I greatly enjoyed the ICPhS XVII in Hong Kong last month. There were over seven hundred participants from all over the world. It was good to see so many colleagues again, and to listen to some excellent oral and poster presentations. I enjoyed the conference all the more perhaps in that I hadn’t offered a paper myself and so didn’t have to worry about performing.
There was an unexpectedly interesting opening plenary by Klaus Kohler, demonstrating among other things that German listeners needed no more than the palatalization of a single segment n to hear kann Ihnen rather than just kann, deeply buried in the middle of a rapidly spoken colloquial sentence.
Some assorted nuggets of interest:
• In the Berber language Tashlhiyt many words are vowelless, for example kk ‘cross’. Geminate consonants contrast with single ones even in word-initial (and utterance-initial) position, e.g. ttut ‘forget him’ vs. tut ‘she hit’.
• In Iraqi Arabic the voiceless ‘pharyngeal fricative’ ħ and its voiced counterpart the ‘ayn ʕ can actually be aryepiglottic trills, according to John Esling — who proposes to write them ʜ and ʢ respectively. If I understood him correctly, he also claims that the ‘glottal’ stop is actually epilaryngeal. My knowledge of anatomy is not sufficient to enable me to judge these claims.
• In the Wu Chinese of Qingtian there is a tonal depression feature reminiscent of that of Zulu. The triggering consonants are, however, now voiceless.
• In the Chinese of Qiyang there are complex contour tones that don’t fit the usual tone templates. They are high and low fall-rise-fall tones. On a five-point scale, where 5 is the highest, their pitch patterns are 4232 and 2142.
• The Swedish accent 2 (tone 2) is the marked one: it takes longer to process than does accent 1.
• Everyone now seems to call the intonation nucleus or tonic the focus. Well yes: but as I see it the nuclear syllable actually marks only the word at the end of the whole focus domain. Anyhow, among laboratory phoneticians the trendy term for the low, more or less level, pitch of the tail in intonation is now ‘post-focus compression’.
• In some Australian English el has become æl, making celery a homophone of salary and hell a homophone of Hal.
A keen young researcher reported her rediscovery of the wheel by revealing to us that the Polish affricate spelt cz is somewhat different from the Czech one spelt č, the first being retroflex and the second merely postalveolar. I’ve been teaching this for forty years and more, in the context of the range of ʃ-like sounds we can make and how they vary from one language to another. (Compare both the Polish and Czech sounds with the ch ち of Japanese.) No doubt my predecessors taught it for forty or more years before that. We’ve even covered it in this blog: see the sound file posted in the blog entry for 3 March 2008. Notwithstanding, the researcher portentously declared that in her paper “I revise the affricate inventories of Polish and Czech… This conclusion is supported by the results of an acoustic study of Polish and Czech affricates”. It’s also supported by the ear of any halfway decent practical phonetician.
The next ICPhS, in four years’ time, will be in Glasgow, 10-14 August 2015. You read it here first.