Friday, 20 November 2009

fɜːrɜːd gɜːlz

Yesterday I paid a quick visit to the University of Liverpool to chair a fascinating lecture by Wim Jansen of the University of Amsterdam, who has carried out a corpus-based comparison of the Esperanto of 1903 with that of 2003. He showed that over the intervening century some Esperanto affixes have acquired a life of their own: for example ege, from the augmentative suffix -eg-, was unknown a hundred years ago but is now a significant rival to tre (very) and multe (much).
Anyhow, on my way through the town, as I walked back to the station, I was intrigued to see a hairdresser’s punningly called Ben Hair. It took me back.
(Explanation: in Scouse, the local accent of Liverpool, the SQUARE and NURSE vowels are merged. Think chariot races.)
We had the same merger where I grew up, although our local accent was Lancashire rather than Scouse. When I was at primary school there was a girl in the class called ˈmɜːrɪ. I would clutch 5d ˈfaɪfpəns in my hand every day to pay my ˈbʊs fɜː. (That would have been a ˈθrepni ˈbɪt and two pennies, or I’d have got a penny change from a tanner. Question for the young: how much change would I have got from half a crown?)
Those who remember Cilla Black (a Scouser) from the television programme Blind Date will recall that she was forever introducing girls called klɜː or ˈsɜːrə.
My picture shows Abercromby Squɜː with part of the University and one of Liverpool’s two cathedrals.

In our Liverpool home,
In our Liverpool home,
We speak with an accent exceedingly rɜː,
We meet under a statue exceedingly bɜː,
If you want a cathedral we've got one to spɜː,
In our Liverpool home.

22 comments:

  1. 2s1d

    Somehow I was unaware of that merger.

    (I think I claimed to have them all separate in that poll, but in reality I find it hard to split merry and Mary.)

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  2. Delightful. Is there any significance in your choice of e in ˈθrepni ˈbɪt, John? I'm wondering if it's akin to Chaa006's typically Northern (tho strangely he's not a Northerner) pronunciation ɛ in "England", which he reports on the 'royal enhancement' thread, and says of the royal ɪnˈhæns:

    'in this (as in many other words commencing "en", such as "England"), I have always used the spelling-based pronunciation ɛ, as in ɛnˈhɑːns.'

    I ask because in the Home Counties we had ˈθrɪpn̩i ˈbɪts, or even ˈθrʊpn̩i ˈbɪts.

    I suppose I must have heard the song, as I found I had the tune in my head, but a google revealed the Spinners singing "In my Liverpool home…" (not even "me L home") and to my disgust all the rhymes were in ɛə. But I have a feeling that the tune was not theirs. May I call on your choristry for any enlightenment on this?

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  3. I've heard Liverpudlians pronounce the merged vowel as a front vowel as well others using a central one, as in "wɛːz mi ʃɛːt" and "ðə ˈdʒɛːmənz bɒmd ɑː ˈtʃɪpi". I've no idea whether the difference represents anything, though.

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  4. I have always guessed it was a hypercorrection. And now I guess John will have something to say about this.

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  5. mostly a hypercorrection, that is. Alternatively it may be a question of how Liverpudlian you want to be, given that you have a whole spectrum of available realizations for your merger.

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  6. mallamb said
    – I ask because in the Home Counties we had ˈθrɪpn̩i ˈbɪts, or even ˈθrʊpn̩i ˈbɪts.

    Well no science can ever be exhaustive, but where is everyone? What about ˈθrʌpn̩i ˈbɪts? We at any rate had those too!

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  7. I am (was) familiar with ˈθrʌpni and ˈθrɪpni bits, but personally I call(ed) them ˈθrepni bits.

    Sili, that poll is American-oriented only. All Brits distinguish all those vowels, so the poll is completely uninteresting from our point of view.

    mallamb guesses I have something to say: well, I've said it already, in Accents of English, p. 361:
    ... pronunciations such as nɛːs might be looked on as hypercorrections.

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  8. Well, Morgan-Mar is Australian, and what I'd 'missed' was the inclusion of "Murray" in the list - or rather I didn't understand it at the time.

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  9. Maybe other people aren't as big Beatles fans as I am, but I've been aware of the Liverpool SQUARE-NURSE merger ever since I heard them rhyme aware and her in "I've Just Seen a Face".

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  10. They also rhymed "her" and "there" in "I Saw Her Standing There" (released 1963). However, Paul sings with different vowels, "comp[ɛ:]" at 0:19 and "h[ɜ:]" at 0:43 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNsmrd-aR1c

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  11. It sort of figures that Paul would be the hypercorrector, doesn't it?

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  12. This merger occurs on the east coast of Yorkshire as well, although strangely the vast area between there and Liverpool (including Manchester, Leeds, Bradford) does not use the merger. In Hull, Middlesbrough and all the smaller places along the east coast, [ɛ:] is used in both sets.

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  13. Well John, I guessed you'd have something to say about the hypercorrection to nɛːs, and you said what you'd said! So-rry. I now guess I should probably have said
    "I have always guessed it was a hypercorrection since seeing it in Accents of English."

    No one for ˈθrʊpn̩i bits?

    Sili, the inclusion of "Murray" was what I'd missed too. But it does tie in with the Northern California shift of fən towards fεn, doesn't it?

    2s ld is of course right. Or 2/1d. You seem to consider yourself targeted by JW's "Question for the young: how much change would I have got from half a crown?" And judging by the foregoing, perhaps he wanted it in phonetics. These threads dry up so quickly that I'll do it myself in case anyone is young enough not to know, and interested enough to want to: tuːənəpeni.

    Ed, I thought I had been aware of something like that, but was not confident enough to mention it. That's probably in Accents of English too! (Had a new study built big enough to have everything in one room, so now of course can't find anything.)

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  14. @mallamb: No, it's not in Accents of English, although there is a mention of the merger in Lincolnshire (p.361) and it wouldn't surprise me if it extended across the Humber to Grimsby, etc. It wasn't in the SED data either, which suggests that it might be a recent innovation on the Yorkshire coast, or it might've been confined to the urban areas at the time.

    You can hear it in some modern recordings: for example, Middlesbrough http://sounds.bl.uk/View.aspx?item=021M-C0900X01636X-0400V0.xml
    Hull http://sounds.bl.uk/View.aspx?item=021M-C0900X07082X-0100V0.xml

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  15. See now Peter Kaye (from Bolton) and his nightmɜː. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8372058.stm

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  16. The merger of 'merry' and 'Murray' (and according to Sili's survey, also 'Mary') is a feature of some Pennsylvanian accents. See here in the Philadelphia section:

    http://www.ling.upenn.edu/phono_atlas/Atlas_chapters/Ch17_2nd.rev.pdf

    It is unlikely to have anything to do with the SQUARE-NURSE merger of some accents in England, as the stressed vowel of 'Murray' is STRUT, which all English accents I'm aware of distinguish from NURSE; Scousers and Yorkshiremen alike distinguish [m3:r\i] (or [mE:r\i]) and [mUr\i].

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  17. So now we see that myrrhy should have been included in the survey.

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  18. And Marie (in the traditional pronunciation) maybe.

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  19. For what groups do you think that might enter the picture?

    It would be a bit difficult to specify the "traditional pronunciation" without being so specific as to compromise the study!

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  20. No, I think not. I meant (the equivalent of RP) /ˈmɑːrɪ/.

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  21. Yes I know you did, but would the subjects?

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  22. No idea. Probably not, and asking for obsolete pronunciations is not the approach of first choice in field work.

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