Thursday, 18 February 2010

going on twur

Ian Bekker writes from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.
A student of mine is working on the realisation of CURE in South African English. We are coming to the tentative conclusion that a current locus of change is the replacement of CURE by NURSE (with a few exceptions like ‘sure’ which are often said with /o:/ and a few others which mutate into GOOSE).
I’m aware that there are similar developments elsewhere; in particular parts of the US and East Anglia. What seems different, however, is that the use of NURSE extends (we think) to non-post-palatal or palato-alveolar contexts. Thus while it’s not particularly surprising to find ‘pure’ pronounced as [pjɞː] (using ɞː [— my symbol, JCW, replacing Ian’s @: —] to indicate the rounded SAE NURSE) we seem to be finding pronunciations like [twɞː] for ‘tour’ and [pwɞː] for ‘poor’.
He asks whether I have come across anything similar elsewhere, to which the answer is no.

If these pronunciations are verified, they would represent a development comparable to the change in the NEAR diphthong from ɪə to jɜː that is familiar from South Welsh English (and treated by Daniel Jones as an RP possibility in EPD, an option dropped by Gimson when he took over as editor).
ɪə → jɜː
This represents merely a switch from a falling (diminuendo) to a rising (crescendo) diphthong, and is thus a very natural kind of development. The syllabicity moves from the first, close segment to the second, mid one. A diphthong is recast as a semivowel plus strong vowel.
The putative South African change is structurally identical, but back rather than front.
ʊə → wɜː
I wonder if it extends to words such as jury. Presumably not: I imagine it cannot apply after velar or palatoalveolar consonants.
_ _ _

This blog will now take a month’s break. Next posting: 19 March.


  1. Have a nice break.

  2. What I wonder is if ʊə → wɜː extends to words such as 'Jewry', on the basis that although LPD has [UK] ˈdʒʊər i §ˈdʒuː ri ǁ [US] ˈdʒuː ri for Jewry and ˈdʒʊər |i ˈdʒɜːr-, ˈdʒɔːr- ǁ ˈdʒʊr |i for jury, the US sound files have the distinction that is transcribed in those entries, but so do the UK ones have the corresponding distinction, namely §ˈdʒuː ri vs. ˈdʒʊər |i, and both these UK ones sound as if they are recorded by the same speaker. So that if by any chance ʊə → wɜː does extend to 'jury' it would not necessarily extend to 'Jewry'.

    And what I wonder with more intense wondering is if on the contrary 'Jewry' is actually the more likely to have ʊə → wɜː because of a potential /j/ alleged by the OED, which has ˈdʒʊərɪ for 'jury' and ˈdʒ(j)ʊərɪ for 'Jewry'!

    I guess we could all agree that both LPD's §ˈdʒuː ri and the OED variant ˈdʒjʊərɪ are spelling-pronunciations, and there is no historical justification for any distinction at all, but is it not passing strange that we could finish up with two equal and opposite distinctions, depending which way these pronunciations jump: in the direction of LPD's §ˈdʒuː ri ǁ ˈdʒuː ri for 'Jewry' vs. ˈdʒʊər |i ˈ ǁ ˈdʒʊr |i for 'jury', or in the direction of OED's ˈdʒjʊərɪ for 'Jewry' vs. ˈdʒʊəri for 'jury'?

    Of course LPD's other variants dʒɜːr-, ˈdʒɔːr- may be an indication that ʊə → wɜː has indeed extended to 'jury' at least, with the palatoalveolar causing loss of w, or that 'jury' is in any case one of Ian Bekker's exceptions with /o:/!

  3. The next posting is on my 18th birthday.

    Can't believe how quickly it's come around. Will soon be off to university to study linguistics!

  4. I've heard the NURSE vowel in the word 'lure' a few times (in the London area) and EPD has it as a possibility for this word.

  5. Although it is not quite the same as the situation in South Africa, in Singapore English words such as 'cure' and 'pure' have [ɔː], but words with no [j] such as 'tour', 'poor' and 'sure' have [ʊə]. To represent this, it is usual to introduce a new keyword: POOR, which has a different vowel from CURE.

  6. (To David Deterding's comment:) There is a similar distinction in North American accents, but we would need to assign different items to the two lexical sets. In GenAm, "poor," "tour," "moor," "boorish," etc., always have [ʊɚ], while "cure," "pure," "fury" may have [ʊɚ] but very often -- I think in fact more often -- have [ɝ]. However, in GenAm, this reflects the historical rather than the present occurrence of [j] before the vowel: it occurs following [ʃ], [ʒ], [tʃ], [dʒ], and [r] as well as [j]. "Sure," "jury," and "rural," as well as "mature" in the pronunciation with [tʃ], belong to the second set (words that may have [ɝ]), not the first (words that always have [ʊɚ]).

  7. @MKR: I saw an episode of an American programme (30 Rock) in which the characters struggled to pronounce the phrase "The Rural Juror". From your post, I can understand that this phrase would involve too many schwas for some people.

  8. @Ed:

    I find "rural" a bit of a tongue-twister, even though I have a pretty standard pronunciation [ɻʊə.ɻl]

    The reason is that I hypercorrect away from any lip activity while pronouncing /r/. I grew up in the English Midlands with a labiodental approximant /r/ and after being teased about it as an undergraduate, (and hearing tapes of myself and disliking the results), and also after moving to the USA, replaced it with a retroflex approximant.

    Of course, it's difficult to pronounce "rural" without out any lip rounding in the /r/s :)

  9. I actually pronounce "rural" as /ruː.əl/ with no "r" in the middle. I don't know where this came from and I don't know what's wrong with me. The word "pure" sounds a lot like "pier" to me. "Tour" sounds like "two-er". I find the word "juror" a bit difficult to say too, but it's not quite as bad as "murderer" which I murder quite often.

    On a different note there's "mirror" which tends to be homophonous with "mere" for me.

  10. Would help if you indicated what your regional &c. accent is, native or non-native. Are you the pirate in the crow's nest from Asterix, for instance?

    Ad rem, it's much easier to pronounce rural when you have a [ɾ] for the second /r/, but I'm not aware of accents that do that only for dissimilation, as opposed to more general rules of distribution.

  11. You guessed it. Man you're good! You're like a modern day Henry Higgins.

  12. As a Canadian of the central prairies, I believe I'm pronouncing 'rural' and 'juror' as ['ɹɚl̩] and ['dʒɚɹɚ] or possibly even ['dʒɚ:] in rapid speech) respectively (I really hope these unicode symbols come through in this comment.) Even though they're funny sounding words though, I can't say I have difficulty pronouncing them at all.

    Speaking of the ʊə → wɜː development, it reminds me of the change of Middle English sho for 'she' in some dialects. That example involves [j] instead of [w] but it seems apt enough.

  13. This illustatrations looks like automata language.

  14. In the courts of New York, the pronunciations /dʒuɹɔ(ɹ)/ and /difɛndænt/, with no reduced vowels, are traditional — I assume that lawyers and court clerks pick them up from their seniors.

    vp: Avoiding lip-rounding in rural is easy if you don't round /u/, as I and many Americans do not.

  15. I have deleted two "comments" originating from commercial addresses. I shall continue to delete what I judge to be spam.

  16. wonder with intense wondering is if on the contrary 'Jewry' is actually the more likely to have ʊə → wɜː because of a potential /j/ alleged by the OED, which has ˈdʒʊərɪ for 'jury' and ˈdʒ(j)ʊərɪ for 'Jewry'!