pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

A while ago, I saw an English insurance policy (I think it was) and was struck by how clear the language seemed to me, compared to what I’m used to in German.

I don’t remember the details, but the language style was along the lines of (if it had been for a mortgage), “If you do not pay your instalments on time, you are at risk of losing your house.” (Which in German could be, “Wenn Sie Ihre Raten nicht rechtzeitig bezahlen, könnte es sein, dass Sie Ihr Haus verlieren / …, laufen Sie Gefahr, Ihr Haus zu verlieren.”)

Whereas I think a German policy would tend to use language along the lines of “Verspätete Rückzahlung Ihres Darlehens kann den Verlust Ihrer Immobilie zur Folge haben” (“Tardy loan repayment can have as a consequence the loss of your real estate”), heavy on noun phrases and legal language.

The English seemed quite a bit clearer, and I wonder whether the slight loss of precision by use of normal language rather than legal terms was such a price to pay for making things more understandable to the layman who is asked to sign.

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Occasionally, I comment to Amy that a particular word is a homophone (such as sew and sow or rose “flower” and rose “went up”).

Yesterday, I mentioned hole (in a bucket) and whole (the whole piece of cake), and she said that for her, those weren’t homophones.

I asked her how she pronounced them, and she said that for her, they are (roughly) [hoʊ̯wəɫ] |hole| vs. [hoːl] |whole|.

Essentially, that boils down to “/ho:l/ as pronounced in English” versus “/ho:l/ as pronounced in German”! (The former with a diphthong and a velarised /l/, the latter with a long monophthong and a non-velar /l/.)

I wonder what the phonotactics of her particular idiolect of English are… it clearly seems to have at least one vowel phoneme that isn’t in, say, RP, for starters! And the rules about when /l/ gets velarised are clearly also different.

Fun stuff!

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

An interesting sentence, which I found on an old blog entry of Professor John Wells’s:

Who would know aught of art must act, learn and then take his ease.

If it is read with an RP accent, using strong forms for would of must and the weak form for and, it supposedly not only uses all monophthongs and narrow diphthongs but does so in a regular order: roughly, going clockwise around the periphery of the IPA vowel diagram.

(For the remaining diphthongs, one could add something along the lines of My loud voice nears their moors.)

Très nifty!

pne: A picture of a six-year-old girl (Amy)

Amy seems to be turning into a rhotic speaker; I’ve often heard her say things such as “car” and “are” rather than “cah” and “ah” as I do.

It’s still a bit unstable; this morning, she said “dinosaur” and “dinosaw” in separate sentences.

And not completely authentic, due to overgeneralisation/hypercorrection: she also said “girarff”.

I wonder why that is. More exposure to rhotic than non-rhotic accents due to films and the like?

Ah well. Let her talk however she wants, as long as she speaks English :)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Listening to this clip on YouTube, right at the beginning she said aftermath with a BATH vowel in the final syllable.

Huh! I had always used TRAP there, as in maths. (But then, I’m not sure whether I’ve ever heard the word spoken before.)

Looked it up on dictionary.com; its house dictionary only has TRAP for the final vowel, but further down, the World English Dictionary has BATH (i.e. it lists both the TRAP and the PALM vowel, and in fact the PALM one first).

Since for me, BATH goes with PALM, perhaps I should use BATH in aftermath as well.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The other day, I finally got around to taking all the words I had jotted into the margin of my notebook during the week-long Esperanto course in March and look them up the dictionary and make Anki flashcards out of them.

Two of the words I got that way were ebeno and ebenaĵo.

They were defined in my eo–de dictionary as something like “(Geometrie, Physik) Ebene” and “Ebene (konkret; besonders in der Geografie)”, respectively.

And yesterday morning, I had the insight that while, in English, both of those words are 𐑐𐑤𐑱𐑯 in the Shaw alphabet, 𐐹𐑊𐐩𐑌 in the Deseret alphabet, /plɛɪn/* in IPA, and presumably Gregg shorthand outline p-l-a-n in Gregg shorthand, the first sense is spelled plane while the second is spelled plain.

Funny how both of those English words correspond to the same German one; I don’t think I’ve ever connected them. Presumably they both come from Latin but one of them took the scenic route through France.


* (or however you choose to notate English phonemes; perhaps you would prefer /pleɪn/.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

In Gregg shorthand (simplified), “thorough” is written th-e-r-o.

I would have used different vowels there, so I tried to see where those came from.

The first was easiest; I was expecting a STRUT vowel there, since I have STRUT in case such as “hurry”, but I have heard NURSE in such words from Americans. Essentially, I have “hu-ry” while they have “hur-y”. (I do have NURSE in words where I segment things with the r in the same syllable as the u; for example, in “furry”.)

OK, so this presumably represents a pronunciation with NURSE; that sound is regularly spelled e-r, so that made sense.

But I have commA at the end of the word; the vowel in both syllables is nearly the same for me. So seeing an o there seemed odd. (So I would have spelled the word th-oo-r-a, since oo is used for STRUT.)

I checked dictionary.com and while that gave both STRUT and NURSE for the first syllable, it gave only GOAT for the final vowel.

Then I had a look at Forvo; that had seven pronunciations recorded. Clicking through them one by one, it seems that there is a Commonwealth/US split for this word, with commA for the former (the UK samples and the Australian one) and a fairly clear, unreduced GOAT for the latter.

Huh! Learn something new every day.

(And now, thorough sounds extremely odd to me. Typical result of listening to a word over and over!)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So apparently Russian хлеб khleb “bread” is a loanword from Germanic, from a the ancestor of English loaf and German Laib.

I don’t think I would connected those three words off-hand. (Even though the English and German words at least mean the same thing! Perhaps because the word Laib is fairly rare in my speech; I usually talk about ein Brot rather than ein Laib Brot.)

Vocabulary

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 10:48
pne: The text "epic wynn" below an image of the letter wynn from an epic text. (epic wynn)

I had a go at testyourvocab.com and it estimates that I know about 27'200 words.

They say they'd appreciate it if more people under 15 take the test, so that they can get more accurate results, so spread the word!

Makes me wonder what the size of Amy’s vocabulary is in English.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I pronounce salt with the LOT vowel and have wondered whether I “should” be pronouncing it with the THOUGHT vowel.

Then I read today's entry in John Wells’s phonetic blog, which is really about something else but mentions, as an aside, that the proportion of people using LOT in salt rises the younger the speakers in question are. So if I consider myself a “younger” speaker, then that means that it’s not unusual at all for me to have LOT in that word.

So that’s good then.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

As you all well know[*], there exist dialects of English that preserve vowel distinctions that the majority do not (such as "wait" vs. "weight", or "meet" vs. "meat").

Now, while reading a blog entry on the "Great New Zealand Vowel Shift", I came across an updated version of the standard lexical sets for English, labelled as the Revised Wells/Mills/Cowan/Rosta Really Universal, Dammit, This Time, Lexical Sets, in a comment by the famous John Cowan:

KIT, DRESS, TRAP, BAD, LOT, STRUT, FOOT, BATH, DANCE, CLOTH, NURSE, TERM, DIRT, FLEECE, BEAM, FACE, TRAIL, FREIGHT, PALM, THOUGHT, GOAT, SNOW, GOOSE, THREW, PRICE, CHOICE, MOUTH, NEAR, SQUARE, START, NORTH, FORCE, CURE.

[*] It's a joke, son.

Accents of English

Saturday, 9 May 2009 13:47
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I'm reading Wells's Accents of English series right now, which I got as a present from my father a while back.

It's comforting to me that my pronunciation is mostly fairly close to RP, though it's interesting to see the little details in which it differs—the two most common influences are words that I learned from their spelling and whose pronunciation I guessed incorrectly on the one hand, and influence from American (which doesn't make quite the same phoneme distinctions) on the other hand. There are also a few things that are probably from "near-RP" (Wells's term), such as "happy tensing", and a fair number of cases where there are two (or more) RP variants, of which I take a less-common one.

So my speech is not really quite RP, but near enough that I'm happy with my speech—and also happy to pass on the way I speak to Amy.

The only artificialisms in my speech that I can think of are pronouncing "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc." with a final short -y as in "windy, thirsty"—which I gave up after a while—and pronouncing something like [hw] for orthographic "wh". Which I'm starting to think I should probably abandon, not only because Amy doesn't seem to be picking it up anyway, but also because wh-lessness isn't really stigmatised so even if I think it's nifty, it's a bit pretentious. And, after reading a bit of Wells, because he says that in England, only the speech-conscious do it; it's not part of (nearly) anyone's natural speech. On the other hand, I've been doing it for so long that the habit has become more ingrained, and pronouncing "white" as "wight" feels wrong now! Even though when I speak quickly (and don't have enough time to "fix" my speech), it comes out like that anyway....

The one thing that genuinely surprised me was to find that supposedly, "pour" is an exact homophone of "pore", and for non-rhotics such as myself also of "paw". I'd always thought it would rhyme with "poor" and "tour". (Though of course, for many native speakers, NORTH and CURE merge anyway, making the point moot: "poor, pour, pore" will all sound exactly the same.)

Is it really "Pore me a drink"? How odd.

And apparently, "lather" has a long A sound as in "rather" or "father". Which dictionary.com didn't agree with, and my Penguin English Dictionary only lists as an alternative after the short-A version as in "gather", which is how I pronounce it.

Fun stuff.

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