Monday, 18 February 2013

answering queries

Unlike some people, I have never been reluctant to allow my contact details to be available to anyone and everyone. Back in the days before email and the internet, you could find me in the phone book and on the electoral register; and if you knew that I worked at UCL you could always write to me or phone me there.

As an academic, it was obviously in my interest to make it easy for students, colleagues, prospective collaborators, publishers, and journalists to find me.

Fortunately no one has ever wanted to stalk me.

At the instigation of our departmental internet guru, Warwick Smith, I set up my homepage on the web as early as 1995, hosted on the UCL site with the same url as it has today. It has always shown my email address and my telephone number.

These details are also to be found in reference books such as Who’s Who.

So I was happy to agree to my publisher Longman’s suggestion that the CD accompanying LPD should put on the user’s screen an “Ask Professor Wells” button bringing up an email client with my email address in the “to:” field. And I regard it as one of my authorial duties to attempt to reply promptly and helpfully to the queries that readers send me.

Sometimes it can be difficult to work out from what they write the actual question that they really want to ask. And experience shows that I sometimes get it wrong.

Dear Mr. Wells,
I'm very interested in pursuing a course on phonetics. I'm already a teacher of english as a foreign language in Argentina. I know this time of the year must be busy for you, lecturing and travelling. I'd very much appreciate your advice on something I've been wondering about. I'm supposed to teach stduents who would become teacher themselves to define and consolidate the sound system of the target language. Yet, one of my coordinators told me not to stick to a particular phonemic system, which I think would be confusing since I can't teach all the possibilities available. Then I don't know how to proceed.
Kind regards,
[name]
After some hesitation I replied
I'm not sure what you mean by "a particular phonemic system". Do you mean a particular variety of spoken English (a particular accent, e.g. RP)? Or a particular transcription scheme?
In any case you are constrained by what is to be found in the dictionaries and textbooks available to your students.
There is a book you might find useful: "Practical Phonetics and Phonology: a resource book for students", by Beverley Collins and Inger Mees. It includes brief accounts of a number of different spoken varieties of English, with recorded samples.
You need to stick to one variety for in-depth study (in Argentina, presumably "BrE", i.e. RP broadly defined). But students also need to be exposed to a wide range of dfferent spoken varieties, so that they -- just like native speakers -- can cope with understanding varieties that differ from the variety they actively use themselves.
In the other direction, if I were teaching Spanish here in England, I would teach European Spanish pronunciation, including the phonemic contrast between [θ] and [s], but would not hesitate to expose my students to American Spanish, where you do not make this contrast.
This elicited the enigmatic response
Thanks for answering. I was referring, as you said, to a particular transcription scheme. What other varieties apart from RP, would you recommend? Where can I get some online material?
What I meant by “transcription scheme” was things like Upton’s OED notation as compared with the one that most dictionaries, including mine, use (see here), or non-IPA respelling systems, or a Kenyon and Knott-style system for AmE.

My correspondent’s response showed that we were still at cross-purposes. Rather than say that the obvious non-RP variety to introduce her students to in addition to RP was some kind of American English, I decided to leave the matter there.

_ _ _

Next posting: 22 Feb.

65 comments:

  1. Email and internet queries, as I know from my own ample and frustrating, not to say painful experience, is talking at cross purposes (German 'aneinander vorbeireden') _most of the time_. That is why I am not very much in favour of 'e-learning' and other such fashionable business. People with very different intellectual level and profile, with sometimes huge cultural differences, a very uneven level of the command of the language used, talking to each other --- who would expect else than 'at cross purposes'?

    From her phrasing, however, 'to define and consolidate the sound system of the target language' I personally would get the impression that what she meant was phonology (and in parallel: 'transcriptionology') in general, not restricted to English or any variety of it: maybe her students will have to teach Portuguese, Guarani --- what have you -- and not just English -- and have to learn how to 'define and consolidate' their view of the phonetic systems of these respective diverse languages. A misinterpretation?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't understand what is being asked either. From the first e-mail, I would've interpreted it as asking which of the variants given in LPD (British and American, RP and non-RP) should be taught, given that it would take too much time to teach them all. However, the second e-mail suggests that this was not what was being asked.

    Given the bad relations between Britain and Argentina, I'd expect them to teach US English there. Am I wrong?

    Ed Aveyard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Ed, you are. All the big teacher training universities/colleges I have had dealings with there teach BrE pronunciation. (Same in PRC China, same in Russia; but different in Japan.)

      Delete
    2. Our first-year students in Poznań choose between BrE and AmE and then stick to one pronunciation model consistently, but of course there's some exposure to other national/regional/social Englishes as well (plus general phonetics). BrE dominates in the Polish school system at primary and secondary level, though.

      Delete
    3. 'BrE dominates in the Polish school system at primary and secondary level, though.'

      But most Polish EFL speakers are rhotic, strangely, and are flummoxed when you say 'the letter ah' or that they 'uh' (err) and cats 'puh'. Low consistency at primary and secondary level, deplorably. In Germany I have observed a similar lack of consistency with respect to English taught at (good) schools. Hope things in Argentina are much betta.

      True full name see Profile

      Delete
    4. Wojciech

      But most Polish EFL speakers are rhotic, strangely

      It's not strange really. However much foreign teachers stress the R-lessness of RP, foreign students are surrounded by

      • the sound of rhotic American speakers
      • the sound of non-native rhotic speakers
      • above all, the spellings of the words in question

      These experiences have become increasingly competitive with the input of instructors. In my lifetime

      • recorded speech has become all-prevalent and inexpensive
      • international face-to-face contact has become extremely common — even in countries that were recently isolated for political reasons
      • American popular culture has swept the world
      • the social cachet of RP has diminished — even in England

      We've just recently been visited by a Russian university teacher and her daughter. Some years back they had a extensive stay in Edinburgh, the mother teaching Russian and the daughter attending a local primary school. When the daughter got back to St Petersburg, her English was excellent, but her teacher kept complaining about her pronunciation.

      Now she has just started studying in the English Department of St Petersburg University. I would characterise her pronunciation as excellent. No trace of Scottish from her time in Edinburgh, but a slight rhoticity overlaying a basically RP accent. In her 'Phonetics' classes, her lecturers are grossly offended and are determined to eliminate the Rs. I suspect it's a lost cause.

      Delete
    5. '• the sound of rhotic American speakers
      • the sound of non-native rhotic speakers
      • above all, the spellings of the words in question
      '

      Yes. But the r-less pronunciation is much less fatiguing and thereby effort-saving, and sound nicer (imho). Pity if it be a lost cause.

      True full name --- see Profile

      Delete
    6. Wojciech wrote:
      ... the r-less pronunciation is much less fatiguing and thereby effort-saving,...

      It is my experience that the sensations of fatigue and effort come from a lack of practise. Many sounds and sequences of sounds that I initially found ‘unpronounceable’ now come so natural to me I can hardly believe I ever experienced trouble uttering them.

      Und konkret: I don’t think that ˈfɝːðᵊr is in any way more fatiguing or effortful to a rhotic speaker than ˈfɜːðə is to a non-rhotic speaker.

      Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    7. 'It is my experience that the sensations of fatigue and effort come from a lack of practise.'

      might well be, Charlie. I have never SPOKEN (as distinct from read or written) much English, so I generally lack practice therein. But the same holds---by definition---of most English-as-a-foreign language, and indeed most some-language-or-another-as-a-foreign-language speakers of all humankind, so the less sounds these language haves the better :-)

      Re 'further' rho- and non-rhotically. I dunno, perhaps. I speak Polish and German most of the time, both of them pretty fatiguing, effort-absorbing, 'fleissig', due to their consonant clusters and (German) the semi-reduced 'r' (I find 'foerdernder' 'Versammlung foerdernder Mitglieder' pretty fatiguing, and I have spoken German since I was a kid.)

      Full name ---> Google Profile

      Delete
    8. sorry, it ought to have read: 'the fewer sounds these languages have the better'.

      This is not strictly true, though, for there might be languages with few, but extremely difficult sounds, like front high rounded, or back high unrounded, vowels, or pharyngals (Semitic 'ayin') or such. My favourites are ejective consonants and clusters thereof (Georgian?)

      Danish is the ideal language: all consonants become vocalized, all vowels, by contrast, become a 'schwa'. And the 'schwa' is oftentimes quiescent. But it has the famous ubiquitous 'stoed'---glottal stop.

      Full true name ---> see Google Profile

      Delete
    9.  Wojciech wrote:
      Danish is the ideal language: all consonants become vocalized, [...] But it has the famous ubiquitous 'stoed'---glottal stop.

       1. What does the word stød with vocalized st- sound like?
       2. Isn’t a realization of stød as a glottal stop instead of superimposing creak to the voice extremely outdated?

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    10. ' 1. What does the word stød with vocalized st- sound like?
       2. Isn’t a realization of stød as a glottal stop instead of superimposing creak to the voice extremely outdated?'

      ad 1. Like a polite yawn
      ad 2. Yes, but Danish changes extremely quickly and what was 'advanced' 20 years ago is today out-dated.

      True name see Profile

      Delete
    11. As a madder of fact, there is a growing number of Danish words that are pronounced as nothing at all, look at this link:

      http://schwa.dk/fonologi/ord-der-udtales-som-ingenting/

      I find this idea a great contribution to simplifying speaking and making it much less effort-demanding.

      See name --- Profile (Google) (there the true name)

      Delete
  3. The problem is that the teacher is unsure about terms such as phonemic system, transcription scheme and RP. He or she may have only a hazy idea of what the supervisor means. Even if they (to choose the least awkward pronoun) do understand, they lack the terminology to discuss it.

    As a (retired) EFL teacher who has found such thing useful, I would say the priorities to be recommended are:


    A.Paying special attention to RP

    1. Learn to use and fully understand one pronunciation dictionary.

    2. Examine some other dictionaries that are used in Argentina. Identify the differences use of symbols.

    B Paying special attention to GenAm

    3. Learn to understand American pronunciations given in the primary dictionary — assuming that it gives both. Otherwise study an American pronunciation dictionary.

    4. Examine GenAm pronunciations given in other dictionaries.

    At each stage the teacher should study as much phonetics as is necessary for that purpose — plus anything else that takes his or her interest.

    For native speakers, I believe by far the best handle on RP and GenAm differences is John's lexical sets. Clearly, we can't tell a foreign teacher to go straight to Accents of English, but there's an accessible treatment in the Wikipideia entry.

    My maxim is that non-phoneticians are best directed in a top down manner from words to sounds. Phoneticians may enjoy a bottom up account that starts with sounds. However, a systematic phoneme inventory is — literally — the last thing most non-phoneticians want.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, David. In my opinion, that is excellent advice.

      Delete
  4. I'm from Argentina and I'm so glad this person hasn't been my teacher.

    There's a faily wide variety of dictionaries and books on phonetics and/or phonology available here. For example at www.kelediciones.com (a chain of bookshops that sell books exclusively in English). I would advise this person to start reading some before 'pursuing a course on phonetics', to come to grips with the subject first, unless the course is only introductory.

    Accents of English (in case your interested) is nowhere to be found in my country. It was 5 or 6 years ago when I finally decided to buy the 3 volumes + cassette (a CD edition would have been warmly welcome) through Amazon.com and have them delivered from the US, after having looked for them for years (literally) in virtually every specialised bookshop in Buenos Aires. Funnily enough, English Intonation -An introduction (same publisher as far as I know) is readily available.

    Hernán Ruiz

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't think this person was being encouraged to use different transcription schemes. There is, however, an ongoing debate in Argentina on whether to teach RP, GenAm, Amalgamated or International English. So I think that's what she meant.
    PS: If you excuse the hurt-pride comment, I would like to say that a student taking a Teacher Training Course in Argentina will go through all the steps mentioned by Mr Crosbie and more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mariano

      I didn't mean any criticism of teacher education in Argentina. I'm sorry if that's how it came across.

      As the teacher was in direct contact with John, I assumed he or she was planning a course of self-education.

      Delete
    2. What's International English? There can't be many English speakers whose speech doesn't even indicate a country of origin.

      Ed Aveyard

      Delete
    3. 'There can't be many English speakers whose speech doesn't even indicate a country of origin.'

      Well, many NS of English told me I was one. Same for NS of German with respect my German and ditto Italian. Maybe I have a knack for speaking some languages with a non-descript foreign accent, distinctly foreign but not revealing where I am from. One Australian once told me I sounded sort of Mid-Atlantic, whatever that means. But why should not quite many persons have a knack like that?

      But to return to the Argentinian teacher of teachers: I don't understand why some of you pick on her. At the very least she was polite, as distinct from one incredibly rude Polish woman whose query John some time ago reported of and duly commented on. From the formulation she used: 'I have to teach my prospective teachers to define the sound system of their respective future target language' I would gather that she taught future teachers of VARIOUS foreign languages and was asking Prof. Wells (surely the right person to ask this) to recommend to her a first-class introduction to Phonetics and Phonology in general, not just English, British or whichever. Otherwise, why didn't she write just 'English' rather than that bloodless 'target language'? More importantly: why would she mention a multiplicity of different phonemic systems?

      Full true name --- see Profile (Google)

      Delete
    4. Don't worry, Mr Crosbie, what you meant was perfectly clear. It's just we live in the age of advertisement (quite sadly, I should add), so it's best to set the record straight about certain things. As regards International English, Ed, it's supposed to be the English spoken by NNSs. There is actually a book by Jennifer Jenkins called “The Phonology of English as an International Language”, but I must admit I haven't read it, so I don't know if it answers your question.

      Delete
    5. Wojciech, the Australian who said you sound mid-Atlantic was probably thinking of this accent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Atlantic_English (It's easier to post the link than explain.)

      Delete
    6. Ellen

      That Wikipedia entry comes across as very American. One British idea (and I believe the most common British idea) of Mid-Atlantic English is exactly the reverse. It's not Americans sounding slightly like Brits but Brits sounding slightly like Americans —usually with the implication that the accent is pretentious and not very well done.

      The Wikipedia article associates Mid-Atlantic with high society and distinguished actors. Many of us (I think most of us) over here associate it with parodies of second-rate disc jockeys.

      Delete
    7. Before somebody objets to this as a reflection of British snobbery, let me get in first. That's exactly what it is. Not so long ago, people would say openly that only vulgar British individuals would attempt to sound like Americans. Few would say that nowadays, but the echo of the prejudice lingers on.

      Delete
  6. David Crosbie wrote:
    One British idea [...] of Mid-Atlantic English is exactly the reverse. [...] usually with the implication that the accent is pretentious and not very well done.

    How about British attitudes towards the term Transatlantic accent which is also used in that Wikipedia article?

    ... And which is exemplified in this video (starting at 2:13) by Amy Walker who is someone I greatly admire—accent-wise.

    Charlie Ruland

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Homoid/Charlie

      How about British attitudes towards the term Transatlantic accent?

      Well, it's not pejorative. No single response, I think, because it doesn't convey one single meaning. Some might interpret it as simply 'American', others as 'the accent of a British speaker heavily influenced by American pronunciation'. I don't think anyone would expect it to apply to the speech of Americans.

      Delete
    2. I also appreciate Amy Walker's skills, yet her transatlantic English is a little vowel-drawling ('transatleintic') and also if she was in Berlin it should not have been in 'Germany' but in 'Chermany'. No German known to me is able to produce the soft 'g' sound, it's always 'Chohn Chenkins' and 'chender enchineering' with them.

      True name --- see Profile

      Delete
    3.  Wojciech: her transatlantic English is a little vowel-drawling
       Nothing compared to her southern drawl a few seconds before that (start: 2:05).

       Wojciech: it should not have been in 'Germany' but in 'Chermany'
       What I hear is a voiceless unaspirated t͡ʃ (as opposed to t͡ʃʰ). I’m writing this as someone who has acquired standard Mandarin pronunciation with an aspirated vs. unaspirated contrast for all (voiceless) obstruents.

       Wojciech: No German known to me is able to produce the soft 'g' sound
       LOL, I know a few others, but it is true they constitute a minority.

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    4. The yet-in-office Pope is certainly not one of them, he keeps saying 'ciovanni' for 'Giovanni' when he speaks Italian.

      True name --- Profile

      Delete
    5.  Given he’s Bavarian that’s not really surprising. Bavarians experience much more difficulty with the fortis~lenis/voiceless~voiced distinction than other Germans. Not only do they fail to distinguish tʃ~dʒ, ʃ~ʒ and s~z, but all obstruents pairs are involved, e.g. Pass ‘passport; mountain pass’ and Bass ‘bass (in music)’ may typically sound the same.

       I really don’t know how Bavaria came to form part Germany. It’s so different from the rest of the country (which Bavarians often call ‘Prussia’ collectively) both historically and culturally. And many ‘Prussians’ (non-Bavarian Germans) don’t understand why Germany is so often associated with Bavarian minority culture such as Lederhosen, Oktoberfest and... a Bavarian accent!

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    6. 'I really don’t know how Bavaria came to form part Germany.'

      In virtue of the conquest by the Carolingians and (later) Ottonians, roughly. Then integration processes set in, Bavarians were close enough linguistically and in other respects to other Southern Teutons to get integrated, like under the Wittelsbachians and later on.

      But it seems to me that all Germans have trouble saying 'dʒ', there might be exceptional individuals who have not, but most ('die aller-, allermeisten') have. A pick proplem, prottly speaking, except zet zey ton't really care. More so than with 'ʒ', though 'Schorsch' is a met-with version of 'Georg' (<-- French 'Georges')

      Delete
    7. Can we stop this nonsense? Or at least try and talk shop, rather than rehash WWII-era stereotypes?

      (Phillip Minden)

      Delete
    8. How many post-1945-born German relatives who do NOT say 'zet' for 'that' have you? (and not 'det', either?) Besides, I personally quite LIKE this German accent... (more than they themselves do). I'd go with Charlie in saying that at least for those 'krauts' who use English on a daily basis and for serious purposes their accent is as good as any other. That's the price you anglophone folks have to pay for your weird vernacular's being the contemporary _lingua franca_; don't worry, in like 30 years it'll be putonghua (which Charlie speaks fluently already).


      Full true name --- see Profile (Google)

      Delete
    9. Many issues here, first of all that one person's relations obviously aren't necessarily statistically representative. (None of my German relations born after '45, at least of those I can hear before my inner ear, have "zet" or "det" for that, though I don't see what may be learnt from this.)

      Region, urbanity, social class, generation (not only pre- vs post-1945), education, and we're not even talking about concepts like interest or "talent", these, and, I'm sure, other factors all play a role. Looking at the way you expressed it, I'm quite sure you're under a false impression.

      In addition, there are clear differences between those typical challenges for Germans. My impression is that the TRAP/DRESS merger is much more common than difficulties with dental fricatives. Mapping voice to tenseness (which isn't a merger of voiced and voiceless consonants), terminal devoicing so that voice isn't distinctive there, "European" vowels, German intonation (sometimes depending on the accent) etc. are somewhere in between.

      (Phillip Minden)

      Delete
    10. Philip

      'Many issues here, first of all that one person's relations obviously aren't necessarily statistically representative.'

      No they are not. Yet having relations and people one every so often talks to explains why one is under a(n) (false) impression---I mean explains in a way less disreputable to the person concerned than the somewhat dubious intent of rehashing pre-War stereotypes. No?

      The TRAP/DRESS merger is extremely common, so their 'that' is '[something-or-other]et' most of the time, is it not. The trouble with dental fricatives may be less common, but unless my observations be extremely non-representative pretty common still. Terminal devoicing is, I'd venture to insist, still very common. 'Thet's too bet'. I only know 1 German person who says TRAP for DRESS, not the other way round, so it's 'I'd bat that...' with him, and of course 'any' and 'many' pronounced the Irish way.

      At least, there is at least one region in Germany, northern Hesse, where they pronounce the 'r'-sound more or less the English (not American) way. But it's not very densely populated.

      full name see Profile

      Delete
    11. Lipman

      'Region, urbanity, social class, generation (not only pre- vs post-1945), education, and we're not even talking about concepts like interest or "talent", these, and, I'm sure, other factors all play a role.'

      one of th'other factors is the desire to avoid affectation and pretentiousness---or what by your neighbours may be perceived as such---and some Germans and not only Germans known to me perceive speaking English with a very good ('too good') accent as affectation and pretentiousness. This attitude, as I'm saying not restricted to Germany, is in a sense bad news to John, Amy Stroll and people like them: there are people who positively reject their efforts and mission, not wanting to sound native or anything near it.

      True full name --- vide Profile (Google)

      Delete
    12.  Wojciech:
      I'd go with Charlie in saying that at least for those 'krauts' who use English on a daily basis and for serious purposes their accent is as good as any other.

       The more English is popularised and gaining ground in Germany and elsewhere in the EU the clearer this becomes. English is now used less often in conversations with people from the British Isles or North America than for communication with fellow EU citizens from Mainland Europe. And those often find a ‘Euro-English’ accent with continental vowels etc. much easier to understand than any of the native English accents that have traditionally been associated with prestige. Why make an effort to acquire an accent when it makes your speech unintelligible? (Of course this does not apply to people who use English in their regular contacts with native English speakers, such as Lipman’s relatives.)
       Another problem with RP and GenAm is that they are decidedly foreign in most parts of the world. Some time ago I listened to a radio feature about people leaving Nigeria for university studies abroad. The outcome is that those who go to a country where English is spoken natively and alter their accents accordingly are perceived and treated as foreigners when come back so sometimes it may seem more advisable to study elsewhere...

       Wojciech:
      That's the price you anglophone folks have to pay for your weird vernacular's being the contemporary _lingua franca_; don't worry, in like 30 years it'll be putonghua

       It needn’t be Pǔtōnghuà. If you want to learn Standard Mandarin but for some reason don’t like the Mainland China variety you can also choose to acquire Guóyǔ (used in Taiwan and also a lot overseas) or Huáyǔ (radiationg from Singapore and used in Indochina and Indonesia).
       It may be interesting to note one feature of the Chinese Wikipedia: you can choose to read any article in four versions labelled: 1. Mainland China; 2. Hong Kong/Macau; 3. Malaysia/Singapore; and 4. Taiwan. This means that spellings (especially simplified vs. traditional character shapes) and even entire expressions are automatically replaced. (Of course authors may also use templates for special cases or to avoid any replacements.) Believe it not: it works perfectly well! I wish we had this implemented in other Wikipedias, for instance the English, German or Dutch one, so that everyone can read the articles in their preferred standard.

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
  7. I think in my case it was the non-clipping of vowels (and not drawling them either) --- I have never learnt to clip my vowels the British way --- and the rather high 1st component of '(the letter) A' or '(s/l)ay', and the rather frontish first component of 'eye', 'I'. Plus an American-ish intonation, per'aps. I speak consistently non-rhotically (car=cah, cats puh etc.) and I don't say 'lader alligador' etc., nor 'cairf' for 'calf' nor 'mairn' still less 'meairn' for 'man', nor 'eether' nor 'wurr-ses-ter' for 'Worcester' nor 'Marnnerey' (with a nasal 'arn) for 'Monterey'. I think that was all the Aussie meant. Ah, yes, by 'Mid-Atlantic' he may have meant 'foreign-nondescript', 'from the middle of nowhere', euphemistically.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    3. "J.M.R" - I am deleting your comments because YOU HAVE NOT SUPPLIED YOUR NAME as required (See top of page).

      Delete
    4. Yes, I have, but go on the deleting spree for the millionth time. If you dig deep enough, you will see that in one of the previous posts, I HAVE written the name. It is still standing.

      That reminds me of when John replied to a querry on whether the British actually say [ɲ]ews or [nj]ews, and he said it was the letter. That was eart-shattering. What? No British I know, not even a duchess from the 19th century, says [nj]ews.

      Furthermore, the British usually say [dʑ]uice, [tɕ]uesday, yet no one is talking about it.

      Goodness me, Wojciech, why not write ˈwɝːsɛstɚ instead of wurr-ses-ter, it took me a while to understand meairn, which I believe is ˈmɛən, or something like that.

      Delete
    5. 'Furthermore, the British usually say [dʑ]uice, [tɕ]uesday, yet no one is talking about it.'

      yes, that's right, I have never learnt this either, though this seems easier than learning how to clip one's vowels. Though I remember I once referred to an orthodox Jewish person in a conversation with a Briton and that Briton thought I was mentioning 'an orthodox duke' (whatever the orthodoxy of dukes could consist in).

      I do sometimes say /nju:z/, partly because I'd consider /ɲu:z/ a Polonism.

      Americans with their /nu:z/ have no such dilemmas.

      Delete
    6. No British I know, not even a duchess from the 19th century, says [nj]ews.

      Furthermore, the British usually say [dʑ]uice, [tɕ]uesday, yet no one is talking about it.


      Your ideas of what "the British" do, or do not do, are utterly bizarre. Have you ever lived there?

      Delete
    7. Yes, dearest.

      No Brit pronounces juice with a DGE of edge. Nor does he say CHOOZDAY with a CH of CHOP.

      Listen carefully.

      Delete
    8. Here's a pretty good rule of thumb: anyone who makes a claim of the type "no X says Y" or "all Xs say Y" has no idea what (s)he is talking about.

      Delete
  8. Plain mairn would do for mɛən, wouldn’t it? If Wojciech writes meairn he must be referring to something else, maybe mɪɛən? — Wojciech, English orthography is notoriously un-phonemic, so IMHO your repeated attempts to show pronunciation by purely orthographic means—respellings without a key to the values of the letters—are doomed to fail. This is further amplified by the huge variety of accents the international readership of this blog natively uses.

    Charlie Ruland

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I indeed hear American 'men' (instances of 'man') as either mɛən or mɪɛən or something like that. That is part of the famous 'Northern Cities Shift', they say. And their usual exhortation 'come on, man' sounds like 'curm arn, meeairn' to me. (Sometimes).

      James F. Cooper sometimes puts such sentences as 'Zet vill pe a pick proplem fogh zem' into the mouth of his early German immigrants. Is zis messod of renderink unushual pronunciation really all zet olt-fashion't?

      Full name --- see Profile

      Delete
    2.  Funny, I remember when I was a kid I had a pen friend who sometimes wrote like that in order to show me how he spoke English. And when I met him he didn’t sound like anything I had imagined his spellings represented.
       I abandoned respellings long ago, not because they’re old-fashioned, but rather because they are vague and often even misleading. Don’t forget: J. M. R, me and David understood meairn to mean mɛən/mɪɛən/meɛərn/mɛ:ərn/mɛɛərn, and I’m sure that many more interpretations are possible. Once again: 1. vague. — 2. misleading.

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    3. Homoid/Charlie

      1. vague. — 2. misleading.

      1. Sometimes vagueness is just what's required.

      2. Transcription alienates many non-phoneticians. And many others just ignore it. It can also mislead by being too specific — cf 1 above.

      Delete
    4. David Crosbie:
      Sometimes vagueness is just what's required.
       Yes. And sometimes it reaches a point of unrestricted arbitrariness, so that words, or spellings, can refer to nearly anything.

      David Crosbie:
      Transcription alienates many non-phoneticians. And many others just ignore it.
       I thought that a certain degree of acquaintance with the IPA was required here and that without it was not possible to read John’s postings. Those who are ‘alienated’ by what John writes may do what you suggest ‘many others’ do: ‘just ignore it.’

      Delete
    5. homoid/Charlie

      I thought that a certain degree of acquaintance with the IPA was required here and that without it was not possible to read John’s postings.

      It's one thing to be acquainted with IPA, quite another to be confident in writing transcriptions of accents other than one's own.

      Personally I would hesitate to transcribe anything at all in another accent apart from a simple substitution. Even then I don't rely on my ear, I compare transcriptions or I compare the values John gives for RP and GenAm in his lexical sets table.

      I think I might know what Wojciech meant by meairn. It summons to the inner ear Papa Charlie jackson singing Mister man, man, man. A memorable articulation because it's so exotic (ninety-year-old Southern Black Vaudeville) so often repeated and so emphatically delivered. It feels like a stereotype, and i can well imagine that it's the stereotype Wojciech had in mind.

      If Wojciech's inner ear said something different, there's been a minor failing of communication. Not that great a failure, because it's still easy to read the presence of
      • long diphthong shading into triphthong
      • final r

      A transcription might well convey less information. If it used familiar symbols such as e, ɛ, ə and ;, it wouldn't convey the otherness — at least, not to me, I would just supply my own realisations of those symbols in my own accent. If it used more exotic symbols and a whole set of diacritics to narrow down the value of them, it might convey everything to a professional phonetician but little or nothing to us amateurs.

      The use of what you call respellings is of limited use on this site, but it's still a useful tool to call on when writing about pronunciation in other forums. One purpose for which it does seem appropriate even here is humour. When people use IPA transcription for a pronunciation, I assume it to be serious.

      Delete
    6. By 'meairn' I was trying to render something like a high-starting long diphthong shading into a triphthong, but without a /r/, I was trying to render what I hear by means of conventional English spelling as pronounced by RP speakers (har=hah, puh=purr etc.)

      The fact is that I have nothing tried
      Unless it were to be a little merry

      to speak with Lord Byron ('nothing tried' is perhaps not accurate, either).

      I haven't so much Jacksons in my inner ear as, perhaps, various blues where they were in the habit of singing things like:


      I sah my woman magin' lurve to anurther meeairn (with a very drawled 'meeairn').

      One psychological circumstance: I am a non-native user of English, I had not spoken or for that matter heard much English until I was thirty-something, and to this very day English has existed to me primarily in the written form. When I hear a word, I instinctively try to see its written form before my mind's eyes, to speak with Bill S. When I hear 'man' pronounced the US-Northern-Cities-Shift'y way I willy-nilly call up a string of letters before my inner eye and that is not 'man', 'coz I had been taught to associate the RP sound, not the US-No-Ci-Shi sound, with that string of letters (in English), but something like 'mayn', 'mairn' or 'meeairn'. That is why I sometimes even write 'as a madder of fact' or 'adall' (at all): I have heard these words so many times the American way that the American spellings literally force themselves upon me. Is that madness? Perhaps there is a method in't...

      Thank you for patience.

      True name --- full Profile (Google)

      Delete
    7.  David Crosbie:
      I think I might know what Wojciech meant by meairn. It summons to the inner ear Papa Charlie jackson singing Mister man, man, man.
       I like the idea of it, no matter if this is what Wojciech had in mind or not. But this is not in any way vague: I can listen to the actual sound, which is a lot more specific than any transcription could ever be.

       David Crosbie:
      A transcription [...] If it used more exotic symbols and a whole set of diacritics to narrow down the value of them, it might convey everything to a professional phonetician but little or nothing to us amateurs.
       Yes I thought so, because I noticed you were talking about mimicking accents in one of your comments, whereas I was trained in a different tradition: to consciously position (configure might be the more suitable verb) my speech organs and ‘let the sound take place.’ I think is was David Abercrombie who remarked that speech sounds are audible gesture: do the right thing with you vocal tract and the right sounds will ensue.
       However I understand that this blog is not only for trained phoneticians but also for a wider audience, and this is sometimes a dilemma. As I see it the layman’s contribution is often just as valuable as that of the professional phonetician, and apt remarks from people like you often seem indispensable. The best solution is probably the one you resorted to above: to give examples that people can listen to. The actual sound is primary; spellings and transcriptions are only secondary (i.e. derived) and will always remain debatable.

       Wojciech:
      Is that madness? Perhaps there is a method in't
       Wojciech the other day:
      I [...] am aware that they would not help if the speaker wanted to become a second sir Lawrence
       My advice to a Polish Shakespearian: never recite To be or nor to be with a James F. Cooper style German accent, lest Danes assert that something is rotten in the state of Poland. A Mid-Baltic accent is certainly permissible though.

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    8. 'est Danes assert that something is rotten in the state of Poland. A Mid-Baltic accent is certainly permissible though.'

      Well, something IS rotten in that state indeed, I think we joined the EU far too early and we have rather poor leaders.

      Not having an Anglophone ear, going by how these Baltic-sea languages sound, I'd surmise the following accents in English are similar:

      1. German and Danish
      2. Norwegian, Swedish (virtually indistinguishable), Finnish, Estonian and Latvian (perhaps Icelandic and Faroese too, except that they are not Baltic-sea, and have the characteristic preaspiration, a blohck of flahts)
      3. Lithuanian and Russian
      4. Polish

      this interestingly does not reflect genetic affinity relationships.

      wrong?

      Delete
    9.  Wojciech:
      wrong?

       No, except that the Norwegians’ access to the Baltic Sea has been somewhat impeded since their emancipation from Danish rule.
       And I also think that Low German might deserve being mentioned, not least because it was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League for centuries and certainly had an influence on all the languages on the Baltic, maybe accent-wise too, though I’m not too sure about the latter.

       Generally there is no clear one-to-one relationship between language and accent. We all know that English may be natively spoken with several fundamentally Celtic accents, and German with Slavonic ones, among many others. I don’t know if it’s true but it is often stated that French, Lombard and similar Romance languages have their front-rounded vowels (of y ø œ type) from Germanic influence. (The names of France and Lombardy themselves are of course derived from the names of Germanic tribes, but that’s not the point.)

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    10. With Low German I ain't no convictions either way, having had too little exposure to it. I know it basically as accents in High (standard) German, in Hamburg say or Luebeck. But hang on, Cassubian/Kashubian (if it be a language in its own right, which I am not positive about) I forgot, now I would group it with Swedish-Latvian rather than Polish. It sounds too, before you've trained your (polonophone) ear to understand it, vaguely Swedish-Finnish-Latvian, kinda. Radio Gdańsk airs regularly broadcasts in C./K. and in my parish church there are services in't, hence I know.

      And Old Prussian must have sounded similar.

      With respect to Norwegian you are obviously right, but they are neighbours and speak a language very difficult to distinguish (by its sound alone) from Swedish.

      I remember once having heard something on Swiss (German) radio, something about the springs of the river Rhine, where I was wondering why I could not understand NUFFIN', zilch, till after a while I realised that broadcasting language was Rumansh, rather than Swiss German, but it took me a while, so similar they sounded.

      Full true name --- see Profile

      Delete
    11.  Wojciech:
      With Low German I ain't no convictions either way, having had too little exposure to it.

       Not surprising. Ethnologue gives this information about Low Saxon/Low German [nds]:
       Population 1000. 10,000,000 understand it in Germany, but many fewer are native speakers (1996 R. Hahn).
       Language use Officially recognized as a regional (separate) language in 8 states of Germany. Recognized as a regional (separate) language by the European Charter on Languages. Most also use Standard German.

       So Low German, which is so important for historians to read the sources, now is an indigenous language officially recognized in half of the 16 German states (with TV and radio broadcasts, printed publications, army, navy ☺ etc.) and understood by 10 million people. Yet the number of native speakers is as low as 1000. A 10,000:1 ratio. Wow!

      Delete
  9. Homoid/Charlie, JMR

    I think the point is that Wojciech isn't trying to reproduce a known correct pronunciation with the minimum of fuss. He wants represent a particular faulty pronunciation which he believes to be common among a body of non-native speakers sound, or trying to sound American. It's all complicated by the fact that this pronunciation may be more stereotype than reality.

    Fortunately, it doesn't matter because it's a representation of what he doesn't say.

    I read meairn as a triphthong comprised of the DRESS vowel followed by the SQUARE diphthong. The qualities of those two sounds may vary from speaker to speaker — among non-native speakers as well as among native speakers. To render it in transcription e.g. meɛər/mɛ:ər/mɛɛər or whatever implies a precision which I don't think Wojciech intended.

    Similarly with wurr-sess-ter. I took Wojciech to mean something like ˈwʌrsɛstər, but that implies perhaps too much precision for the first and second vowel sounds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Wurr-sess-ter' was a joke of course, I don't think Americans ever say [wʌrsɛstər]... No offence meant, dear American friends...

      When I lived in the US I had amongst others an address with 'Cheltenham Dr', and whenever I gave it to someone they could not spell it correctly .... I had to say 'Chelten-ham' (-hairm).

      I of course am aware that the American TRAP is not exactly DRESS+SQUARE: it is subt---nay, very subtly different from the latter... But whenever I hear a typical American 'man' I feel an almost irresistible temptation to write it down as 'mairn'. An English friend of mine (a Mancuvian, if that's relevant, and Dr Phil Oxon) heard it as 'mayn'. With him, it was 'Merry hayd a li(dd)le laymb'.

      Full name --- see Profile

      Delete
    2.  David Crosbie wrote:
      He wants represent a particular faulty pronunciation which he believes to be common among a body of non-native speakers sound, or trying to sound American.

       Oh, is that what Wojciech wants? I didn’t even know he was one of those who believe that pronunciations can be faulty when they are ‘common among a body of [...] speakers’ and hence adequate for use among that group. Besides it would be anti-democratic to have the native speakers of English decide what’s right or wrong, since non-native speakers have constituted the majority for decades.
       I must say I very much respect the non-native English accents that surround me here in Germany and BeNeLux, and there is nothing wrong with them, even though my own accent is quite different. One might even say it’s the other way round here: it is the native English accent that is inappropriate (‘faulty’?).

       Charlie Ruland

      Delete
    3. 'I didn’t even know he was one of those who believe that pronunciations can be faulty when they are ‘common among a body of [...] speakers’ and hence adequate for use among that group.'

      well, the adjective 'faulty' contains every time it is used a most of the time suppressed reference to a standard. I personally quite like German accents in English (their 'flet and brott wowels') but am aware that they would not help if the speaker wanted to become a second sir Lawrence or a BBC news-announcer.

      I find overdoing in imitating standard accents worth a smile, sometimes. I have a colleague here in Gdańsk who is in love with everything American and when he says 'I garda doowat' (I am obliged to accomplish it) I can't suppress a smile. But posh Oxonian accents put on by foreign scholars after a term's time at Oxford or so are more pretentious.

      Delete
    4. homoid/Charlie

      those who believe that pronunciations can be faulty

      In one sense it doesn't matter. If I say that I'm not a member of the Ancient Order of Thrush Polishers, the statement remains true even when you prove that the Order does not exist.

      But actually, I can defend the concept of a faulty pronunciation. What I had in mind was an unsuccessful imitation an accent resulting in the pronunciation of a single word that is entirely a product of that failed attempt.

      Like most people, I'm a poor mimic of other people's accents. Insofar as I can judge, what I produce (and what most people produce) isa distorted version of my own accent with maybe a few authentic features of the target but, most characteristically, one or two features grossly exaggerated. Our memory of what we hear is an aural stereotype. (Actually some actors produce quite good stereotypes which do the job without being at all authentic.)

      when they are ‘common among a body of [...] speakers’ and hence adequate for use among that group.

      There is no body of speakers. Each speaker independently struggles to reproduce a shared stereotype for individual purposes, not for the purpose of communication.

      Delete