Friday 21 February 2014

Aisōpos - de vento et sole

De vento et sole.

Immitis Boreas placidusque ad sidera Phoebus
Iurgia cum magno conseruere Iove,
Quis prior inceptum peragat: mediumque per orbem
Carpebat solitum forte viator iter.
Convenit hanc potius liti praefigere causam,
Pallia nudato decutienda viro.
Protinus impulsus ventis circumtonat aether
Et gelidus nimias depluit ymber aquas:
Ille magis lateri duplicem circumdat amictum,
Turbida submotos quod trahit ora sinus.
Sed tenues radios paulatim increscere Phoebus
Iusserat, ut nimio surgeret igne iubar,
donec lassa volens requiescere membra, viator
deposita fessus veste sederet humi.
tunc victor docuit praesentia numina Tytan,
Nullum praemissis vincere posse minis. 

This text, translated into English and many other languages, has been used for the description of phonetic features of languages for quite some time. The English version is as follows:
The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took his cloak off. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.
The text serves its purpose fairly well if it it used for characterising the phoneme inventory of English, although according to Deterding (2006) some phonemes are missing, namely the consonant /ʒ/, the diphthongs /ɔɪ/, /ʊə/ and /eə/, and there are no triphthongs. Limitations also exist in regard to positional variants, e.g. word-initial and word-medial /z/ is missing. For additional deficiencies of the text see Deterding (2006).

As a consequence Deterding favours an adaptation of another Aesopian fable, entitled 'The Boy who Cried Wolf'.
There was once a poor shepherd boy who used to watch his flocks in the fields next to a dark forest near the foot of a mountain. One hot afternoon, he thought up a good plan to get some company for himself and also have a little fun. Raising his fist in the air, he ran down to the village shouting "Wolf, Wolf." As soon as they heard him, the villagers all rushed from their homes, full of concern for his safety, and two of his cousins even stayed with him for a short while. This gave the boy so much pleasure that a few days later he tried exactly the same trick again, and once more he was successful. However, not long after, a wolf that had just escaped from the zoo was looking for a change from its usual diet of chicken and duck. So, overcoming its fear of being shot, it actually did come out from the forest and began to threaten the sheep. Racing down to the village, the boy of course cried out even louder than before. Unfortunately, as all the villagers were convinced that he was trying to fool them a third time, they told him, "Go away and don’t bother us again." And so the wolf had a feast. 
Some of the advantages of this text over the previous one according to Deterding are
  • each of the monophthongs is represented at least thrice;
  • the missing diphthongs are represented;
  • the word diet contains  - smoothing excluded - the triphthong /aɪə/;
  • etc.
Jack Windsor Lewis argues that a text should include
 at least exclamations, commands, contradictions, question-word, yes/no, alternative and tag questions, hesitations, vocatives and leave-takings" (see here, blog 409),
and its transcription should also indicate intonation marks.

BTW: There are other texts used for similar purposes, e.g. Arthur the Rat, Comma Gets a Cure or The Rainbow Passage.


  1. A further disadvantage of the North Wind text is there are no MOUTH examples, which is the most obvious difference between RP and home counties SBE (and no doubt plenty of other accents too).

    1. After reading the North Wind text so many times, there's one MOUTH example: around.

  2. I wouldn't say that "diet" contains a triphthong. In my accent, it's a 2-syllable word containing a hiatus. A triphthong would be a word of the PRICE or MOUTH sets followed by orthographic R (e.g. tire, tower).

    1. PS. Does anyone actually smooth "diet" to [dɑːt] or the like? I've never noticed it (and will be happy if I never do :))

    2. Alfred Gimson is said to have rung up a London company once because he wanted to hire a car. The gentleman on the other end of the line identified himself by saying: /tɑː kɑː hɑː hɛː/. Got it?

    3. vp, of course. Not everybody, but still, many people do that all the time. (And I'm happy they do it.) If you subtract the fictitious arrogant intonation and mien that comes with it in films, you might notice it, too, on the streets.