Thursday, 28 February 2013

exotic spices

That’s what a journalist wrote in the Guardian’s cookery supplement a few days ago (incidentally, getting the number concord wrong in elevate).

Speak for yourself, I thought. Far from their changing the way we cook, “many of us” have surely never even heard of za’atar, ras-al-hanout and harissa. Nor do we know how to pronounce them.

For the author of a pronunciation dictionary aiming inter alia to document the state of the language, keeping up with trendy exotic foodstuffs is nearly as impossible as keeping up with the names of the footballers from all over the world who now play in the English leagues.

When I was a boy we didn’t even have avocados, green peppers, courgettes, or kiwi fruit, still less kumquats or brie. Now you can find them in every high street and shopping centre. We shall never know how Daniel Jones would have pronounced courgette in English, let alone its American version zucchini: in his day EPD was silent on the matter.

I’m quite pleased to have got quinoa in LPD, though I’m not aware of ever having eaten it and I wonder how many people in Britain really pronounce it ˈkiːnwɑː. I also managed to add acai in the third edition, with the pronunciation əˈsaɪ (the only one I’ve ever heard); though I think it would be nicer if we preserved its diacritics and spelt it açaí, and again I wonder just how many people pronounce it əˈsaɪiː, ˌæsaɪˈiː in BrE, əˈsaɪi in AmE, as the OED claims. (I’ve de-Uptonized its transcription.)

I also found room for goji, with its unetymological j (“does not conform to any of the major transliteration systems [of Chinese]”, says the OED sternly).

How did I come to overlook za’atar and harissa? How many users of the dictionary search for them in vain? They’ll just have to consult Wikipedia instead.

55 comments:

  1. This seems to be a continuation in the series that also had ˈplɑːntɪn, faɪˈseɪlɪs and ˌlaɪˈtʃiː – I love it.

    I don't know what to do with za’atar and ras-al-hanout. zəˈtɑː? ˌrɑːs æl həˈnuːt?

    Speaking of ˌrɑːs-, is there a general rule which predict where a British speaker will have TRAP in a word and where BATH and will his American counterpart have the opposite or the same?

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    1. ˈplɑːntɪn and faɪˈseɪlɪs seem to go really well with sɛmstrɪs, wɛskɪt and ˈfɒrɪd.

      As for ˌlaɪˈtʃiː, what's wrong with that? How would you opt to pronounce lychee?

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    2. I think we might have a misunderstanding here. I was just saying that this seems like a continuing series about the pronunciation of exotic fruits and spices names. And I like it.

      You must've not followed the blog closely: all the pronunciations I've listed for plantain, physalis and lychee are Prof. Wells's. Perhaps he is a conservative RP speaker. That was all that it was.


      But if I may be pedantic, no U-RP speaker would use [ɛ], except perhaps in the diphthong [ɛə] or [ɛɐ], though even that is debatable (listen to Kind George VI).

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    3. If I might in turn be pedantic, I am surprised you haven't noticed that I use e as the PHONEMIC symbol for the DRESS vowel in BrE. This covers PHONETIC realizations anywhere from cardinal [e] to cardinal [ɛ] or opener.
      And I am not, of course, a speaker of U-RP, as you would know if you had read my Accents of English and my personal history (middle-class, by most British people's definition, rather than upper-class). If only a very small percentage of English people speak RP, as Trudgill et al claim, then the percentage speaking U-RP is vanishingly small. (I don't think I've personally ever met one socially since I was an undergraduate rubbing shoulders with the sons of the landed gentry at Trinity, Cambridge.)

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    4. "As for ˌlaɪˈtʃiː, what's wrong with that? How would you opt to pronounce lychee?" - I would've pronounced it ˈlɪ.tʃi, after Dutch pronunciation.

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    5. "zəˈtɑː" - I'd opt for ˈzɑ.ʔə.ˌtɑː or the like. You can't conflate two syllables that are explicitly separated with a tick.

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    6. Speaking of ˌrɑːs-, is there a general rule which predict where a British speaker will have TRAP in a word and where BATH

      No easily memorized rule (I presume that by "British" you mean "RP"). If one knows something of the history of the word (when it was introduced into English, for example), one can make an educated guess, but no more than that.

      This table from Wikipedia may give some idea of the inconsistencies.

      and will his American counterpart have the opposite or the same?


      The few words I can think of that have a reverse TRAP-BATH split (i.e. GenAm has /ɑ/ while RP has /æ/) are Italian loans such as "pasta" or "mafia".

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    7. If I might in turn be pedantic, I am surprised you haven't noticed that I use e as the PHONEMIC symbol for the DRESS vowel in BrE. This covers PHONETIC realizations anywhere from cardinal [e] to cardinal [ɛ] or opener.

      Yes, I know that. I hope you never change your transcription scheme. I was aiming at the fact if Thomas Winwood wanted to represent older Jonesian or somewhat more conservative pronunciation in full, then no ɛ would do, since e would be a closer representation. It is kind of awkward, in my view somewhat, to use a symbol for an opener vowel to describe a closer one.

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    8. Speaking of ˌrɑːs-, is there a general rule which predict where a British speaker will have TRAP in a word and where BATH and will his American counterpart have the opposite or the same?

      (You mean PALM, not BATH.)

      I (near-RP but TRAP-BATH unsplit) would pronounce "ras-al-hanout" with TRAP. My impression is that the default for [i]a[/i] in recent loans in British English is to use TRAP, except in certain types of stressed penultimate syllables (e.g. for me, and I think many others, the current President of the US gets TRAP in his first name but PALM in his surname) or in cases where the spelling strongly suggests a long vowel (e.g. [i]aa[/i] or [i]ah[/i]). There are of course exceptions, and some variation within British English.

      In the US, on the other hand, the default, at least for relatively recent loans, seems to be PALM.

      dʒɔnəθən dʒɔːdn

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    9. I think there might be a rule of thumb for words taken from Arabic, as those foodstuffs are. Something like:

      1. TRAP for all non-final stressed and semi-stressed syllables.

      2. commA for unstressed syllables (often al-)

      3. BATH for stressed final syllables

      These rules yield ˈzæ:tə(r), ̩ræsəlhæˈnu:t, ̩hæˈrɪsə, which is what I think many RP and near-RP speakers would say.

      For many such speakers these rules works for Qatar, Aswan, Fatima, Manama, Al Ahram (the newspaper). They don't work for Baghdad, alas.

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    10. JHJ

      (You mean PALM, not BATH.)

      I can't speak for J. M. R. but I definitely mean BATH, not PALM.

      If you say that Aswan is pronounced with TRAP followed by BATH, that yields æswɑ:n for many Souther British speakers and æswæn for many Northern British speakers.

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    11. Thank you, everyone.

      As David said, yes, I mean TRAP–BATH. JHJ, it is probably problematic for you that I've defined the problem in terms of RP realizations of those vowels.

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    12. The reason I thought you meant PALM was the reference to American speakers, for most of whom TRAP and BATH are the same, and who often use PALM (different from TRAP=BATH, but=LOT for most of them) in recent loans.

      Also, there are plenty of loans which clearly pattern with PALM, not BATH, in Britain, because they still usually have /ɑ:/ in the North. I'm thinking of cases like "salami" and "Obama". I accept that there are some examples with BATH-like variation too (and "Aswan" may indeed be such an example) but I think they're a minority.

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    13. JHJ

      I think there might be two variables at play:

      1. Aswan is from Arabic, salami from Italian

      2. The BATH syllable in Aswan is final, the BATH/PALM syllables in salami, Obama are followed by a final unstressed syllable.

      The two may not be completely independent. It may be that words like salami tend to come from languages like Italian with a phonology that favour such syllables.

      Another possibility. There may be a more general rule of thumb:

      3. BATH for stressed final syllable

      4. PALM for stressed syllable before final unstressed open syllable

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    14. Speaking of American English, has anyone spoken about a possible change of the traditional transcription scheme? For example, how wrong would it be to change the ɑː into ? Do the starting points of PRICE and MOUTH vowels match with the PALM vowel in the majority of American English speakers? Should ɚ and ɝː be abolished?

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    15. David Crosbie wrote:

      'If you say that Aswan is pronounced with TRAP followed by BATH, that yields æswɑ:n for many Souther British speakers and æswæn for many Northern British speakers.'

      Hmm. Assouan was ˌæsuˈæn [ˈæsuæn ...] for Daniel Jones, which rather argues against BATH.

      --
      Steve

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    16. Steve

      I may be wrong, but I think I remember myself and quite a lot of other people saying ̩æsˈwɑ:n. But then I went to Egypt and got into different linguistic habits.

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    17. It's interesting to read John Wells's comment above that he's not met a U-RP speaker since he was an undergrad. In Accents of English, it was made clear that stereotypes of upper-class speech may be more fiction than fact.

      Nonetheless, U-RP seems to get mentioned a lot on the internet. Some people write as if they're describing a concrete thing, although examples of speakers are seldom given. When I listen to old clips of Bertrand Russell, Louis Mountbatten and Tony Benn (all aristocrats), I don't hear anything different a typical middle-class RP speaker of the era. Today, David Cameron and George Osbourne speak in an undistinctive way despite being members of the upper class.

      Ed Aveyard

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    18. J.M.R. (and John, Ed),

      however I interpret it, I can't find a way that "no U-RP speaker would use [ɛ]" is true.

      First of all, you don't seem to limit yourself to the DRESS vowel, and for TRAP, this is one of the default realisations even in pre-war U-RP.

      Secondly, there is, at least in my impression, a considerable overlap between people and even for individual speakers, between TRAP and DRESS, and you find even pre-war U-RP speakers pronouncing DRESS as [ɛ]. (As an aside, I'm using the symbols in their unshifted meaning, not having them go along with the changes in pronunciation during the 20th century.)

      Thirdly, do you mean "U-RP" as an historic subgroup of RP, something like 1920s to 1950s, or as the accent of the upper classes in general? If the latter, U-RP might have overtaken mainstream RP in the late sixties on the front lane, when pronouncing TRAP like STRUT seemed a novelty introduced by debutantes. Today, upper-class speakers certainly have [ɛ] for DRESS, and in fact occasionally [æ], however vulgar that may sound to their grandmother the dowager.

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    19. Fair enough, Ed. It’s now over thirty years since Accents of English was published, and it took me several years to write, so it reflects my experience of English up to around 1975. If I were redoing it today, I think I’d drop all mention of “U-RP”. Perhaps the nearest we come to it in a contemporary public figure is Boris Johnson.

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    20. @ Lipman:
      I mean U-RP as John describes it in Accents of English, which is different from Jonesian RP. It would be the (alleged) accent of the upper classes.

      I was only born in 1985 and I don't know anyone in the upper classes, but then I have access to all the recordings on the internet. Isn't there a recording of a U-RP speaker somewhere? You give a description of U-RP vowels in your post, but I don't understand what you're basing this on. I get the same feeling whenever I read any internet comment about U-RP. Have you listened to recordings of U-RP speakers over time?

      I suggest that the [a] in TRAP came from the pressure of sheer numbers. If we include all speakers in England (not just RP), [a] has always been the pronunciation of most people in TRAP and it seems inevitable that this would break into RP eventually. It seems that [æ] in TRAP was one of those boomerang trends that began in the south-east but didn't spread very far and was eventually reversed.

      It's interesting to hear John name Boris as the closest thing to U-RP today. His speech is certainly more distinctive than Cameron's or Osbourne's.

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    21. John, how about the sort of accent made popular in the Gap Yah video? (In social terms, this might be more upper-middle, if you insist, and actually less pronounced for upper. Also, while there are people who talk like this, it as a parody, and not a very sympathetic one.)

      Do you think this is different enough to allow for a subgroup of RP?

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    22. This is a funny video. There is now a sequel, which plays much more on the [æɑ] in SQUARE and, of course, in "year".

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    23. The voice in the video reminded me of Jacob Rees-Mogg. He doesn't have the same SQUARE vowel as the actor, but he does have [ɑ] for the second element in his centring diphthongs. His speech would strike many people as "posh", but I think that the distinctive quality is prosodic rather than phonetic.

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    24. I'll have to re-read this later, but yes, I was referring to the DRESS vowel. Furthermore, you also have to understand that that wasn't meant to be taken literally and that there is such a thing as hyperbole. Yet, still, I stand by what I said: the true poshness requres a close vowel.

      I am surprised that Prof. Wells hasn't picked the Queen.

      Or Prince Charles. If we an disregard his glottal stops.

      How posh would you say Bertrand Russell is? Judging by his pedigree, completely and utterly. I got lost in his family tree and can't for the life of me understand why his father was a viscount though his grandfather was an earl and why none of them took the title of Duke of Bedford.

      Anyway, he almost says ɪpire, and does so repeatedly, don't you think?

      Apart from him, hasn't somebody already mentioned Vita Sackville-West? Does there exist or has there ever existed a "posher" voice?

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    25. ɪmpire.

      Oh, why would you completely remove U-RP? What would happen to all those mentions of Noel Coward? Perhaps the book isn't meant to show the historic accents of English, only the current ones of the time when the edition gets published?

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    26. ... I think that the distinctive quality is prosodic rather than phonetic.

      What would be those prosodic qualities that distinguish his or Boris's or Cameron's speech and make them sound "posh"?

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    27. It's interesting to read John Wells's comment above that he's not met a U-RP speaker since he was an undergrad. In Accents of English, it was made clear that stereotypes of upper-class speech may be more fiction than fact.

      I needed an illustration for a lot of stuff in that description, for example:

      Prosodic phenomenon of adding emphasis by prolonging the steady-state of a consonant, usually a voiceless consonant following an accented vowel, [ˈfraɪtːflɪ ˌsɒrɪ], [ɪt wəz ˈɔːfːlɪ ˌnaɪs]

      A specific rhythmic pattern in words with penultimate stress, as “water, wider, places, reducing” – this includes a shortening of the duration of the stressed vowel and a compensatory lengthening of the final unstressed vowel, without any change in quality; the effect is most noticeable where the stressed vowel is one belonging to the phonologically free (‘long’) category; the word “parking-meter” can be used a a shibboleth to separate the true upper classes from those who are not: [ɪŋ] considerably longer than [ɑː] and [ə] in “meter” longer than /iː/

      U-RP demands a ‘plumminess’ achieved by lowering the larynx and widening the oro-pharynx


      I don't know how to lower the larynx and widen the oro-pharynx.

      I'm also not sure about that pre-consonantal t.

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    28. I don't know how to lower the larynx and widen the oro-pharynx

      Yawn.

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    29. How posh would you say Bertrand Russell is? Judging by his pedigree, completely and utterly.

      The point that I was making was that Russell was an aristocrat but his speech was merely the RP of his era. His pronunciation of "empire" doesn't sound to have initial [ɪ] to me.

      Vita Sackville-West does indeed sound posh. She may be the best candidate for a genuine U-RP speaker.

      What would be those prosodic qualities that distinguish his or Boris's or Cameron's speech and make them sound "posh"?
      I don't know much about prosody, but instinctively Rees-Mogg's speech sounds very unusual and suggests a privileged background.

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    30. No, he is not saying ɪmpire. I never said it. You should re-read.

      What about Brian Sewell?

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    31. Perhaps this division of RP into subaccents isn't appropriate. There was an alternative one published on 31 March 2008 in The Times in an article entitled How to speak posh:



      Pronounced differences

      RP The “neutral accent” of Radio 4. SingING, not singin’; little, not li-ool.

      Hyperlect As RP, but more identifiably posh. Brine trisers for brown trousers. Princess Enn, not Princess Anne.

      County The accent in which you marshal hounds and warn poachers just before you shoot them. Huntin’, shootin’, fishin’.

      Sloane A lazy version of county, slurring its pronunciation under the influence of estuary English. Yaah, not yes; riii, not right.

      Medja Not quite as languorous as Sloane. RP, rather than county, with some urban overtones. Gestures towards the glottal stop without quite going so downmarket. Tony Blair. Cool, yeah?

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    32. Brian Sewell has a unique way of speaking. I wouldn't classify him in any way. He's not a member of the upper classes, but he is a vicious snob. I expect that he's adopted his way of speaking to convince himself that he's superior.

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  2. I've never heard of the other two but I've certainly heard of harissa, and think of it as being quite well-known, but then again I am a bourgeois Londoner. As far as I am aware, however, harissa is not a spice in itself but a paste made by combining several spices together – I'm not sure which.

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  3. Wikipedia can also tell people about ras-al-hanout if they search for it with the spelling "ras el hanout".

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  4. "avocados, green peppers, courgettes, or kiwi fruit, still less kumquats or brie"

    I had to pause there for a while and google to ensure myself that "brie" is not also an edible vegetable or fruit.

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  5. For me it's always been /ˈlitʃi/.

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    1. I've always said /ˈlaɪtʃi/, partly because that's how I've generally heard it pronounced, and partly because that version is close to the Cantonese pronunciation. I always thought /ˈliːtʃi/ was mainly American.

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    2. Well, I am an American, so it's not surprising I should use a mainly American pronunciation.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I've tried açaí a few times (California is usually a good place to hear about the latest food fad). The pronunciation I've heard is /ˌɑsaɪˈiː/

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  8. I tremble every time I visit the supermarket and fear more of my stuff is pushed into the corner to make way for something new. But our regular mix of basil and thyme and oregano spiked with whatever is in season or on the shelf should pass as za’atar according to the recipes in that Wikipedia link. But I suspect it won't.

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  9. The j in goji (枸杞) is not unetymological. Despite the fact that the pronunciation of 杞 in standard mandarin is qǐ, it is common in Southern China that people mispronounce it as jǐ all the time (including myself). Presumably the people who brought this word in English were in contact with Southern Chinese.

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  10.  Yes, I was about to write something to the same effect when I read your comment.
     Looking you up 杞 in the zdic.net Chinese dictionary you will find that although a pronunciation with an aspirated syllable onset [tɕʰ-] /kʰ-/ is given for standard Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese (粤语) has gei2 [k-] and the ‘Hakka phonetic spelling glossary’ (客语拼音字汇) gives gi3 [k-], both without aspiration and corresponding to Hànyǔ Pīnyīn [tɕ-] /k-/.
     We all know that Hong Kong, which is predominantly Cantonese speaking, was a British territory until 1997, so the compilers of the OED really ought to take account of Cantonese sources when judging loans from Sinitic.

     Charlie Ruland

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    1. They actually point the finger rather at Taiwanese:

      'The form of the English word may originate from an irregular transliteration used in Taiwan, from where the berries were first introduced to Western markets; it does not conform to any of the major transliteration systems.'

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    2.  1. 枸杞 is gǒuqǐ in standard Mandarin Chinese everywhere, be it Mainland China, Taiwan or Singapore.

       2. In Taiwanese however 枸杞 is kóo-kí [kɔ́ kî] /kɔ̂ kî/. As is true for Cantonese and Hakka, Taiwanese [k-] corresponds to Hànyǔ Pīnyīn j- when it precedes a high front vowel, otherwise to g-, although in Taiwanese and other Mǐn dialects unaspirated k- [k-] is in contrast not only to aspirated kh- [kʰ-] but also to voiced g- [ɡ-] (as dialects, e.g. Shanghainese). Therefore the j in English goji really isn’t that surprising, even if you ‘point the finger [...] at Taiwanese.’

       Charlie Ruland

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    3. So how do you transcribe the Cantonese pronunciation of Li Ka-shing? Is there a Jyutping to IPA table?

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    4. I guess it is lei̯˨˧ kaː˥ sɪŋ˨˩ or something similar.

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  11.  1. Jyutping is by no means the Romanisation of the Cantonese language, but The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong Cantonese Romanization Scheme.
     2. Aren’t the tables of the English Wikipedia sufficient for you purpose?

     Charlie Ruland

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    1. The point is... Is there anything better than Jyutping?

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    2.  Better for which purpose or group? — My general answer is that several of the other Cantonese romanization schemes do not seem worse to me.

       Charlie Ruland

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    3. There you go again. :) First, I don't know how you inferred that I implied that Jyutping is the romanization of Cantonese. Second, then I made a mistake that by that you meant Oh, run away from Jyutping, it is not good!

      If all are faulty someone needs to make a definite effort to create some Cantonese counterpart to DIN 31635.

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    4.  I wouldn’t say they’re all faulty. However most (or even all?) of them are focussed on the Guǎngdōng-Hong Kong standard Cantonese language and are therefore inadequate for the multitude of variants of the Cantonese language in its broader sense.

       As to DIN 31635: this is the German standard for Arabic romanization, the international standard is ISO 233. Talking about official standards: Jyutping isn’t even the Hong Kong government standard for Cantonese romanization nor of course the standard Cantonese romanization used in mainland China.

       Charlie Ruland

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    5. Again: am I talking to a wall? Again: what is wrong with your tone? I did not say Jyutping is official in any way. You are just putting words in my mouth I haven't uttered.

      DIN is the de facto standard, on the other hand, no publication dealing with Arabic, Persian or Ottoman Turkish uses ISO. ISO is a non-entity, just letters on a piece of paper.

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  12. Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the content looks awesome. You are really a master.we are leading spices in india

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