Wednesday 24 July 2013

pun for fun

I must confess I love puns. Here's one:

First courtier: "The Queen seems very grumpy this afternoon."
Second courtier: "Don't worry, she'll be fine when the strolling players arrive."
First Courtier: "Oh, so it's just pre-minstrel tension."

Tuesday 23 July 2013

OED chief editor

credit: OED - Oxford University Press
OED announces the retirement of its chief editor John Simpson in October 2013. He's held this position since 1993. He had joined the OED staff in 1976. OED Online was launched under him in 2000. Michael Proffitt is to succeed him.

Monday 22 July 2013

From plural to singular

credit: Colin_K
Many English nouns can be pluralised by adding <s>, e.g. cat+s, dog+s. Did you know there's an English word which changes from plural to singular by adding <s>? 

Here's my solution:

princes + s = princess

Saturday 20 July 2013

/æn/ as a weakform

In his blog no. 403 Jack Windsor Lewis rightly points to the fact that one of the various weakforms of the conjunction 'and' is /æn/ - a variant not mentioned in any of the 'Big Three'. I stumbled across a sound sample yesterday which I'd like to put online as a kind of corroboration. There's a series broadcast by BBC IV called 'Some Vicars with Jokes" in which vicars, priests etc. around the UK crack their favourite jokes. In one of these broadcasts a vicar tells a joke about a minister delivering his final prayer. In this account there are two sentences beginning with 'and' a pause before them:
  1. And he said with his arms stretched to heaven ... /æn i sed/
  2. And he was stopped in his tracks ... /æn i wəs stɒpt/
Here are the sound tracks:
credit: BBC IV

My thanks go to BBC IV and Rev. Andy Kelso.

Friday 19 July 2013

an English Kapellmeister

On the 18th of July Katie Derham presented a BBC Proms concert of Mahler's Fifth conducted by Jonathan Nott. In her introduction she talked about the musical career of Maestro Nott, who is musical director of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Nott built his career in Germany by joining "the traditional German career ladder known as the Kapellmeister system." All the 'Big Three' pronunciation dictionaries correctly place the stress on the second syllable, but Ms Derham deigned to place it on the first.

credit: BBC IV

Thursday 18 July 2013

a certain age for marriage

Another of my assessment sentences contains the word <marriage>. I had always thought the word is so frequent that even German speakers of English having been taught the lingo in a German secondary school for 7 - 9 years should know how to pronounce it. Alas ...

Let's look at <-iage> and <-age> (with any preceding letter but <i>).

<-iage> has three pronunciations:
  1. /ɪdʒ/ as in marriage, carriage;
  2. /iɪdʒ/ as in foliage, verbiage;
  3. /iːɑːʒ/ as in triage (with /traɪɑːʒ, traɪɪdʒ, triːɪdʒ/ as variants.
<-age> also has three pronunciations:
  1. /ɪdʒ/ as in appendage, average, cleavage, cottage;
  2. /eɪdʒ/ as in  age, cage, page, rage, stage, wage;
  3. /ɑːʒ/ as in camouflage, collage, espionage, curettage.

Which brings me to an important hint:
There's an excellent website with pronunciation tips which has recently been relaunched by John Maidment.

There's a lot more to be found there on the relations between spelling and pronunciation in English.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Phonetic squeeze zones

I've treated myself to this book:
credit: cover design by Jane Bromham

The author of this book comprising more than 320 pages is Richard Cauldwell. The book intends to focus on the decoding of natural, spontaneous, informal and relaxed English speech and promises to give tips and hints on how to teach the perception of it. The book is divided into four parts comprising 30 chapters.

For me part 4 will be the most interesting one entitled "Teaching listening" with these chapters:
ch. 16: Issues in teaching listening
ch. 17: Goals and mindset
ch. 18: Vocal gymnastics in the classroom
ch. 19: Rebalancing listening comprehension
ch. 20: Hi-tech solutions and activities

More on this in a later blog entry.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

bargains galore!

It's pronunciation assessment time in my phonetics classes. My young professionals are supposed to read a text they had time to prepare for about a week and a few sentences they have about 3-5 minutes to familiarise themselves with before they enter the phonetic torture chamber.

One of these sentences contains the word 'bargain'. Many a student pronounces the word to rhyme with 'gain'. There aren't many English words ending in the letter sequence '-gain': again, against, bargain, gain, regain.

Again: both prons are used - /əɡen/ and /əɡeɪn/ - sometimes by one and the same speaker. LPD3 tells us that 80% of the GB informants preferred /əɡen/.

credit: LPD3 - headword again

Against: again both variants are possible.
Gain, regain: they have /eɪ/ only.
Bargain: for this word the GB prons are /bɑːɡɪn, bɑːɡən, bɑːɡn/
So, boys and girls, watch out!

Update: A few candidates pronounced 'bargain' as /bɑːdʒɪn/. Tsk - tsk - tsk

Friday 12 July 2013

Obama's interest

While listening to a speech given by Barack Obama during the G8 summit meeting in 2012, I stumbled across his weakform pronunciation of the word 'interest' as /ˈɪntrs̩t/1. Intr'stingly, none of the 'Big Three'
lists this as a variant pronunciation.
Listen to two snippets and decide for yourselves if you can spot a schwa:

photo credit: SpreePiX
1Sorry for the misaligned syllabicity diacritic.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

binomials with weakform words: AND

There are, as we all know, some 40 odd English words which belong to a closed set, i.e. it is fairly unlikely that the set will be enlarged in the foreseeable future. I'm talking about determiners, primary and modal auxiliaries, conjunctions etc. These words (and many words which belong to the open set) have at least two pronunciations - a strongform and a weakform. In today's blog I want to concentrate on binomials which contain such a weakform word.

Binomials (binomial pairs, Siamese twins or freezes are frequent alternative terms) are groupings of (often two or three) words the sequence of which may or may not be reversible (day and night vs. night and day as opposed to bag and baggage vs. *baggage and bag).

Here are a few sentences containing binomials with 'and'. I've transcribed them assuming a relaxed manner of pronunciation.

In its weakform usage, avoid pronouncing the /d/ in 'and'; so either use /ən/ or /n/ or assimilate the nasal to the neighbouring sound. The weakform /n/ is preferably used after fricatives or alveolar plosives (see J. Windsor Lewis1 (1972:7). LPD 3 contains an important comment on ‘and’: “The presence or absence of d in the weak form is not sensitive to phonetic context: the choice depends upon the fact that the weak form ənd is slightly more formal than ən.” The transcription(s) I indicated at the end of each sentence do not represent the only way to pronounce the respective set phrase and may not even be the most frequent one(s). But give them a try to make your enunciation sound less formal!

1.    I still see her every now and then. /naʊ ən ðen/
2.    I've been working on quite a few things here and there. [hɪr ən ðɛː]
3.    Truth must be repeated aɡain and aɡain. /əɡen ən əɡen/
4.    Medical science has proven time and again that great progress can occur. /taɪm ən əɡen/
5.    He was up and about again two days after the operation. /ʌp ən əbaʊt//ʌp m əbaʊt/
6.    He’s been walking up and down for 45 minutes. /ʌp ən daʊn//ʌp m daʊn/
7.    We are first and foremost a team of surgeons. /fɜːst n fɔːməʊst/
8.    The war may well just go on and on. /ɒn ən ɒn/
9.    I've had a terrible day - now I just want a little peace and quiet. /piːs n kwaɪət//piːs ŋ kwaɪət/
10.    He won it fair and square and picked up his seventh world title. [fɛr ən skwɛː]
11.    WashAndGo is an application that keeps your hard drive spick and span. /spɪk ən spæn//spɪk ŋ spæn/
12.    Let me get all my bits and pieces together. /bɪts n piːsəz/
13.    Top and tail the beans and halve them. /tɒp ən teɪl//tɒp m teɪl/
14.    He flies back and forth weekly between London and Paris. /bæk ən fɔːθ//bæk ŋ fɔːθ/
15.    I looked high and low for my dog but couldn’t find her. /haɪ ən ləʊ/
16.    It’s an award for the best up-and-coming actress. /ʌp ən kʌmɪŋ//ʌp m kʌmɪŋ/
17.    I like the free-and easy atmosphere of the pub. /friː ən iːzi/
18.    We talked about this and that. /ðɪs n ðæt/
19.    They’ve been dating off and on for ten years. /ɒf n ɒn/
20.    She threw her drunken husband out of the house, bag and baggage. /bæɡ ən bæɡɪʤ//bæɡ ŋ bæɡɪʤ/
21.    I think that by and large I have solved the problem. /baɪ ən lɑːʤ/
22.    Her confidence increased by leaps and bounds. /liːps n baʊndz/
23.    You’ll risk life and limb if you decide to go rock-climbing. /laɪf n lɪm/
24.    Education is not a pick and mix concept. /pɪk ən mɪks//pɪk ŋ mɪks/
25.    I want you to write a short essay on the pros and cons of capital punishment. /prəʊz n kɒnz/
26.    Some people just grin and bear it, while others smile and change it. [ɡrɪn ən bɛːr ɪt]

1 Windsor Lewis, J. (1972), A concise pronouncing dictionary of British and American English, (Oxford)