Thursday, 29 November 2018

How many Ls do YOU have?

In a recent edition of

The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

an accent coach said
You may or may not be aware that in your own accent [HD: bog standard educated/metropolitan RBP] you have 2 Ls
Close enough for jazz, as my old Musical Director used to say ...
<potential_rant get-out="life's too short">
(in a way that I thought didn't give jazz the respect it deserves – how DARED he? – though in his defence I imagine in some circles it's a strong collocation [that's ESOL teacher-ese for "well-known phrase or saying"] in which case he was guilty of a careless use of words, rather than actual intellectual vandalism) 
...What she meant (and probably knows) was in your own accent you have dozens if not hundreds of Ls, which can be divided into two broad types. I mentioned this in the Introduction to When Vowels Get Together: Book 2 - Sonorants  (now available in a work-in-progress form at all good Kindle libraries) in a note about allophones
If the idea of allophones is new to you, consider the words leek and keel. In the first, the [l] sound is formed towards the front of the mouth (the so-called "clear l") and the [k] is formed at the back of the soft  palate. In the second, the [k] sound is formed nearer the front of the mouth (the closure is between the body of the tongue and the hard palate),  and the [l] is formed at the back (the so-called "dark l"). In both cases the distinct [l]s and [k]s are allophones of the /l/ and /k/ phonemes. (The sounds represented by the /i:/ phoneme differ too [because of the distinct positions of the tongue at the onset of the vowel] but the difference is much more difficult to hear).
If you've downloaded a copy, there's a mistake in this note; I got "hard" and "soft" mixed up. I'll upload a fixed copy later today.

To be clear, all the [l]s in  keel, carl, coal, cool, kale, kill, call, curl, col, cull,.. [etc: the whole range of possible phonetic contexts] are different, though broadly similar: the so-called dark l. Similarly, all the [l]s in leek, lark, look, Luke, like, lake, lick, lack, lurk, lock, luck, leck...[etc: the whole range of possible phonetic contexts] are slightly different, though broadly similar: the so-called clear l – a name that has mnemonic value, as the l in it is clear.

But, returning to that Curious Case... As often, given the format (13-odd minutes of popular science) it wasn't entirely satisfying. If I had been the original asker of the question Why do people speak in different accents? I'd have felt short-changed (although I wouldn't have asked it in the first place, as I already know that it couldn't possibly be answered in this format).

It's an interesting question, and one that's impossible to  answer in any non-circular way: People speak their mother tongue because it's the tongue spoken by their mothers (and their family and peers, colleagues et al)., and accents differ between mothers because they learnt from their mothers,,,: it's turtles all the way down, as many thinkers before Terry Pratchett said.

A feature of the Curious Cases... format is the signoff, with one of the presenters asking "Can we say Case Solved?" and the other answering "Y-e-s but..." Although there's an infinite supply of buts, I'm constantly entertained by the questions.


Update:2018.12.01.16:15 – Added PS

Towards the end of the  programme, Adam Rutherford mentions the effect of "fortnight"  on an American audience – which reminds me of a fortnight-related tidbit from my time at DEC (in the days when it was still OK to call it DEC, rather than the polysyllabic monstrosity wished on us by HR).

In the HELP text for VMS (the operating system that drove VAX computers) a  counter was specified in micro-fortnights, as
60 (secs) x 60 (mins) x 24 (hrs) x 14 (days)
This is a rough approximation to a million – OK, just over 1.2 million, but it was an engineering firm at the time.

For all I know, this may still be lurking in  the code for OpenVMS; I doubt it though, as network management changed radically in the early 1990s (in ways discussed elsewhere [in my other blog]).

Update: 2018.12.02.12:05 – Added PPS

On further reflection, I've  realized that the approximation was a bit closer than that 1.2+ million. As the writer was a software engineer, his "million" was 10242:  about 1.05. So a fortnight is not that much more than a mega-second.

Monday, 19 November 2018

A brace of coincidences

In the week after my choir's Mozart concert (mentioned last time) a pair of Christmas-related coincidences made their presence felt in my life.

The first was triggered by a visit to Reading's St Mary's Butts to buy Christmas cards.

<autobiographical_note type="aside">
We were welcomed by a gentleman who asked if we'd visited the Minster before. I forbore to say that Yes indeed, I had sung there several times, but that's as may be...

The view of the Minster reminded me of the leaving presentation for my first manager in DEC's Media and Publishing Production and* Design Services in the late 1980s – as she was given a painting of St Mary's (presumably without the streetlamp).

That evening MrsK and I were watching a US crime thriller. A character whose death was a feature of the leading lady's backstory ...
Interesting word, backstory, and a fairly recent coining according to Etymonline c. 1990 (about the time of Linda Pavlik's presentation, as it happens [that was my former manager's name – not a common  one in England, but she was from the USA]).
...had thitherto been known only by his first name. But it turned out that his name, too, was Pavlik.

Perhaps I should put some numbers on that "not a common name" I just slipped out. Well, if you plug in Pavlik to the search engine of your choice you will get something like this: 3.23 million, of which a small handful are contributed by UK sites (add .uk to your searchstring and you get only 337 hits). Eastern European immigration to the United States (a 19th century caravan, I suppose you could call it, really a flotilla though) have made the name a common one in the USA.

But it wasn't a frequent visitor to my brain until that visit to St Mary's jogged my memory. And now here was a US crime drama throwing out the same name. Pretty thingish. I thought maybe I could track it down, like so many "coincidences", to some kind of cognitive bias; but I can't find a suitable suspect,

Souvenir programme
Which brings me to the second coincidence. Later that week was the first rehearsal for our carol service on 15 December (that link will be good until the day after the service, whereafter you will have to click on Past Concerts), and we spent much (if not all – my memory's pretty ropey at short range; 30 years and above is my forte) of it getting our teeth into a setting by Bob Chillcot of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The music was vaguely familiar to me, but not enough to make me stop and think where I'd heard it before, until MrsK called my attention to the composer's note; which starts "This piece was originally written for the Final of Sainsbury's Choir of the Year in 2000...Singers [included]  Berkshire Youth Choir...".

So I heard the world première, as my son was a member of Berkshire Youth Choir at the time.

Programme entry for Carols Galore
Time for walkies. Eheu fugaces, as they say (Latin for Phew, we got away with it.)


Update 2018.11.19.16:15 – added footnote

*The abbreviation was "MPDS" but on reflection I‘m pretty sure the P stood for Production. The old department it replaced was just called PUBS (after the computer that was at the core of the [pre-desktop computing] department), and I imagine one of the main considerations in the naming of the new department was the avoidance of anything that sounded too retro. So 4 letters became 4 words: progress. (Note for the irony-impaired: Hmm?)

Update 2018.12.16.12:15 – added PS

Now that the concert's over (and you missed a treat if you weren't there) I can say more about the Chilcott piece (as I didn't want to spoil the musical surprises). BYC sang the main body of the text, with different performers doing a guest spot for each of the 8 iterations of the words 'Five gold rings' ; for example, for the Flower Duet spoof the Opera Babes did the honours.
The Opera Babes were a 'crossover' duo whose star was rising at the time. As Wikipedia says:
They began busking together in 2001 on London's Covent Garden, where they were first spotted and were signed for their first album by Sony. They became famous for singing "Un bel dì vedremo" ("One fine day we shall see" from the opera Madame Butterfly), the song that ITV used for their World Cup 2002 programmes, at the FA Cup final and at the UEFA Champions League final in Milan.[1] Knight explained the group's strategy to BBC News as follows: "[W]e have tried to maintain the classical integrity while making these things more appealing to a wider audience."[2]
But I  must put in an appearance in the Land of the Living. :-)

Update 2018.12.16.15:30 – added PPS

Another example of a Five Gold Rings spot: the Kings Singers sang as a barbershop quartet. (In the version my choir sang yesterday [the word yestre'en deserves a revival I think] all the tenors and basses were that quartet).

Update 2018.12.17.16:40 – added PPPS

I've been bothered for  the last few days by an apparent inconsistency in the dates. According to that Wikipedia piece quoted in my PS ,  the Opera Babes "began busking together in 2001". If this date is right they can't have sung in the concert I remember from December 2000. Could Wikipedia have got it wrong???! Could I have g... (Sorry, even the rhetorical question sticks in my craw)???!

But a closer reading of Bob Chilcott's note explains it; Wikipedia's reputation for omniscience is safe. "This piece was originally written for the Final of Sainsbury's Choir of the Year in 2000..." he writes, adding "and subsequently revised for the same event in 2002".  At that time the Opera Babes were well established (and the British Airways advert that used their version of the Flower Duet  was probably current).

Friday, 9 November 2018

Aa, there's the Raab

<explanation subject="Dominic Raab">
People in the UK may know who Mr Raab is, and expect some satire here about monkeys and organ-grinders. Well, sorry about that. It was the just the /ɑ:/ sound that made me think of him. Generally I try to avoid thinking about that particular nonentity.
And people outside the UK are no doubt accustomed to my subject lines making no sense; so,  no change there.
It has often been pointed out that, at the time when English and French rubbed along together...
 (with Norman-French being used by the nobs gifted all the plum positions by William the Bastard [who is now  better known as the Conquistador {or something}] and his cronies, while the horny-handed sons of toil used a less Latinate language)
...the names of meat (for the table) had French-derived names like beef (boeuf), mutton (mouton), and pork (porc), but the animals themselves were cow, sheep, and pig (or in some parts) swine.

Earlier this month I visited a place that embodied a similar class distinction, but with pronunciation rather than vocabulary. Hardwick Hall has the /ɑ:/ sound adopted by the upper classes for certain words with an -er- spelling...
English, in some parts of the world, still keeps this sound in words like clerk, derby, sherd, and serjeant...
<meta_digression source="WVGTbk2">
In the work-in-progress now in all good Kindle libraries as When Vowels Get Together with Sonorants I have written:
*ER* represents this sound in a dwindling number of words. For example, in the BBC Radio comedy series The Navy Lark recorded 1959-61, the rear end of a ship is called its /stɑ:n/, but I have only ever heard the /ɑ:/ pronunciation in that context. This sort of specialized argot – used in particular areas of work – may support the /ɑ:/ sound from time to time, but this pronunciation persists in only a small handful of words in British English (more so than in American English: BE /klɑ:k/ but AE /klɜrk/).
...  although in, say, American English the first two still use /ɜ:/ while the /ɑ:/ sound of the last can be preserved by a revised spelling: sargent.
... and to make sure the pronunciation didn't stray back to that /ɜ:/ the ruling classes changed the spelling.

But the sheep grazing in the fields surrounding the house were herdwicks (well, to be honest they may not have been that breed, but I'm not one to spoil a good story with mere facts – there are some of that breed on farms that need hardier livestock).

And I'll record here a totally unrelated observation, from the first part of a recently televised spy thriller. It was set in Berlin, and most of the key characters had the decency to speak English. But  there were bits of German dialogue that had English subtitles – one of which reminded me of an exercise we did in my CELTA course, to raise awareness of the problems caused for ELT students by English's predilection for phrasal verbs.
<autobiographical_note date="2006" subject="Phrasal verb exercise">
The students sat in a circle, and each in turn constructed a sentence using the phrasal verb pick up with a meaning that differed from all the previous examples.

I expected that with a class-size of 14 it would become increasingly difficult after the first half dozen, and impossible before the end. But the lecturer had done his homework and knew that the Collins Cobuild Dcitionary (a favourite at the time) lists 15 separate meanings (some of which can easily be sub-divided: for example it gives one meaning for what "a microphone or radio" does, and it seems to me that processing an audio signal that is clearly part of the soundscape  [as in "We're picking up the traffic noise in the background"] is quite distinct from being able to detect at all a radio signal that just doesn't get there [as in "We can't pick up channel X when we're <somewhere>"). So in other dictionaries I imagine the total is more than 15.
And to add to the difficulty, some phrasal verbs are separable (the verb and the particle can straddle the object), or not, or either. And in one of the local-colour subtitles the translator had got it wrong. At a service desk of some sort a German-speaker said "I want to pick up something" (sorry – no time to check the original German). What the subtitle should have said was "I want to pick something up"*,†.

Is that the time? I must check the words/notes for tomorrow's concert (well worth a listen if you can make it):

PS: A couple of clues
  • Rather draconian response to a failed marriage? (13)
  • The deity's offspring, it's said, introducing energy to regulators. (11)
Update: 2018.11.11.19:30 – Typo fix, and added PPS

PPS And it was "well worth a listen".

Update: 2018.11.12.15:40 – Added PPPS

PPPS And here's a review...

Update: 2019.04.07.11:20 – Added footnote.

* Last night I witnessed another instance of that separability problem. In a subtitle to the Danish thriller Follow the money, towards the end of the first episode, one character said "We need you to take on this one."  What he meant, of course, was  "We need you to take this one on." But I had known the translator was less than perfect ever since, earlier on, he had used the expression "big fry" instead of "big fish".  Fry are small; that's the point.

This is not unlike a piece of family language we still use, ever since my son – then knee-high to something quite small [HD: Do grasshoppers even have knees? Granted there.s a bendy bit between the upper and lower leg, but is that enough for knee-ness? This is getting silly...] – asked "Are we having a dark lunch today?". A dark lunch (obv.) is the opposite of a light lunch.

Update: 2019.04.25.10:10 – Supplied answers to those clues.


Update: 2019.09.23.11:05 – Added footnote

† P5S I've  just noticed another instance of the separability problem, in an error message:
The Bluetooth device is not 
turned on. Do you want to 
turn on it.
I've been getting this annoying little error for some time now – so often that I've only just noticed it; and noticed how apt it was, in view of my feelings about the device in question