Thursday, 29 September 2011

0.083

Robin Walker has been canvassing opinions.
The citation form of 'twelfth' in all the dictionaries I've checked is /twelfθ/, but the other day I thought I caught myself eliding the /f/. Was that me being 'sloppy' or is this something that we tend to do in colloquial speech?
Given that Robin is the newsletter editor of the IATEFL Pronunciation SIG, one can only assume that the question is somewhat faux-naïf. You’d think he would not just THINK but KNOW whether he ‘caught himself’ performing a common casual-speech reduction. Whether or not one calls such reductions ‘sloppy’ is not a phonetic question but rather a reflection of how far we have shaken off (or otherwise) popular attitudes to language and acquired a degree of scientific objectivity. Anyone interested in English pronunciation must surely know that this reduction IS something we tend to do in colloquial speech. So why ask us?

Nit-picking, I might further object that you can’t elide phonemes. Phonemes are mental representations, and I would prefer to say that it is a not a mental construct /f/ but a physical segment (speech sound) [f] that might or might not be elided.

Anyhow, I just replied
Both.

Jack Windsor Lewis gave a longer answer.
In my opinion anyone who pronounces twelfth in clearly the way dictionaries seem to suggest is normal actually produces something very likely to sound artificial and pedantic. I dou•t that anyone much notices if in naturally fluent speech [twelθ] is used. I'm uncomfortable that dictionaries generally suggest that [twelθ] is a less usual than versions with at least two simultaneous fricatives. Those who aim at saying /twelfθ/ and succeed in not sounding abnormally deliberate in the way they say it probably always have at least some overlap of the two fricatives and may sometimes produce a bilabial voiceless fricative at the same time. A phonetic notation [twelθ͡f] wdnt be far wrong.
I felt happiest recommending in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English (Oxford University Press 1972,1979) "twelfθ with f and θ usually made simultaneously".

I surely cannot be the only one whose ordinary slow pronunciation of this word is indeed twelfθ. OK, the labiodental and dental fricatives certainly overlap (though surely the labiodental turbulence starts before the dental). But segment overlap is nothing new or exceptional. The l in this word overlaps with the f, too. The w overlaps with the t. The mental representation underlying my articulation is clearly twelfθ, and that formulation faithfully represents the articulatory targets that my actual articulations may or may not achieve (depending, as usual, on speech rate, formality etc.).

Similarly, I have no hesitation in claiming that my basic pronunciation of sixth is sɪksθ. And that of clothes, kləʊðz.

True, there are speakers for whom reduced forms of various kinds have been lexicalized, so that the unreduced form is in some sense irrecoverable. Most (all?) of us have lexicalized the two-syllable reduction of every (i.e. ˈevri rather than ˈevəri). I’m aware that for victory I personally do not feel at all happy with the dictionary form ˈvɪktəri, since I feel I can naturally say only ˈvɪktri. On the other hand I cannot go along with people who claim that police is pliːs — for me, although I might sometimes reduce it this way in rapid speech, it is basically unquestionably pəˈliːs, i.e. comparable to polite and pollution rather than to pleat and playful.

Similarly, for me twelfth is not a good rhyme for health.

67 comments:

  1. police is pliːs (i.e. [pˡliːs] not [pʰliːs])? That sounds implausible indeed.

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  2. I like the heading for this post.

    "Similarly, for me twelfth is not a good rhyme for health."
    Given your pronunciation of "twelfth", does any other word rhyme with it?

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  3. My tongue doesn't have much time for /θ/ coda clusters that reflect orthoɡraphic forms. I have twelfth /twelθ/, twelfths /twelss/, fifth /fɪθ/, fifths /fɪss/, sixth /sɪkθ/, sixths /sɪkss/, months /mʌns/...
    What I've heard on the British media hasn't led me to think that my pronunciation in these cases is anything unusual.

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  4. I think when you get a cluster of voiceless fricatives as in for fifth(s), sixth(s) or twelfth(s), it's usually the first one that's elided, if any, giving:
    - fifth: fɪ(f)θ
    - fifths: fɪ(f)θs
    - sixth: sɪk(s)θ
    - sixths: sɪk(s)θs
    - twelfth: twel(f)θ
    - twelfths: twel(f)θs

    And surely no-one un-self-consciously pronounces, for example, sixths as sɪksθs...?

    Perhaps the point here is that English phonotactics are a bit vague as to how many consonants are permitted in a syllable-final cluster, or how many consecutive voiceless fricatives.

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  5. Hear hear pete. My colloquial fractions are identical (rhotic upstate New Yorker but neutralized after moving to Korea).

    Numbers are most certainly (!) lexicalized pronunciations. See two. See five but no fiveth. Much like drawer as dror and American what as whut, common fractions go like this. I remember losing my horse hoarse split growing up. Before that I remember noticing my peers and I saying four to rhyme with for not pour.

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  6. I meant the second paragraph to mean that although phonotactic rules apply like pete said, that numbers are lexicalized and more likely to have above average elision additionally

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  7. For me the difference between twelfth and health is a movement of the lower lip towards closure with the upper teeth. OK, in all but the most self-consciously careful speech that doesn't result in a palpable [f], but it does contrast with my articulation of health — in which the lower lip doesn't move.

    At least, that's what I fancy I feel.

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  8. I suspect I have different articulation for the l in twelfth and the one in health. The former is, I think, 'darker' and more w-like.

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  9. Isn't policeman borrowed into Welsh as plisman?

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  10. John: Do you also have the same internal model for valedictory? (I'm thinking of the G. K. Chesterton poem "Who Goes Home".)

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  11. "Twelfth" is in this list of words with no rhyme. This list is based on RP.

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  12. For me, "twelfth" is /twɛlf/ with the *last* fricative deleted. So for me "health" and "twelfth" don't rhyme.

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  13. Sidney: or plismon. Cf ffatri.

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  14. John Cowan: no. Nor for contradictory. But yes for directory. I suppose it reflects the circumstances under which I learnt each word.

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  15. It will be interesting what new 'solutions' the new Cambridge pronunciation dictionary brings. That's been published, but the version with the CD comes out in October some time, I think.

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  16. Given that there are so many pronunciation variants, which one do you chaps recommend to us poor foreign learners? Shall we go on heroically trying to diligently say 'twel-f-th' and '(two) six-th-s' and 'month-s', or are we allowed to simplify?

    An Englishman I once knew was in the habit of joking that while, for Heidegger, 'nothing noths' (das Nicht nichtet, in the original) it would only be consistent to say that for H. 'the thing ths'. Apart from this hypothetical verb 'to th' (I th, thou thst, he/she/it ths or thth, I thd) there are no all-consononant-no-vowel verbs in English, are there?

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  17. Wojciech

    Shall we go on heroically trying to diligently say 'twel-f-th' and '(two) six-th-s' and 'month-s', or are we allowed to simplify?

    For twelfth, my first thought was that you could get away with simply omitting the θ. On second thoughts, I think that we want twelfth to sound a little different from shelf. So try this:

    • Say twɛl and hold the l in place — being especially careful to avoid anything like Polish ł, even though some accents of English can have w
    • Say f
    • Withdraw your lower lip from the teeth

    The resulting fricative should be 'good enough' — a clear signal of what the word is and not foreign-sounding.

    If you really want to convert the fricative to a θ sound, you simply move the tongue-tip towards the upper teeth.

    Another way of looking at it is:

    • Articulate twɛl as if you are going to say twɛlθ
    • Say f instead
    • Let the f shade into a bilabial fricative — but without moving the tongue or the jaws
    • Optionally, shade the fricative into a dental θ

    As for sixths, I personally notice when native speakers say sɪkθ. My guess is that even more people would notice a foreign speaker. It doesn't interfere with communication — at least not to the extent of not sounding like the right word. But I don't think it will achieve the unremarkable quality that you aspire to as a foreign speaker.

    So I would advise something close to sɪks. the context will virtually always distinguish sixth form six. 'For best results', I recommend as above aiming at the articulation of θ, even if you don't quite realise it. So try this:

    • Articulate sɪk as if you are going to say sɪkθ
    • Say s instead — but with that subtly different articulation
    • Aim to shade into θ. This will be relatively easy in, say, sixth of October, and not too difficult in word-final non-intervocalic sixth. But don't worry unduly if the aimed-for θ fails to sound.
    • For plural sixths, add an s sound to whatever you've achieved for the singular. A θ is considerably harder here; aim for one but expect to fail.

    As for months, I'm afraid I feel both θ and s are necessary. However, you don't need to aim at fully consonantal n. A nasal quality to the ʌ should do the trick.

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  18. David Crosbie: "As for months, I'm afraid I feel both θ and s are necessary."

    A little anal-retentive, no? It depends entirely on which dialect one is attempting to imitate as a foreign speaker. I've done just fine with /mʌns/ (singular /mʌnθ/) as a Canadian English speaker. If one can stand the lingual anguish of /mʌnθs/ however, by all means try. Just keep in my mind that even native speakers find these sequences troublesome so I wouldn't fret a lot on it.

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  19. @Wojciech You can tsk or tsktsk (which is to make a sound to express disapproval). Other exclamations can be used as verbs (e.g. much oohing and aahing) so, by analogy, I suppose you could say that someone mmms or hmms, for example.

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  20. I have four syllables in directory except in the phrase directory assistance, which is AmE for 'directory enquiries', where it is reduced to three syllables by a rhythmical law.

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  21. Glen

    It depends entirely on which dialect one is attempting to imitate as a foreign speaker.

    I disagree.

    Of course, a foreign speaker who really masters an English accent will sound natural to most native speakers of most accents. But few get that close. At least, few get that close through study. Foreign speakers who go to live in a speech community with a predominate accent do tend to acquire that accent, but that's not what Wojciech was asking about.

    Admittedly foreign learners are less bothered about pronunciation that they used to be. But there is still a market for learning a native-like accent. In those parts of the world that I've taught in, that market aspires either to that nebulous accent 'General American' or to an equally nebulous accent which sort-of is and sort-of isn't RP.

    (Not so along ago there was a market for real RP with all its social baggage. It would not surprise me if Wojciech was taught at university by teachers who aspired to sound like Daniel Jones.)

    The essentials of RP, stripped of the baggage, are available to students in various works of John and his distinguished predecessors. Similar works cater for students aspiring towards General American. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe there's an international market for publications describing a Canadian Standard accent to learners.

    Speakers will be admired as unremarkably unforeign if they master:

    1. master the information in descriptive works for students
    2. acquire a fair approximation to the sound quality of
    • segments, especially stressed vowel sounds
    • stress, especially contrastive
    • intonation, especially when it affects perceived politeness

    Wojciech wrote as prototypical consumer in this market. He specifically does not want an accent comprised of features that are each individually typical of particular groups of speakers. He wants something where all the features cohere. I can't prescribe for General-American, but for an RP-like accent my judgement is that there is no substitute for nθs.

    Of course, if a talented and ambitious foreign speaker such as Wojciech were to move to Canada (or follow a course of study in Canada), he or she could say mʌns without sounding at all foreign. But for native speakers outwith, there's a difference between hearing a Canadian saying muns alone with all the other signal of Canadian-ness and a foreigner saying months in an intelligible but slightly odd manner.

    I suppose one must also consider the situation of a Canadian teaching English outside Canada. I think what the market segment that cares would appreciate is if somebody like you teaches mʌns along with the rest of your authentic accent, but there is also access to teachers like me who advise that mʌnθs has wider currency.

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  22. If one can stand the lingual anguish of /mʌnθs/ however, by all means try. Just keep in my mind that even native speakers find these sequences troublesome so I wouldn't fret a lot on it.

    Oh come on! What's so hard about [n̪θs]? The dental [n̪] is homorganic with the [θ] so the only "lingual anguish" consists of the [θs] sequence, which I'm sure any native English speaker who has [θ] mastered in childhood.

    I can imagine [mʌns] as occurring in rapid conversation, but surely it's not your citation form?

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  23. David Crosbie: "Similar works cater for students aspiring towards General American. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe there's an international market for publications describing a Canadian Standard accent to learners."

    That you don't know that Standard Canadian English is barely distinguishable from American English doesn't inspire confidence. Canadian English naturally prescribes /mʌnθs/, barely different from any moribund English dialect you might choose to pester me with.

    And while /nθs/ is the standard, it's hardly realistic to believe this is *commonly* pronounced no matter *where* you live in the world. Quite frankly, only a kook would have spasms against a relatively uncommon sequence in English like /nθs/ being commonly elided to /nθ/ or /ns/.

    And finally I innocently reported my own pronunciation of /mʌns/ that I'm full aware deviated from the anal-retentive standard but if tiny things like this set you off on racist rants then I can only hope you seek psychiatric help.

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  24. Vp: "What's so hard about [n̪θs]?"

    Obviously the /θs/ part.

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  25. @Glen Gordon:

    That's interesting. I wasn't aware that [θs] was a sequence that many speakers find difficult, let alone one that would render it "hardly realistic to believe this is commonly pronounced" anywhere in the world.

    (Obviously there are many speakers, especially non-native speakers, who have difficulty producing [θ] and [ð] at all, but I'm taking only about those who specifically find the sequence [θs] difficult).

    I'd be interested in seeing any evidence that you have for this claim.

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  26. I agree. θs is an easy glide of the tongue, isn't it, and doesn't even involve voice. Close enough for the θ to be dropped after an n, if aimed at from the distance, and confusing for non-native speakers who've only an s in their native repertoire, but otherwise pretty straight backward.

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  27. You are coming close to touching the hem of GG's mantle!

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  28. Glen

    That you don't know that Standard Canadian English is barely distinguishable from American English doesn't inspire confidence.

    I don't pretend to anything but ignorance. Like many laymen, I recognise a value for the MOUTH vowel that suggests 'probably Canadian', but otherwise assume similarity with General American. It was you, not me, that introduced the notion of 'a Canadian English speaker'.

    In my dreams I wouldn't expect to inspire confidence my knowledge of North American accents. I do, however, have a fair amount of experience in teaching as much pronunciation as students wish. That's what I was responding to in Wojciech's post.

    any moribund English dialect you might choose to pester me with

    I wasn't 'pestering' you — I was telling you what I believe a decreasing but still significant proportion of students want from the EFL industry. If they want to acquire a simulacrum of some native-speaker accent, they would do better going to a dialect coach; what our trade has to offer is an approximation to a standard (RP, General American or whatever). We may not be able to prevent students from sounding foreign, but we can aim to stop them sounding foreign in ways that native speakers notice.

    Quite frankly, only a kook would have spasms against a relatively uncommon sequence in English like /nθs/ being commonly elided to /nθ/ or /ns/.

    That's completely beside the point. An accent that does no more than protect a foreigner from giving spasms to a gook is simply not good enough for this market segment.

    And you're disguising a tremendous amount being the words 'commonly elided'. It's one thing to say that people say mʌnθs in careful speech and commonly perform the individual act of elision to or ns/. It's quite another thing to say that it's common to use a form that has undergone the abstract alteration that is elision.

    If a foreign speaker aspires to nθs but often elides the cluster, then her or she stands a good chance of not sounding too obviously foreign. If he or she aims at a thyme with dunce , there's a good chance that it will sound more noticeably foreign — in careful speech there's a certainty. Deliberately dropping the s loses a singular/plural distinction that may be of little practical value, but would, I suggest, be unacceptable to this small ambitious group of self-improvers.

    Yes, for the vast majority of foreign speakers this isn't an issue. But Wojciech expressly distanced himself from that majority.

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  29. vp, Lipman

    Funnily, I agree with Glen. I'm sure that over the years I've spent a huge number of minutes helping students not to say 'mʌnθɪz.

    But these were students at the beginning (or dead end) of a learning career. There's no way their heavily first-languag conditioned pronunciation was 'good enough' for use in the world outside the classroom.

    If those to whom I taught mʌnθs now say something else as part of a 'good enough' accent that is generally intelligible then I'm reasonably happy. But I don't consider that to have been time wasted.

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  30. David: "It was you, not me, that introduced the notion of 'a Canadian English speaker'."

    I simply said: "I've done just fine with /mʌns/ (singular /mʌnθ/) as a Canadian English speaker." So your Britain-centric reaction and frequent misreadings aren't genuine for a sober man.

    Wojciech asked simply: "Given that there are so many pronunciation variants, which one do you chaps recommend to us poor foreign learners?"

    You misread that too. He mentioned nothing of RP, Britain, Canada's political relevance, artificial standards bereft of actual common practice, language coaches, etc. You're rambling.

    This was a simple question of what is *natural* to the *common* English speaker worldwide, not what the Queen would say. But how many languages do you know of that even allow such a word-final cluster?

    While /-nθɪz/ is obviously non-standard and uncommon, variants in /-ns/ and /-nts/ are much more common than /-nθs/ in the bigger picture of World English. The sequence of /θs/ remains laborious, archaic, regional and unnecessarily complicated for no gain.

    Finally, given the rise of the Indo-Chinese economy, the immense Asian population of English speakers and your crumbling euro, to obsess over RP as the only acceptable standard for emerging World English is delusional. Miss the 19th century, do we?

    "We may not be able to prevent students from sounding foreign [...]"

    Hmm...

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  31. variants in /-ns/ and /-nts/ are much more common than /-nθs/ in the bigger picture of World English. The sequence of /θs/ remains laborious, archaic, regional and unnecessarily complicated for no gain.

    You don't seem to have any evidence to support this claim, other than the fact that you personally find this cluster difficult to articulate.

    Everyone has different strengths in articulation. For example, /pr/ presents difficulties for me, especially when stressed: I will go well out of my way to avoid saying the word "appropriate". However that doesn't mean that large numbers of other native English speakers have the same problem (although it's possible) or that those who do articulate /pr/ with ease are indulging in "laborious, archaic, regional and unnecessarily complicated" diction!

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  32. Ad David Crosbie


    Thank you for your detailed explanations on 'twelfth', 'sixths' and 'months'. It's like I have always pronounced these words; luckily, 'sixths' is a rare word, anyway.

    When I started learning English---in th'olde dayes of that kynge Arthoure ---RP was THE (only) pronunciation model of that language (we were taught and told about). But---here I must gainsay you---we were NOT taught about the social baggage. Partly, because our teachers were wise enough; partly, because it would not go well with the Communist (Bolshevist, Soviet-style) ideology we then were in the clutches of. We of course heard in American and even British films ('flickers'?), in popular music too, different, distinctly different pronunciation profiles, but we were somehow taught not to pay attention to it, least of all to imitate it.

    And it stuck. I personally have next to never been in the UK (had Britons at my work-place, though) but like two years in the US and I have NOT acquired a North American accent. I have never learnt, this is true, to clip my vowels (British style) but neither have I learnt to drawl them (American style). I think the only (dis)improvement my pronunciation has undergone past school-times was moving from 'lenguid hend of a lend-owner' to 'languid hand...', the shift Lipman mentioned several times. But not anything like 'layinguid haind...' or 'lairnguid hairnd' or anything like that (US in various versions, but not Canada). My STRUT is still rather high and back (conservative RP?) which makes it sound like more American than (progressive) British; all in all, I s'ppose I sound rather Mid-Atlantic-ish, kinda. Perhaps THAT could be a standard, a still missing one? NATO-English?

    I feel somewhat uneasy about the commercial terminology you use so often. Market, consumer... . First of all, we had no choice, we were taught like we were taught, non-rhotic, foredd, hankerchief, cheltenem (in the States, they did not understand me wnen I said 'cheltenem', it had to be 'cheltenHAM'). We were given no alternative. Then, there is the English culture, literature, music, there were Scottish immigrants to Poland back in the 1600's, and vice-versa of course, and Britain is in Europe, so is Poland, we are in a sense one stock, more akin (in good as well as in ill) to one another than to various overseas or over-steppes (China) nations. I am not glorifying Europe but it's a destiny, given you are born and socialised here. 'Deutschland is unser Schicksal' as I once read in Germany (Germany is our destiny, our fate); so is Europe, if continental or insular matters not so much in the last analysis.

    Ad Richard Sabey

    thank you for the interesting examples. I'll tsk and mmhm every day from now on.

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  33. Glen

    This was a simple question of what is *natural* to the *common* English speaker worldwide,

    No it wasn't. That's precisely what we disagree on. I wouldn't have written anything of what I said to Wojciech if I believed your analysis to be remotely near the point of the question.

    You seem to be aggrieved that a segment of the EFL market aspires to speaking with some approximation to RP, and a somewhat larger segment doesn't want to 'sound foreign'. Please address your aggression to the misguided punters, not to me.

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  34. Wojciech

    But---here I must gainsay you---we were NOT taught about the social baggage.

    Nor we we. There was a time when many of us believed the doctrine that RP could be dissociated from social class. I think it was because the RP of the BBC was so widely accepted. Of course, RP could not be dissociated from educational attainment, but that was not considered a bad thing. It used to be natural for young people to lose their regional accents if they went to university. All this had begun to change when I was a boy, and the change has accelerated enormously in my lifetime.

    My accent is more or less RP because my father went to a 'public school' (private boarding school) and my mother paid for elocution lessons to get better paid work (or, indeed, any work any all) in department stores. The past, as the writer said, is another country.

    I suspect that Communist educational systems put especial emphasis on the descriptive works of Daniel Jones and the like for two reasons:

    1. It was deemed 'scientific'.
    2. It allowed them to prevent too much exposure of students to ideologically unsound native speakers.

    My first encounter with such a system was with a Soviet University (Leningrad) forty years ago. At the time, the oldest generation of university teachers spoke idiomatic Standard English with an assured and old-fashioned RP accent. Middle-aged teachers had less natural accents and were very unidiomatic — to the point of ungrammaticality. Some of the youngest teachers spoke far more idiomatically — and the students even more so.

    I knew then that the recent changes were due to tourism — as students, my wife's generation did 'language practice' as unpaid tourist guides — and to student exchanges. Quite a few students got away with dodgy language by saying 'Oh, but I heard it from my American room-mate'. Much later I learned that in the early days of the Soviet Union there had been a body of native speakers that advanced students could mix with. I met an English-born pioneer of Soviet language teaching who, unlike many of her peers, survived the Stalinist Purges, probably because she combined naiveté with innocence.

    At the same time, Poland had experienced only a quarter century of influence from Soviet education. I've met a few people who would have been studying or teaching then, and some of them share that old-fashioned RP that I heard from those elderly professors in Leningrad. Come to think of it, it's much the same accent that one hears from expatriate academics exiled to England.

    I feel somewhat uneasy about the commercial terminology you use so often. Market, consumer... . First of all, we had no choice,

    Not then, but you do have a choice now. That's what makes you part of an existing (albeit dwindling) market that has always had a choice.

    In the past it was simpler; at university level students wanted to sound educated, and in Europe that meant RP. Nowadays, language teaching at universities is performed by the same people and the same industry that serves the commercial market. Indeed, some commercial clients may make more exacting demands than many universities.

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  35. Ad David Crosby

    'I suspect that Communist educational systems put especial emphasis on the descriptive works of Daniel Jones and the like for two reasons:

    1. It was deemed 'scientific'.
    2. It allowed them to prevent too much exposure of students to ideologically unsound native speakers'

    this is ingenious and interesting, but I think even without Bolshevism teaching English would have been the same in Poland, simply because there was no alternative. People who compiled dictionaries, wrote textbooks, 'English grammars for advanced learners with exercises' and so on relied mainly on British sources, not on their private knowledge of Lallans, Geordie, Dorset dialect `a la Thomas Barnes ('the girt wold house o' muossy stuone'...), Kentucky English or a new emerging working class standard of Nelson, NZ --- however profound that knowledge might have been and however enamoured thereof they personally might have been.... I too love verses like 'oh my dear ladies, it gars me greet to see how mony counsels sweet how mony sage and wise advices the husband frae his wife despises' but I would not know where to get materials to teach myself or anyone that variant of English from. (or 'frae'). I mean materials other than Burns's self-same poems, of course.

    Students want to sound educated --- I think while this is basically true a better way to put it would be to say that they take for granted that they are being taught educated English. By contrast, if they really want to sound unejookaytid, they are hard put to find corresponding sources. I have learnt to say, every now and again, 'I dunno', 'it don't mean nuffin' to me', 'I seen him' 'there ain't nobody here' and such, but I did not learn such locutions in my English class.

    Now we have a choice, you say. True. But for some of us, it's simply too late. I won't learn to say 'the rine in spine styes minely on the pline' or drawl my vowels the American way, or say 'out' the Canadian way, or use many South-Africanisms or such, no matter how hard I try. And I'd make myself ridiculous if I tried, save perhaps for jocular purposes.

    As Prof. 'Enry 'Iggins once put it, 'the way you speak absolutely classifies you, the moment you open your mouth you make another Englishman despise you' --- this we (Polish learners in the sixties) were not aware of. In fact, I _am_ sometimes concerned about sounding too 'posh', as you guys keep calling it. But I hope that my foreign accent reduces that unwelcome impression.

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  36. BTW, my own favourite variant of English is Yola, if you ever heard of it, unfortunately, few bookstores in Gdańsk, where I live, sport a 'Yola comprehensive grammar with exercises for beginners and advanced beginners', to say nothing of a 'Exhaustive and Authoritative Yola-Polish and Polish-Yola Dictionary (over 100,000 words) with Pronunciation And A Concise Grammar'.

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  37. Me: "This was a simple question of what is *natural* to the *common* English speaker worldwide,[...]"

    David Crosbie: "No it wasn't."

    Explain how you interpreted it your way.

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  38. David Crosbie: "You seem to be aggrieved that a segment of the EFL market aspires to speaking with some approximation to RP [...]"

    A wrong assumption, a stupid assumption, a strawman and ENTIRELY irrelevant to the actual pronunciation of "months" or "sixths".

    Whether RP, American or Canadian, all standards agree to /-nθs/ despite being uncommon, unstable and unrealistic.

    So why do you insist on ethnocentric nonsense? Why do you insist on being an RP spokesperson when that was never an issue to anyone save for you?

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  39. Wojciech: "Students want to sound educated --- I think while this is basically true a better way to put it would be to say that they take for granted that they are being taught educated English."

    This is understandable but "sounding educated" involves actual competency and knowledge, not accent.

    Trying to imitate native speech patterns can become an empty obsession. There are plenty of successful people with exotic but intelligible accents like Iman and Björk. You don't see them stressing out because they fail some anal-retentive RP standard. If they had, I'm sure they would be distracted from achieving their accomplishments.

    So the goal is not to perfectly attain some artificial standard; it's to communicate intelligibly. What good is one's accent if one still comes across as an ethnocentric windbag?

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  40. Glen

    So why do you insist on ethnocentric nonsense?

    I insist on nothing, certainly not the caricature that you say you perceive. Please stop this.

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  41. You have the power to stop it. We believe in you.

    You continue to misread and disagree with anything and everything that I state (for kicks). So you've more than proven that you and the members of this blog are argumentative caricatures. Good for you.

    You continue with RP on and on when this wasn't stated in Wojciech's original question and predictably fail to justify yourself in turn to cause further argument. Can't we agree to simple facts or are you so bitter in your personal life that this detracts from your petty online amusement?

    The original question was about what we native speakers would commonly recommend as a pronunciation of "ths". If Wojciech intended a discussion on RP, he would have made some mention of it. If John Wells intended on a discussion only of English and restricted to British accents only with no greater thought to global English varieties, then he should have named his blog "John Well's Purist British-only phonetic blog" instead. Long live Britannia and all that.

    It's quite needless in English to insist on "ths" to presumably distinguish against "ts" or "s" when this in no way affects intelligibility nor is it incompatible with RP accent. No sensible person would stress about making a distinction.

    A good teacher worth his salary recommends /θs/, naturally. But an incompetent, aimless one will INSIST on it, causing the student to divert much of his positive energy, which would otherwise be devoted to learning the language, towards fretting about how to fit into class systems and other social apartheids.

    If Gandhi had worried about all this nonsense, he'd never have spoken in English or made such a difference with his less-than-RP accent. He did just fine without RP too. Thankfully there are constructive people to look up to despite all the pedantic rejects in this commentbox punchbowl.

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  42. By the way, don't think I noticed your racist typo, "David Crosbie":

    "An accent that does no more than protect a foreigner from giving spasms to a gook is simply not good enough for this market segment."

    "Gook"? Care to explain the racist typo? Or are you still going to make a stink about how I'm unfair to you, racist troll?

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  43. Ad Glen Gordon

    'This is understandable but "sounding educated" involves actual competency and knowledge, not accent.'

    Yes, I agree. But if you learn a foreign language you need one pronunciation standard or another to go by, to guide you. I agree with what you write about Iman or Björk, I have long since resigned to never getting quite rid of my Polish accent in all languages I more or less sucessfully have to speak and communicate in---as long as this does not make me unintelligible. And if it does not make me unintelligible, it's because I have tried to imitate some educated standard, the one most easily available to me. Aiming high (you have to have a target to aim at) and reaching something less than perfect but reasonably good.

    One problem with English, as is seen e. g. from this very discussion here, is that it does not seem to have a 'standard' (I hate this word, but I can't find no bedda) pronunciation model. I have lived, and partly still live in various German-speaking areas and get along well with all of'em with my near-native _standard_ German accent, as prescribed by Messrs. Siebs et Co. In Italian, which is another language I frequently use speaking, listening, writing and reading there is a somewhat shakier standard called 'lingua toscana in bocca romana'. In neither of these do I risk to be hated or despised or sneered at, or sumpin', just for the way I speak. In English, alas, things ain't that comfortable. This is, let me stress, no-one's fault, no-one's to blame for it, and yet ... pity for a world-language.

    But the next world-language to come (in 20 years' time?), Chinese, is ridden with far heavier problems of the same kind.

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  44. Wojciech: "Yes, I agree. But if you learn a foreign language you need one pronunciation standard or another to go by, to guide you."

    Yes, of course. In that case, RP and North American English are the most popular standards to choose from.

    Yet now you switch questions on us and muddle issues (a theme on this corrupted blog).

    You initially asked: Given that there are so many pronunciation variants, which one do you chaps recommend to us poor foreign learners? That is, concerning "months", "sixths", etc.

    The answer to THAT is: It can't hurt to say /θs/ if one can but the common pronunciation even by native English speakers themselves (whether of RP, Indian or North American English) inevitably involves modifying this sequence.

    And why? Quite simply because this sequence isn't just minor in English, it's utterly rare in world languages. The differences between /θs/ and /s/ are imperceptible to most people and no reasonable person could possibly feel "hostile" to the reduction even if their ears were highly tuned to notice it consciously.

    Therefore /θs/ is literalist, purist and very artificial. Only the morphology prescribes it. It certainly isn't the most popular, nor can we expect it to be.

    "Chinese, is ridden with far heavier problems of the same kind."

    I'm not sure exactly what you mean. China's official language is Mandarin. Since Hong Kong was given back to China in '97, Hongkongese too are strongly motivated to adopt Mandarin.

    It's a common misunderstanding that Mandarin and Cantonese are different dialects of Chinese. However they're in reality mutually unintelligible *languages*.

    Mandarin alone has several dialects but its standard form is unambiguously modeled on that of Beijing, the one I mimic.

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  45. The answer to THAT is: It can't hurt to say /θs/ if one can but the common pronunciation even by native English speakers themselves (whether of RP, Indian or North American English) inevitably involves modifying this sequence

    I keep asking for evidence for this claim, but I guess I'm wasting my breath. Of course, one would expect [t̪s], not [θs], from most Indian English speakers, but I'm talking about native speakers of accents that have [θ]).

    The differences between /θs/ and /s/ are imperceptible to most people

    You think that "faiths" and "face" sound the same to most people? In rapid conversation perhaps, but otherwise I seriously doubt it.

    Incidentally, your claim is even more implausible applied to Indian English, because the difference between [t̪s] and [s] is rather obvious.

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  46. "I keep asking for evidence for this claim, but I guess I'm wasting my breath."

    One wonders why you don't just stop breathing altogether, troll, because Bridget Smith (2009) says: "The dental fricative, in particular, is a very uncommon sound among the world's languages." The figure is roughly 7% actually.

    The percentage of languages that also allow word-final /θs/ is sure therefore to be much lower.

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  48. Now that we've properly established the conclusive rarity of /θs#/ in world languages, we might also quote: Carr, English phonetics and phonology - An introduction (1999), p.118: "Take the phrase the sixth month: in isolation, sixth would be [sɪksθ], but the dental fricative tends not to be pronounced at all in the phrase the sixth month, which is typically pronounced as [ðəsɪksmʌnθ]."

    So I assume that Vp is a bitter failed student of linguistics and that's why he trolls with his buddy Lipman. But does this make John Wells a bitter linguist too for refusing to moderate his own commentbox? Why the self-hate? As always, curious.

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  50. On the one hand, I'm engaged in a seemingly never-ending struggle with an incorrigible internet troll.

    On the other hand, I've just been placed in the same category of linguist as Professor Wells!

    I think I'll look on the bright side :)

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  51. Ad Glen Gordon

    thank you, I generally agree with you, if I, as a non-native speaker can arrogate to myself to right to agree or disagree with a native-speaker.

    One thing I would like to avoid is speaking 'too correctly' or hypercorrectly. Polish Catholic priests have the habit of pronouncing certain verbal endings in a way really no-one else pronounces them and which corresponds to the way they are written. This is as if someone said 'Wur-se-ster' for Worcester or Nor-witch for Norwich. But from what I can see months with a faintly articulated 'th' is not that horrible.

    Re Chinese I agree too, I know a tiny bit of such matters.

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  52. @ vp: An incorrigible internet troll, LIPMAN?!

    Then what about me?

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  53. Gordon, you're going to abandon this blog as you've abandoned so many others that don't meet your standards. So why not do it now, save yourself some heartburn, and the rest of us the effort of wading through your comments?

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  54. And now the personal attacks when the trolls have nothing to argue on the topic at hand... yawn.

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  55. Wojciech: "But from what I can see months with a faintly articulated 'th' is not that horrible."

    Yes, of course not. But in normal speech, what you *perceive* to be a "faintly articulated 'th'" in "months" is likely not even a true /θ/ but an assimilated /s/ or a hardened /t/ anyway.

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  56. Ad Glen Gordon

    OK, thank you. I imagine you're near right concerning the faintly articulated 'th'. Now many Americans (not only them certainly) say for instance 'ontse' instead of 'once' (wuns), or perhaps 'fentse' for 'fence' or such. Know what I mean? I guess you do... now, does this 'nts' differ and if yes, how, from the 'nths' as you described it above?

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  57. Glen

    Sorry, I didn't mean to put racist words in your mouth. Geek is a word I read or hear occasionally and rely on context or intonation to interpret in any but the broadest vaguest significance. Gook never reached that level of familiarity in the English-speaking contexts where I've lived. It was extraordinarily obscure, and I'd completely and totally forgotten that such a word had existed. I thought you'd written gook and it didn't bother me that it wasn't a familiar word.

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  58. Glen

    But in normal speech, what you *perceive* to be a "faintly articulated 'th'" in "months" is likely not even a true /θ/ but an assimilated /s/ or a hardened /t/ anyway.

    That's very sensible, Glen. I wish you'd said that in the first place.

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  59. Wojciech

    if you learn a foreign language you need one pronunciation standard or another to go by, to guide you

    The problem is with the word standard. It has acquired connotations of value judgements, and hence snobbery of various social and intellectual flavours. I think John may have found a way out by writing in terms of two reference accents. The British reference accent is much more an abstraction than what is described by Jones, Gimpson etc — although John uses the same term RP in his Accents of English and his dictionary.

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  60. Ad David Crosbie

    that is exactly why I do not like the very word 'standard'. But I think what you have in England, these various class distinctions --- and if you spoke the way she does (i.e. Eliza D.) instead of the way you do, you would be into selling flowers too, as Mr. 'Iggins sang --- is rather difficult to parallel in any other European language. You can speak for instance standard Italian without sounding snobby, or Russian, or German, in these idioms you sound artificial or 'genteel' at worst. This is also why I have never been eager to visit England, and be it only for a short time.

    In Polish, which is my belovèd mother tongue, it's rather your choice of words, sometimes your grammar, than your pronunciation that 'absolutely classifies you and make other Poles despise you' to quote Mr. Sw... sorry I meant to say Mr. 'Iggins. Maybe not despise you but sordda look down on you...

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  61. David Crosbie: "Gook never reached that level of familiarity in the English-speaking contexts where I've lived."

    That only confirms what we can already gather from your racist typo - that you live in a bubble of ignorance.

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  62. Wojciech: "now, does this 'nts' differ and if yes, how, from the 'nths' as you described it above?"

    Great question and in everyday speech it often doesn't differ at all. A contrast between "nts" (including once, fence, etc.), "nths" and "ns" is still realized without the awkward theta as follows: /nts/, /ns/ and /nz/ respectively. The distinction between /nts/ and /ns/ however is particularly subtle and they would tend to merge to /nts/.

    At any rate, I expect a qualified linguist to recognize that the differences between a dental fricative and a dental plosive particularly between two instances of /s/, as in "sixths", is utterly minutial. However phonotactics would favour /sts/ over /sθs/, surely.

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  63. Wojciech to "David Crosbie": "that is exactly why I do not like the very word 'standard'."

    Isn't it somewhat trollish of David Crosbie to have been the first to interfere with this topic to insist on *standards* only to reach the conclusion that they are a "problem"? It's as if he's trying to *appear* educated by solving the very problems he creates. What a grievous waste of life.

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  64. Ad David and Glen

    I think the word 'standard' has a normative connotation to it. That's the problem. A standard is not just a statistical norm, saying how millions of Joneses and Smiths actually do speak, but how they ought to speak (to be invited to dinner in polite company). Now in some countries, for instance France, there is a corresponding _Académie_ to legislate how the Joneses or Smiths (Duponts and Martineaus) ought to speak. In England --- it's an 'upper crust', afaik at least. But it seems to be psychologically easier, less humiliating if I may put the mattter thus, to look up to an _Académie_ for pronunciation models than to an upper crust....

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  65. Wojciech: "A standard is not just a statistical norm, [...]"

    No, a standard isn't necessarily a statistical norm at all as is fully proven in this case which bases itself solely on superficial morphology while ignoring both real-world practice and simple phonotactics.

    In fact, it's potentially racist to insist that foreign speakers meet such artificial standards that native speakers fail to live up to themselves. (This however is consistent with David Crosbie's exhibited racism above.)

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  66. Members of the community, please don't feed the troll any more — and it should be clear by now who the troll is. I confess to having done so in a moment of weakness, but really I know better.

    It's a pity, because he's got some good insights, but he can't tolerate even the slightest disagreement about any of his linguistic dogmatisms without turning on the venom, as you can see above. The same scenario has played itself out over and over on many linguistics-related blogs: the race card, the homophobia card, the "unscientific nonsense" card, the "you're the troll, not me" card, the typo card.

    The only thing we can do, unless John chooses to ban him, is wait for him to get tired of the game.

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  67. Very badly played, "John Cowan". Rather transparent.

    By following John's link, we witness the case of lonely Carlos Quiles, a deluded young fascist from Spain who believes his revival of a 6000-year-old protolanguage (additionally distorted by his own lack of knowledge on the subject) is going to be picked up by the European Union some day for some reason that escapes the minds of the few that bothered to even critique his outlandish notions.

    Siding with him and his Aryanesque pet project just makes you look like a more obvious ass than you already do. So go to bed, "John Cowan". You're really bad at trolling. Maybe you can stick to linguistics instead of childish heckling.

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