Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Lies, damned lies, and intonation

A few months ago I discussed (here) the strange way that reported speech not only attenuates the intonation of direct speech but actually misrepresents it.  On a train more recently I noticed a case that is just totally artificial – lying in wait for the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student just when they are at their most vulnerable, and providing a model of inaccurate intonation. A recording comes over the Tannoy:

We will shortly be arriving at <station-name> 

If one said this in the course of normal conversation (in a rather Ionesco-esque surreal universe?) the intonation would be something like this:
But instead of recording We will shortly be arriving at Iver, We will shortly be arriving at Langley, We will shortly be arriving at Slough ... etc etc ad nauseam, and running up enormous recording bills, they have recorded just We will shortly be arriving at ... (note the "...", what happens when there‘s nothing to be said is ironically quite significant) ...

...and separate recordings  of individual station names.

So what the disembodied voice says is

There are two problems with this, both having to do with the way a native speaker strings sounds together, one of which works in the student's favour:
  1. Pro
    There is no assimilation – the squidging of sounds together to make connected speech. For example, the /æt/ (or, more probably, /ət/) can (and often does) change in sympathy with whatever follows. If the next station is Maidenhead, for example, starting with the bilabial /m/, a native speaker saying the whole sentence might say /əp 'meɪdənhed/ (with the dental /t/ becoming the equivalent bilabial stop /p/).
    <festive_note theme="point of articulation">
    In Rutter‘s Shepherd's Pipe Carol the refrain starts 
    Angels in the sky
    Came down from on high.... 
    ... a bit of a tongue-twister I find (nearly every Christmas). Musing on points of articulation, I recently realized why; although clarity of enunciation isn't my forte, anyone might find the second line a bit of a trouble-maker (aided and abetted by the context established in the first). The consonants in came are the velar /k/ and the bilabial nasal /m/; down starts with a /d/ (dental) and ends with another dental (but this time it's the nasal /n/); from starts with a consonant pair – but the first is the labio-dental /f/, and at the end there's another bilabial nasal. 
    So the points of articulation (places where sounds are made, but in this case [beginnings and ends] articulation also works in  the same way as it does in an articulated lorry):

    CAME                                                      Velar (back of mouth) 
                                                                            last: Bilabial (front of mouth)
    DOWN                                                     Dental (halfway back) 
                                                            last: Dental (again) 
    FROM                                                   Labio-dental (not quite  
                                                                                   the front, but pretty near)
                                                  last: Bilabial 
    Just considering the first consonant in these three words (marked in bold), there is no problem: 
     Came down from... 
    Velar => Dental => Labio-dental the point of articulation is moving steadily forwards. But factoring in the ends of the words, the peaceful (pastoral?) picture is disrupted. After the bilabial nasal at the end of Came there is the temptation to take the path of least resistance...
    The path of least resistance is often significant in the way speech sounds develop, but... Update, maybe.
    ...and say from; besides, came from is a temptingly Christmassy collocation  came from afar/the East/Nazareth... 
    So I often find myself singing Came from down... and it's not until I bump  into the down/high paradox that my voice peters out.
  2. Con
    When the component bits of recording are spliced together, the intonation is totally wrong. There are two components: the first ends in an upward flick, a sort of auditory serif, that  has the meaning  "..." (in conversation  this rising tone warns: I HAVEN'T FINISHED YET, SO DON'T INTERRUPT); the second starts the place-name with a rising tone, which again gives the wrong message (as a rising tone often signifies HERE COMES A NEW TOPIC).
On the homeward journey I listened again to the Tannoy. And surprisingly (not to say inefficiently, on the same service run by the same company, but just in the opposite direction) the intonation pattern was different: it still wasn't right, but at least the first bit didn't have the misleading upward flick at the end; and the intonation at the beginning of each place-name at least did not start by rising.
Still unnatural, with the tone leaping up to mark the splice, but not so bad.

But ESOL students arriving from their home countries certainly have their work cut out. 


PS And here's a clue:

Sat up 60% of the way through loud passage, but too late for this. (9)

Update 2016.02.11.14:15 Fixed a few typos, deleted old footer and added PPS.

PPS The possible update mentioned in the digression from the festive note (which itself was something of a digression) has taken the form of a new post. And here's another clue:

Beseech Barnaby (fat chance!)  (8)

Update 2016.02.12.10:30 Added PPPS

PPPS A further thought on the subject of point of articulation, that arose last summer and may be of interest to choral singers. My choir was singing a setting of these words (from The Merry Wives of Windsor):
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and star-light and moonshine be out.
These are the last words of the piece, with very quick notes and an extreme diminuendo, so it's important to watch the conductor. It seemed to me that the only way to do this was to learn it by heart. So far so unsurprising. The three nouns in the last line were a problem; how to remember the order?

Then I realized how clever (intuitive?, lucky?) Shakespeare had been. The points of articulation of the initial consonants move from the back of the mouth to the front:
/k/ (velar) > /s/ (alveolar ridge) > /m/ (bilabial)
So, as the music dwindles away to nothing (or a niente, as the Italians have it) the choir can whisper more and more with the point of articulation moving closer and closer to the audience and maintaining clarity.

Update 2016.03.12.17:50 – Supplied crossword answers:


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Tying up

A while ago I saw this tweet:

This evoked a charming picture of competitive laundry between washerwomen on a riverbank. But it also led me to reflect on other words for arrive (Fr arriver, It arrivare... etc obviously derive from one root Sp llegar Pg chegar... etc from another, while Provençal (predictably) has a foot in both camps with both arribá and plegar (I expect there's a story behind those differing inflexions, but there are things to do)
Catalan often straddles the French/Spanish camps, so I expected a pair like the Provençal ones. But Cat. plegar has a different metaphorical use: stop work, knock off  – reminiscent of primary school teachers' instructions: When you've finished, FOLD your arms on the desk in front of you.
Elcock explains:
While VENĪRE remained everywhere the usual verb for 'to come', two new terms conveying a more visual image were  borrowed from maritime language. The older of these, which prevailed in Spain, was PLĬCARE, first used with reference to the folding of sails (cf Port. chegar, Sicilian chicari). In Rumanian a pleca means inversely 'to go, to depart'; this is because the metaphor there was military, and referred to the folding up of tents  (cf. Eng. 'to decamp').  AD-RIPARE, 'to  come to shore', was a somewhat later creation which found favour in Gaul (cf Prov. arribá [HD: Elcock does not mention plegar here, but he has already mentioned it in another context]. From Provence it spread to Catalonia, and during the Middle Ages was carried thence to Sardinia, as arribare.   
The Romance Language (I've given this source more than once, but make no apology for that: it's very good.)
Other nautical metaphors have found there their(!) way to the meaning arrive. My Subject line gives one; another, from a more  obviously nautical source, is to be heard in the sea shanty Fire Marengo:

When I get back to Liverpool town
I'll cast a line to little Sally Brown

I'll draw a veil over the other things he plans to do to Sally Brown, although it is already cloaked in more nautical metaphors: 'Sally is a pretty little craft/ Sharp to the fore and a rounded aft'.

In preparation for my family's visit to Rome in 1961 (BCE  – Before Considerable Education, as I was not yet 10) I collected a few useful words.
Incidentally, this reminds me of another Roman reminiscence I recounted here, in which I referred to ‘a sophisticated and improbable mistake for a 9-year-old, but I was there'. On a re-reading, I realize that this was ambiguous and could be thought insufferably conceited. What I meant by those last four words was not to imply ‘... so you could expect some linguistic fireworks' but simply ‘...so I know what happened' (not that any memory is especially reliable).
One of these was arrivederci, which I broke down into ‘arrive' (natch) and ‘backwards' (partly under the influence of another foreign der- word discussed here). It seemed to me at the time that ‘arrive backwards' was quite a plausible take on the idea of  leave-taking. The truth is much more simple: apart from the -ci (=‘you') it breaks down into much the same components as au revoir  (or, for that matter, Auf Wiedershehen).
Time for bed...  No, I'll do some checking, and add a bit about Catalan before I Publish.


PS Next morning: There.  And here's another clue:

Wide boy's feet embracing current exercise fad.

2015.12.23.10:20 – Added esprit d'escalier in blue.

2016.01.01.16:30 – Added PS

PS And, while we‘re on the subject of river-based metaphors, I'm reminded of a word I come across often in France, which until recently I tried in vain to guess from the context (dictionaries being for me a last  resort – while being of course, an essential resource)  It's a word that I don't believe I've seen in any other context – road signs that specify restrictions on parking or access, for example Accès interdit...sauf riverains.

As that Larousse entry shows, the toes of a riverain/e can be either wet or dry:
2016.01.02.16:40 – Added PPS
PPS Next day..  And here's another clue:

Wanting to embrace father, but sure of failure. (10)

Update  2016.03.12.17:30 – Added PPPS and removed footer.

Crossword answers:  PILATES and DESPAIRING

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The War Against Error, Take 2

Not too much of note happened in the last week of November 2015.  Infopleaase defines it with its two termini : the downing of the Russian aircraft in Turkey on the 24th  and the beginning of the Climate Talks on the 30th (both of which may come to generate much of import in the future (the latter for good and the former for ill) – but in between  the world news cupboard was bare. So the Independent published a strange filler:

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases

(58; not a solecism more, not a solecism FEWER, as Jeffrey Archer might have observed.)

The piece starts out promising to be a review of  Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style:
The book is like a modern version of Strunk and White's classic "The Elements of Style," but one based on linguistics and updated for the 21st century.
Hmm. I'm not convinced by this use of linguistics as if it were some kind of magic added ingredient – Now with added Linguistics, they say, much as the makers of Pedigree Chum used to say Enriched with nourishing marrow-bone jelly in the '60s ad (not sure why that illustration swam up from the mental depths). Writing a style guide using insights provided by a study of modern linguistics (not "based on linguistics" whatever that means) is a good idea. I don‘t think "like ...Strunk and White..., but ... based on linguistics" quite does justice to the idea.

But the last six words of this sentence (a paragraph later) let the cat out of the bag (revealing it to be a pig in a poke...? a mixed metaphor too far, perhaps):
We've highlighted the most common mistakes according to Pinker using examples directly from his book along with some of our own.
As a result, it's impossible to identify the source of some of the slips (many of which I suspect aren't Pinker's, although I detect in some of his preferences that linguistic conservatism common in countries with a history of British colonialism: Canada, USA, Australia, India...).
You might be shocked by how many words you've been very slightly misusing.
it warns in the sub-headline. Well, no and no. I first discussed such nostrums here. More recently I wrote this. But this topic seemed worth yet another visit.

There is, in this list,  a clutch of the Usual Suspects disinterested/uninterested, hung/hanged...
which I can never read without hearing, in my mind's ear,  Rex Harrison's
By rights he should be taken out and hung

For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue
in the soundtrack recording of My Fair Lady. Oh how we larfed.
... depreciate/deprecate, flaunt/flout, irregardless, practical/practicable, proscribe/prescribe, protagonist/proponent, unexceptional/unexceptionable, effect/affect (which I looked at a couple of years ago in a post entitled "Enother old favourite"}, lie/lay...   AHA
<eureka certainty="iffy">
Perhaps alphabetization/lack thereof in  the Independent's list is a clue to the provenance of different items: Pinker's are alphabetical and the Indy threw in a few at the end to make it up to a round ... hmm, not so much...58.
But there are odd omissions and strange choices, identifying a problem area but citing an uncommon  symptom credulous, for example, rather than credible whereas the chief solecism I've met is incredulous/incredible (which aren't mentioned). BNC finds 35 cases of credulous and 428 of credible but 171 of incredulous and 1174 of incredible. OK, a total of 1345 instances of incredulous/incredible don't imply that many instances of confusion, but they far outweigh those for credulous/credible (3:1)  that's three times more occasions of sin (as my RE teacher would have said).

The fatal inter/intern confusion
And has anyone ever used urban myth to refer to someone like Al Capone,  confused meretricious with meritorious, or used New Age to mean futuristic? Does anyone confuse averse/adverse, inter/intern...? Maybe they do in Canada.

Also, there are assertions of "mistakes" that aren't mistaken, as for example:
Cliché  is a noun and is not an adjective
OK, some people believe that;  British English dictionaries assert it. But Merriam-Websters, for example, accepts it as either a noun or an adjective. I suspect the Indy's simple (and simplistic...
Incidentally, this is how these once-decried (first deprecated, then depreciated, and ultimately accepted as standard) confusions commonly bear fruit. Cases arise where either is acceptable; and the process grinds on. And not just with words; also with grammatical forms. Guy Deutscher, recounts in The Unfolding of Language how the 'going to' future arose from usages that referred to both travel and futurity:  'they are going to see him'. More of this in an update...
 ...) "A not B" does not reflect Pinker's careful academic aloofness. I suspect that the careful avoidance of etyma (who could define "meretricious" without referring to ladies of the night?) derives from Pinker's studious avoidance of the Etymological Fallacy discussed in several Harmless Drudgery posts. This "A not B" approach reflects that of the Reichenau Glossary, discussed hereVESPERTILIONES was right; CALVAS SORICES wrong. But, irregardless, a French bat is a chauve-souris. 

So I must read Pinker's book; surely the Indy's howler-ridden piece can't do justice to it?  Who knows what Santa may bring?


PS And here are a couple of clues:

Profoundly disappointing: baby's male – begone! (7)
Parental – sort of care before parturition. (8)

Update 2015.  – Added afterthought in blue.

Update 2015.  – Added picture; really must get an artist 

Update 2016.  – Added answer to 2nd clue (still working on the first...anyone?) and removed footer.


Update 2016.  – A couple of typo fixes. I STILL can't get that first clue. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The last post


just the last I make before the end of  (my) singing term

Last year I had a very festive 14 December. I sang at the Wokingham Choral Society's service at Sindlesham, then high-tailed it to Bearwood College theatre in time for the last number in the first half of Trinity Concert Band's Christmas Cracker (and all of the second half, I'm not so stupid as to...) to hear my daughter.

But this year the gods (or the elves perhaps?) haven't been so kind. The two concerts do coincide temporally, but not spatially. So tonight's rehearsal will have to be my last, before this:↴

You don't have to miss it*  though, and if I were you I wouldn't (except I will...).

Tales from the word-face

Progress with the new book is glacial. I'm having to rethink my modus imprimanditurae,  as Cloud Convert (which I use to get from XLS to HTML) used not to do anything sensible with Comments in an XLS file, but now it does. So whereas I was writing my Comments including HTML markup, so that I could cut&paste them into an HTML file, I'm now having to strip out all the markup, and repunctuate them. Cloud Convert now collects them in a separate image file, which I can then <include>.

This is still not ideal. I'd rather have them in HTML. But maybe Cloud Convert would too. Keeping text in image files is, as they say in the trade, 'a bit smelly' (that is, sub-optimally elegant), so  the goal-posts may be about to move again – so I need to get a hot line into their future plans. In which case, maybe I won't have to strip out all the markup.   I am going out [to read the Help], and  I may be some time. They're pretty helpful, though.


A clue to keep you going:

Loud,  by rote (sort of):  that's  what I said! (5)

Update 2015.12.11.10:10 – Added this footnote:

* My feelings are mixed about missing the concert. It includes one of my Top Ten carols, "The Shepherds‘ Farewell". But the acciacatura**  in the first bar, which Berlioz – presumably – scored for an oboe or a cor anglais (something reedy anyway).... It seems to me that in a church the obvious replacement is the organ.

But I have never, even when an organ was available, sung this piece without a piano accompaniment. On a percussive instrument like a piano this acciacatura sounds to me like something out of Zorba the Greek.

** Elsewhere I have explained this word:
Another double letter in musical terminology forms one of a pair of similar-looking little notes, distinguished only by a "/" through one of them: the appoggiatura and the acciacatura. In the second of these, the "i" softens the "c", so that the word has five syllables: [a'ʧakatura]. Again, the only pronunciation I have heard (admittedly rarely) is [aki.aka'tura]; and again I'm not suggesting that anyone 'should' do anything. 
...[T]he acciacatura is a sort of sneeze squashed in before the note it precedes. And music theoreticians about to raise an eyebrow at that sneeze metaphor will be interested – though possibly not convinced – by my mnemonic for remembering which is which: acciacatura/atchoo.
Finally, a festive clue:

Noël, we hear: manic carol arrangement, In dulci jubilo, for example. (9)

Update 2015.12.11.22:40 – Corrected Dog Latin; easier and better with -andi.
Update 2015.12.16.16:15 – Corrected clue. I haven't done the usual thing, preserving records of the update (which'd make it too easy).
Update 2015.12.30.16:50 – OK, time's up: crossword clue answer: MACARONIC

Update 2016.04.06.17:050 – Removed footer.

Monday, 7 December 2015

On lines and slopes

I keep hearing, on weather reports, '... isobars close together, so high winds...'. And this reminds me of my short membership of the Meteorology Club
In 1964-65 – spanning the end of the Lower VI and the beginning of the Upper VI [the UCCA season, during which 17-18 year-olds created a cv that might interest a university admissions officer –  UCCA being the forerunner of UCAS] of the founder cum chairman cum <you-name-it> Edmund Nickless; we lesser mortals, in short trousers, were just UCCA-fodder.
One of the few things that stayed with me from that short-lived enthusiasm was the mnemonic "Winds blow from high to low" – a jingle that leads me to  reflect on a metaphor that will mean nothing to millennials (as I gather young whipper-snappers are called nowadays). Poor, deprived, benighted souls; for them, physical maps with contour lines have had their rightful place usurped by the Google Maps Satellite view and various other 3-D displays – available at the touch of a mouse/stylus/finger (in ascending order of hi-techeryO tempora, as I have said before,  O mores the pity.

For them, isobars will just be squiggly lines on weather maps, as long as they remain meaningful to a few grey-beards. Then they'll just be dropped, I shouldn't wonder, and replaced by some other graphic device with a vague meaning something to do with the roughness of the weather.

Chixculub, 261km-162m
(Is God metric? – that anagram
can't be just blind chance.)
But they're quite like inverted contours*. A depression is marked by isobars that indicate lower pressure as they approach a centre, not unlike the contour lines on a physical map that shows The Devil‘s Punchbowl or, on a larger scale, the Chixculub Crater.

In contrast. a mountain is the analogue of an anti-cyclone, with lines marking progressively higher altitudes as they approach a peak. When contours are closer on a physical map, the slope in the Real World is steeper. A marble dropped at one level will quickly roll down to ground that could be marked by a contour line that indicates a lower level; the steeper the descent, the quicker the marble.
In my school we sliced half a potato into smaller and smaller discs, and traced round them to reveal, on our exercise books, the shape of the potato (reduced to two dimensions); magic. But where is the lowly potato in today's geography classes? Maybe geography teachers still use this trick – but they were brought up with physical maps. What will happen when they retire?
Similarly, with isobars, winds blow from high to low. Air in a place marked by an isobar flows "down the hill" to a spot marked by a lower-value isobar. But that's not the whole story:  presumably because of the Earth's spin, winds blow around a pressure system. My mnemonic works only in the Northern hemisphere (but, like Newton's physics, it works for me): imagine yourself writing a capital L  –  that's for low pressure; your mental pen travels anti-clockwise, down the upright and along the "foot".
And that's another thing. What was the word for clockwise before clocks were invented? Counter-widdershins?                                                                                      </digression>
For an anti-cyclone you have to take a lower-case (and a rather florid one); you produce it with two strokes, starting the upright at the base-line and moving clockwise up to the curly top. There, with a rather strained manuscript , you have your memory aid for wind direction round a high-pressure system. (This trick will only work if as well as living in the Northern Hemisphere you remember the phenomenon of hand-writing.)

Enough of this metaphor. Time for DIY.


PS: And here's a crossword clue:

Potential victims surrounding island race - quite attractive. (6)

Update 2015.12.06.18:15 –  Added this footnote:
*Now I come to think of it, they could be called isoheights; but that would risk confusion with "isohyets" which are already A Thing.

And here‘s another clue:

Marx in reprint at the helm of a chat-show. (5)

Update 2016.01.11.17:15 – Crossword answers: PRETTY and OPRAH (respectively). I thought Oprah was pretty neat, until I saw that I was coming late to the party.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Golden Ages and Pavements

There are two jumping-off points for today's intertwined musings. No, three – only the third is a concert I mean to go to in the future (next Friday  at the time of writing) , and is just a happy coincidence anyway. It is a concert given by my choir's Musical Director, who also directs (and founded) the group Siglo de Oro. The coincidence will become clear in the fullness of time.

The two are:
  • An interview with the singer of  the Eagles of Death. He was saying that he wanted to perform at the reopening of the Bataclan
  • An old Archive on Four programme, repeated last Saturday on Radio Four Extra

The first of these made me wonder how they [the band]  would start. It would be missing a trick not to resume where they had left off when the infamous killing-spree started – perhaps even in mid-song. This reminded me of a story I heard in a half-remembered lecture, about Juan del Encina.
<autobiographical_note date_range="1971-1972">
Juan del Encina
In May 1972 I was ... not quite a world authority on sixteenth-century Spanish literature, but Professor E. M. Wilson, my lecturer for that year, was. 
Juan del Encina, author of some of the seminal works in Spanish Golden Age literature, was arrested by the Holy Inquisition in the middle of a lecture. He was away for some considerable time (years, I think, but I was never much of a note-taker; I'm sure the details are somewhere on the Internet, if you‘re that way inclined).  
When he returned, his opening words were Dicebamus hesterno  die [="{As} we were saying the other day"].
It was partly because of Professor Wilson's specialism (he had just contributed the chapter on Calderón to the standard work on Golden Age Literature first published in 1971) that the Hispanic Society chose the play mentioned here.
Now for the second of those blogogenic seeds. To quote Wikipedia:
 ...Vox populi, vox Dei /vɒks ˈpɒpjuːlɪ ˌvɒks ˈdɛɪ/, "The voice of the people [is] the voice of God", is an old proverb often erroneously attributed to William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century.
(I can't say I'm entirely happy about that /ˈpɒpjuːlɪ/, but that's neither here nor there,) The work  saying 's author is anonymous, but pre-dates William of Malmesbury by centuries. And the sentiment is self-evidently ridiculous.
It's not unlike other sayings, such as The customer is always right ([which whenever I've worked in retail...
<meta_digression possibility="0">
No, too boring. Except for the broad beans. Maybe another time.
... is emphatically not believed by the staff], that make a clear and radical statement that is manifestly untrue. 
Part of this saying has been used to refer to the sort of interview discussed in that Archive on Four programme – vox pop. I just heard a vox pop on the radio news, featuring opinions on whether the UK should bomb Syria. The interviewer asked someone who was strongly in favour 'Will it do any good?' And, scarcely credibly, the response was "WELL IT CAN'T DO ANY HARM." ... vox Dei? Perhaps he doesn't fully understand the concept of bombing.

In France, the word for a vox pop makes no such claim. But it does, by chance, recall a trick I've noticed in other vox pops. At the end, after the interviewer's piece to camera, the camera often pans down to the pavement to show the feet walking away [in the equivalent of cowboys riding off into the sunset]. It signifies That's all folks. (I have a researcher working on this; her fairly recent lecture notes from a Media Studies degree may give this observation some authoritative backing. Maybe, though, this recurrent camera trick is just favoured by BBC South's news editor[s].)

And that pavement is suggested also in the French micro-trottoir [="microphone-pavement", not "little pavement", SILLY].

In the USA, there is another term.
... broadcast journalists almost always refer to them as the abbreviated vox pop....In U.S. broadcast journalism it is often referred to as a man on the street interview or M.O.T.S 
'Professional videographer, editor, and media professor David Burns', in this YouTube clip uses the PC version 'person on the street'  – maybe he's worried about tenure.

I wonder whether this 'on the street' influenced the French coining, in an attempt to avoid the borrowing of an Anglo-Saxon term (a pre-echo of La <<loi Toubon>>?).


One other coincidence doesn't really count, as – although my choir is singing the song (an anonymous Siglo de Oro song) at the Christmas concert –  I shall be unable to join them. This is because of the traditional annual clash between my choir's Christmas concert and my daughter's windband's Christmas concert.

Update 2015.11.30.21:05 –  Misplaced para: sorry. 

Update 2015.12.03.08:50 –  A few corrections/clarifications, and added this crossword clue:

Spooner gave an uppercut to playwright for this factor in Winter's Tale. (4,5)

Update 2016.04.19..18:35 –  Crossword answer (at last) and deleted obsolete footer.

Time‘s up: WIND CHILL (not bad. TISIAS )

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Still at it

Report from the word face

Having finished a rough-cut (very rough) of the *il* section, I'm taking time out to reflect a bit on the Android spell-checker.

Android's spell-checker never ceases to amaze me: its latest suggestion, for "n o-frills" is
"up-front" which does share a hyphen followed by fr, and (though in the wrong places) an "n" and an "o"; but it shares nothing else.

In these five cases I hadn't made a mistake, but Android (or maybe Kingsoft Office – the software I'm using [I'm not really on top of this thing]) still felt I needed some help finding le mot juste:


(You can ignore the pink bit. Selecting a cell makes the Comment box appear willy-nilly [see below]. The green outline marks the selected word, and the suggestions made by the spell-checker are in blue, at the bottom left-hand corner.)
I wonder what's wrong with ill-advised, apart from the general hostility to the hyphen felt by some users of American English (mentioned here). Anyway, I'm impressed by the creativity underlying the suggestions of alternatives.


 I detect a somewhat Calvinistic value system at work here.

From stern to surreal. I generally expect my t-shirts to be still. The notion of an autonomous (automotive?) one is rather disturbing.

I wonder which of these full-time things is the least surreal; or indeed the most. A full-time logo sounds like something Harry Potter might know about, akin to those moving pictures in the newspapers.  And what would it do on its day off?

I think this might  be a thinly-veiled comment on T-Mobile's customer service.

Enough of this. Onwards and *ol*wards...


(PS... but this word-bashing is pretty arduous, and I have an interesting idea for a real book. So I'll carry on with #WVTbook2 as far as *ul*. Then I'll take stock,  and [maybe] change direction.)

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 here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Nearly 50,000 views and 9,000 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 nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 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.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Reaching a consenseless

How The World Butchered Benjamin Franklin’s Quote On Liberty Vs. Security

That all seems a bt iffy: "According to  Wittes"?... "widely presumed"? But the writer needn't have hedged his [I assume Gregory Ferenstein is a he] bets quite so assiduously; Wittes was right. The letter to the governor was dated just over 260 years ago as I write, on 11 November 1755.

This article on the morphing of this meme (does that make it a morphed-meme, I wonder...) is worth a read, particularly in the light [a strangely inappropriate word to use about this unutterably dark episode] of the Paris évènements. Not that the words  of Benjamin Franklin [for he it was that wrote it ...
I'm surprised that the writer of the article, which starts ‘One of America’s favorite liberal phrases has been sent through the political spin machine and polished into a Frankenstein of sorts...' [I know,  I know, "'s monster"] resisted the temptation to coin the word Franklinstein. Perhaps he just wasn't tempted – some people are funny like that.
...] represent some kind of Holy Writ,  canonical in some way. If a thing is worth saying it's worth saying, whether it's ‘If a man would sell liberty...' or ‘If a person trades their Liberty...' or ‘If a man sacrifices personal liberty' or even [God help us]  ‘If a man trades in his  liberty...' or one of the hundreds of other variants (truncated and otherwise adapted to suit an argument, or a quest for Political Correctness, or  a column-width (so as to make a snappy headline) or for whatever other reason.... No one is saying ‘Only Franklin's words are necessarily true' nor ‘You may only express this truth in the canonical words'. People who talk like that are themselves fanatical self-appointed guardians of a dated text; ring any bells?

But prefacing some other words, infinitely variable but usually ending with the neat bit "deserves neither", with "In the words of Benjamin Franklin" or some such [disingenuously] thinly-veiled appeal to authority (especially the Constitutional authority of a Founding Father), should cut no ice with anyone.

Besides, what did he mean by essential in the phrase 'essential liberty'? I don‘t know, but I imagine it was closer, in 1755,  to requisite for being than to the all-purpose jolly important [to me] that is sadly common today.


PS A couple of clues:

Red character inverted? Carmine, after a fashion. (10)

I defined it, sort of - SIC (10)

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 here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Nearly 50,000 views and 9,000 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 nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 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.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Singing in tongues

A few days ago my attention was caught by this tweet:
I did what I was told, and read this post. It's a fascinating field, but I was side-tracked by a digression prompted by these words...
When copying an accent in song turns out, it is all about the vowels. “Singing is all about vowels. Language is altogether is really [HD – sic; I suspect a hasty edit {you''ll know the sort of thing if you've read some of MY stuff}] vowels interrupted by consonants. Although there are things you have to be careful of when singing consonants generally it’s the vowels you have to be careful of.” Nail the vowels and you can nail the accent...
... particularly the word consonants. When you think about it  and you may have noticed that thinking about words is something I do – it does what it says (in a way often pleasing for the etymologically minded). Vowels could be regarded as 'sonants'  (not to be confused with sonorants – which really are A Thing in the world of phonetics [and I see that my made-up word sometimes is used like that {as here}, Aw shoot ...]). My point is that vowels are things produced by the vocal cords, or – to use my attempted, but misfired, neologism – 'sonants'. Con-sonants are things that just hold them together. If you think of an utterance as a stream, the water is the vowels; the consonants are the stepping stones.
Recently I was watching a French drama with subtitles. A subtitle read 'Have you had one?' I tried to recapture the original from my short-term memory, but failed; in my defence, it was late evening; earlier I'd've been  listening and not reading. It might have been (though I can't guarantee it)  Tu en a eu une? Hearing and making sense of that calls for quite some linguistic skill [and, for the non-Francophone, plenty of practice with the /y/ phoneme on which, don‘t get me started]. After the elision of en a the only two consonant phonemes among all those vowels are /n/ (twice) after the initial /t/. 
The idea of accents in singing reminded me of a concert I sang in  nearly thirty years ago.
<autobiographical note>

Our conductor was a very young Paul Daniel. About two weeks before the concert, he started feeling a pain in his shoulder. He kept rehearsing us until the very last Thursday rehearsal, so on the Saturday we turned up for the dress rehearsal fully expecting him to be there. 

But on the Friday he had seen a specialist who told him if he conducted us the following day he might do serious damage. So, at almost no notice, we had a deputy to conduct us. The choir's records are sketchy, for so long ago. Paul Daniel was with us for 3 years (that's twelve concerts, of which he missed one), and there are records here of only 2 of his concerts. But there is also this:

Brian Wright had driven down that morning from Yorkshire. And when we sang 
Praise ye

The God of Brass 
he winced. He had been used to northern choirs, and was not expecting our /ɑ:/. I wonder what vowel Walton had in mind.
</autobiographical note>
I have long felt that the life of a choral singer would be made simpler if music publishers adopted use of the IPA. Amateur choirs don‘t have the luxury of foreign language coaches – mentioned by the opera singer interviewed in Faking the Funk::
I’ve long thought that it was easier to sing in an accent that isn’t your own than it is to speak in a foreign accent. This turns out to be somewhat true according to Bill Beeman, a sociolinguist at University of Minnesota. Beeman also happens to be an opera singer. He speaks and sings in multiple languages: English, German, Italian, French and Russian. However, his accent in each of these languages is acctually better when he sings than when he speaks.  
“My accent when I’m singing is very carefully constructed and we use coaches when we’re singing in order to be able to produce the language as perfectly as possible,” he says. 
I don't think I've ever sung Fauré's lovely Cantique de Jean Racine  [ranted about here] without a more or less protracted argument  repeated in rehearsals – about the false liaison of très with haut. And I've sung it at least a dozen times [in concerts and other performances, that is; getting on for a hundred rehearsals. On one occasion it was a tenor [who doesn't even sing the words in question] who complained: "We sang it that way [HD: the 'thirteen waters' versionPS/PPSon tour in Belgium and had no complaints." GIVE ME STRENGTH!
It would make the life of a choral singer much simpler, as I said. And each choir that cared about these things would only have to have one member, learning at the most a few dozen symbols. Besides so many amateur singers are language teachers (I wonder why...?) that the relevant expert would be readily to hand in most cases.

But I put it to a man at OUP who convinced me that it would cause so much upheaval (and cost publishers such a deal of money, I think he meant) that it just won't happen. But a chap can dream....

Enough dreaming though. There are words to be learnt for Saturday.

Update 2015. – Added PS 
PS A misericord (in the metaphorical sense introduced here): 'Thirteen waters' = treize eaux [geddit? the words that provoke the false liaison are très haut]

Update 2015. – Updated the Saturday link, so that it points to something useful a review.

Update 2016. – Added PPS and deleted obsolete footer.

Just back from this:
A good   day‘s sing. We sang the Cantique, and – true to form – there was a smattering of the thirteen waters version. Oh well – these things are sent to ... evoke clichés