Thursday 24 December 2015

season's greetings


Season's greetings to all my blog followers and best wishes for 2016!

Monday 21 December 2015

OED transcriptions - examples (1) - weakforms cont'd

Jack Windsor Lewis kindly informed me that the new OED stuff 'went live' on Dec 9, so one mustn't expect such a major technical upheaval to work smoothly right from the start.
As I wrote in my previous blog, it's a pity we aren't told anything about the speakers. All we get to know in the release notes on pronunciations, written by Catherine Sangster, Head of Pronunciations, is this:
A small number of actor-phoneticians were recruited, and came to our recording facilities in Oxford to read each transcription aloud. Besides having clear voices, suitable accents, and some experience behind the microphone, they needed to be able to read the IPA transcriptions.
I am inclined to think, however, that they are not (sufficiently) phonetically trained to pronounce weakforms in a natural way or to pronounce a schwa whenever the script requires them to.

6. for (prep.)

There's no soundfile for the GB variant and no transcription or soundfile for the GA version.

7. must (aux.)

 Listen to both versions:

For both vowels I'd use the IPA symbol /ʌ/. Why a schwa then in the OED? To answer the question one has to delve into the Uptonian universe of transcription sets. There's a short introduction into this alien galaxy in the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (~ ODP) written under the editorial baton of Clive Upton, William Kretschmar and Rafal Konopka. On its page xi one finds under the heading "Technical discussion: transcription sets" the announcements that
a) the transcriptions are "broadly phonetic", that
b) the "intention is always to indicate actual sounds to be produced" and that
c) two different sets "are appropriate to the BR [= General British] and AM [= General American] models used".
Here are the two sets as depicted in the ODP:

credit; Oxford University Press
credit: Oxford University Press

As you can see the GA set does not contain the STRUT vowel but only the mid-central schwa. In my humble opinion the representation of a spoken /ʌ/ by /ə/ is neither "broadly phonetic" nor does it "indicate actual sounds".

8. shall (aux.)

The GA transcriptions are missing.

9. to (prep.)

There's no soundfile for /tə/ either in GB or GA.

Sunday 20 December 2015

OED transcriptions - examples (1) - weakforms

In the new "Key to pronunciation" the editors write:
While avoiding strongly regionally or socially marked forms, they are intended to include the most common variants for each word.
Here are some snippets to illustrate what they understand by "most common variants":

1, and (conj.):

2. of (prep.):

The strongform in General American is missing among the transcriptions; however, when you click the "U.S. /əv/", you hear the strongform.

3. him (pron.)

There's no soundfile for the General British weakform /ɪm/.

4. the (adj.)

There are two weakforms in GB, but only one in GA. When you click GB /ði:/ and /ði/, you hear the same soundfile (see waveform below):

5. from (prep.)

The GB weakform is missing; the pronunciation of the GA word contains the LOT vowel.

The addition of soundfiles seems to need some brushing up.

OED's new features

It was not until yesterday that I spotted a new feature in the online version of the OED: audio files are being added. Here's a snippet of the article on 'writer':

credit: OED

When you click the blue play icon you hear a native (?) speaker say the word. It's a pity we are not told anything about the linguistic background of the speaker(s).

Here's an example:

When you click the word "Pronunciation" in front of the icons, you are taken to an explanatory section. In there it says:
The pronunciations given are those in use among educated urban speakers of standard English in Britain and the United States. While avoiding strongly regionally or socially marked forms, they are intended to include the most common variants for each word. The keywords given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech.
Where a word is associated with a particular part of the English-speaking world, further pronunciations in the appropriate global variety of English are also given.
 I'm curious to hear one of these "further pronunciations", but haven't found one yet.

What's also new is the frequency band. When you click the series of eight increasingly larger bullet points, you're taken to another explanatory section (, where the calculations of relative frequencies of words are explained.

Postscriptum: I've just come across Jack Windsor Lewis's latest blog, in which he hails the new features of the OED. So he holds the ius primae mentionis.

Monday 14 December 2015

determined to examine the landmine

Many a German pronounces the English word determine as /ˈdetəmaɪn/. They seem to be misled by words ending in <-mine>, e.g. undermine, landmine, coalmine, which end in /-maɪn/. There's another group of words, also ending in <-mine>, but pronounced as either /-miːn/ or /-mɪn/: amphetamine, antihistamine, chloramine, dopamine etc. And then we have words such as famine, examine or determine ending in /-mɪn/. So it's /diˈtɜːmɪn/ (or alternatively /dəˈtɜːmɪn, -mən/.