Thursday 27 October 2011

Chladni figures - #2

In my blog post of the 24th of October I mentioned the term 'Chladni figures'. I'd never ever heard of this term before I came across the video clip the other day. Chladni - is this a thing or a person, or what is it?
Wikipedia tells us it's the name of a German physicist, musician and instrument maker: Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni (1756-1827).

You're right in assuming that the spelling of his surname is untypical of German. His parents, Wikipedia reveals, came from Slovakia; Ernst, however, was born in Wittenberg, Germany. I would have pronounced the surname as /xladni/, but Wikipedia offers the 'germanised' pronunciation /ˈkladnɪ/.

Anyway, he conducted some research on vibrating plates thereby inventing a method for visualising the vibration patterns of sounds (see pictures 2 and 3):
picture no. 2
credit: The Whipple Museum
picture no.3
credit: The Whipple Library
The 3rd picture, which is an illustration of some vibration patterns, is taken from Chladni's book of 1802 "Die Akustik". This is the title page of the 1830 edition:

picture no.4
credit: European Cultural Heritage Online
 Nowadays the technique of visualising sound vibrations is called cymatics by some people. One can use simple metal plates or the Cymascope. The latter gadget can be admired in picture no. 5:

picture no.5
Just to make it clear: It's not a serious method for the phonetic investigation of speech sounds, I think. Disprove me if you can!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

A Critical Introduction to Phonetics

I've bought another book on phonetics. The author is Ken Lodge, and the title is A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. It was published in 2009 by the Continuum International Publishing Group. I would have been greatly astonished if the title had been An Uncritical Introduction ... .

Here's the table of contents. More on the book in a later blog entry.
(Phew, what a stack of books on my bedside table)

Monday 24 October 2011

Chladni figures - #1

Enjoy these figures! They're sceenshots taken from a video which you can watch here.

The three sustained vowels are sung by a lady by the name of Vera Gadman.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Monroy-Casas, Rafael (2011), Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English

Ch. 1 - Phonetic transcriptions: A brief overview - sketches on two pages the beginnings of transcription from the end of the 19th to the early 20th century, mentioning the IPA besides A.M. Bell's system. Two other names are dropped, namely Otto Jespersen and Henry Sweet. The author of the book under review then opens up a new chapter (= ch. 2, which comprises about 12.5 pages) which is more or less a continuation of the contents of the previous one though focussing on the basic principles and classificatory criteria of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Ch.3 takes a look at transcription systems used on the other side of the pond. On three pages the systems devised by Kenyon&Knott, Trager&Smith, Prator&Robinett (the latter two sources are not mentioned in the bibliography) and by Tiffany&Carrell (called Americanist Phonetic Alphabet (= APA)) are juxtaposed.

Ch. 4 deals with the distinctions between phonetic and phonemic transcriptions.
Section 2 now turns "From theory to practice" (it's the section title). Ch. 5 deals with the letter-sound relation of consonants (plosives, fricatives, liquids, nasals and approximants). The reader is asked to do a few exercises, e.g. the one on page 45:

In paragraph 5.5, which treats "[c]onsonant assimilation", the author distinguishes between "allophonic assimilations" and "phonemic assimilations" (51). If "phonemes do not usually undergo a qualitative change (e.g. palatalisation, velarisation, etc. [sic])" (51), such changes are called allophonic. If, however, "although there may be a change in quality, there is no alteration of the phonemic status of the assimilated element" (51), they are called phonemic. Mmh ... these statements leave me quite puzzled; I wish there'd been at least one example illustrating the two types of assimilation.

Ch. 6, which is titled "Transcribing English Vowels" contains a section with eight tables on strong and weak forms. The weak and strong forms of eight words are transcribed and model sentences are presented in which the respective word is to be found in initial, medial, final or emphatic positions (if applicable). It is to be pitied that the original manuscript was reduced to a format of roughly 5.8" x 8.9", because the reduction makes the text of the tables hard to read. Here's an example (the ruler has a metric scale).

Section 3 - "Corpus of oral texts" - contains 18 texts neither the sources nor the purpose of which are revealed in this section. All the reader is told about the sources is to be found in the prologue to the book, where the author writes on p. 10: "[...] the excerpts used for transcription are oral samples taken randomly from radio and TV broadcasts [...]." The accompanying CD (of good recording quality) contains the texts read by Elizabeth Murphy, Cathy Staveley, Keith Gregor and David Walton, who seem to be staff members of the University of Murcia. Some of the voices exhibit a clearly audible Northern regional tinge.

In section 4 we are presented with various transcription systems. The author chooses six different systems, which he illustrates by transcribing these 18 texts, sometimes with the help of the originators of these systems. As Jack Windsor Lewis in his review rightly states, it would have been much more comfortable for the reader to compare the systems, had a certain text been transcribed by all six methods followed by the next text - again transcribed using all six systems etc.

Another feature - and this makes the transcriptions particularly awkward to appreciate - is the fact that the sample transcriptions are separated not only from the texts in their  ordinary spellings but also from the comments on the transcriptions: The ordinary spelling of text 1 ('the weather forecast') is on p. 63; the transcription following the Jonesian simplified transcription system is on p. 88 and "comments to the sample transcriptions" (88) (but NOT to this type) are to be found on pp. 191ff. A bit confusing!

More confusion on the part of the reader is to be expected as a consequence of the fact that the transcriptions do not reflect the recordings. Here's an example - first the text, then the transcription following the EPD/LPD model:

[...] and I hope you enjoyed the summer yesterday [...] (63)
ən aɪ ˈhəup ju ɪnˈdʒɔɪd ðə ˈsʌmə ˈjestədeɪ

The speaker pronounces the pronoun <I> actually as [a]. Why does the author replace this by the diphthong? I may have overlooked his explanation, but to me such a policy does not make sense. What is transcription about? It's to give a written record of what's been said and not what should or could have been said.

What is the purpose of the whole book? Here's the author: "Our book [...] presents a whole array of transcriptional practices, providing answers to apparently different ways of representing sounds with [sic] English. With this knowledge, students and foreign language teachers alike will be in a position to choose the model that better suits their educational needs [...]" (9-10). Nit-picking, I might reply that it is only questions one can provide answers to and not ways of representing sounds. But apart from this petitesse, I strongly doubt that having read the book a student or a foreign language teacher will be in a position to make a well-founded decision on one of the systems. Moreover, let's not forget that for the last thirty plus years we've managed to arrive at a fairly uniform system and de facto standard of transcription, which is used in many a textbook and dictionary published in Europe. It should not be given up too hastily.

Sections 3 and 4 are a very praiseworthy enterprise. To my knowledge there is no other book illustrating various transcription systems in this unique way. But - the author should have concentrated on this topic and not additionally include an historical survey.

Sunday 16 October 2011

EPD 18th ed.

The 18th edition of the EPD seems to be almost out. Amazon tells me that it will be dispatched within 2-3 weeks. The CUP price is 31.10 GBP. Amazon offers it for 23.93 GBP.

On the webpages of CUP it says: "Published 06 October 2011". If I were to buy it from CUP they would add 3.99 VAT and 7.00 delivery charges. That's a total of 42.09 - scandalous! If I buy it from Amazon UK the grand total (including postage, packing and VAT) is 30.94. I think I wait till I can buy it for 30 pounds.

Thursday 13 October 2011

yet another book on English transcription!

October seems to be a fairly fertile month for matters phonetic. The German publisher ESV (= Erich Schmidt Verlag) announces the publication of this book:

Schmitt, H. (2011), Phonetic Transcription.
The price is € 16.90 (valid for Germany only).
You can download the table of contents here.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Hall of Fame plaque unveiled

The plaque 's been unveiled.

The word I have in mind is /əˈnaʊntsmn̩ts/.

Tuesday 11 October 2011


Who can suggest an English word which meets the following criteria:
  1. single word (no compound, no phrase),
  2. inflected forms are allowed,
  3. no proper name or place name,
  4. there's only one monophthong or diphthong in it,
  5. post-vocalically, the word contains at least five consonants in a row,
  6. one can articulate all five consonants (no elisions),
  7. colloquial, relaxed speech style and
  8. the word ends after the last consonant?
A reward is advertised: You will see your name entered in the Hall of Fame (first come first served principle).

Monday 10 October 2011

on me desk

Two new books are lying on me desk waiting to be read:
  1. Monroy-Casas, Rafael (2011), Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English, (Bern etc.),
  2. Ashby, Patricia (2011), Understanding Phonetics, (London). (What a surprise - it's finally out!)
see my blog entry of the 19th of October

Thursday 6 October 2011

Would you like to go to a concert?

John Maidment in his blog entry of the 25th of September wrote on the fall-rise and high fall versions of the sentence "would you like to go to a concert?" The fall-rise clip is the one which raised the question of whether there was a rise actually audible in the final syllable of the word 'concert'. Unfortunately the quality of the recording of this particular sound clip is poor. So I asked John to re-record it, with which he kindly complied, and he put a more recent version online. Listen to the clips. First you'll hear the high fall (which is uncontroversial), next the older version of the fall-rise (d'you hear a rise in <-cert>?) and finally the new version of it.

Next you can see the fundamental frequency contours of the three clips.
  • High fall

    • Fall-rise (old version)

      •  Fall-rise (new)

      If the calculation of the fundamental at the end of the /ə/ in concert displayed in the second graph is correct and not an artefact, then the rise is really, really small, tiny, delicate, minute ...