Friday, 18 January 2019

Words "we" mispronounced

When, in the late-noughties (at the 2008 or 2009 Language Show) I first saw Babbel's offering my lip curled. A whois search shows that they were first thought of as early as 2000:

But Wikipedia claims that they were founded much later, in 2007:
The company was founded in August 2007 by Markus Witte and Thomas Holl.[4][5] In January 2008, the language learning platform went online with community features as a free beta version.
And who am I to question Wikipedia ? Perhaps Messrs Write and Holt met earlier and registered the domain name in 2000, but didn't get around to monetizing their idea (if you'll pardon the verb) for another seven years.

Anyway, this lip-curling I mentioned. They were touting  a way of transcribing English using unmodified spelling...

Beginning of list there are many
more subjects on offer

I  may be misrepresenting them. The problem is that their web site is so constructed that it is impossible to get details of their transcription system without signing up for a course. And my interest in that is attenuated by the dropdown list of languages they offer, which starts like this: 
Whatever that may be, I'm not in the  market for it. 
My attention was recalled to this way of representing the sounds of English by a BBC article on the words "we" (whoever that is) mispronounced in 2018. After the main text (which I'll get to, honest) were the words Pronunciations provided by Babbel. I imagine this was meant to imply some sort of suggestion of gratefulness; but what should I be grateful for: For being confused? For being misinformed?

After the piece there was a reference to last year's words, which included the surname of EU Council President Donald Tusk (toosk). Oh yes? is that "oo" as in book or tool or blood...? I've said before that "sounds like" models of pronunciation are questionable (and I apologize for using them just now to make a point; I've heard Mr Tusk's name pronounced with all three of the pronunciations I mentioned (/ʊ/, /u:/, and /ʌ/); I suspect he pronounces it with a wholly different vowel: [y]?)

In an earlier post I ranted thus:
<rant flame="simmer">
 I have ranted about this before, somewhere  in the UsingEnglish forums, but I can't find where. So some readers may get a sense of déjà-lu – but probably not. (And I did mean -lu.) Anyway, here I go again. 
When you know your audience (and that word is crucial  –  when people can hear you) it's OK to say things like 'lear sounds like leer'. 'Sounds like' is meaningful only if there's a known sound to compare. But when you're writing – say, in an online forum – it's not so easy. What  if one of your readers has just learnt bear, pear, tear (NOT the lachrymal sort) or wear, so that the /eǝ/ sound is uppermost in their short-term memory of English sounds? You've told them that leer is pronounced  /leǝ/. 
Or suppose one of your readers mispronounces law as /lǝʊ/  –  a common enough mistake in an ESOL classroom   –  and you write that a word  'sounds like law'. Again, you've misinformed them. And I don't think that's too strong a word, at  least not in a language-teaching context.  If the teacher wants to communicate something, it's part of the job to make sure it's understood correctly. 
... </rant>
And I went on to say how easy and efficient IPA phonemic symbols are – particularly with reference to English. You can see the whole rant in its natural habitat here.

But I really must address those words "we" mispronounced in 2018. There weren't many in the BBC article, which referred to "A survey by the British Institute for Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) " but the link is just to the BIVR site, so one is none the wiser.
Entries include electronics firm Huawei (WA-way), specific (spe-SI-fik) and papoose (pa-POOSE).
OK, Huawei is a fair cop (though does "way" mean /weɪ/ or /waɪ/?).
And I'm not so sure about  the "WA" either. now I come to think of it. The H suggests that we may be dealing with the unvoiced bilabial frictionless continuant /ʍ/ (not unlike the sound at the beginning of "which" as heard in Edinburgh.
Which recalls to me a spelling test we were given in primary school by Miss O'Malley – a Scot, who expected us to distinguish between Wales and whales, not knowing (or perhaps not caring) that Received Pronunciation of British English uses /w/ for both (although some native speakers of British English do make a distinction between /ʍ/ and /w/  – as a matter of
either regional pronunciation or just pure pedantry [encouraged by the Miss O'Malleys of this world].).
 But in nearly seventy years (OK, say 58 as an observer of language...
Really starting so young? Well yes. Before my tenth birthday, during a trip to Italy, I remember marvelling at the gratuitous mischievousness  of a language that marked a hot tap with a C.
...  I've never heard any native English speaker mis-stress specific. And pa-POOSE: whatever the vowel may be, does it end with /s/ or /z/?

The BBC article ends
The survey was commissioned by language learning app Babbel. [HDAha. Cui bono?) Their director of didactics, Miriam Plieninger, says the reason for the mispronunciations is pretty straightforward - many of the words on the list aren't English.
Gosh – wish I'd thought of that. But Babbel makes an awful lot more money than I have ever done; and Ms Plieninger ends with this unarguable point:
"If you understand what the other person meant, it's usually fine. As long as you get your message across, it's all good."
Right. Back to the land of the living.


And here's a rather easy (but fairly neat, I think) French-based crossword clue.
  • The workshop more recently Frenchified (1'7)
Update: 2019.01.19.15:20 – Fixed a bunch of typos.
Update: 2019.01.21.11:10 – Added PPS

And while we're on the subject of mispronouncing. the recent TV dramatization of Victor Hugo's The Glums (and I'll keep cracking that joke until somebody laughs [except that maybe it's not that funny..?] OK Les Misérables ) is a generous source...
(The thing is, as I said once of Pizarro, one mustn't expect modern pronunciations in a period piece. I remember being told by the late Joe Cremona [philological non-pareil, mentioned from time to time in this blog] that when Louis Numéro-quelconque said "L'état c'est moi" the moi would have been pronounced [mwɛ].)
.... But as the mispronunciation that irks me is a current mispronunciation in English speakers (I often hear it on The Great British Bake-off in the word mille-feuilles) I'm not sure how forgiving I should be.

The problem word is Montreuil,  whose last syllable several actors give a very English /ɔɪ/. And, in the light of the mess Javert made of  "prognathous" (I wrote about actors needing to understand the lines they learn here), I'm inclined to think the worst.

But I must go. If you read that  Pizarro, post you may have noticed (tucked away in a footnote) mention of Simon and Garfunkel, who are the subject of a jaunt I'm off on.

Update: 2019.01.24.12:35 – Added inline PPPS

Update: 2019.09.10.10:05 – Added P4S

P4S That clue: l'atelier

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