Tuesday, 18 February 2014

'...in largely predictable contexts'

In my recent exposure to writing, produced some time ago, I was struck by this (in the EU section; but as that was part of the ELTons submission I made in 2011 it's a good two years old):

This pair of vowels can represent 13 vowel sounds. But several of these differ only in a length value or a /j/ or /ə/ added before or after it. However, the Macmillan English Dictionary seems to make distinctions that may seem arbitrary and/or arguable. So the 13 are reduced here to 8:

  • /u:/ sometimes shortened to /u/ (preceded by /j/ in largely predictable contexts)
  • /ɜ:/
  • /jʊ/ and /jʊə/
  • ...etc
What did I mean by 'largely predictable contexts'? What was the truth hiding behind those weasel words?

Well, in the days when I was planning my original Dictionary of Vowels and their Sounds (which never got beyond the drawing board) I had written this about the /u:/ sound represented bv a single U (in certain cases):

/u:/ is preceded by a glide [j], becoming [ju:] in largely predictable contexts – at the beginning of a word, after stop consonants (/p t k b d g/) , after the sonorants (/l m n /) and after /h/ and /s/. The very recent borrowing 'gulag' keeps its native Russian pronunciation (as far as the 'u' is concerned; pronunciation of the consonants and of the 'a' is a different matter!) Similarly, the name 'Putin' (in an English-speaking context) has no glide before the /u:/, whereas the name 'Rasputin' – borrowed, for the use of English in less linguistically sensitive times – has a /ju:/. (The singers of Abba were unaware of this!)

The same would apply in my -eu-sounding-/u:/ case  But I decided not to include all those phonetic contexts, because generally the more you say the more you are likely to be wrong.

This old issue came to mind three times yesterday. The first was when an educated native speaker (and distinguished writer) said, during Start the Week (at about 35'30") 'children should approach Confession after puberty'; and what he said was /pu:bǝti:/.
<autobiographical_note maximum_import_value="nugatory"
In fact, this is what sent me back to find that old note.

So 'Putin' was on my mind when a continuity announcer, in a trail for Beyond Belief, called him /pju:tɪn/. She must have had her knuckles rapped by the Pronunciation Unit, because an hour later she got it right; or maybe she had listened to a bit of the programme and corrected herself; or maybe it was a different speaker; or maybe ... [How many phonetics geeks does it take to change a light-bulb? Answers on a post-card, or {for Unix users} to /dev/null]

News from the word-face

The second round of proofs look fairly clean; I should be able to push the Publish button by the end of the month – maybe by the end of the week.


 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.
     Freebies (Teaching resources: about 38,000  views  and over 5,300 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 1900 views and nearly 900 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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