Monday, 10 August 2009

Questions, questions

Last week there was another Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference at UCL, and I was invited to set things rolling with a talk entitled Dear Professor Wells. In it I discussed some of the questions sent to me by users of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.
Some of the questions I received are unanswerable or bizarre.
my name is alan and I'm student in the collage of Arts.I want one subject about the phonotic and one subject about(how I can pronuounce the sounds of the palate).thank you professor.

Sir, I can't really make out as to how should be syllables made? I try to do that but fail.Can u explain it how we should pronounce a word in order to check its syllables?

*I like to ask you, ***
*how I can transcribe the nasal sound /ng/ and /nk/ in each of the middle and the end of a word as sing, singing, sink and pinky . and is there a relation between the stress and the transcription of this nasal sound ?

Are you a man?

Others are presumably serious, but nevertheless confused.
I am writing to you because I have a question about American English.
In the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, you talk about assimiliation, ten men-->tem men etc. I was just wondering if assimilation occured in US English too. I know that sometimes it's more like a glottal stop. If it does happen, would you say that it depends on the speakers?

And of course many others were serious and interesting, often dealing with the kind of topic we have discussed in this blog.
• Why don't you write ʔ instead of t where appropriate?
• What do these new symbols i and u mean?
• Why are some letters superscripted?
• Why do you write e instead of ɛ, and r instead of ɹ?
• Why don’t you show dark l?
• Why don’t you mark aspiration?
• Your dictionary entries don’t correspond to what people actually say in conversation.
Sometimes the appropriate answer is (politely) read the introduction and read the other explanations.


  1. And not so politely: RTFM

    I seem to recall that you answered the last of the unanswerable questions in a recent post.

    Welcome back, by the way. Even though it feels odd to welcome you to your own place ...

  2. That's what rude geeks would say. :-)

  3. You can never satisfy everyone with English-language phonetics. The LPD explains everything quite fully: it's almost a text book of linguistics. Also, it's good that you did polls on pronunciations.

    For an example of failure to explain modern English phonetics, I would suggest the Britannica article on the English language in the UK They think that people in the North of England still say "find" and "blind" as /fɪnd/ and /blɪnd/. I don't understand how that is still in Britannica.

  4. @Ed: Actually, what Britannica says is "In the words bind, find, and grind, the RP pronunciation of the vowel sound is /ai/, like that in “bide”; in some Northern accents, it is /i/, like the sound in feet."

    So, not [blɪnd] but [blind]. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that vowel in words with "igh" in the spelling, e.g., "right" pronounced as "reet" - but "find" as "fiend"? I'm not an expert on all varieties of Northern English English, but I have a modicum of familiarity with a few of them, and all I can say is it's a new one on me.

    Regardless of the accuracy or lack of same on that particular issue, you are right, the whole article is a hot mess.

  5. @Sili: "I seem to recall that you answered the last of the unanswerable questions in a recent post." What? Whether Professor Wells is a man?!

  6. @Amy Stoller: yes, it does say /i/ rather than /ɪ/; I got that wrong. Either way, this pronunciation is not used in the North of England anymore, not even by the very "broadest" speakers. It doesn't seem to be on many of the SED recordings, which suggests that it died out some time ago. You are right that the dialectal form in -ight is still heard, but this is a long vowel /i:/ whereas the vowel in "blind, find, etc." was a short /ɪ/ or /i/.

    Mr. Wells talks about the phoneme /t∫/ today. Britannica says that /k/ is often used in place of this phoneme in the North of England: another very out-of-date claim by the encyclopedia. How many Northerners go to the "kirk" anymore?

  7. "Find" or blind with /ɪ/ is very much alive in the North East of England, at least, but this does not stretch to "grind" or any other similar word.

  8. Really? Is that "North East" as in Northumberland?

    I have lived almost all my life in Yorkshire, and I have never heard it, although I am aware from dialect literature that it was once used in this area. Also, I've never heard it in the media or from visits further north in the country.

    At the very least, I think Britannica could have come up with more widespread features of Northern speech to use in its article. They should've got Professor Wells to write the article.