Monday, 31 May 2010

Sparta history, innit?

You remember the man who took his torn trousers to the Greek tailor? The tailor asked, Euripides? Yes, said the man, Eumenides?

Every now and again the Guardian letters column sports a series of punning contributions on some particular theme. Just at the moment the theme is Greek.

For pitta’s sake! Have we not been punnist enough by all these ill-bread Guardian readers ouzo lack a sense of houmous?

I can’t understand the calls for an end to the Greek letters. We know the Guardian enjoys themed correspondence. Sparta the letters page ethos.

I hope you Argoing to stop these Greek letters. Some take a minotaur so to understand. Others made me feel so Iliad to stop reading.

This last one doesn’t work for those of us who pronounce ˈmaɪnətɔː rather than ˈmɪnətɔː — which means it doesn’t work for most Brits, or at least most British classicists. I imagine Americans, though, will twig minute or with no hesitation.

Here’s Saturday’s effort. As always, you do have to know how the relevant names from Greek mythology and history are pronounced in English.

There are Menelaus of subtlety to Dis Greek correspondence. Please maintain it or Alcibiades newspaper no more.

In RP the difference between Menelaus and many layers may be no more than the difference between s and z. Scandinavians would find the two perfect homophones.

Alcibiades is ˌælsɪˈbaɪədiːz, and I think you have to be generous to interpret it as I sh’ll buy this (?).

In other news, the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge has egg on its face because the Greek inscription on the glass doors of its new building is misspelt: it has a Latin S instead of a Greek sigma Σ.
O tempora, O mores!

Friday, 28 May 2010


The English spelling ah is “unambiguously a long open vowel spelling” (Carney). Apart from interjections (ah!, bah!, hurrah!, pah!), it is found mainly in foreign names, such as Ahmed, Bahrein, Brahmin, Brahms, Kahn, Mahdi, Mahler, Shah. In all of these ah stands for ɑː.

In final unstressed position, true, ah represents the corresponding weakened vowel, ə, as in cheetah, hallelujah, loofah, messiah, rajah, Delilah, Jeddah, Sarah; but in stressed position and in monosyllables its “value” as ɑː is so self-evident that it is confidently used in respelling systems for native speakers of English.

Thus we Brits caricature Americans as saying Gahd instead of God; we represent Cockneys as saying dahn instead of down; and northerners think southerners say glahss instead of glass.

Yet there are two words with this spelling that constitute exceptions. One is Fahrenheit, which for most English people has æ rather than ɑː. The other is dahlia, the name of the flower, which in BrE is ˈdeɪliə. The OED (2nd ed.) gives the pronunciation of this word rather prissily as “ˈdeɪlɪə, properly ˈdɑːlɪə”. But DJ’s EPD (12th ed.) gives only ˈdeɪl-, and that is all I give for BrE in LPD. (Americans, on the other hand, may well say ˈdæl- or ˈdɑːl-.)

What I wonder is when, how, and why the pronunciation of dahlia became the norm in BrE. Carney says vaguely
this is derived from the name Dahl /dɑːl/, but with popular use has become anglicized…

The OED’s first citation is dated 1804, two centuries ago. If the name had been first introduced more recently, say since 1950, I think there is little doubt that we would all be saying ˈdɑːliə, “popular use” or not. OK, yah?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

labiodental flap

Jo-Anne Ferreira sent me a message saying she was
hunting high and low for a Unicode font that has the labiodental flap. Can you help?

The answer was easy: the symbol she needs is already available in the SIL fonts she uses regularly. The problem is knowing where to find it among the thousands of characters in the fonts. And the place to find it is at Unicode number 2C71.

The voiced labiodental flap symbol is the newest letter to be added to the IPA chart inventory, though it has now been with us for several years. It was the topic of one of the very first entries in this blog (25 March 2006), where I reported that it had been added to the widely-used SIL phonetic fonts, Charis SIL and Doulos SIL. The last time we mentioned it was two years ago (blog, 16 April 2008).

It was adopted by the IPA too late to make it to the most recent printed Unicode standard, 5.0. However it was added for the Unicode 5.1 revision, and you’ll find it in the current on-line Unicode charts.

So, briefly, here’s what you need to know: the labiodental flap symbol is at U+2C71 LATIN SMALL LETTER V WITH RIGHT HOOK. It is included in the current versions of the SIL fonts Charis, Charis Compact, Doulos and Doulos Compact, and also in the font Code 2000. However, it is not found in the Microsoft fonts routinely supplied with new PCs, nor in Lucida Grande. So PC users will need to download and install specialist fonts. I imagine Mac users will too.

Tiresomely, Unicode did not add it to one of the blocks where phonetic symbols are usually found (IPA Extensions, U+0250–U+02AF; Phonetic Extensions, U+1D00–U+1DBF). Instead, it is in a small block called Latin Extended-C (U+2C60–U+2C7F), nestling unobtrusively between Glagolitic and Coptic. Within that block it lies among the “miscellaneous additions” located between “Additions for Uighur” and “Claudian letters” (Latin letters invented by the emperor Claudius but soon dropped). It’s not surprising that people say it’s hard to find.

If your browser settings are favourable and you have a suitable font, you may be able to see the symbol here: , or in a larger size ⱱ.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


The disturbing news of urban warfare in progress in Kingston, Jamaica, has led me to have a look at the website of the venerable local newspaper, the Gleaner. I hope it is not insensitive in the middle of such tragic events for me to comment on matters of language.
The news report is written in standard English, the regular language of educated and official discourse in the island. This poses the question: how best can the paper record the words spoken in Jamaican Creole, the words actually uttered by witnesses and bystanders? Particularly in its most extreme (basilectal) form, JC can be very distant from standard English. The JC orthography devised by academics, now being trialled in literacy projects (blog, 13 August 2008), is still very unfamiliar to most Jamaicans. Instead, the Gleaner uses standard English spelling where possible, and ‘phonetic’ representations based on ordinary spelling conventions where not.
“A nuff shot dem a fire and all bomb a drop from helicopter,” said one caller to our news centre.
The Gleaner’s local readers will be able to interpret this as meaning “there’s a lot of gunfire going on, and they’re even dropping bombs from helicopters.” A word-for-word gloss would be “is plentiful shot they PROG fire and even bomb PROG drop from helicopter” (where PROG means the particle denoting the progressive aspect of the verb, English be …-ing).
In the JC orthography devised by Cassidy & Le Page and used in the Dictionary of Jamaican English and the literacy project, this would be spelt (or transcribed) a nof shat dem a faia and aal bam a drap fram helikapta.

“Me hear say me daughter-in-law dead and all people house bomb down. Dem a go kill we off in yah and decent people live yah,” another woman said, in tears.

That is, “I’ve been told that my daughter-in-law is dead and that people’s houses have even been destroyed by bombs. They are going to kill us all here, and there are decent people living here.” (“PRON1sg hear COMPLEMENTIZER PRON1sg daughter-in-law dead … PRON3pl PROG go kill PRON1pl completely in here …”) mi hier se mi daata-in-laa ded an aal piipl hous bam doun. dem a go kil wi aaf in ya an diisn piipl liv ya.
“A true me neva have nowhere fi come out go. Me ’fraid, me ’fraid, me ’fraid,” added the woman as she held her phone close to the window to allow the news team to listen to the explosions.
"Where is the prime minister? Him is we member of parliament and now that them a kill we, him not here. When them want votes, them come down here come party, but now that the police dem a kill we, nobody not here.”

The woman’s question is couched in standard English. The JC equivalent would be A-weh the prime minister deh? a we di praiminista de?
The other news from Jamaica this week has been the launch of the audio version of the Bible in JC (aka Patois). This audio clip includes some short passages.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


I don’t know if this is happening to everyone else, too, but I keep getting emails purporting to be a Call for Papers for a conference called ICT 2010, devoted to “Infocomm Technologies in Competitive Strategies”, due to be held in Singapore in October this year. I looked at the first one or two, but now just delete them as spam, unread. (Three came today.)
Looking at the conference website I am struck by the clumsy English it contains. Or is this just our old friend/enemy English as a Lingua Franca?
Innovation in the Infocomm Technologies have revolutionized the world and provided with a born-global platform that delivers rich information on every imaginable subject and enables the unprecedented integration of social information.
ICT Symposium would be held at the grandiose locale of the conference. The Symposium hall will have the latest state-of-the-art facilities conducive to the requirement standards of the national and international organizations participating in the Symposium.

“Innovation ... have revolutionized ... and provided with ...”? Come again? “Conducive to the requirement standards”? Sorry? We know that an inability to use accurate English is one of the characteristics of fraudulent spam.

I have no knowledge of “infocomm technologies” and no interest in the related “competitive strategies”, so I will not be attending this conference. But I have to ask whether it is really a wise “competitive strategy” for an academic conference to behave like a spammer.

— — —
The biggest international phonetics conference is the four-yearly International Conference of Phonetic Sciences. The next ICPhS, following Barcelona in 2003 and Saarbrücken in 2007 (blog, 13 August 2007), will be held in Hong Kong in 2011. The dates are reportedly 16–20 August. Unlike ICT 2010, ICPhS 2011 has not yet provided any information (even such basic information as the conference venue) and has no website, or none that I can discover. I hope we shall soon get to see a Call for Papers. One, or perhaps two, but not three a day for week after week.

Monday, 24 May 2010


In LPD one of the innovations I introduced (as compared with the then EPD) was a set of entries devoted to affixes and combining forms. This was actually one of the most difficult parts of the book to write: I had to try to distil the contents of works such as Erik Fudge’s English Word Stress (HarperCollins, 1984) into something snappy and clear at each entry.

So my entry for -ic, for example, reads as follows:
-ic stress-imposing ɪk —periodic ˌpɪər i ˈɒd ɪk || ˌpɪr i ˈɑːd ɪk

The example(s) were meant to be carefully chosen to show the stress effect (if any) of the affix. Here, -ic causes stress (and therefore a strong vowel) on the preceding syllable -od-, which in the base form period is unstressed and weak.

I didn’t attempt to provide lists of exceptions (if any). In the case of -ic there are hundreds and hundreds of regular cases, alongside a handful of exceptions such as Arabic, catholic, heretic, rhetoric.

Last week I was brought up short by the word infantilism. This word is stressed on the -fant-: ɪnˈfæntɪlɪzəm. Why?

Comparison with the base forms infant, infantile, both with main stress on the initial syllable ˈɪn-, shows that this change of word stress placement must be attributed to the suffix -ism. (I shall ignore the question of whether or not we wish to recognize a secondary stress on the suffix itself.)

Yet -ism is one of the suffixes usually regarded as having no effect on stress. Think of radicalism, clericalism, feudalism, parochialism, imperialism, capitalism, territorialism, nationalism, liberalism, journalism, naturalism, fundamentalism, creationism, magnetism, relativism, negativism and large numbers of other cases.

Are there any other words like infantilism, in which the suffix appears to impose stress on a syllable different from that stressed in the base form?

In mechanism ˈmekənɪzəm and evangelism ɪˈvændʒəlɪzəm the stress goes on the second syllable back from the suffix: compare mechanic(al) mɪˈkænɪk(əl) and evangelic(al) ˌiːvænˈdʒelɪk(əl), in which -ic has its usual effect. There’s no base form *mechan, though there is a combining form mechano- ˌmekənəʊ-. There’s a rare word evangel ɪˈvændʒəl (OED: “now arch. or rhetorical”). There’s no obvious base form for monotheism, polytheism, synergism or syncretism.
In the case of catholicism kəˈθɒlɪsɪzəm the suffix -ic regains its usual ability to impose stress on the preceding syllable, despite its failure in catholic.
There’s some uncertainty or variability about word stress placement in opportunism, obscurantism, mercantilism and Adventism.

So perhaps the best pedagogical rule would be:
-ism has no effect on word stress. There are two important exceptions: catholicism and infantilism.

Friday, 21 May 2010


Llandudno Bay is flanked by two steep headlands sticking out into the sea, the Great Orme ɔːm and the Little Orme. As we gazed on the Great Orme, one of my friends asked me the etymology of ‘Orme’. I said I thought it was probably a form of worm. I was aware that in the Gower in south Wales there is a promontory called Worm’s Head, and I had a sort of feeling that orm was the Norse or Danish word for ‘worm’.
I was nearly right. But my questioner wasn’t satisfied. How, then, she asked, was this great headland similar to a worm, an earthworm?
What I had forgotten was that the English word worm used to mean ‘serpent, snake, dragon’. Orm still has that meaning in Scandinavian languages, though in English this sense had died out by about 1800.
It is easy to imagine how seafarers could liken this headland to a dragon or a snake.
According to Owen and Morgan, Dictionary of the Place Names of Wales, the Orme at Llandudno is from ON ormr ‘snake’, but Worm’s Head in the Gower is from OE wyrm.

The Welsh name for the Great Orme is Y Gogarth. Fancifully, I wondered if that had any connection with arth ‘bear’ (cognate with Greek ἄρκτος árktos), with an intensifying go- and a hypercorrect initial prevocalic -g- as in gwyneb for wyneb ‘face’. Then it could mean ‘great bear’. But no, apparently the earlier form was gogerdd, meaning merely ‘ledge, terrace’. Very disappointing.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

an epitaph

On Monday we had a coach outing from Llandudno, to Caernarfon, Criccieth, Betws-y-Coed and the majestic scenery of Snowdonia (Eryri). Mountains always lift the spirits.

One place we stopped at was the village of Llanystumdwy ɬan(ə)sˈdɨmduɨ, where David Lloyd George is buried. He was the only British prime minister not to be a native speaker of English.

By his grave there is a memorial stone bearing an epitaph in verse.
Y maen garw, a maen ei goron, — yw bedd
Gŵr i’w bobl fu’n wron;
Dyfrliw hardd yw Dwyfor lon,
Anwesa’r bedd yn gyson.

ə ˈmaːɨn ˈɡaru | a ˈmaːɨn i ˈɡoron | ɨu ˈbeːð
ˈɡuːr iu ˈbobl vɨːn ˈuron
ˈdəvrliu ˈharð ɨu ˈduɨvor ˈlon
anˈwesar ˈbeːð ən ˈɡəson

My literal translation:
The rough stone, and the stone of his crown — is the grave
of a man who was a hero to his people;
cheerful Dwyfor* is a beautiful watercolour,
it caresses the grave for ever.

(* Dwyfor, ‘two seas’, is the name of the district in which Llanystumdwy is situated.)

This verse, like all formal Welsh poetry, exhibits the phenomenon known as cynghanedd kəŋˈhaneð, in which the consonants in the first part of a line of verse are echoed in the second half. (See blog, 22 Dec 2007.)

y maen garw, … maen ei goron…
dyfrliw … dwyfor lon…

I think I’m right in saying that the particular verse form here is known as the englyn unodl union ˈeŋlɨn ˈɨnodl ˈɨnjon (“straight single-rhymed englyn”). This consists of four lines of ten, six, seven and seven syllables. (I think garw in the first line is scanned as a monosyllable.) The eighth syllable of the first line introduces the rhyme, -on, which is then repeated in the last syllable of each of the other three lines.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

côr meibion

From time to time it’s good for native speaking teachers of English to experience life from the point of view of the language learner.
Over the weekend I was in Llandudno, north Wales, for the British Esperanto Congress. One of the highlights was a performance by an excellent local male voice choir, Côr Meibion Maelgwn ˈkoːr ˈməibjɔn ˈməɨlɡʊn. This choir, who won the first prize for choral singing in last year’s national eisteddfod, are strict about using no language but Welsh in their rehearsals and socializing.

I had been asked to say a word of thanks afterwards, in Welsh and in Esperanto. The latter is no problem for me, but my Welsh comes entirely from books and from evening classes in London, so I am not very confident in the spoken language. Nevertheless, I thanked them in my best attempt at good fluent Welsh, managing to include a reference to one of the songs they had just performed. The choir members looked appropriately pleased and modest, and afterwards their leader and I exchanged a sentence or two of small talk.

I felt rather proud of myself. But no one congratulated me on my language ability. To begin with I felt a little disappointed at that.

But then I thought: if a non-native-speaking professor of English at some overseas university thanks me in good English for a lecture I have just given, I don’t congratulate him or her on the fact. I treat it as normal and unremarkable.

For me as a NNS of Welsh, to have my use of the language taken as normal and unremarkable is the best accolade I could receive.

(Or perhaps they were just being polite.)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Cameronian deaccentuation

As is well known, in English we dislike placing the intonation nucleus on the same word in successive intonation phrases.
This dislike extends to reaccenting a word with the same meaning, and even to reaccenting a repeated morpheme.
If we want to say
That is destructive, not constructive criticism.
we obviously need to use contrastive accentuation. But we feel awkward retaining the lexical stresses
That is destructive, | not constructive criticism.
Rather, we tend towards
That is destructive, | not constructive criticism.

However, there may be some difficulty in identifying what exactly counts as “the same morpheme” in this connection.
I wonder how many of you noticed, as I did, the way David Cameron, at his first joint press conference yesterday with his new coalition partner Nick Clegg, promised that
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

Clearly, he felt that the second -ation counted as a repetition of the first, so chose to shift the accent to the earlier part of each word.
Personally, I suspect that I’d’ve stuck with
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

Alternatively, I might have gone for
cooperation | wins out over confrontation.

But we make these deaccentuation decisions on the fly, and can be very inconsistent about them, coming out with accent patterns we might later have preferred to repair.
_ _ _

I shall now be away for a few days. Next posting: 19 May.
_ _ _
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Wednesday, 12 May 2010

vowel charts again

Derek Rogers writes
On 27th April you posted on your blog a comment from Gwen Awbery that she couldn't find software for drawing vowel charts, and I put up a comment a couple of days later to say that I was developing such a package. I have now published that package - it's called Vowel Chart Maker. It works from a script, includes automatic Sampa recognition, handles Unicode and non-Unicode fonts alike and is free to download (with some limitation on functionality).
It's available on my website, at
Could you please make this known on your blog?

On David’s website there are instructions for using the program to draw vowel charts in Word 2008. My own version of Word is 2007, so these instructions did not exactly apply, but I think I know enough about Word to make the appropriate changes. Even so, I found the first of David’s instructions very difficult to interpret.
1. Download the file and Copy Image

The file is an .exe file, so after downloading it presumably you have to run it, before doing anything else. Running it installs the program. Then presumably you have to run the program (when you’ve sussed out exactly where it has installed itself). This produces the following.

The instruction was to Copy Image. But in the Edit menu there’s no Copy or Copy Image option. Ctrl+C has no effect. To begin with I could not find any way to “copy image” except by taking a screenshot of the entire window (Alt+PrtScrn). After further exploration, I think that what you are supposed to do is probably go to the File menu and do Save bitmap.
The help file supplied launches straight into requiring you to write a “script” and set “parameters”, with no explanation of what these terms might mean. I am sure this is fine for programmers, but it is definitely not fine for the rest of us.
Perhaps I’m being obtuse, or perhaps (as so often) a programmer’s technical skills are not matched by an ability to draw up clear non-technical instructions for others to follow.
Let me know if you find Vowel Chart Maker easier to use than I did. And Derek, perhaps you’d like to have another go at explaining to non-techies like me exactly how to use the program.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


I’ve never been one to utter what in English are quaintly known as four-letter words. My parents never swore, my brothers don’t swear, my partner doesn’t swear. My colleagues at work didn’t, most of my friends don’t.
Not using a word oneself doesn’t necessarily mean not being familiar with it in the mouths of others. I still remember my surprise at boarding school in the south of England when, having grown up in the north (but in an RP-speaking family), I first heard a southerner say fʌk. Till then I’d supposed the word to be fʊk, as pronounced by northerners with no FOOT-STRUT split.

The theme for our choir’s summer concert this year is the Seven Deadly Sins.

One of the songs we’re due to present is a Lily Allen number, with which those of you who have lived a less sheltered life than I have may already be familiar. Unfortunately because of other commitments I shan’t be able to take part in our performances on this occasion, so I shall be spared the dilemma of wondering whether I can bring myself to sing in public what I would not say even in private.

Monday, 10 May 2010


How do you pronounce the English female given name Naomi?
I’ve always said ˈneɪəmi. That is also what you will find in Daniel Jones, alongside a less common variant with an unreduced GOAT vowel in the second syllable, ˈneɪəʊmi (notation modernized). As with other -eɪə- sequences, there is also the possibility in RP of compression and smoothing to -eə-, giving ˈneəmi.
But I have become aware of two other possibilities. One has the stress on the penultimate instead of the antepenultimate, thus neɪˈəʊmi. I know two West Indian bearers of the name who use this stressing. It is the only form given in Webster’s Collegiate. To my surprise, I find that this is also what Young’s Concordance gives (1879): NA-O´-MI.
The other concerns variability in the final vowel. Kenyon & Knott’s Pronouncing Dictionary of American English gives (in their notation) ˈneəˌmaɪ, neˈomaɪ, -mɪ, -mə. Mangold & Cho’s Pronouncing and Phonetic Dictionary of Biblical Names (Saarbrücken 1994) lists four possibilities: ˈneɪəmɪ, neɪˈəʊmi, ˈneɪəʊmaɪ, neɪˈəʊmaɪ. But I have never heard -maɪ in Britain, still less -mə.

There is yet another possibility, which I have been vaguely aware of for some time and have now just heard from a returning officer in one of last week’s UK election results. It has a different first vowel: naɪˈəʊmi . I have no idea where this comes from. It can hardly be a spelling pronunciation. Could it be contamination from naïve naɪˈiːv? That seems far-fetched.

The name is of Hebrew origin, נָעֳמִי na’omi ‘pleasant’. In the Hebrew Bible Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth.
According to Wikipedia, the name also happens to go very happily into Japanese as 直美 naomi ‘honest beautiful’.

Friday, 7 May 2010

classical elision

In his comment on Wednesday’s blog (5 May) John Cowan raised the question of hiatus avoidance in Latin, quoting the example
monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lūmen ademptum
which, as he says, has to be scanned as
monstr’ ’or|rend’, in|form’, in|gens, cui | lūmen a|demptum
to form a regular hexameter (six feet, namely four spondees, a dactyl, and a spondee; caesura in the third foot).
Another example: the third line of the Aeneid is
lītora,| mult(um) il|l(e) et ter|rīs iac|tātus et | altō
with two elisions as shown.

I am one of that dying breed: people who spent many hours as a teenager having to compose Latin and Greek verse. By the time I was sixteen I knew the rules of elision and hiatus avoidance, and would apply them in my weekly task of putting English poetry into Latin hexameters (or sometimes elegiac couplets) and into Greek iambic pentameters. This is a skill I can say I have since lost.

Looking now at my copy of Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer, I am surprised to see that the whole matter is disposed of in a single paragraph.
(At my school we called it neither Synaloepha nor Ecthlipsis, just elision. This is where the use of the term “elision” in English phonetics comes from.)
The reason that a vowel plus m was subject to elision was that the spelling m here did not stand for any actual nasal consonant but just for nasalization of the vowel. So monstrum was pronounced mõ:strũ: (and ends up in Italian as mostro). The nasalized vowel, like any other vowel, would be in hiatus if immediately followed by another vowel and would normally be elided in this context.
In Latin, elision is not usually shown in writing (except sometimes in inscriptions, where you can get things like scriptust = scriptum est). This is different from the convention for classical Greek, in which elision is regularly shown by removal of the letters standing for deleted vowels, in modern texts with an added apostrophe to show the loss. Only short vowels could be elided in Greek.
Here’s what it says in my Sidgwick and Morice, An Introduction to Greek Verse Composition.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


The village of Chideock in Dorset has been in the news recently because of an imaginative protest against the heavy goods vehicles speeding along its main street, which also forms part of a through route, the A35. Protesters are repeatedly operating the pedestrian crossing button so as to force the traffic to stop.

How do we pronounce Chideock?

The answer is ˈtʃɪdək, as if spelt “Chiddock”.

According to the village website,
The origin of the Name Chideock is uncertain; it possibly comes from an Old English word 'coediog' which means 'wooded' or 'woody'. Alternatively, it may have derived from 'Cedda's Oak' - Cedda being a common Anglo-Saxon name.

I have news for whoever wrote this. Coediog is not an Old English word. It is Welsh. It is the adjective from coed, the Welsh for ‘trees’ (Celtic *cę̄d ). If it is indeed the origin of the name of the village, it must of course have been adopted into their own language by the Anglo-Saxons who took it over. But it would have been a loanword. (Compare Eccles in Lancashire, from the Celtic word that gave us modern Welsh eglwys ‘church’, itself from Latin ecclēsia, in turn from Greek ἐκκλησία).

As an element in placenames, coed may be familiar even to those who do not know Welsh, from the placenames Betws-y-Coed in north Wales (‘chapel of the wood’) and Cyncoed, a suburb of Cardiff (= cefn coed ‘back of wood’).

In Buckinghamshire, the village of Chetwode ˈtʃetwʊd near Aylesbury shows us an OE wudu added to explain the Celtic *cę̄d. Its name means ‘wood-wood’, just as Pendle in Lancashire is ‘hill-hill’.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

scoprar il nuovo dì

Pronunciation is not determined by spelling. Contrary to popular belief among non-phoneticians, when we speak (or sing) we do not say letters aloud. I have always thought that one of the best pieces of evidence for this fact is the intrusive r that we non-rhotic speakers use — an r-sound where there is no letter r. This sound can only result from neurological (phonological) processes in the brain, not from marks on paper.

We use intrusive r even, and perhaps most strikingly, when attempting to speak or sing in foreign languages.
Here’s a YouTube clip of a pubful of English people singing Que/Y Viva España. You can just about detect the r in ˈvi:vɑːr eˈspænjɑː. Faced with a final open vowel at the end of viva, followed by another vowel at the beginning of the next word España, it would require a rather sophisticated effort for us not to link them with an r-sound.
(Since the karaokeers are nonrhotic, they naturally also sing por favor as ˈpɔː ˈfæˈvɔː. Please don’t anyone write to tell me that in proper Spanish it’s i ˈβiβa esˈpaɲa, poɾ faˈβoɾ.)

That was untrained karaoke. But even trained singers do the same thing. The choir I sing in is currently rehearsing the drinking song from La Traviata.
The song ends with everyone promising to enjoy drinking and singing until dawn.
Godiamo, godiamo, godiamo,
la tazza e il cantico
la notte abbella e il riso,
in questo paradiso,
ne scopra il nuovo dì,
si, ne scopra il nuovo dì.

For each song our choir plans to perform, the music team very nobly prepare rehearsal tracks for us to listen to as we learn the words and music (blog, 19 January). Here’s a clip of the very last phrase, from the tenor 2 rehearsal track. It contains a very clear intrusive r between scopra and il.
This also serves as a counterexample to the claim sometimes made, that a preceding r (scopra) blocks the operation of the r-insertion rule.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

uptalk in the papers

There have been two articles in the newspapers this week about uptalk, the use of a rising tone in a declarative (where most of us would use a fall). In the Sunday Times the education consultant, Chris Woodhead, answered a reader’s query about “the moronic interrogative”
whereby the speaker when making the statement ends the sentence with rising intonation, thus implying they are asking a question.

Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools, confessed in his reply that
The phenomenon of rising intonation drives me mad.
(I wonder if he knows that all of us use “rising intonation” in about half the intonation phrases we utter.)
Then in yesterday’s Guardian Tim Lusher asked
Have you noticed more people uptalking? You know, that tedious habit of speaking in a rising cadence, with, like, an especially perky uplift in tone at the end, so your sentence sounds like a question? Even though it isn’t?

Lusher is much better informed about the topic than Woodhead. He knows the terms “uptalk” and “high rising terminal”, and refers to possible sources in Australia and southern California. His new take on the matter is to suggest that
now there seems to be a conscious, ironic use of the tone in circulation. People are using it deliberately, humorously. What do they mean to convey? It can act as a self-deprecating pin to deflate any awkward sentiment accompanying the words, a sort of preemptive apology.

I don’t think it necessarily has any of these special meanings. It’s probably just an instance of language change. A rising tone on a final statement (made by younger people) no longer has the meaning that older people read into it (because that’s what it would mean if they used it themselves).
My advice to the EFL learner in my intonation book (§2.9 Uptalk) was
• If you were born before about 1980, do not use uptalk.
• If you were born later, you can imitate its use by native speakers: but do not overdo it. Uptalk is never essential. Bear in mind that using uptalk may annoy older people listening to you.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to this Language Log article, where there are several sound clips.

Monday, 3 May 2010


It is thought that the first constituency to declare its result after the polls close in the UK General Election this Thursday evening will probably be that of Houghton and Sunderland South. This poses a nice test for the radio and TV announcers.
Should they call it ˈhɔːtn̩, ˈhaʊtn̩ or ˈhəʊtn̩? THOUGHT, MOUTH or GOAT? Our pronunciation dictionaries give all three possibilities for places with this spelling.
It’s the rest of the constituency’s name that resolves the matter. The town southwest of Sunderland in Tyne & Wear is known more fully as Houghton-le-Spring. All our pronunciation dictionaries tell us that that particular Houghton is ˈhəʊtn̩. (People do however speak with a northeastern accent there — “Mackem” rather than straight Geordie — so their local GOAT vowel could be anything from [ʊɔ] to [ɵː]. I’m not an expert.)
The picture at the top shows the Seven Sisters at Houghton-le-Spring (don’t ask). Photo: GeordieMac Pics.

Places in other counties of England may differ. Graham Pointon’s BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (OUP, 1990) gives us a long list.But this list, long though it may be, doesn’t help us with places of that name in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Canada. Nor does it help with United States placenames. There, according to EPD, Houghton MI is ˈhoʊtn̩, like the one near Sunderland. But Houghton WA, according to Wikipedia, is ˈhaʊtn̩.

On the M61 motorway in Lancashire there is a directional sign pointing to “Westh’ton”. Not all road users would know that this is short for Westhoughton, which is pronounced westˈhɔːtn̩.