish. Alas, that's all I know about her.
When I was in Scotland two decades ago, I inquired about being allowed to wear a kilt: "/no:/" was the answer. They congratulated me, however, on having Scottish blood running through 'me veins'. The good thing about not being allowed to wear a kilt is that people won't try to turn me /arʊnd/. 

sorry lads!

BTW: Today is summer solstice on the Northern Hemisphere. Solstice is basically Latin sol (= sun) sistere (= stand still) and entered the English language via French solstice. The pronunciation is /ˈsɒlstɪs/ or /ˈsɒlstəs/.

Monday 20 June 2011

giving away some private details

Yours truly decided to give away a secret about his ancestry in a future blog. If you're curious - do come back here!

Sunday 19 June 2011

Yorkshire accent

Your mother tongue accent pins you down in society and on a map:
credit: simply heaven food

A young boy in Yorkshire is found sobbing by the side of a river. A passer-by asks him: "What's the matter?" The boy tells him: "Me mate's fallen in t'watter." "How did that happen?" "I dunno. It just slipped from between t'slices o' bread."

Saturday 18 June 2011

how to survive on some paralinguistic vocalisations

Paralinguistic vocalisations are not what we would call proper words. Rather, they are signals produced by those body parts that we happen to use for articulating the speech sounds of a language. If we want to represent paralinguistic signals in writing we run into difficulties because there's no generally approved orthography for them. We very often find them in cartoons and comic books. There are hundreds of expressions symbolising sounds produced by objects (the shooting of a pistol as BAM! or the sound of the diesel engine of a London bus as BOGGLER BOGGLER!) or by persons (the act of swallowing liquid as DOOK DOOK! et cetera).

How to keep your articulatory expenses low in English!
  1. Take a sip of cool refreshing water on a hot summer day and say: "/ɑː/"
  2. A: "My dog just died". B: "/ɔː/"
  3. A door slams on your finger and you shout: "/aʊ/"
  4. A: "The new film XY is shown on TV tonight." B (with mild surprise): "/əʊ/"
  5. You're driving much too fast and you see a speed camera ahead: "/ˈʔʌˈʔəʊ/"
  6. There's a fly in your soup: "/uːːː/"
  7. You spill your tea while pouring: "/uːps/"
  8. You finally understand the problem: "/ʔəˈhɑː/"
  9. You don't hear what someone says: "/hʌ̃/"
  10. No - as a reply to a question: "/ˈʔʌ̃ˈʔə̃/"
  11. Yes - as a reply to a question: "/ə̃ˈhʌ̃/"
I can't remember in which book I found them. Does anyone know because I want to give credit to the author? Also - if you know some more, you're invited to post them!

Friday 17 June 2011

Sebastian Horsley - † 17th June 2010

credit: Fiona Campbell
Today is the first anniversary of the death of a man who was, by his own account, a dandy and artist and who was a talented self-promoter: Marcus A. Horsley, better known as Sebastian Horsley. He was born in (Kingston upon) Hull on the 8th of August 1962; he went to Pocklington School in Yorkshire and later to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, where he graduated in 1983.On the 17th of June 2010 he was found dead in his London home. According to the coroner he died of a drug overdose. He now has "an irregular orbit".

Listen to his 'dandy' (?) pronunciation of English (the short soundtrack was extracted from a interview he gave to a German radio station):
credit: Hessischer Rundfunk

Thursday 16 June 2011

rain in the reign

In my blog post of the 15th of June, 2011, I warned not to "slacken the reigns". This misprint may have been a simple typo due to my lack of attention or caused by my having watched a talk given by David Cameron to the House of Commons celebrating the 90th birthday of Prince Philip. Be it as it may, I should have written "slacken the reins". One of my followers kindly informed me of this and I immediately corrected it. Another follower pointed to the 'delivery' of a lot of rain in Cornwall these days.

To give the whole thing a phonetic twist: English is very rich in homophones. I grab the chance to draw your attention to this website with lots of homophones. It's maintained by Ian Miller. There's another one here.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

JCW - Festschrift articles #1

John A Maidment
I've read the first of a few articles dealing with English: "Transcription and the Changing Vowel System of English" by J A Maidment (= JAM)  (pp. 31-35).

The gist of this article is an attempt at answering the question whether one should adapt the transcription symbols used for practical purposes by most textbooks and pronunciation dictionaries to the changing pronunciation habits of speakers of General British English (aka RP). This is, in principle, a laudable enterprise if we do not sacrifice the unanimity that we have achieved among textbooks and dictionaries since the last 30 or so years. If we slacken the reins we are likely to get a situation which is emerging with OUP and its pronunciation adviser
Clive Upton

Clive Upton, Professor of Modern English Language at Leeds University, who acts as pronunciation consultant for the OED and seems to be grimly determined to adapt all new dictionaries published by OUP to his new transcription scheme.

JAM reflects on the quality of the TRAP vowel. He states that the representation of this vowel by /æ/ is "inappropriate for many GBE speakers" (32). Being close to C4 [a] JAM suggests to replace /æ/ by /a/. He quotes Cruttenden's 7th ed. of GPE where the latter writes:
The quality of the vowel /æ/ becoming more open, i.e. it is close to C. [a]. (81)
This vowel [= /æ/] has become more open recently, previously being nearer to C. [ε] where now it is now close to C. [a]. Only tradition justifies the continuing use of the symbol 'æ' for this phoneme. (112)
 In the 2nd edition of the IPE Gimson stated that the "quality is nearer to C [ε] than to C [a]" (p. 105). As a variant a "more relaxed /æ/ - in the region of C [a] -" (106) is attested, which is heard among "children of the south of England who otherwise have an RP system and who, in later life, adopt the tenser and closer variety of /æ/" (106). That was in 1970. In the 3rd and 4th eds. of 1980 and 1989 this statement is echoed. In the 5th ed. of 1994 we read:
[...] many young speakers of RP use a more open realization of this vowel around C [a]. (103)
In the 6th ed. of 2001 we find this statement:
This vowel has become more open recently, previously being nearer to C [ε] where now it is now [sic!] close to C [a]. (111)
These impressionistic observations of the change were corroborated by F1/F2 measurements carried out by S. Hawkins and J. Midgley and described in an article in JIPA 35/2: 183-199.

From an educational point of view I sympathise with JAM's proposal to replace /æ/ by /a/ because EFL speakers who tend to replace the /æ/ by an L1 sound in between C [e] and C [ε] may get the wrong visual cue when they see an 'æ'-symbol. On the other hand, giving EFL learners the right instructions how to produce the sound, presenting them from the very beginning with the right model and correcting them consistently and obstinately whenever they articulate the wrong sound will be of much greater value.

The other two areas encompass the centring vowels of NEAR, SQUARE and CURE and the GOOSE and FOOT vowels. JAM describes the ongoing changes and asks how widespread these changes are and if they are part of mainstream GBE. Roughly a year ago Jack Windsor Lewis
dealt with centring diphthongs at some length in his PhonetiBlog entries no. 249, 250 and 251; there is no need to replicate what he wrote there.

The quandary we are in is if and how these changes should by symbolised. As far as the monophthongisation of NEAR is concerned I should say that the use of a monophthong symbol is too early because too many speakers still use a diphthong. In the case of the SQUARE vowel, transcription conventions are divided, e.g.:
  • LPD 3 transcribes <square> with a diphthong:
  • EPD17 likewise offers a diphthongal transcription only.
  • Collins & Mees (20082) in their Practical Phonetics and Phonology follow Upton and transcribe it as /skwε:/ explaining their decision as follows: "In most phonetics books, the symbol for this vowel is - but this certainly does not reflect the typical pronunciation of the twenty-first century" (100).
  • Cruttenden describes [ε:] as "a completely acceptable alternative in General RP" (151).
  • OALD 8th ed. has a diphthong for <square>, but the speaker on the CD-ROM pronounces a monophthong
  • J. Windsor Lewis (1969) writes on /εə/: "Generally realised as a long simple vowel (a) before consonants, (b) when unstressed, (c) when stressed but in a structural word" (21).
So the time seems to have come to indicate the monophthong as an alternative to a diphthongal transcription.

As far as the CURE diphthong is concerned there is no question that a few words originally pronounced with this diphthong are now predominantly pronounced with /ɔː/ (poor, sure, your, etc.). However, there is a larger number of words that have resisted this trend: duration, furious, jury, urine, bureaucrat, plural, jury, manure, liqueur - to name but a few. Their principal pronunciation is with a diphthong, though a pronunciation with /ɔː/ may also be heard. A probably much smaller list contains words such as acciaccatura, amateur, amour, heuristic, velour, couture for which the sole pronunciation is with /ʊə/. A much longer though inexhaustive list with /ʊə/-words is to be found here

The centralisation (and diphthongal character) of the GOOSE vowel is a well-established fact. But at present I would not want my EFL students to pronounce the sentence "It's no good choosing now" as [ɪts nəɨ̞ ɡɨ̞d ʧɨ̞zɪŋ naɨ̞].

All in all, I agree with JAM's closing stement: "[...] it is probably wise to leave the standard symbols as they are" (34).

Sunday 12 June 2011


Today is Whitsun, which is short for Whit Sunday. The pronunciation is /ˈwɪtsən/ or /ˈhwɪtsən/. It's the seventh Sunday after Easter, observed as a festival of the Christian Church commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In Old English times it was called Hwíta Sunnandæg, i.e. White Sunday. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we find a section describing that Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was consecrated queen at Westminster in the 11th c.: "hig [= Matilda] gehalgode to cwene on Westmynstre on Hwitan Sunnandæg."

Why 'White'? It seems to refer to the old custom of wearing white robes by persons to be baptised.
This day was and is an occasion for varied forms of celebration:

  • Whitsun Ales was a parish celebration held originally to raise money for church fund

  • Parades with brass bands and choirs

  • Morris dancing, which seemed to have originated as court dancing in the Middle Ages

  • AHEM!

Friday 10 June 2011

Happy Birthday!

credit: dpa

The toddler depicted here was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on the 10th of June 1921. Shortly after his birth his maternal grandfather Prince Louis of Battenberg anglicised his name to Mountbatten. When Prince Philip became a naturalised British subject he took on the surname of his grandfather.

But enough of this!

He is famous for his unconventional statements such as:

(when asked whether he ever read the Guardian) "No fear!"
(1986 during a visit to China) "If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed."
(to a student trekking in Papua New Guinea) "You managed not to get eaten, then?"
(to the president of Nigeria, dressed in a white robe) "You look like you’re ready for bed!"
(March 1988) "When a man opens the car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife."
(addressing members of a Dental Council) "Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practiced for a good many years."
(on Chinese eating habits) "If it has got four legs and is not a chair, if it has two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."
(May 1963) "All money nowadays seems to be produced with a natural homing instinct for the Treasury."
credit: picture-alliance/dpa

Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness!

Thursday 9 June 2011

Festschrift for John C Wells

The day before yesterday I received a copy of the Festschrift Commemorating the Retirement and the 70th Birthday of Professor John C. Wells, published by The English Phonetic Society of Japan (= EPSJ) in 2011.
Allow me to start with a rant - not about the book - but about the appalling bank charges. The price of the book is ¥4500 (postage is free). You have to transfer the money to a Japanese bank - in my case from Europe. You normally do this by a system abbreviated SWIFT, which is short for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. You have to fill in a special form, which I did. My bank charged me €15 in addition to the cost of the book. But that was not all. The bank in Japan charged the EPSJ roughly the same amount. Aaarrrgh! I've said it several times on various occasions: "In my next life I shall become a bank!" End of rant.

The book has about 230 pages comprising a "Forward" [it's actually a Foreword], a two-page article "About me" written by the dedicatee, John C Wells, [I don't know of any other Festschrift in which the dedicatee gives an account of his (academic) life] and a few "Congratulatory Messages" by Masaki Tsudzuki, Jack Windsor Lewis, Hyun Bok Lee, Kazuhiko Matsuno, Masanori Toyota and Tadao Murata. What follows is a series of 21 articles on various phonetic - often asiocentric -  aspects. There is no tabula gratulatoria. The book was originally intended to mark the retirement of John Wells in 2006. What a long gestation period!

With many articles the focus is on English and one of the non-IE languages (e.g. Japanese, Finnish, Korean). A few articles deal with English exclusively. I'm looking forward to giving them a close reading.

A critical evaluation of some articles can be found here.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

E. coli and HUS

credit: BBC
As we probably all know medical jargon is abundant in terms derived from Latin and Greek. None of us, I assume, spent their speech-forming years in an environment in which Classical Latin and Greek were the usual parlance of social life. As a result we are forced to map somehow the Greek and Latin letters and their sound correspondences onto the system of our mother tongue. This task may be easier for a classicist than for the uninitiated who does not hold a Ph.D. in Classics or is a bacteriologist such as Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor at Aberdeen University.

He pronounced E. coli as /ˌiː ˈkəʊlaɪ/ in a recent interview to the BBC; this is what LPD offers. (It also contains the pronunciation of Escherichia - q.v.) He did not pronounce the acronym 'HUS', which stands for the full term Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome. What he did use was the full form, which he pronounced as /ˈhiːməlɪtɪk jʊˈriːmɪk ˈsɪndrəm/. But what about the abbreviation. Should it be given an orthoepic or a spelling pronunciation?

credit: BBC

In another interview a BBC journalist asked Dr Dilys Morgan, a representative of the Health Protection Agency, what she thought about /hʌs/ in adults. To which Dr Morgan replied that it was unusual for adults to develop /eɪʧ juː es/.

So you have a choice there!