Tuesday, 13 April 2010

a weritable willain

Mrs GampScanned image by
Philip V. Allingham


It appears that the Londoners of a century or two ago sometimes interchanged or confused the sounds v and w. Dickens certainly portrays this in his literary representation of Cockney: Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit says on the one hand “wery best” and “[the] walley of the shadder [of death]” and on the other hand “vich” for ‘which’.
In Pickwick Papers we find
Ve got Tom Vildspark off..ven all the big vigs..said as nothing couldn't save him.
and
I may trust you as vell as if it was my own self. So I’ve only this here one little bit of adwice to give you!
(Notice that in this second passage “I’ve” and “give” presumably had the usual v and “one” the usual w.)
Writing in 1936, H.C. Wyld recalled the use of [w] in place of [v] as a jocular usage among middle-class speakers in the nineteenth century. It is utterly unknown in Cockney today. (Accents of English p. 333)
The OED (second edition, 1989) says
In south-eastern English dialects the change of v- to w- does occur, and older representations of Cockney speech exhibit a converse change of w- to v-, which recent investigators have been unable to verify as still existent.

In present-day English such occasional interchange of the two consonants has been reported from parts of the Caribbean, particularly the Bahamas (Accents of English, p. 568 and 589).

I was accordingly delighted when a workman in Montserrat, exchanging gossip about local events, told me that in his view a certain person was a ˈwɪlən (villain).
I had never previously encountered this in Montserrat, although George Irish (see yesterday’s blog) does list one such entry.
warmunce - vermin; a mean or base person

With the dubious exception of Bahamian, where the two sounds may conceivably be in complementary distribution, all core native varieties of English, including Cockney and Caribbean, appear to have a firm phonemic contrast between v and w. (In parts of Jamaica and perhaps elsewhere there may be some confusion between v and b, but that is another story.)
Indian English is notorious for often lacking this phonemic contrast, with the two consonants being merged as ʋ (a labiodental approximant). This is often perceived by non-Indians as w, so that for example a maths teacher of Indian origin in a British school acquired the nickname “Mr Wortical” because of the way he pronounced vertical.
In the EFL world Hungarians are notorious for being deaf to this contrast and for using v in place of w. This is also part of the popular stereotype of a German accent, although nowadays most German speakers of EFL seem to have mastered the contrast.

67 comments:

  1. Jack Windsor Lewis13 April 2010 at 12:07

    The quote from OED taken from the 1989 edition must be treated with some caution as regards the interpretation of "recent investigators have been unable to verify as still existent". This was simply a repetition 73 years later of Craigie's remark (at the introduction to letter V) of 1916. The evidence from novelists also may well have to be taken as possibly exaggerating for comic effect. The East Anglian data in the Leeds University Survey of English Dialects has some relevant transcriptions eg 'voice' with /w/ noted in Norfolk speakers.

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  2. Among advanced Hungarian learners of English, e.g. English majors, hypercorrect pronunciations of the kind "wery well" are extremely common.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here's a recording from 1899 which has /w/ for /v/ ("it really is a wery pretty garden"):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1GmDA8FU9w

    This also has a trill for /r/ in a few places, which I have an idea is characteristic of older Cockney - does this ring a bell with anyone else? (Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins had a series on R4 a few years ago with a character who really relished the /r/ in "brisket of beef" - funny as hell).

    Paul

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  4. I suppose this is just speculation but isn't it very possible that the Cockney situation was just the same as the Indian one today, with both phonemes merging into that labiodental approximant?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Have a look at this, which suggests exactly that:

    Trudgill, P., Schreier, D., Long, D. and Williams, J. (2004) "On the reversibility of mergers: /w/, /v/ and evidence from lesser-known Englishes". Folia Linguistica Historica, Vol. XXIV/1-2, 23-45.

    Anderson (1987) "A Structual Atlas of English Dialects" has a nice map summarising /w/ for /v/ in the SED, showing that it was found in Norfolk, Suffolk, north Essex and parts of Buckinghamshire.

    The recording was amazing, but it is of course possible that the singer was using stereotyped and stage pronunciations.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The recording was amazing, but it is of course possible that the singer was using stereotyped and stage pronunciations.

    My first thought, too, but then again, it's Gus Elen, who was as Cockney as they come, not Dickens or Dick Van Dyke. Also, I shouldn't assume the alveolar trill [r] is due to stage tradition.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have just stumbled upon this discussion. I am the author of Gus Elen's biography "A Cockney at Work. The Story of Gus Elen and His Songs"

      Although as the book's title suggests, Gus was a Cockney on stage, he was not born an eastender. He was a stickler for detail and authenticity however so we can be confident that despite his pedigree, the use of 'v' for 'w' was in everyday use at the time.

      The book comes with a CD of Gus Elen's original recordings, when purchased from www.guselen.co.uk, where full details of the book are given.

      Please feel free to contact me via the website rather than the blogspot which I will be closing

      Delete
  7. I can certainly confirm that I tend to mix them up unless I'm consciously monitoring my pronunciation.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Perhaps it was due to immigration to London by eastern Europeans whose native languages lacked a /v/-/w/ contrast?

    It seems that a /v/-/w/ contrast is somewhat rare among the languages of the world. Apart from English, the only languages that come to mind for me are French, Italian and Polish, although I am sure that there are many others.

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  9. My impression of the _paradigmatic_ Indian merged consonant is [βʷ]: basically a [w] sound where the initial lip rounding is close enough to produce a voiced fricative. This is definitely a great way to do impressions of Indians speaking English, and has the benefit of sounding equally like an English /v/ or /w/!

    ReplyDelete
  10. @John:
    "This is also part of the popular stereotype of a German accent, although nowadays most German speakers of EFL seem to have mastered the contrast."
    Don't be too optimistic - I've been teaching English phonetics to German students of English (about half of them trying to become teachers of EFL) for more than 3 decades. They still have a hard time not mixing up the two sounds.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A colleague of mine teaching English in Germany (She's American, I'm British) had a strict policy of not allowing beginners to see words written down. One day she elicited from a student that he was from a small place and taught him the word village. While she was out of the room, the student got a friend to write the word down. So when Karen came back into the room, she was startled to hear him say willage.

    I believe her story totally, but it's not obvious how the writing came to interfere. Willage isn't a straight spelling pronunciation; that would presumably be fillage. Rather, it seems to be a hypercorrection of a spelling pronunciation -- a misguided effort to avoid fillage.

    That alone can't explain Karen's experience. It would seen that the phonological error is (or was then in the 70's) so widespread that some Germans with a minimal knowledge of spoken and written English absorbed the false spelling-to-sound rule from more advanced speakers.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Willage isn't a straight spelling pronunciation; that would presumably be fillage.

    Don't quite understand, frankly. German written v is [v] in most cases, ie words of French origin such as Vase [ˈva̠ːzə]. Only in some Upper German regions are even those words conventionally pronounced with an [f]. Words of Germanic origin that continue the MHG fancy of spelling [f] with a v, such as Vater, aren't so many, and usually the latter are regarded to be the exceptions from the rule, not the former, I think.

    So, if students aren't used to English orthography or more probably confuse [v] and [w] in hearing and pronunciation anyway, they might spell [v] as w. Then the next student sees the written w in an unfamiliar English word and "correctly" pronounces it [w].

    ReplyDelete
  13. Words of Germanic origin that continue the MHG fancy of spelling [f] with a v, such as Vater, aren't so many

    Yes, but they are much more frequent than the Latin/French/English loans where v stands for /v/. viel, von, vor, ver- are ubiquitous, and consequently the letter itself is called [faʊ] when spelling.

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  14. Thank you for this post. I read "Paul Clifford" a few months ago and was puzzled by the dialect...people I was sure were meant to be Cockney sounded (to my inner ear) like they had German accents.

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  15. luke, I don't know the statistics, and with the prefixes alone, you're probably right.

    Nevertheless, except for the dialects mentioned, hardly any speaker of Standard German would think of pronouncing a word with a written v with an [f] unless it was clearly both German and an erbwort. This doesn't only concern loans from French, Latin or increasingly English, but even in case the speaker can't identify the language and hasn't seen the word before.

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  16. @Paul Hopkins:
    The alveolar trill for /r/ does ring a bell with me. Though I associate it more with very old RP accents. For example, I believe Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes would sometimes use an alveolar trill or tap for /r/ and I quite sure that character wasn't meant to be Cockney.

    I think I have heard an alveolar tap for /r/ in older Cockney though. If you listen to the way the narrator says "Harry" in the following clip you can hear what I mean (it's a bi' dir'y though):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fRY6J6lD7k

    He also says "horrible" with an alveolar tap (and a dropped /h/) in another part. As an American, I truly thought he was saying "audible", but I digress.

    Another unrelated but interesting thing about the clip is how Harry says, "Well, if you got it, you got it", using a different variety of /t/ between "got" and "it" each time (an alveolar tap and an alveolar plosive, respectfully).

    ReplyDelete
  17. "I quite sure" --> "I'm quite sure"

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  18. Among advanced Hungarian learners of English, e.g. English majors, hypercorrect pronunciations of the kind "wery well" are extremely common.

    Much like the fact that if I'm not very careful I often use [ð] for /d/ or vice versa. (My native Italian has d̪ which is the sound most Italians would use for both English /d/ and /ð/.)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Lipman

    So, if students aren't used to English orthography or more probably confuse [v] and [w] in hearing and pronunciation anyway, they might spell [v] as w.

    Well, they might. But that's not what happened in my friend's case. The student who knew a little English spelled village correctly. He may also have pronounced, but didn't have the time or skill to teach the pronunciation the way that Karen had just recently done.

    My guess is that the 'helpful' student triggered a memory that the 'helped' student didn't know he had. The written form somehow confirmed his mistaken judgement.

    It's not unusual for beginners to acquire a pretty good pronunciation while still imitating sounds -- only for it to deteriorate as they acquire some fluency and some sort of internalised phonology.

    What's unusual in this case is that progress brought on not just poorer approximation to target sounds but actual phonological error.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @David Crosbie:
    It's very interesting how you say beginners tend to pronounce the language better than more advanced learners. That means my Spanish pronunciation has probably gotten worse despite what my teachers have told me!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous

    What I said was that it wasn't unusual for beginners to get worse.

    Whether this happens or not depends on the teaching procedure. Some courses begin with intensive teaching of pronunciation -- with great results that prove unsustainable.

    ReplyDelete
  22. David Marjanović15 April 2010 at 13:45

    I wonder if a complementary distribution ([w] with back vowels, [v] with front vowels) ever emerged, as it has in Hawaiian.

    Native speakers of German often simply don't figure out on their own that English has both /w/ and /v/ (a combination very few languages have) and instead think [w] is the English /v/ the same way [ɹ] is the English /r/. My sister almost refused to believe it when I explained this to her – after she had already had several years of English lessons in school and was pretty fluent.

    The alveolar trill for /r/ does ring a bell with me. Though I associate it more with very old RP accents.

    ...which still get imitated, though more and more incompetently: Emperor Palpatine uses the alveolar flap.

    ReplyDelete
  23. David Marjanović15 April 2010 at 13:54

    Phonology isn't taught anywhere near enough in ESL or elsewhere.

    in Hawaiian

    Not Hawaiian English as far as I know, but the actual ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I was a unilingual speaker of German till age 7, but I've been living in English for over 50 years. I know perfectly well which words are pronounced with V and which with W.

    I have no trouble with individual occurrences of either sound. But if there's a string of Vs and Ws in close proximity I will still occasionally produce the wrong one unless I consciously monitor my speech.

    The probability of confusion, while quite low, increases with the number of Vs and Ws in the string I am producing. To me, it's a sort of tongue-tiedness, as if the sentence were a tonguetwister.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I can only support what David Marjanović said:
    It came as a great suprise to me and most of the other students in the advanced English course in our eighth (!) year of English at school when our English teacher told us that there was a difference in pronunciation between "v" and "w". Being advanced students, we used [w] for both, because that's the obvious foreign sound (and , unlike the "th"s, not hard to pronounce).
    The problem is also that in German, especially in the south (where I'm from), [v] usually has less friction than its English counterpart and often is only an approximant, so German [v] tends to be intermediate between English [v] and [w].

    @Lipman: In general "v" is pronounced [f] more frequently in the south of the German speaking area, especially in Switzerland, that's right. But never in "Vase"!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'm not sure about the Vase, maybe you're right. At least it's easy for me to imagine a Swiss or proudly Bavarian speaker say [fɑ[ː]z̥(ə)]. The more you're right, the more my original point stands that in case of doubt, a German will pronounce [v] in foreign languages.

    German Wikipedia has these examples for Standard German [v] and South German [f]: Vikar, Viktor, Viper, Ventil, vulgär.

    ReplyDelete
  27. @Stefan: "The problem is also that in German, especially in the south (where I'm from), [v] usually has less friction than its English counterpart and often is only an approximant, so German [v] tends to be intermediate between English [v] and [w]."
    Very good observation! The replacing sound is the one Brits use when they can't pronounce the /r/ (e.g. Woy Jenkins, Lord Montgomery).

    ReplyDelete
  28. Harry and Warren,
    I had always guessed that the Cockney situation was just the same as the Indian one today, with both phonemes merging into that labiodental approximant, with the (sporadic) Dickensian inverse representation of them being purely perceptual. So it's interesting to see the reference to Trudgill et al, but if Anderson's map only shows /w/ for /v/ we can't conclude anything about the inverse or a merger.

    The recording was indeed amazing, and it is of course indeed possible that the singer was using stereotyped and stage pronunciations, but I agree with Lipman about the authenticity of the alveolar trill, which Elen trills more than somewhat even in non-orthographic liaison in another song (1906) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQrEmRBN5kw&NR=1):
    wɒts ðə jʊws ə ˈkɪkɪn ʌp ə *raːr* ɪf ðər ɛɪnt nʌʊ wɜːk əbaːt

    Also in yet another song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiMI5Gp9sZg) he has [ɔʷɐ] for final –aw in saw as well as –ore in more etc., which I think must have already been authentic.

    How do you know he was as Cockney as they come, Lipman? I found a claim on the Web that his Cockney was "assumed", and he normally had "a cultured accent", but I don’t believe that. More likely it was the latter that was assumed, as would still have been expected of him in broadcast talk for example.

    I was a bit taken aback by David Marjanović's suggestion that native speakers of German often simply don't figure out on their own that English has both /w/ and /v/, as I had on the whole espoused the "trying too hard" hypothesis, as in θɑʊs for ‎'south'. But Stefan's support for it certainly made me think again. And he is right that German [v] tends to be intermediate between English [v] and [w], and not just in the south. Amazingly my first German textbook (aged 7 and trying to teach myself from a book in Fraktur which had no notion of any such idea, but as well as teaching the script version of Fraktur gave useful guidance on pronunciation out of sheer native wit) said German w was more English-like in clusters like schw and zw. And I soon heard vp's [βʷ] in such clusters (and intervocalically in words like Löwe).

    nycguy, you are also definitely onto something, but do you perhaps find that you can do tonguetwisters perfectly well until you are taken unawares by one that occurs naturally? My son's first language was Japanese, and he has been bilingual since a bit earlier in life than you, so for your w and v read l and r. He has no difficulty with red lorry yellow lorry yellow lorry red lorry etc., which his mother won't even attempt, but is occasionally thrown by chance strings of mathematical jargon featuring that dread opposition.

    ReplyDelete
  29. An interesting finding:

    From the book: Biography of Cardinal Mezzofanti

    CHAPTER XV (1841-1843) p.404
    "You have many patois in the English language,' said the Cardinal. ' For instance, the Lancashire dialect is very different from that spoken by the Cockneys; [he used this word ;—] so much so, that some Londoners would find considerable difficulty in understanding what a Lancashire man said. The Cockneys always use v instead of w, and w instead of v : so that they say ' vine' instead of 'wine;' [he gave this example.] And then the Irish brogue, as it is called, is another variety. I remember very distinctly having a conversation with an Irish gentleman whom I met soon after the peace, and he always mispronounced that word, calling it 'pace."

    http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/mezzofanti/biography/index.html
    http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/mezzofanti/biography/15.4-english-dialects.html

    ReplyDelete
  30. I think these all are all core native varieties of English, including Cockney and Caribbean, appear to have a firm phonemic contrast between v and w.

    ReplyDelete
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  41. good day, my name is Ludmila i am a citizen of the united state of america i want to testify of the good loan lender who showed light to me after been scammed by 4 different internet international lender, they all promise to give me a loan after making me pay alot of fees which yield nothing and amounted to no positive result. i lost my hard earn money and it was a total of 8,000usd. one day as i was browsing through the internet looking forsterated when i came across a testimony man who was also scammed and eventually got linked to a legit loan company called Jasmin Noor loan company (jasminnoorloancompany01@gmail.com) where he finally got his loan, so i decided to contact the same loan company and then told them my story on how i have been scammed by 4 different lenders who did nothing but to course me more pain. i explain to the company by mail and all they told me was to cry no more because i will get my loan in their company and also i have made the right choice of contacting them, so if there is anyone who need a loan should email them

    ReplyDelete
  42. Good Day Sir/Madam: Do you need an urgent loan to finance your business or in any purpose? We are certified and legitimate and international licensed loan lender we offer loans to Business firms. Individuals, companies firms, corporate bodies at an affordable interest rate of 3%. It might be a short or long term loan or even if you have poor credit. We shall process your loan as soon as we receive your application. We are an independent financial institution. We have built up an excellent reputation over the years in providing various types of loans to thousands of our customers. We offer Educational loan, Business loan, home loan, Agricultural loan, Personal loan, Auto loan with either a good or bad credit history. If you are interested in our above loan offer you are advice to fill the below information and return to us for more details. You can contact us with this email (standardonlineinvestment@gmail.com) we shall respond to you as soon as we receive your loan application details below.

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  43. i am alex i was in need of a loan to pay my debt and i was seeking for a legit loan company that could help me with a loan of $ 750 thousand dollars but i was decline of getting the amount i needed and along the line i was introduced to a private loan lender Mrs Jasmin Noor which i tried my best to give a try and i was asked to come and pay a fee which i refused because i was scared to be scammed for the second time because of my bad experience i have by trying to get this very important loan to pay my debt but Mrs Jasmin Noor gave me her word of advice and told me i am in the right place of getting a loan and i was lucky for the loan i applied for. contact via mail (jasminnoorloancompany01@gmail.com)

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  44. My name is Mrs. Monica Roland. I live in UK London and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of $250,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 3 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of $250,000.00 U.S. Dollar, he is a GOD fearing man, if you are in need of loan and you will pay back the loan please contact him tell him that is Mrs. Monica Roland that refer you to him. Contact Mr. James Bone via email: (clintonnancy43@gmail.com)

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  45. Hi friends am so very much happy today i have gotten my loan from QUICKEN LOANS into my account successfully to pay my bills and take good care of my family, if you need a loan too email her and get yours too, contact them now on quickenloanfunds@gmail.com whats-app on + 1 (716) 592 6230

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  48. Good Day Sir/Madam: Do you need an urgent loan to finance your business or in any purpose? We are certified and legitimate and international licensed loan lender we offer loans to Business firms. Individuals, companies firms, corporate bodies at an affordable interest rate of 3%. It might be a short or long term loan or even if you have poor credit. We shall process your loan as soon as we receive your application. We are an independent financial institution. We have built up an excellent reputation over the years in providing various types of loans to thousands of our customers. We offer Educational loan, Business loan, home loan, Agricultural loan, Personal loan, Auto loan with either a good or bad credit history. If you are interested in our above loan offer you are advice to fill the below information and return to us for more details. You can contact us with this email (globalonlinefinance@gmail.com) we shall respond to you as soon as we receive your loan application details below.

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  49. We offer personal loans up to $ 100,000, you are looking for a business loan and have been denied by a bank, we can help with loans of $ 5,000 to a maximum of $ 100,000 * that can help you get your business Rebuild and get you back Can bring you on a path to a better financial future.

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  50. i want to appreciate westhood of apex loans for giving me a loan of 20000eur if you need an urgent loan today avoid being scammed apply for a legit loan via emails apexloans@yahoo.com

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  51. i want to appreciate westhood of apex loans for giving me a loan of 20000eur if you need an urgent loan today avoid being scammed apply for a legit loan via emails apexloans@yahoo.com

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  52. Good Day,

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  53. My Brothers and Sister all over the world, I am Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada ; i was in need of loan some month ago. i needed a loan to open my restaurant and bar, when one of my long time business partner introduce me to this good and trustful loan lender DR PURVA PIUS that help me out with a loan, and is interest rate is very low , thank God today. I am now a successful business woman, and I became useful. In the life of others, I now hold a restaurant and bar. And about 30 workers, thank GOD for my life I am leaving well today a happy father with three kids, thanks to you DR PURVA PIUS Now I can take care of my lovely family, i can now pay my bill. I am now the bread winner of my family. If you are look for a trustful and reliable loan leader. You can Email him via,mail (urgentloan22@gmail.com) Please tell him Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada introduce you to him Thanks.

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  54. DO YOU NEED A LOAN WITH LOW INTEREST RATE TODAY?

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  55. am here to give my testimony about Dr Azuka who helped me in my life, i want to inform the public how i was cured from (HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS) by Dr Azuka,i visited different hospital but they gave me list of drugs like Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex which is very expensive to treat the symptoms and never cured me. I was browsing through the Internet searching for remedy on HERPES and i saw comment of people talking about how Dr Azuka cured them. when i contacted him he gave me hope and send a Herbal medicine to me that i took and it seriously worked for me, my HERPES result came out negative. I am so happy as i am sharing this testimony. My advice to you all who thinks that their is no cure for herpes that is Not true just contact him and get cure from Dr Azuka healing spell cure of all kinds of sickness you may have.Remember delay in treatment leads to death email him at {dr.azukasolutionhome@gmail.com} or whatsapp +2348132777335
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  56. Hello Reader!
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    ReplyDelete
  57. Private Lender Bentex Funding Group Ltd.
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    ReplyDelete
  58. Good Day Sir/Madam: Do you need an urgent loan to finance your business or in any purpose? We are certified and legitimate and international licensed loan lender we offer loans to Business firms. Individuals, companies firms, corporate bodies at an affordable interest rate of 3%. It might be a short or long term loan or even if you have poor credit. We shall process your loan as soon as we receive your application. We are an independent financial institution. We have built up an excellent reputation over the years in providing various types of loans to thousands of our customers. We offer Educational loan, Business loan, home loan, Agricultural loan, Personal loan, Auto loan with either a good or bad credit history. If you are interested in our above loan offer you are advice to fill the below information and return to us for more details. You can contact us with this email (globalonlinefinance@gmail.com) we shall respond to you as soon as we receive your loan application details below.

    First name:
    Middle name:
    Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):
    Gender:
    Marital status:
    Total Amount Needed:
    Time Duration:
    Address:
    Currency Needed
    City:
    State/province:
    Zip/postal code:
    Country:
    Phone:
    Mobile/cellular:
    Monthly Income:
    Occupation:
    Which sites did you know about us.....
    ( globalonlinefinance@gmail.com )for immediate attention. Contact
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    Regards,
    Mr Hameed Youssef

    ReplyDelete

  59. Do You Seek Funds To Pay Off Credits and Debts? { FIFOCapitals@gmail.com } Is Here To Put A Stop To Your Financial Problems. We Offer All Kinds Of Loan (Personal Loan, Commercial Loan, etc.) We Give Out Loan With An Interest Rate Of 1.00%. Interested Applicants Should Contact Us Via Email: FIFOCapitals@gmail.com

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    ReplyDelete