Friday, 12 February 2010

more Guardian phrasebooks

The Guardian is currently running another series of introductory language phrasebooks, now “Languages for the 21st century”. (See comments on an earlier series: blog, 8 and 14 July 2009.) Parts of them are excellent.
You can’t expect depth in a 24-page A6 booklet, but we can at least demand clarity.

(1) The Japanese booklet mentions that Japanese has a handful of geminated plosives, as in もっと motto ˈmot:o ‘more’. They are like those of Italian or Finnish: articulated just like ordinary plosives, but with a noticeably longer hold phase (compression stage). Thus the duration of the plosive is approximately twice as long as usual. To its credit, the Guardian does not ignore the question of how to pronounce them, though it could have used better wording for its explanation.
A double consonant indicates that you should pause slightly before saying it, as you would in these English examples (say them out loud):
headdress (pause after ‘hea’ - not ‘head’)
bookcase (pause after ‘boo’)
In my judgment, to refer to a pause “after” the vowel is misleading, no matter whether you interpret “pause” in the musical sense of sustaining a note (fermata) or in the usual phonetic sense of a brief interruption in speaking. The pause surely comes during the consonant, not before it. ‘Headdress’ is not an apposite example, because Japanese does not have doubled d; but ‘bookcase’ is a good model for geminated [].

(2) Full marks to the Hindi booklet for a valiant attempt to explain retroflex versus dental. However, I’m not sure that the novice would understand ‘unaspirated’ vs ‘aspirated’ when the explanation given is just that “the first is much less breathy than the second”. The crucial difference is a matter of timing: whether or not there is a delay between the release of the closure and the start of voicing. If there is a delay, you get an audible puff of air; if there isn’t, you don’t.

(3) I found the Russian booklet unimpressive. How does Russian work?
You'll be glad to know that Russian is a logical language and that all you need to make up your own sentences is an understanding of the patterns of the language.
Yeah, right.

Russian words and phrases are given only in romanization, not in Cyrillic. Unfortunately the romanization is not a transliteration or a proper transcription, but a respelling (e.g. “ee as in street”), with all the inaccuracies and inadequacies that entails. Both х (IPA x) and ч (IPA ) are represented as ch.
How do we pronounce the vowel transliterated y? “As in toy”. Try that on the pronoun ‘you’, romanized as vy. (You and I know it’s actually вы .) Worse, try “Let’s drink”, presented as ”Davai vyp’yem”. If I were learning Russian I’d much prefer to be given the proper spelling and phonetic transcription, which is давай выпьем dʌˈvaj ˈvɨpʲjɪm. (I don’t actually know Russian. Thanks to commentators for corrections now implemented. By the way, please let’s not repeat the debate over how to represent Russian a in pretonic syllables: I’ve followed Jones & Ward in writing ʌ.)At least there’s an audio clip.

30 comments:

  1. Japanese does have doubled d even if not doubled d as you so correctly put it. But I would argue not only in the romanization but phonologically. At the upper limit of distinctive realization sokuon (this may be what some clot told them was a 'pause') + /d/ is distinct from sokuon + /t/, and I think most Japanese can make that distinction if they have occasion to. It depends on the dialect, but the result can be more like [d͡t].

    But the Russian is really dire, isn't it? It was nearly 60 years ago that I was reading in my earliest Chinese textbooks that all you need to make up your own sentences is an understanding that you can't make up your own sentences, as Chinese has no grammar, and you just have to learn phrases.

    1 correction: давай выпьем

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  2. I suppose I should have suggested vɨpʲjɪm for vɨpʲɪm as well, since that's supposed to be what выпьем represents. Any comments from anyone who does know Russian?

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  3. Russian officially has a four-way phonemic distinction between /C/, /Cʲ/, /Cj/, and /Cʲj/. But Ivan Derzhanski (a Bulgarian computational linguist with a near-native knowledge of Russian) says: "The distinction between the last two is unstable in the standard language; the third is often replaced by the fourth. But confusing either one with the second would be perceived as a heavy foreign accent."

    So I'd say your correction is right. (In Bulgarian there is only a two-way distinction, between plain /C/ on the one hand and what can be treated as /Cj/ or /Cʲ/ — such consonants occur only prevocalically, and the opposition even between plain and palatal is neutralized before front vowels. There is no vowel reduction, hence the saying that "Bulgarian is essentially Russian pronounced as it is spelled.")

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  4. What leads the Guardian to give ё as the yo in yonder?

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  5. "However, I’m not sure that the novice would understand [Hindi] ‘unaspirated’ vs ‘aspirated’ when the explanation given is just that “the first is much less breathy than the second”. The crucial difference is a matter of timing: whether or not there is a delay between the release of the closure and the start of voicing. If there is a delay, you get an audible puff of air; if there isn’t, you don’t."

    For the so-called "voiced aspirates" of Hindi another description would be required, of course. But I doubt that anyone buying a 24-page booklet is going to master a sound like "bh". Maybe the best advice would be something like "say B with half your mouth and whisper with the other half"?

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  6. mallamb

    Lena says 'Of course there's a jot!'

    Sorry, there's too much background noise to record выпьем right now

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  7. Thanks for your detailed answer, John C.

    Yes vp, I didn't think John W's statement could be justified for voiced aspirates either. And I didn't think the Guardian's “the first is much less breathy than the second” was all that inappropriate in the first place. Is b not indeed much less breathy than bh even if it's breathy voice we're talking about? Lurve your description though.

    David, I take it 'jot' is meant to be Lena saying yod! This looks like another Russian vaudeville act in the making!

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  8. I missed looking at the cartoon before.

    "Neekalaeeveech" is so "correct" as to be incorrect: men's patronymics are always spoken allegro, in this case /nʲi.kə.ˈla.itʃ/ with four syllables, not five; similarly /iˈvanitʃ/, /ˈpʲetritʃ/, /anˈdrʲe.itʃ/.

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  10. I took a look at the Hindi pronunciation guide. Much of it is quite good: for example dental "t" is ingeniously defined as being like the first 't' in 'at the'. Nevertheless there are a few things that raised my eyebrows:

    "c" is defined as in the word "cheap" -- but surely most English speakers aspirate that? A better example (for me at least) would be "exchange", where the preceding /s/ sound means that the affricate is relatively unaspirated. A laminal articulation is indicated by saying that the tongue [is] positioned as for the 'ty' sound in 'tube', which is fine, although it might have been easier to say something like "put the tongue, as much as possible, flat against the roof of the mouth".

    In the instructions for "j" the same indication for a laminal articulation is strangely omitted.

    "e" is defined as like the French é in 'été'; not a rounded sound as in English 'payday' does "rounded" here mean "diphthongal"?

    "o" is given as a pure 'o', less rounded than in 'cold': here I assume they are hoping for a diphthong of the [ɒʊ] type (GOAT before dark L) so "rounded" must mean "open and diphthongal". (Of course it's not easy to define [o] in terms of the vowels of southern British English, but given the use of French to exemplify [e] one might have expected an example such as "beau").

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  11. @vp: I don't think English affricates or fricatives can be aspirated. Maybe you meant the friction? That's part of any affricate by definition.

    For [o] in terms of the vowels of SBE: THOUGHT is close enough, I think.

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  12. @wjarek:

    I certainly aspirate my affricates: in this respect my /tʃ/ behaves exactly like my /t/, /p/ or /k/. "Change" vs. "exchange" is, for me, a good example of the difference. If that doesn't work, listen to an Indian English speaker say a word like "cheap". The Indian English speaker will likely say this without any aspiration: compare that to the aspirated production of same word in the standard accents.

    While SBE THOUGHT may phonetically be closest to [o] among the cardinals, it is too back and (possibly) pharyngealized to be used as an exemplar for Hindi /o/ (or indeed the /o/ of most languages).

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  13. @vp: I believe I pronounce "tube" with an apical affricate and "cheap" with a laminal one, so I get a bit confused by that bit. And of course a lot of the Guardian's readership won't distinguish those initial consonants at all.

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  14. Yes JHJ this is fascinating. I have long been aware that I usually pronounce "tube" with an apical affricate, roughly tç or tɕ , or an alveolo-palatal one, say ȶç or ȶɕ,, and that like more people than care to admit it, I sometimes pronounce it with a palato-alveolar one, ʧ, but I pronounce "cheap" with a retroflex one: ʈʂ. (and of course "sheep", "jeep" etc correspondingly). So even if I pronounce "tube" ʧuːb, I am not of that lot of the Guardian's readership who don't distinguish those initial consonants at all.

    I once asked "Have you got any Chinese [ʈʂaɪˈni;z] paintings, and got the response "Trainees' paintings?" I think they thought I thought it was some Renaissance workshop.

    I think there's a lot of it about!

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  15. I haven't got time to look at the Hindi pronunciation guide, but it dental "t" is ingeniously defined as being like the first 't' in 'at the', then c could be defined as being like the 't' in 'at choice'. Then to avoid any lingering idea that there's double affrication, "accha", say, could be likened to "at cha" (provided one doesn't aspirate ch in English, whatever bizarre variants of it one may have - I really don't think I go so far as to aspirate any of the ones I've just posted about, though the affrication in "tune" etc is pretty breathy).

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  16. Oh dear, I meant cc can be likened to "at cha", and then one can aspirate it in accha.

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  17. John Cowan

    My wife Elena is a Russian native speaker — and a reluctant teacher of phonetics. She tells me that the four-way contrast is real but limited.

    Both the hard (velarised/pharyngealised) consonants and the soft (palatalised) consonants may be followed by a vowel or by a j glide + vowel. However, of the four possibilities, two are in complementary distribution.

    Hard consonant + j occurs only at morpheme boundaries, typically between prefix and stem

    This link should show contrasting pairs from Russian Pronunciation Illustrated and play Elena reading the texts.

    In the second item of each pair, the hard consonant conclude the prefixes об or от and the glide begins the stem morpheme.

    Soft consonant + j occurs only within a stem morpheme.

    This link should display another extract contasting sequences of Soft consonant + j and Hard consonant + j.

    In the first item of each pair, the soft consonant is within the stem. In the second item, the hard consonant is at the end of the prefix об or под.

    In other words Lena's instincts are in accord with the orthography with its four 'official' possibilities. Judge for yourself whether she pronounces as she thinks she does.

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  19. mallamb

    Here is Давай выпьем. We think it's vɨpʲjɪm not vɨpʲɪm.

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  20. Yes I said that's supposed to be what выпьем represents. Lena's reading of it makes that very obvious.

    And remember how I said before that you can practically hear the еръ at the end of хорват in her pronunciation? Well you can jolly well hear it in объятия and подъемный. In fact in подъемный it almost sounds like еры! It could almost be an after-echo of the late lamented vowel.

    Don't worry, I realize it's just a juncture phenomenon: the еръ marks the hardness and the vowel is epenthetic.

    But I did idly wonder if speakers were aware enough of that pronunciation to be more likely to remember to put the еръ in. So back to bloody Google: about 8,000,000 hits for подемный and only about 339,000 for подъемный. Surely the еръ is still required in the recognized orthography?

    BTW I can explain the міѳъ mystery. See my last post on the Synod thread of 10th Feb.

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  21. mallamb, adjust your aim and google for +подемный.

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  22. Of course, luke. Thank you. Not just for identifying my incompetence this time, but for revolutionizing my whole Google experience!

    I have been using minuses for what seems like the lifetime of Google, but had forgotten about pluses, if I ever knew about them.

    Was it you who tried to point me in this direction a few days ago? Well I still hadn't got it. Now I see that it's not enough to exclude specific forms, because Google is too clever by half, and is over-helpful to the extent that it not only suggests, but shanghais.

    So thanks to you I have now searched +подъемный +подемный, and it's instructive to see that there are about 224 hits for them in the same document!

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  23. vp,

    I certainly aspirate my affricates: in this respect my /tʃ/ behaves exactly like my /t/, /p/ or /k/. "Change" vs. "exchange" is, for me, a good example of the difference. If that doesn't work, listen to an Indian English speaker say a word like "cheap". The Indian English speaker will likely say this without any aspiration: compare that to the aspirated production of same word in the standard accents.

    The Indian English speaker certainly does always seem to go for the unaspirated option, but I think the main difference is in the length of the fricative bit, which is really only transitional in Hindi. You could even say it's just a parasitic release phenomenon, which of course only comes at the end if it's a geminate, as in my example accha. Compare that with "much cheaper". There doesn't even seem to be an allegro option without the first fricative bit in "much cheaper". And the aspiration of accha is the real business, like that of the ch in "chá" in Chinese.

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  24. @mallamb

    I tried to check that I'm not going insane, but I think I'm right about my own personal speech, at least. "that sheep" does not sound like "the cheap", but if I artificially aspirate the "sh" of "sheep" it does.

    Daniel Jones, "The Pronunciation of English", S 262: "tʃ may have a little aspiration as well as affrication, especially when beginning a strongly stressed syllable".

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  25. vp,
    You must have a remarkable amount of liaison in "that sheep". Is their anything about your idiolect that would explain that?

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  26. "The pause surely comes during the consonant, not before it. ‘Headdress’ is not an apposite example, because Japanese does not have doubled d; but ‘bookcase’ is a good model for geminated [kː]."

    Eeek! Considering that Japanese has both long consonants and long vowels, Mr Confused European is going to have quite the vacation full of embarrassing conversation in Tokyo if he only reads this one book.

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  27. Am I wrong, or does the female voice say twice "Vladimir" with the stress on the first syllable?

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  28. Masone,
    There is a discussion about MKR's report of this (for NSs) illusory perception of stress on the pretonic syllable following his post on it: http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/02/russian-illustrated.html?showComment=1265563291598#c1424412099848304956

    You'd better come off that diet and have another listen!

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  29. The theory of the book is really good, but apparently done with a little rush that ended up causing this issues, they better be more careful next time.

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