Sunday, 8 July 2012


I have decided to suspend this blog until further notice.

The wi-fi in hospital is not only expensive but also unreliable and very slow.

And I’m not very good at typing one-handedly (I still have post-stroke problems with my left fingers.)

So that’s it for a few weeks, at least until I am home again.

Friday, 6 July 2012


Some people thought I was too cutting yesterday about Classic FM. (I’m spending a lot of time here in hospital listening to FM radio on my mobile.)

So how about this? Yesterday we had Verdi’s “ ˈdiːs ˈɪəreɪ”, i.e. Dies Irae. The announcer pronounced the first word of the title as if it were the German demonstrative rather than the Latin noun, (which I would pronounce in English as ˈdiːeɪz, though I know some would use s rather than my z).

At least he didn’t take it as the English word dies daɪz.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Another absurd pronunciation from a Classic FM presenter.

As you know, I am in hospital without access to reference books, so what follows is just from memory.

Bacchus (English ˈbækəs) was the Roman god of revelry. Hence the Roman festival in his honour, the Bacchanalia (English ˌbækəˈneɪliə), and the common noun bacchanal ˌbækəˈnæl ‘a drunken revelry’. There is also the French equivalent, Bacchanale, (French bakanal, English ˌbækəˈnɑːl) a particular kind of musical composition.

...which the Classic FM chap called ˌbɑːxəˈnɑːl. Presumably he was thinking of Johann Sebastian Bach (German bax, English usually bɑːk or sometimes bɑːx), who has nothing to do with the case.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


I heard a financial expert being interviewed on the radio. She was French, but her English was fluent and generally excellent.

Then she started talking about various aɪˈdiːzthe aɪˈdiː of this, the aɪˈdiː of that. She meant ideas, of course, as was obvious from the context.

Unfortunately, this mispronunciation can sometimes lead to confusion. Have you any aɪˈdiː? will be heard as Have you any ID? (any identification), which is something quite different from Have you any idea? (aɪˈdɪə)

I have heard this error from French people several times. It shows that good pronunciation in EFL depends not just on being able to make the right sounds and phonemic contrasts, and to master syllable structure (clusters, final consonants etc), but also to know the right pronunciation for every word in your vocabulary.

...And not to be misled by the spelling. (Given sea siː and flea fliː, you can see the problem.)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

assignment answer

The answer to yesterday’s ‘assignment’ is that in everyday RP t-glottalling has been frequent and unremarkable for a good half-century or more for word-final /t/ when the next word begins with an obstruent, thus right behind, right day, right guess, right thing, right shape, or a nasal or liquid, thus right name, right man, right royal, right letter.

It’s also frequent (though purists might jib at it) where the next word begins with a semivowel, as right unit, right one. Those are all cases where I would happily use a glottalled /t/ myself.

The environment where we are now starting to get glottalling from many speakers (though not from the likes of me) is in absolute-final (prepausal) position, or when the following word begins with a vowel, thus Right!, right after, right underneath, right as rain..

Right is NEVER prounounced raɪ (‘rye’).

Before a homorganic plosive or affricate, as in right time, right day, right choice, right joke you can alternatively have a no-audible-release t, which may be difficult to distinguish auditorily from a glottal stop.

Monday, 2 July 2012

your transcriptions

Seeing some of the comments in transcription, I am reminded -- forgive me -- of beginning students whose transcriptions I must correct. Thanks for trying, but I hope you won’t object to a few corrections. No names, no pack drill: you know who you are.

For example, this is correctly transcribed ðɪs, not “θɪs”. That’s the elementary beginner’s error of conufusing the two dental fricative symbols.

Next, if you’re going to show t-glottalling, you must get it right. A glottal stop is different from zero.

One of you wrote need to as niːʔ tu. This is OK as long as you come from Yorkshire , but not otherwise. It’s not possible in London English or RP and certainly not in AmE. (In my book I call it “Yorkshire assimilation”: Voiced obstruent d is assimilated to voiceless t before a following voiceless obstruent t, and the t is then glottalled to ʔ.)

And then we had a toast to written ə təʊsʔ tu. I don’t know of any kind of English in which that would be possible. You can delete /t/ in that environment. but surely not make it glottal. T-glottalling is blocked by a preceding obstruent: it happens, if it does, only after a sonorant (= vowel, nasal or liquid). Zero (elision) is different from ʔ (glottalling).

Today’s assignment: when can right be pronounced raɪʔ in RP etc? Can it ever be prounounced raɪ?

Some of you are confused about ə and ʌ. OK, in many kinds of English there’s no contrast between them, so you could write ə for both STRUT and comma; but it is never correct to write ʌ for commA (schwa). So əˈnɑməlʌsli ought to be əˈnɑmələsli .