Friday, 30 December 2011

phonetic difficulty

Another interesting paper at the Łódź conference was given by Włodzimierz Sobkowiak (seen with me in this photograph, taken by Alice Henderson).

He started by showing us some of the appallingly improbable and stilted “English” sentences given in Polish textbooks of elementary English over the course of the twentieth century. For example, can you imagine a husband and wife ever saying this?
—Am I a man?
—Yes, you are a man, and I am a woman.

Equally improbable is that any native speaker, talking to other NSs, would come out with
The house is high.

or even
I am a teacher. I have many students.

More importantly, Sobkowiak demonstrated how many of the “elementary” example sentences in fact contain multiple points of phonetic difficulty for the Polish learners at whom they were aimed.

This is his dog.

In this simple example there are several tricky pronunciation features: the difficult consonant ð; the orthographic irregularity that final -s corresponds to s in this but to z in is and his; and not least the final g in dog (Polish devoices final obstruents).

Any sentence containing preconsonantal the is problematic — not only phonetically, with the non-Polish ð and ə, but also grammatically, since Polish has no articles.

An ideal sentence for absolute beginners, he thought, might be
I like music.
This maps happily onto pseudo-Polish aj lajk mjuzyk.

Sobkowiak has identified some 61 points of phonetic difficulty for Poles in the pronunciation of English words. Using these, he has devised a Phonetic Difficulty Index (PDI) and has analysed the PDI of thousands of vocabulary items presented to Polish learners accordingly.

He reckons that the phonetically most difficult vocabulary items he encountered were authoritarians ɔːˌθɒrɪˈteəriənz, light-coloured ˌlaɪtˈkʌləd, pearl fisheries ˈpɜːl ˌfɪʃəriz, and square-shouldered ˌskweəˈʃəʊldəd. Each of these, he says, scores 11 points of difficulty.

Learners from other language backgrounds would have similar though not identical problems. (For example, English θ is a difficult consonant for speakers of Polish, but not for speakers of Castilian Spanish, Standard Arabic, or Greek.) Phonetically aware language teachers could construct a PDI for any L1-L2 pair.
_ _ _

And a happy new year to all!

This blog will again be suspended for the whole of the month of January. Next posting: 1 February 2012.


  1. This is his dog.

    And the h. First of all, it's optionall at most, secondly, it's a difficult sound to pronounce for most Polish dialects and so, where most native speakers wouldn't pronounce it at all, it might come out with too much friction or as an outright x.

  2. I wonder about I have many students. What is the reasoning behind this being appallingly incorrect in depicting NS speech patterns? If you type it into Google's search box, with quotation marks, what you'll get is 14,500,000 results. Obviously not all by NSs, but even if it's a 1,000,000, it is still more than enough.


  3. In this simple example there are several tricky pronunciation features: the difficult consonant ð; the orthographic irregularity that final -s corresponds to s in this but to z in is and his; and not least the final g in dog (Polish devoices final obstruents).

    Yet, let us remember the exotic sound syndrome, illustrated on this blog several times. I think the difficulties here are grossly overestimated, English isn't a Native American / African language and all these 'difficulties' are quite trivial.

    If you don't want to pronounce it right, you'll find thousand and one excuse, if you do, you will find a way.

  4. Not sure why you ask me, but one would have to have a look in each case whether the uncontracted I have matches the register of the context. Also, at least in American English, most people would rather say I've got and a lot of, wouldn't they, though this again is a matter of the register.

    Concerning your second comment, how do you define 'exotic'? Rare to hear, or difficult to pronounce? In general, or for a native speaker of English? (Which English?)

  5. "For example, can you imagine a husband and wife ever saying this?

    —Am I a man?
    —Yes, you are a man, and I am a woman."

    Depending on what the purpose of a dialogue like that would be. If the point be practicing the use of words, then yes, I can very well imagine it. Am I that which the English call a 'man'? --- and so on. Be a little more imaginative, ladies and gentlemen, I pray.

    Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    While English is certainly not an African or Native American language, it _is_, phonetic- as well as phonemically and in many other regards, very exotic. All insular languages are, take Faroese for instance. It even has ejective consonants, as we have recently learnt in this blog. Or its vowels, all these cats-cuts-kits and what have you. Or the spelling---this vs. his or is, or see the famous poem 'Dear creature in creation' by a Dutchman.

    But you are right, Altesse --- where there is a will... but this is true of Amerindian as much as Xhoisan languages, too.

    The next (a generation or so's time) global language, putonghua, is very exotic too, if this be any consolation.

  6. "I am a teacher. I have many students."

    I for my part can't find any fault with this locution. (But then, I am anything but a NS.) Why is it unlikely for a NS of English to talk like that? Maybe because it's sordda bleak, boring, like "I am a plumber. I sometimes repair pipes' or such --- well, is it really so difficult to imagine a situation in which such can be said? Not every utterance, not even of an English NS, is reasonably expected to be a witticism. "I am a teacher, I godda lodda stoodents' does, however, look more exciting.

    I suppose Mr Sobkowiak was dissatisfied with the English instruction in Poland, something rightly to be dissatisfied with, and not just in Poland, but in this point he is overly critical.

  7. I've met a number of teachers who had lots of students, I'm sure, but I've never heard these sentences. Not even in a mystery film ("So you insist you didn't know the dead girl, professor?" "I'm (!) a teacher. I have many students." Thinking again, even that is awkward for several reasons.)

  8. Ad Lipman

    Maybe because when you meet someone who a. is a teacher and b. has lodda students, you already know that he is and has, so the thing needn't be said? But suppose that in a non-instructorial context someone (say, a plumber or a doctor or something else) takes to generalising like: 'all present-day students are [something or other]'. If you were the only teacher in this company would you not at least contemplate saying 'I am a teacher, have many students and cannot but (dis)agree with what you've just said'? No?

  9. I'm disappointed by the examples of 'appallingly improbable and stilted "English" sentences'. Where are the whoppers I was expecting? They aren't so hard to find. What about the classic Polish example 'nie ma drzew w tym lesie' (there are no trees in this forest)?

    If the above examples and their like fail the 'authenticity' test, then I'm afraid we're going to have to throw out all the beginners books ever written for any languages. The names of Harold Palmer and other legends in the history of English teaching will become mud!

  10. I was wondering about the methodology underlying the construction of a PDI. It seems to me that it wouldn't be nearly as easy as the last sentence implies, given the number of variables that might be involved. Does anyone know more about it?

  11. @Duchesse de Guermantes:

    I have as opposed to I've got is not vanishingly rare (in some dialect at least), but typically NSs use “many” only in interrogative/negative contexts (except in formal registers). Also, reported Google hit counts can easily be off even by orders of magnitude when more than a few thousands.

  12. Any comments on "The house is high."? The others I can imagine, say, in a beginning reading text book, or an EFL book written by an English speaker. "The house is high." I can't imagine being written by an English speaker even in those contexts.

  13. I feel a certain nostalgia for This is his dog.

    Well, actually what I remember not entirely unfondly is This is a dog. That's pretty much where we used to start when I began English teaching. We'd start with the physical, tangible — indeed, touched — This is a pen etc. The tangible and touched picture of entities such as a dog could be involved a little later.

    This disadvantages may be obvious, but there were significant advantages. The learning load was light: a set of nouns denoting objects (or people) that could be repeatedly seen and handled (concretely or as pictures) in the classroom. This allowed communicative practice — of a sort. Students could be guided to make numerous utterances which
    • were grammatical sentences
    • were minimally different in form
    • were nevertheless meaningfully distinct.
    • framed each noun in a meaningful noun phrase
    • contained only one noun phrase
    • contained as finite verb form the supremely useful is (or similar)
    • expressed the communicative function of naming

    This last called for contrivance on the part of the teacher to give the student a purpose in naming the thingy. But once you'd managed that, you'd set up an exercise in top down processing from communicative intent to phonetic substance.

    I have various objections to the I like music suggestion — one of which is that its design is bottom up.

    Of course, the communicative value of This is a dog is somewhat limited outside the teacher-manipulated classroom. I was persuaded with the rest of the profession to to turn rather to
    Pleased to meet you!
    What's your name?
    My name's Jan
    as a starting point. These illocutionary acts resemble communication outside the classroom, and can actually be used outside the classroom. A course that starts with socially useful items like this is said to have 'a high early-surrender value'. Even if you give up early, you've learned something useful.

    Unfortunately, quite soon in a progression based on social use, introductions become invaluable — they allow two students to interrogate each other and then report to a third. 'Unfortunately' because the obvious teaching item is This is Mona etc. And you phoneticians don't like ð — you want to delay anything with this.

    I'm afraid I don't agree. Language production should be top down even among beginner students. Let them mispronounce this at first — but work continually to help them to improve. What matters is not the simplicity of the phonetic articulation but the simplicity of the communicative goal and the simplicity of the abstract verbal form used to express it.

    Another thing I have against I like music is that it's rather a pointless thing to say. Liking music is a default mindset. It would be far more interesting for someone to say I don't like music — provided that it's true (or a lie that the speaker wants to tell). A much more usable utterance might be I love rock music or I quite like rap. Better still when taught at the same time as Do you like rock music?.

  14. Duchesse de Guermantes

    If you type it into Google's search box, with quotation marks, what you'll get is 14,500,000 results.

    If you use Advanced search to remove that, who, whose the number is reduced dramatically to 70,000. Even then, the hits are overwhelmingly for
    • clauses with a postmodifier
    — the point is to tell the reader what type of students
    • clauses with a place adverbial
    — the point is to tell the reader where the writer is active

    There seem to be extremely few examples of the clause
    I have many students, END OF CLAUSE
    I have many students. END OF SENTENCE
    and some of these are clearly written by non-native speakers. Others seem to be claiming special status or special needs.

    I haven't found any that write "I am a teacher" without saying what they teach. It just seems wrong to make a vague and general remark about your occupation, then go straight on to a detailed claim to be special.

  15. Ellen K

    Any comments on "The house is high."?

    1. It can't mean that the house is tall — only that it's built high above sea level.

    2. Even so, we only use it with a postmodifier
    high in the mountains
    high above the town
    high in the clouds

  16. A more restrictive google search "I am a teacher. I have many students gave a grand total of eight hits.

    • Two are from John's OP to this thread.
    • Two are from another blog and have the postmodfier
    I am a teacher. I have many students who pass through my door each day
    • One has a different postmodifier
    I am a teacher. I have many students waiting for me
    • Two are identical with an ungrammatical continuation
    Some of you know I am a teacher, I have many students (fans) all know what I do in my spare time.
    • The remaining hit is from a Chinese site. Clearly it's pedagogical but I don't know whether it's to be memorised or translated into Chinese
    I am a teacher. I have many students. They are from different cities. They have their own pets.

  17. @ Lipman
    >> at least in American English, most people would rather say I've got <<

    That's an odd remark, since -- to me -- saying "I've got" for "I have" is a marked characteristic of British, as opposed to American, English.

    Cue old joke:

    American to British woman: Do you have children?
    British woman: Only once every two to three years or so.

  18. HIGH

    1 a : rising or extending upward a great distance
    ▪ high mountains/peaks ▪ a high [=tall] building

    Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary

  19. Kevin, right. Brain malfunction.

  20. I personally can't say a high building but I accept that some speakers might. That doesn't alter my feeling that high as a predicative adjective in the 'tall' sense sounds very wrong indeed without a postmodifying phrase.

  21. Or premodifying: mile-high building sounds fine to me, though it's ambiguous whether it's actually that tall or merely in a high location like Denver.

  22. John Cowan

    Or premodifying: mile-high building sounds fine to me,

    And to me — but only because it's attributive. Change it to predicative and I have to say The building is a mile high.

  23. Re 'I am a teacher. I have many students'.

    Several things occur to me as a non-NS of English and non-Anglophile (i.e. no more Anglo- than Anything-Else-phile).

    The sentences appear correct grammatically. They may be unusual for various reasons, such as for instance that teachers with few students are rare and a lot of others. Their merit is that they represent a pattern, a matrix if you will, into which various things can be inserted: I am [something-or-other], I have many [something-or-other].

    My impression is that formerly, but maybe not just formerly, a common method of learning foreign languages in anglophone countries consisted in learning by rote diverse ready-made phrases, considered useful for whatever reason.

    For instance, I once saw an English Scottish-Gaelic conversation guide which under the heading 'family matters' contained an extremely complex marital-argument scheme, full of subtliest and meanest insinuations, formulated in hypotactic periods full of 'ghdh's , 'mh's, 'bh's and such-like, which the poor English learner of Scottish-Gaelic was clearly supposed to learn by heart and use in appropriate situations. To give another example, the world-famous American philosopher John Searle tells a story about an American commissioned officer during WWII, who, captured by Italians (when they were still allies of Germans) desires to make him believe to be a German commissioned officer. He had learnt German, but the ancient Anglo-Saxon way, and therefore does not know how to say 'Ich bin deutscher Offizier' (obviously, his teachers thought that too boring, too 'I am a teacher'-like, to be worth teaching) but instead knows by heart poems by Goethe in German, which he then recites to the benefit of the perplexed Italians (I can't remember if he convinced them).

    A highly educated Englishman (and proud of it) whom I once knew used to say that English did not really have grammatical rules or such, but went by how people spoke. 'People say [this or that]' would then be equivalent to [this or that] is grammatically correct. If this be true, which I really ignore, then, of course, if people don't say 'I am a teacher, I have many students' then it is not grammatically correct, not even as a class-room pattern.

    By contrast, in the English which I learnt like 40 years ago, 'this house is high' is not correct, at least if supposed to mean ' tall'. But that English is probably not the living language of any real anglophone country.

  24. David Crystal calls these "Postilion sentences" (in reference to the supposed example "My postilion has been struck by lightning".

  25. My point above was that 'I am a teacher; I have many students' _is not_ similar to the humorous phrases like 'my postilion has been struck by lightning'. It illustrates the pattern 'I am [this or that]', 'I have many [this or that]'---it would be possible to find fault with virtually _any_ example illustrating it: I am a stamp-collector; I have many stamps, or what have you.

  26. @Wojciech:

    You may want to read Crystal's article.

  27. Wojciech, vp

    I think there's something more than the postilion phenomenon.

    Postilions do exist — fictional ones, of course, played by actors in films. It's extremely unlikely that any film shoot will ever be organised in a thunderstorm. Still less likely that lighting will strike the actor playing the part of, postilion. However, if that ever does happen, it will not be unnatural for another actor to say My postilion has been struck by lightening! There's even a remote chance that the actor might preface it with Help!

    The postilion utterance is a natural thing to say in circumstances that are almost impossible in the real world. The utterance I am a teacher. I have many students. represents a much less improbable real world circumstance. It's the language that's so improbable.

    As Wojciech remarks, the sentences are grammatical. More than that, the two-sentence text is cohesive. I use this as a technical term meaning that there are continuities between the sentences:
    I in the first sentence refers to the same person as I in the second.
    • The present time of am is the same as the present time of have.
    Teacher and student belong to a semantic set.

    However, cohesion is not the same as coherence. As a technical term, this refers to the way the utterance hangs together as something that makes sense. Google supplied me with a text that obviously lacks coherence:

    I am a teacher. I have many students. They are from different cities. They have their own pets.

    It's not so obvious that the first two sentences alone lack coherence, but surely it's no coincidence that native speakers on this thread have expressed discomfort, and that a Google search finds hardly any examples — a quarter of them from this thread.

    I think I see several important language factors:

    1. I am a teacher depicts an occupation, not a practice. If you want to say that you teach, you say I teach.

    2. Many is subject to subtle restrictions in English

    3. Bearing [2] in mind, and substituting the quantifier, I have a lot of students makes it grotesquely superfluous to say I am a teacher.

    A more coherent way of expressing the information might be I teach a lot of students. Even so, it seems incomplete. If someone said it to you, you would probably expect the speaker to go on to make a generalisation — on the habit or attitudes or students, say. The only way I can see that information making for a coherent and complete utterance is something like I have a heavy teaching load or I am a busy teacher.

    These objections tend to fall away if you narrow down the references. A very simple example:
    I am a teacher of English. I have many Chinese students.

    This is less vital with the first sentence, as I am a teacher is such a plausible stand-alone utterance (depicting an occupation, as I've already said).

    But the second sentence really calls out for specification. We use have in English (when not speaking of possession) to denote attributes. The great Louis Alexander mocked syllabuses that included I have a nose. Have you a nose? etc. But there's nothing unnatural in I have a long nose. The second sentence treats students as pseudo-attributes — quantified with manyI have a nose says nothing about my nose. But I have many students from disadvantaged backgrounds or I have many talented students are utterances that we recognise as having a point to them.

  28. Wojciech

    Their merit is that they represent a pattern, a matrix if you will, into which various things can be inserted:

    Yes and no.

    Yes I am a teacher is a perfectly respectable matrix.

    But no, I have many students is a very undesirable matrix indeed.

    Many is the wrong quantifier. For beginners it should be taught only in negative or interrogative clauses.

    Have should be used in matrices with objects denoting:
    —— possessions I have twenty CD's
    —— relationships I have two brothers

    • A modifier (at its simplest an adjective) is needed for the slightly more elaborate matrix: have with semantically modified objects denoting
    —— possessions I have a new phone
    —— relationships I have some good friends
    —— attributes I have long hair

    And no, no, no, the two matrices don't make any sort of acceptable consolidated matrix for a two-sentence text.

  29. Ad David Crosby

    That 'many' be correct only in the context of interrogative and negative sentences is, I must confess, an intricacy of English grammar which I have heretofore known nothing about. A deplorable lacuna.

    Maybe I have just read the wrong books.

    In the translation of the Odyssey by one William Cowper, Esq., we read: (bk. XVI):

    ... and well beware that none
    hear thee beside; for I have many foes (full stop).

    (this is by Telemachus).

    Is that archaic? How would a present-day Telemachus say that? I've got a lot of enemies? Obviously, I am missing a link in this chain.

    What about: I am an attractive young woman and have many admirers? Or: I am a local guy and have many friends around here? Is that a kind of thing people in the UK say only rarely?

  30. Ad David Crosby

    My point is/was that 'I have many students' is a step towards 'I have many students from disadvantaged backgrounds' and so on, things you find OK. Besides, the way you guys describe English it starts appearing as a completely unlearnable language unless you have had the good fortune of being born and raised in an anglophone country. In other languages known to me (more or less) you can say 'I have many students' absolutely scotfree:

    U menya mnogo studentov (Russian)
    Jag har maanga studenter (Swedish)
    Ho molti studenti (Italian)
    Ich habe viele Studenten (German)
    Multos studentes habeo (Latin)
    J'ai beaucoup d'e'tudiants (French)

    and so on

    only in English it is somehow problematic.

  31. Ad vp

    I have read the Crystal article and while I admire his scholarship I must say it seems to me to go way to far, and even to reflect either a neurotic personality or social tendencies (towards a censorship of thought) which I disapprove. That we should not be taught such sentences as 'what's the time' or 'how old are you' or 'I can see a bus' or such because they are not said, (or said with some special purpose, some special tone of voice and so on)---my goodness, could one be serious in advancing such views? Where shall we all end up with that? Where does that lead to? Shall we say only those things which 'the society' thinks we are supposed to say, such as 'how kind of you to let me come' or 'the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain'? (I hope I have misunderstood something, may I hope so?) Such linguistic strait-jacked represses all originality of thought and will turn us into robots reciting their roles, super-hyper-conformists, dummies pulled about by some big brother or whomever.

  32. Wojciech

    That 'many' be correct only in the context of interrogative and negative sentences is, I must confess, an intricacy of English grammar which I have heretofore known nothing about.

    That's a gross oversimplification — but one I make quite unashamedly when it comes to teaching beginners. It's like the very similar oversimplification that we use some students in affirmative clauses and any students in negative and interrogative clauses.

    Several people have, I think, noted on this thread that a lot of students is more natural than many students.

    So yes, Cowper's for I have many foes is archaic. Apart from many both the noun foe and the use of for as a conjunction would be rare outside verse or very old-fashioned prose. And I have is on the formal side of neutral style. So yes again, I've got a lot of enemies is more natural, if perhaps a tad too colloquial for the context.

    The point is that (except in negative and interrogative clauses) many is problematic. I have many enemies is relatively OK, but I have many friends sounds terrible.

    U menya mnogo studentov

    No word here corresponding to have. You can't say Я имею много студентов. I've already offered I teach a lot of students, which also conveys the same information without using have. It sounds OK to say I teach many students who... but for me I teach many students is not much better than I have many students.

    I haven't entirely thought it through, but I think there may be a general tendency for many students to mean 'a relatively large number'. But У меня много студентов deems to denote a number which is large in absolute terms. By contrast, I teach many students who come from disadvantaged background implies for me that the number is large relative to my other students, or relative to the general population of students.

    This principle sort-of works for:

    Many authorities agree...
    Many families are feeling pressured
    Many reasons have been suggested ...

    For me, there's at least an implicit possibility of other authorities, other families, other reasons. Certainly, many adds a note of contrast.

  33. Wojciech

    What about: I am an attractive young woman and have many admirers? Or: I am a local guy and have many friends around here? Is that a kind of thing people in the UK say only rarely?

    Rarely indeed — perhaps never. You'd be more likely to hear;

    I'm still not bad looking and a lot of guys fancy me
    This is where I live/come from — so I've got a lot of friends here

  34. Wojciech

    I think you've missed the point of the Crystal article. His immediate concern is with children with language disorders in their mother tongue. There are chunks of language that they failed to learn effortlessly around the age of two — so now several years on they have to be helped by explicit and planned teaching.

    In a less extreme form, the pitfalls Crystal identifies are present in the foreign language classroom for beginners with normal ability in their mother tongue. This was more of a problem when young beginners were taught by largely structural pattern drilling. Nowadays, most language classrooms for children have a large element of play and a large element of ready-to-use language.

    The more mature the student, the more likely that he or she will make an intuitive connection between the structural-practising sentences of the classroom and the application to utterances made in the real world. But at early beginner stage, even adult students may have a little difficulty making the connection. And 'young adult' (usually=teenager) students tend to be demotivated by language with no obvious practical application.

  35. Ad David Crosby

    'You'd be more likely to hear;

    I'm still not bad looking and a lot of guys fancy me
    This is where I live/come from — so I've got a lot of friends here'

    OK, this is an English which I simply don't know, never having lived amongst 'ordinary' English or some other anglophone people. I trust you. But tell me: Are the phrases above not stylistically coloured, like for instance colloquial, 'throw-away' or something like that? And are the phrases I proposed --- 'I am an attractive girl and I have many admirers' --- not stylistically neutral, while conveying the same meaning? The problem is,for foreign learners of a language who do not intend to settle down amongst the corresponding peoples, become members of the corresponding society and so on, it is very important to speak and write stylistically neutrally, not veering towards the colloquial or the (overly) literary or anything else? You certainly know what I mean.

    Re 'many'. Am I to understand that 'a lot of' is _the_ English counterpart of such words as 'mnogo' (RU), 'beaucoup' (F), 'viele' (D) or 'molti' (I) or 'muchos' (E) or (and so on)? I have always thought that 'a lot of' is slightly colloquial (while 'numerous' is slighly (too) literary), while 'many' is neutral. Been wrong?

  36. Ad David Crosby

    Sorry David: the relevant _locus_ in the Odyssey is XIV, v. 168. Can you check in a modern English translation? (I have no access to such.) Also, Psalm III, v. 1. An 'English Standard Version' (whatever it be) says: 'how many are my foes!' while a 'New Living Translation' (whatever it be) goes 'I have so many enemies'.

    The stuff with 'some' and 'any' (Have(n't) you seen any antilopes around here? Yes I have seen some) was a hard-and-fast rule which I learnt when I was learning English many (gosh, I am becoming self-conscious while using this word) years ago. The teachers punished those who failed to learn it.

  37. Ad David Crosby

    My Russian is not so good unfortunately, but I have learned at school that to the Polish verb 'mieć' (English 'to have', Latin 'habere', German 'haben') in Russian corresponds the construction "u + the subject in the genitive case + byt' (=to be)". 'U' is without a direct counterpart in English, but in French it's 'chez', in German 'bei', in Italian 'da', in Danish-Swedish-Norwegian 'hos', in Dutch 'bij'. In the Iberian tongues I dunno.

    It has always been a riddle to me what the Russian for 'at my place there is..' is; in Polish it would be 'u mnie jest...', but the isomorphic Russian constru tion 'u menya est'...' means 'I have...'

  38. Wojciech: the Russian for "at my place there is" would be "у меня дома есть", if I'm not mistaken.

  39. But this would be homophonous/homographic with: 'I have at my home...' I am thinking about a situation where, for example, something that is not 'my' property is stored, deposited at 'my' home, without being 'had' (owned) by 'myself'. Maybe given the Soviet education, which was very anti-private-property, contemporary Russians seldom have a need to distinguish. But the pre-Leninist Russians?

  40. Wojciech

    1. Your Odyssey reference is wrong. For a start, Telemachus doesn't appear, let alone speak, in Book XIV. Please try again.

    2 a. The problem with I am an attractive young woman is the first person. She is an attractive your woman is stylistically neutral.

    2 b. However admirer is a very old-fashioned word. (In this sense, that is. It's perfectly OK to say I am a great admirer of Nelson Mandela.)

    2 c. You can use a less colloquial verb than fancy if you can think of one, but I can't. Not unless you alter the previous sentence:
    She's a good looking your woman and a lot of young men are attracted by her. I suppose it depends on what you mean admirer to imply; under one reading
    ...and a lot of young men dance attendance on her.

    3. Many is a possible translation of those other words ... up to a point. I believe those others are stylistically neutral, but many can be very marked in certain contexts. For example:
    She threw a party and many people came
    is such a marked oddity that it makes me infer that the speaker's point is that certain people didn't come.

    4. There's a paper with the title Some reasons why there aren't any some and any rules. Yes, there are no problems with the sort of sentences taught in early stages. But eventually you come to oddities like:
    Would you like some tea?
    Would you like any tea?

    The former is much more inviting — the latter could even be a bit rude.

    5. Russian У don't only mean what chez and the others mean. In French, I would, say the nearest equivalent is à.

    One way round the problem in English is to use with.
    I'm a teacher with many students who ...
    I'm a local boy with many friends here

    Again, it's a question of stylistic neutrality. Have was once neutral in pretty well any context. It's now very marked
    • in questions Have you a sister?
    • in negatives I haven't a sister
    In affirmative sentences it's in competition with 've/'s got. Sometimes, but not always, the latter sounds more natural.

  41. David Crosby,

    sorry, it is book sixteen after all, v. 168.

    Yes I know 'admirer' is an old-fashion word in the sense intended.

    ad 2.c. Sorry, I don't know such expression. I understand them when I see them, but only then and so. Me lacketh a lot of experience of sharing a life with anglophone persons, their 'real' lives, including their love-life and stuff, and the linguistic coppice thereof.

    ad. 3. This goes far beyond any linguistic competence in English I have ever acquired and nay, any I shall ever acquire, I fear. But I have learnt something from you, thank you.

    ad 4. This, by contrast, I know and understand, including the rudeness in the 'any' part. But maybe the 'any' comes from an anticipated negative answer, don't you think so? Like challenging someone by eliciting from him a refusal a` contre-coeur, ... something like this? No?

    ad 5. Yes, you're right. My trouble is that I am not sure how to say: this is at my place, a` moi, or such, (yet I do not have it in any stronger sense of 'have').

    When they were teaching me English, they 'beat' me to say 'Have you a cigarette' or so, I have internalised it so much that whenever I am extremely tired or otherwise in bad shape, and with age this happens all the more frequently, I say 'have you' or 'has he' instead of 'do you have' or 'does he have'. Of course only when I am otherwise forced to speak English, and when 'have' is not an auxiliary.

  42. Lukas

    у меня дома есть

    According to my wife, a native Russian speaker, that would do for actual personal possessions. But for 'there is at home' she would simply say у меня or more likely у нас. Дома is only necessary if the possession could be anywhere else. Есть is usually unnecessary.


    something that is not 'my' property is stored, deposited at 'my' home, without being 'had' (owned) by 'myself'

    Elena says that's у нас 'at our place'. If there was any possibility that the property might be a temporary loan she would use it even for someone living alone. Otherwise she could use у меня 'at my place'.

    For the possessive meaning of у меня, English can often use on me.

  43. Thank you.

    So what's the default way, the stylistically neutral way of saying: u menya mnogo studentov? Suppose someone desired to reason like this: I have many students (sorry); but few are like Tom, for Tom is [such-and-such]....' or: I have many students (sorry), but few from amongst them are really interested in their subject. Or such-like. There _must_, I'd bet, even in English, be a default way of expressing a thought like 'mihi numerosi studentes sunt'. I am now totally perplexed and completely at a loss.

  44. Wojciech

    book sixteen after all, v. 168.

    In the text I'm able to consult, that line is part of a speech by Athene to Telemachus. if you really want me to look up some translations, you'll have to give me the context and some co-text.

  45. Wojciech

    So what's the default way, the stylistically neutral way of saying: u menya mnogo studentov?

    I think I've twice suggested:

    I teach a lot of students

    It may not be right for every context, but it's fine for

    I teach a lot of students but there aren't many like Tom, because (not for) he's [such-and-such]....'
    I teach a lot of students but not many of them are really interested in their subject.

    Personally, I'd be tempted to say

    I do teach a lot of students but ...

  46. Wojciech

    I teach a lot of students but not many of them are really interested in their subject.

    I could retain the word few by saying

    but only a few of them are really interested in their subject.

  47. Try Odyssey 16. 134:

    πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐμοὶ κακὰ μηχανόωνται.

  48. πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐμοὶ κακὰ μηχανόωνται.

    There are plenty of them eager to do me a mischief.

    Samuel Butler
    for there are many who are plotting mischief against me.

    Poetry in translation
    since many of them are hostile to me.

    Ian Johnston
    for many of them
    are planning nasty things against me.

    Alexander Pope
    for numerous are my foes,

    Butcher and Lang
    for there be many that devise mischief against me.

  49. Thank you. The line numbering in Cowper, Esq., was out of phase with Homer's, obviously. Anyway, polloi gar emoi polla kaka mechanoontai. From now on, I shall say: 'for numerous are those whom I teach'... Englische Sprache --- swere Spraak. Btw --- which of the above translations is most to your gusto?

  50. Wojciech

    Btw --- which of the above translations is most to your gusto?

    The E.V. Rieu (Penguin) translation does two things I approve of:

    1. It omits for

    2. It uses plenty

    To be fair, the next three are aiming for a more formal style. However, I think they're less successful in their style than Rieu is in his. Pope is, of course, eighteenth century verse. Butcher & Lang published in 1879 but aimed for an extremely archaic style.

  51. David Crosby

    why should omitting 'for' be a merit? The Greek has 'gar', which is for, for all ends and purposes, innit?

  52. Wojciech

    1. For as a conjunction is archaic. Not absolutely impossible in contemporary English but stylistically very marked.

    2. Classical Greek is full little links — notable 'particles' like the infamous τε, γε, δε which can be translated into English adverbs, but which make the translation very heavy-handed. English prose prefers to leave these logical links implicit.

    The way young people use like as a discourse marker could be translated into other languages, but the result would be ridiculous. I don't think anybody has found a way of translating it into other dialects of English.

    If γαρ represents anything important,it can be translated with because, since, seeing that etc. It has to be a conjunction — like for but not so archaic. A syntactically closer English expression might be you see or after all, but I don't think either would work in this context.

  53. Ad David Crosby

    I knew that 'for' was archaic, but not that it was _that_ archaic.

    I thought it was used when what followed it was a clause signifying a circumstance fairly well known to be the reason for what preceded it.

    For instance:

    He died, for he was aged;

    but not: He died at 24, for he suffered from a fatal ailment (unless from the context it can be gathered that his suffering from the ailment was somehow to be expected, in his case, at the age of twenty-four).

    In this respect, 'for' as I knew it was between 'since' and 'because': what follows 'since' is an obvious---sometimes an all too obvious---explanation for what precedes it, and the first phrase could have been:

    He died, since he was aged (maybe present-day Anglophones don't say 'aged' in the absolute sense, only 'aged 31 or whatever', or such...I ignore).

    In Swedish and I suspect also in the cognate Scandinavian languages they often say 'för' ('for') in the sense of 'because', for instance I remember from my childhood a Swedish song where they sang: 'för han visste' (since/because he knew) [something or other, I forget what, I think the song was about an adventurer or someone like that]

    Re particles: German, which I know better than English, is full of such particles: 'denn', 'doch', 'wohl' and so on. In Polish we have -że or -ż, etymologically cognate with the Greek 'ge', adding emphasis to questions. Much as the German 'denn'.

    Make sure you are not heard by strangers, seeing that quite a few are eager to do a mischief to me?

    I keep reading the wrong texts:

    Flesh and blood is weak and frail
    Susceptible to nervous shock
    While the true Church can never fail
    For [not: seeing that, since, because, you see, much less: like] it is based upon a rock.

    (T. S. Eliot).

    I have next to no contacts with young Britons whatever, yet methinks sometimes that in certain contexts their 'like' signals a quotation or quasi-quotation, for instance: Like you think I am dumb? (they probably don't say 'dumb', as this is an Americanism, but I don't know what they say instead). Is this quite wrong?

  54. Wojciech

    I would say that literary for, like Greek γαρ, marks (or used to mark) an explanation for what the speaker is saying (or the writer writing).

    I say this because there are plenty of them eager to do me a mischief.
    There are plenty of them eager to do me a mischief, you know.
    You see, there are plenty of them eager to do me a mischief.

    He died. He was very old, you know.
    He died. You see, he was very old.

    ... the true Church can never fail. It's based upon a rock, you know.
    ... the true Church can never fail. You see, it's based upon a rock.

    And no, I couldn't possibly say:

    He died, for he was aged.

    A literary use that doesn't sound too archaic is this pattern for explaining the identity of someone previously unnamed:

    ... just then a wager-boat flashed into view, the rower—a short, stout figure—splashing badly and rolling a good deal, but working his hardest. The Rat stood up and hailed him, but Toad—for it was he—shook his head and settled sternly to his work.

    ... And so it might have been were it not for a short man, swathed in saffron robes and a black felt hat waving his arms around and shouting: "Terrorism!"
    Muammar Gaddafi - for it was he - grabbed his 15 minutes of fame at the UN building in New York today and ran with it.

  55. Interesting, David. Since I live alone it would never have crossed my mind to refer to my place as у нас! But then Russophones have rarely lived alone.

    What does your wife (if I may probe her a little more) think about constructions such as у меня лежит/стоит/висит/... Would one hear those?

  56. Ad David Crosby

    What is wrong with: 'he died, for he was aged'? 'He died---he was aged, y'know'? Are these not equivalent, except that the first is archaic/literary?

  57. I don't think "for" is archaic. Certainly formal, and hardly used in spoken language, but quite normal in many written registers and in speeches, isn't it?

  58. Ad Lipman

    I think David Crosby desires---by urging his archaism point---to express the idea that 'for', while it now is fine in formal registers, once was, but is no longer, correct in nonformal contexts as well. In this sense 'notwithstanding' is not---presumably---archaic, for no-one ever really _said_ 'notwithstanding'.

  59. Lukas

    у меня лежит/стоит/висит/... Would one hear those?

    Lena says yes. With or without дома.

  60. Lipman

    quite normal in many written registers and in speeches, isn't it?

    I can't think of many registers — and hardly any that I would write or speak in. I might just slip into for it was he or for such was the received wisdom, but it would be a conscious mannerism. A cliché, in fact, but I'm not ashamed to use the odd cliché. Could explanatory for be an ironic postmodernist thing?

    An afterthought: the same goes for rhetorical questions such as for which of us has never been tempted...? Po-mo and mannered, but possible.

    My first instinct was to call explanatory for 'archaic' because I associate it with old texts and with clunky translations of Greek and Latin. In these texts one doesn't feel that the writer sees it as mannered.

  61. Dear All;

    I beg your pardon for the misuse of 'for'; now on reflection I seem to see that it was an interference from Swedish, which I learnt as a very young human being. English is anything but an easy language, alas. I know manuals with titles like 'Le francais est facil', 'El espanol es facil' and such-like, but I do not know, nor am I ever likely to learn about, a manual with a title like 'English is easy'. Small wonder not English, but bad English---such as mine---has become the global tongue, a modern Latin.

    concerning your ladro-ladrone question, I have submitted a hypothesis on your correlative blog site]

  62. There's an example of 'for' in an Economist editorial this week:

    The politicians and regulators have all sorts of excuses. Abolishing the 50% tax rate is now politically dangerous. Immigrants are unpopular. And, they maintain, the risks of attacking the City are small, for it has formidable advantages that are hard to replicate quickly.

  63. Steve

    for it has formidable advantages that are hard to replicate quickly

    Not a register that many of us use. It's not just that its so formal — it's the way it combines formality with suasion. An argument supported by belt and braces: gravity and delayed explanation.

    I think it's significant that there is no sense of individual authorship; the 'writer' is The Economist.

  64. I'd like to return to the incriminated phrase 'I am a teacher; I teach many students'. For all it defects, it had one advantage: in it, it was clear what the 'topic' ('theme', 'logical subject') thereof was. As far as I am concerned, my profession is that of a teacher. As far as the quantity of those I teach is concerned, it is high. (In Japanese or Korean, they would probably express it in this way.) Whereas in 'I teach a lot of students', only the tone of voice, the emphasis on 'teach' or 'a lot of' indicates the topic.

    Using---not too nefariously, as I hope---the temporal lacuna in Mr. Wells' blog, I'd like to ask you whether you would know of a similar blog or discussion forum concerning, not the phonetics, but the graphemics of various languages and scripts. Why are things spelt in this or that way? An analogous to Mr. Wells' and certainly partly overlapping with it, as far as the choice of topics is concerned.

    For instance, it has struck many (ahem...) that in English, there are but few words terminating in a 'v' (vee). Actually, the only four I can _ex promptu_ think of are these, all of them denoting some kind of a dubious social status:

    spiv (a black market speculator, especially during WWII);
    perv (a gentleman given to questionable sexual practices);
    chav (a kind of a British youngster);
    Slav (a semi-barbarous tribesman of Eastern Europe).

    of the last, the great Danish English-scholar Jespersen says that it be not a 'true English word' (why? he doesn't say).

    It would interest me what the origin (_sprachgeschichtlich_ or otherwise) of this scarcity could be.

    There are, to be sure, words ending in a [v] which could be spelt with a 'vee' at the end, but are not, and are spelt in a way suggesting a different pronunciation, e.g.

    live (as a verb), spelt as if pronounced like 'live' (as an adjecive/adverb);

    love (spelt as if it was pronounced 'loave'(s))
    ... sometimes spelt 'luv', I suppose as an 'eye-dialect' of undereducated classes.

    dove (the bird), spelt as if it was pronounced like 'dove' (dived, past tense of 'dive', used chiefly in the US, I am told)

    glove, move, ... and so on, there are lots of them.

  65. Wojciech

    You could try sending queries to David Crystal who has a blog at at DCBLOG. if he finds a question interesting, and if he isn't too busy, he may post about it on the blog.

    I suspect many of the -ve spellings date from a time when v and z sounds were effectively intervocalic variants of f and s sounds. I also suspect that dropping a final -e when it no longer represented a sound was something to be avoided when u and v were the same letter.

    Besides, may of these spellings come from French, which has the same restriction. In fact, I can't think of any European language that allows final -v spelling — not the Romance, Germanic and Catholic Slavic ones. I suspect it stems from the time when all literate Europeans (apart from the Orthodox nations) also wrote Latin.

    We couldn't spell Slav with a final -e because there was already a word with that spelling (etymologically derived, but not consciously associated any more).

    Most of the other words are abbreviations — to which I would add bruv (brother) and lav (lavatory). Even chav seems to be abbreviated from a Romany-English word. And derv is an acronym — or rather an acronym of the diesel engine road vehicle for which it serves as fuel.

    There's also the respelling luv to distinguish a routine friendly appellation from an object of deep affection. Oh yes, and the related lurv (not 'real' love but what they sing about in pop songs) — but some spell this as lurve.

  66. Ad David

    Thank you. The same Jespersen---like our John him too a lover of Esperanto, which he even reformed to call it 'Jesperanto'---has given another explanation, but I unfortunately forget what it was. 'lurv' is, I seem to have read, a rendition of what the US pronunciation, with a high STRUT, seems to be to S. English ears. For 'Slav' the explanation (why it exists) is obvious. Strangely, 'chav', 'perv' and 'spiv' all have a derogatory untertone to'em, is that not true ov 'bruv', too (I don't know this word at all)?

    Re Catholic Slavs: 'Kde_domov_můj' (where is my home)? is the anthem of the Czechs---my knowledge of Czech being nil, I can't analyse this word morphologically, except that it seems to contain the respectable, millenia-old Indo-European particle 'dom', meaning 'house' or some such, and believed to be contained in the English 'timber' as well. In Slovak, -ov seems to be the universal genetive-plural ending, corresponding to the Polish -ów (we don't use the letter 'v' at all) and the Czech -ů (NOT contained in the name of the composer Bohuslav Martinů). And of course all the Slavic names in -slav, in Jugoslavia there were persons called even 'Jugoslav Something-or-Other', poor creatures today. In Polish -sław, e. g. Mieczysław, Mirosław, Władysław, and so on.

    In Scandinavian, though, finals -v's are quite frequent, e. g. 'lov' (permission), 'kniv' (knife), 'tjuv' (thief), 'djaerv' (bold) and many others, pronounced [-v], Swedish does not devocalise finals, here it is rather like English than like German. In Danish, too, 'lov' (law), pronounced 'low'. In Danish, the final 'v' after a vowel letter is always a 'w', non-core part of a diphthong, of which this language has a lot (not to say: many).

  67. Wojciech

    I didn't know about Scandinavian spelling (though I should have remembered Liv Ullmann), and I'd forgotten about Czech It remains true that Polish and other languages chose W rather than V.

    It might be interesting to see when the spelling was standardised of those languages that do allow final -v. Considerably later than English, I suspect.

  68. In medieval Czech final -v did occur, see e. g.,

    otherwise -u to denote the same phoneme. In Polish final w is known as early as XIV c., Biblia Królowej Zofii, for instance.

    The letter 'w' is now employed by Polish, Sorbian, German, Frisian, Dutch, Welsh (Irish? I dunno). Strangely, all languages in geographic contigu- and -nuity... . In medieval Czech, the letter was employed too, sometimes to denote the syllable 'vu' (voo). (==uu). Other than that, they use the latter for a latinisation of Japanese, Corean, Chinese, and maybe Navajo and a number of others.

    The old Scandinavians most often spelt 'lif', or 'liff', or 'lifv' for to-day's 'liv' (life). But I don't know if this expressed an Old voiceless pronunciation; could be, to-day's is voiced, in any case.

    In German, there are various Gallicisms and Latinisms: 'brav' (well-behaved, not brave), 'konservativ', etc. How they were spelt earlier I ignore. Plus 'Luv' or windward side, from the Dutch 'loef', whether spelt -f or -v in German makes no difference as both letters will be read [f] in that language.

    If the English spelling has ever become standarised... Well, in a sense yes, and yet in a sense no, if you compare it with a highly standarised spelling like to-day's Czech, or Dutch, or Finnish. As one Dutchman--called Trinite', or some such---once wrote: 'this will make you, Suzy, busy, till your head grows hot and dizzy. Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear, so shall I'...

  69. Wojciech

    Standardised needn't mean 'systematic'.

  70. David Crosby

    No, it needn't... . 'busy' is spelt with a Western dialect 'u', there is a norm, prescription, to the effect that this word (probably one of the very few) should be written this way, and that is it. One-word-standard,so to speak. But a spelling like Dutch or Czech or Finnish is not just a series of one-word norms, it is underlain by a unifying thought, a certain set of, yes, systematic considerations... . In these languages, it is easier, or even absolutely easy, to say why words are spelt like this or that: you see, there is a general rule stating that... . Whereas in English, quite often the only answer is 'because they _are_ spelt like this', that is it.

    Polish spelling is not very consistent, either, it is largely historical, in fact, Old Czech spelling was like it. But while it is not always easy in the sound-to-writing direction, it is, maybe not easy but consistent in the opposite direction, i. e. when you see a word and know the rules, there is not much chance that you could mispronounce it.

  71. The letter 'w' is now employed by Polish, Sorbian, German, Frisian, Dutch, Welsh (Irish? I dunno).

    Right for the first six. However, the first three use it for /v/, whereas the next three use it for either /w/ or another labial sound, like English. No w in Irish at all.

    The avoidance of final -v in English is directly tied to the ambiguity of u and v when English spelling was established. Final u/v always represented a vowel, as in the name Lou (hypocoristic for Louis(e)), whereas u/v followed by a vowel always represented a consonant, as in Loue (modern love).

  72. Ad John Cowan

    thank you. I forgot English in my list of w-employing languages. A small correction: in Dutch and partly German 'w' stands for an approximant (bilabial or labial-dental), whereas in Sorbian it is mostly like in English. Only in Frisian (yes!) and Polish it is a true 'v'. In Welsh, it often has the vocalic value of 'oo',for instance 'trwch' (trookh), broken, wicked, or 'twrch', hog, boar. In ancient Welsh legends there was a wicked boar called Twrch Trwyth, meaning 'The boar Trwyth's' or some such; hunting this boar was a favourite passtime of ancient Welsh heroes.

    I once was struck by the continuity and contiguity of the areas in which this character is used, whatever its phonological value.

    Re your explanation of the avoidance of -v final, it seems to stand to reason and I think I recollect vaguely that the great Jespersen the Dane said something like that too. David Crosby would be concord too, methinks.

    The ancient Scandinavians relished to used 'ff' or 'fv' or just 'f' to render a final '-v', who knows if for the same reason, maybe. They spelt 'lif(f)' where they today spell 'liv' (life); the expedient did not occur to the ancient English, maybe because they were in the habit of employing a mute '-e' as a multi-function device. But the ancient Western Slavs had no problem with either final -v or -w, frequent in diverse endings in their vernaculars.

  73. Wojciech

    David Crosby would be concord too, methinks.

    I would indeed. I had meant to include it in my own posting but got carried away with the other points. Anyway, I don't think it's the clincher among the factors; not many words end in letter U either.

  74. It would interest me if the English still say 'et' for 'ate',or if they have already accepted the American (spelling-?) pronunciation 'ayt'? George et late, or George ayt late? I recommend 'et' to my students (not English students, but we read various stuff in English and other languages) but I don't want to teach antiquated English to them.

    As Swift's Lintot says:

    I keep no antiquated stuff
    But spick and span I have enough

    Would that be true...

  75. John must have a poll for it. I still say ɛt.

  76. Yeah, the poll is there, with 55% in favour of /et/, and 45% in favour of /eɪt/ overall. In the "younger" age group, /eɪt/ scores about 65%.

    I think this is a rather minor point, and their pronunciation will mostly be Polglish or Xglish anyway, so there's no need to worry. For and other stuff may be more worthy of attention...

    1. Part of the problem is why one be against 'antiquated stuff'. I quoted the above two-liner from the Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift by Swift ironically, see the context in which it is embedded.

      Antiquated pronounciation just impedes communication, suppose someone talked like before the Great Vowel Shift, or such-like. Unless you want to read Chaucer aloud there is no use for it. ('Hwan that aprillay with his shawres sawtay..')

      Antiquated grammar and vocabulary, by contrast, is of much use, maybe not active use, but passive use, for instance in reading older texts (with comprehension), which in great many cases are more interesting and more worth-while than more recent texts. Seen from this point of view, 'for' in the sense of 'because' albeit archaic or sumpin' is by all means worth learning, if only to be understood, not to be said or written.

  77. But fighting Polglish: that is where my heart is at (to use the style of Confucius' Analects).

  78. Wojciech

    There are no models from which anybody could unwittingly learn 'antiquated pronunciation'. There are, to be sure, old courses with 78rpm records that give old fashioned models, and there are peoples still teaching who learned from these courses. But an old fashioned accent is perfectly comprehensible and — for the most part — perfectly acceptable and stylistically unmarked.

    The exceptions to this generalisation are all to do with English of England snobbishness and more general anti-snobbishness among English speakers. A handful of pronunciation features are associated with the 'upper classes' and a self-defined cultural elite.

    Speakers with these features in their accent are perceives as quite rare — In reality they are extremely rare. This rarity means that very few non-native speakers use them as models.

    On the whole, a foreigner speaking Standard English with an old fashioned accent commands admiration rather than resentment.

    In any case, there's no way eɪt and ɛt can be seen as 'old fashioned' or 'innovating' in English as a whole — we can only identify their status in the chronology of a particular accent. As long as ɛt is common in one or more commonly heard accents, then it won't be something that 'impedes communication'.

    PS I say ɛt.

  79. I'm afraid I have to disagree, David.

    That you choose to call the attitudes "(anti-)snobbishness" does not change the fact that they're an integral part of the reality in the UK, and in any country and any language, for that matter.

    If a 20-year-old student comes back from England complaining that he was mocked for sounding like a WWII Royal Navy admiral (as I reported in a comment to this post), his teachers have done him a disservice, to put it very mildly. Very certainly no admiration there.

    It's almost tantamount to teaching your students that sit is pronounced /ʃɪt/. If I say that the resulting offence, teasing, ridicule or whatever is a reflection of the bigotry of the local population in an English-speaking country doesn't matter. The attitude is a social fact; it has evolved over centuries and it won't go away because I think it's "(anti-)snobbish".

    Or maybe the for and many you have argued against above is a better example.

    A teacher should be aware of this kind of thing. If they aren't, they should get an update. If they are and still teach this, they are deliberately mischievous, and should change professions tout de suite.

    And the fact that there are very few speakers in the UK (or wherever else) who have these kinds of features is irrelevant. The pronunciations live on in non-native teachers outside of the UK, and that's where they get disseminated.

  80. David Crosby,

    Well, I sometimes worry that _I_ am one of those models ... (from which they can pick up old-fashioned pronunciation and not just pronunciation). For instance, if I say 'sure' and 'pure' with a 'oo'-vowel, not 'shaw' and 'paw'. Or if I say 'et', or 'forid' (instead of 'fawhed', forehead), or 'huzzif' instead of 'housewife' for the sewing contraptions caddy. Also, my STRUT- and my TRAP-vowels are still clearly distinct, not like in today's southern Englishes. In a word, I cultivate (if this be the word for it) the accent that I was taught like 40 years ago and more, certainly not up-to-date in present-day Britain. I have practically never been in Britain, either, and the British accents I have heard in live speech for longer periods of time were either too conservative or too local ('boot' for 'but') to get me an update, as Wjarek suggested. I have been in the US, but was too old to pick up the accent.

    I don't really have to change profession as English-teaching is not my profession, but since I have to read various things in English with my students I do teach them English in a fashion.

    Re being mocked: I think this is in part a matter of what you are saying, if you say pretentious things in a pretentious accent you stand all the higher a chance of getting mocked. But maybe the poor boy said no pretensions things, only that he was not a Royal Navy Admiral of WWII.

  81. Wjarek

    If a 20-year old student sounds like an ancient admiral, anybody who mocks him will be doing so on grounds of age, not social class. And there's a difference between laughing at an incongruous accent and despising the speaker.

    I don't see how you can accuse the teachers of 'doing him a disservice'. If he acquired the accent from them, it was by copying them — and they in tern must have copied their accent from a previous generation of teachers. They were hardly in a position to help themselves. This, I predict, will cease to happen in future — classrooms and the world outside classrooms are filled with the models of native speakers, recorded and in the flesh.

    Apart from old-fashioned accents, there's the much more restricted phenomenon of old-fashioned pronunciations of particular words. Wojciech mentions ˈfɔrɪd (forehead) to which I'd add ɔ:f (off) and my father's əˈmɔ:lfɪ (Amalfi). None of these pronunciations are recommended in any up-to-date reference work, so there's no dilemma for the teacher.

    The somewhat old-fashioned diphthong ʊə is still included in reference works, but I don't think anybody is going to accuse you of sounding like an ancient admiral if you say pʊə for poor. I grant you that teaching the much more old-fashioned diphthong ɔə in oar etc would be a disservice. But even my fifty-year old reference books by Jones and Gimpson note that the sound was disappearing from RP.

    The only way learners can lay themselves open to seriously negative response is to base their pronunciation on a figure like Prince Phillip or Brian Sewell (Type his name into Search This Blog in the top right-hand corner).

  82. Wojciech

    As I've just said to Wjarek, all that matters is that you don't copy Prince Phillip or Brian Sewell. And I wouldn't start a discussion about ˈhʌsɪfs — not on pronunciation grounds, but because hardly anybody has heard of the objects.

    Nobody will think ill of you for saying ʃʊə or pjʊə. And it's fine to have distinct STRUT and TRAP vowels.

    One thing you should probably drop — if you were taught it forty years ago — is the ɔə diphthong.

    Remember that native speakers will compare your accent with native speakers of your own age — not with the speech of teenagers and twenty-year-olds.

  83. David,

    thank you. Re ɔə, I in fact was taught it, but I never learned it since I simply did not hear it. As for ɔ:f, I still use it, as I do 'crawss' and the whole family of their ilk. hʌsɪfs -- I personally own two of them, but it is true that my professional contexts seldom give me an opportunity of using the word. Except perhaps as an illustration of 'petrified' pronunciations of yore, as in 'women', wimmin, < wif-menn, with the second vowel assimilated to the first. This is fun, beside everything else. It amazes me, though, that the English no longer say 'forrid', -- well, that was why I asked if they still said 'et'. What about 'Ralph' (Vaughan Williams, for instance), is it no longer 'rafe' today?

    'And there's a difference between laughing at an incongruous accent and despising the speaker.'

    well yes, but people who are callous enough to mock anything at all in the owner's presence probably don't make the difference.

    Brian Sewell---I remember, he kept saying 'the lenguid hend' of an Italian Renaissance aristocrat.

    1. Brian Sewell was extremely 'lenguid' himself, it was rather his intonation, his tone of voice, his mannerism, rather than any peculiarity of his articulation of specific phonemes or words that made him appear ridiculous, mockable...

      What do you think of the spelling 'shew' instead of 'show', is it Sewellish as well?

      BTW I don't watch TV because (as distinct from housewifes (sic)) I don't own TV sets, but over Christmas I was in several places where there was television, got some glimpses of BBC TV news, and---to my astonishment the announcers said several times 'cride' for 'crowd': is this aristocratic shift (founder-finder, about town-a bite tyne) creeping into the speach of ordinary people?

    2. ɔə is fairly harmless; it's still there in some regional speech, and most people who don't have the distinction won't notice it.

  84. I'm from southern England, age 27, and my TRAP and STRUT vowels are clearly distinct. I'm always nonplussed by reports of this supposedly imminent (or already completed) merger. Am I just a bit retro?

    1. Well, I haven't had so much exposure to the actual speech of the English... Various samples I have heard have given me the impression that the vowels in question have to some extent become similar, i. e. similar to the Italian or German 'a'. While formerly the TRAP-vowel was more e-like (higher, less open) and the STRUT-vowel was more aw-like, backer than it is today.

    2. There is a paper by Anne Fabricius, which you may be able to find online, on an acoustic study of the relationship between the TRAP and STRUT vowels in RP. Roughly, the older speakers in the study had TRAP fronter and higher or about the same height, while the younger ones had TRAP lower than STRUT but still fronter, though in some extreme cases TRAP was only slightly fronter than STRUT, the difference being in height. She did find one speaker who had them very close together, which might suggest a sporadic merger.

  85. I'm certainly familiar with the old-fashioned close TRAP-vowel (hence Brian Sewell's "lenguid hend"), which these days is much more open. But I don't think - impressionistically - that it has actually merged with anything.

    I live in a street with a monosyllabic name containing the TRAP vowel. Exchanging it for STRUT would yield the most offensive word in the English language - but no one ever laughs when I give my address, and the only person to ever mention the possible homophony was an NNS. In my speech, and (in my experience) that of southerners in general, STRUT is just too open to be confused with TRAP.

    1. Yes, for you as a native speaker the vowels are quite distinct (always?) but for NNS they are not always. How do Northerners hear/pronoounce your street-name?

    2. Good question - I would expect something like [a], but I can't actually remember hearing a northerner pronounce it. Incidentally, they might actually be oblivious to the possible confusion, as STRUT has not split from FOOT in northern England.

    3. Saying this, you admit that a confusion IS possible, though not for Northerners, don't you? Possible --- does not mean to say inavoidable, of course.

    4. Confusion, yes - not in my speech community, but perhaps to the ears of NNSs. I'm just not sure about a merger; perhaps "sporadically" as JHJ attests.

  86. I should rather have said that STRUT is still too back to be confused with TRAP.

    1. Would you say it is backer than the Northern [a], in TRAP?

  87. Replies
    1. Well, this is the _crux philosophorum_. You see, to me the Northern English [a] sounds quite like my native (Polish) [a] and (which is the same thing) like the German or the Italian [a]. But the Southern English STRUT sounds to me and great many other people in countries like Poland or Germany or Italy virtually undistinguishable from the latter vowel. I must strain my ears and do some self-deceiving to talk myself into believing that I hear any difference at all, even though I know that---according to the received wisdom---there be such difference. Only in words like 'gull' or 'hulk' do I seem to hear a difference worth speaking of.

    2. If you go to Australia, you'll find that the STRUT vowel is [a] and the PALM=BATH (but not DANCE) vowel is [a:]. Have fun distinguishing those.

    3. John

      This disturbed me slightly, as I find Australian accents among the more easy to understand. I think it's the use of the a symbol that exaggerates the scope for confusion.

      In Accents of English, I see John uses æ and ʌ for the phonemic values of the vowel in TRAP and STRUT words — while acknowledging

      the fronting of the /ʌ/ of STRUT toward the cardinal 4 area, [a-]

      The point is that he sees this as part of the same drag chain movement that pulls the TRAP vowel /æ/

      up and away from cardinal 4.

      So, for native speakers with a comparable phonology, the STRUT~TRAP opposition is as clear as in any other accent. The only potential confusion is between the various sounds associated with letter A in the lexical sets TRAP, START, BATH, PALM.

      But these are the lexical sets that are the most fluid — individuals with essential the same accent may place individual words in different sets. Every native speaker spots the way another speaker deals with BATH words, but confusion is rare.

      OK, that doesn't necessarily help non-native speakers to attune their ears to an Australian accent, but I think the difficulty can be exaggerated — especially by a transcription with a~a: rather than æ~a:. The biggest potential difficulty is if the NNS is not attuned to non-rhotic accents — inviting confusion between cat and cart, for example.

  88. A few minutes of youTubing comes up with these examples: - Ed Miliband saying "some", 0:22 - a Lancastrian (so it would appear) saying "Sam" twice in quick succession, 0:06

    I freely admit that the difference between northern TRAP and southern STRUT is smaller than that between southern TRAP and southern STRUT.

    1. Thank you Leo.

      Is the Lancastrian saying 'vat West Ham signed shirt' (that...) at 0:25?

      Is Mr. Allardyce saying 'mee favourite film of all time' (my..).

      Their STRUT is like more aw-like, backer and higher than Southerners', methinks. Or even oo-like.

  89. My mistake, he's actually from Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

  90. I can't hear anything odd about "that" shirt (except the unusually prolonged frication), but Allardyce certainly says " favourite film of all time" (usually spelled "me" rather than "mee").

    1. Is it 'mɪ' or 'mi'? Or is that (vat) a mid-way vowel like that in 'happI'?

      I seem to hear 'vat shirt', blimey if I'm wrong.

  91. The discussion of STRUT and TRAP vowels in different accents brings out the limited usefulness in Language Teaching of Phonetics rather than Phonology.

    All that matters is that each teacher and each sound recording used in the classroom should, whatever the speaker's accent, maintain a contrast between the two phonemes — irrespective of their phonetic form.

    The obvious tool is the meaningful minimal pair as exemplified here (Click). Newer and duller materials are now available.

  92. Well, David, I have to disagree again. All that matters is that the student develops a stable, consistent, well-defined contrast. This requires specific phonetic qualities. Otherwise, you can end up with man [mɛn], sad [sɛd] and standing [stɛn-] vs. trap [trap], bat [bat] and standard [stan-] in the same learner. (These are specific examples from a study I once ran.) It's very likely that this is a result of imitating, word-by-word, "source speakers" with different TRAP qualities; and it's irrelevant whether those had TRAP contrasting with DRESS and STRUT. And of course, importantly, these source speakers will include peers and speakers heard from the media.

    1. man [mɛn], sad [sɛd] and standing [stɛn-] vs. trap [trap], bat [bat] and standard [stan-]

      pronunciations like these---in one and the same speaker---I often, yea, very often come across in the speech of younger (up to 35 years) Polish persons considered 'competent' in English (competent enough to be sent to the front-line of making loudspeaker announcements, talking to customers and such).

      I explain such to myself by an interference of various phonetic models these persons must have been exposed to in their English-learning careers.

  93. Regarding TRAP/STRUT in southern England, the relevant quote from the Fabricius study is this:

    "The label ‘TRAP/STRUT rotation’ is thus proposed here for the historical trend seen in the present study. It represents a process whereby the lowering and backing of TRAP ishaccompanied by the backing and raising/centring of STRUT."

    (Fabricius, Anne. 2007. "Variation and change in the TRAP and STRUT vowels of RP: a real time comparison of five acoustic data sets". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37(3). 293-320.)

    Comments on the two vowels being on a collision course date back to the 1980s (e.g. our noble host's Accents of English). In the meantime, STRUT has "moved out of the way", as often happens in vowel shifts.

  94. ishaccompanied = is accompanied. Sorry, copying out of a pdf.

    1. the backing and/or raising of STRUT must, clearly, have escaped me so far, at least in RP. But then, I don't hear RP too frequently.

  95. Wjarek

    All that matters is that the student develops a stable, consistent, well-defined contrast.

    No disagreement there. And it's something that many students achieve without the guidance of teachers or teaching materials. But if they are employed, what matters is that each teacher and each recorded speaker should have a clear phonemic contrast.

    This requires specific phonetic qualities.

    Well, it's one approach, but not necessarily one that works with all students. The fault to be righted is that the student has assigned man, sad and standing to the wrong lexical set — in all probability for the reasons you suggest. So the approach I favour is to teach (or revise)

    1. that man, sad and standing have the same vowel as trap, bat and standard

    2. that this vowel contrasts with the vowel of strut etc.

    The page I opted from John Trim's book does [2]. On previous pages he gives practice in collections of words from each set. For example...

    Anne has plaits and black slacks. Harry has a hacking jacket.
    Harry and Anne are standing hand in hand.

    ... which is amusing when combined with its illustration.

    The two approaches are not incompatible, of course. But the phonetic approach may well fail with young learners and many older learners.

  96. Correction

    The page I opted from John Trim's book

    I've yet to tame the new Apple spell-checker! What I meant was:

    The page I posted from John Trim's book

    i.e. this link.

  97. It is true that you can hear the same [a]-like realization for both TRAP and STRUT in the same geographic region, but only by different native speakers. I really doubt any NS has merged/neutralized their TRAP and STRUT vowels. Out of context, of course, and if you're not familiar with the speaker's accent, you may not be able to tell if [kat] is meant to be cat or cut — just like [lɑːst] can be either BrE last or AmE lost. Fortunately we rarely have to understand words on their own.

  98. Ad teardrop

    'It is true that you can hear the same [a]-like realization for both TRAP and STRUT in the same geographic region, but only by different native speakers.'

    But exactly this impedes communication inasmuch as you not always have a full assortment of samples of the the critical phonemes from one and the same speaker. If in the middle of a somewhat jumbled rattle of a NS you hear a [kat] you can't ask the person to say a sentence like 'the cat is on the mat' and 'I shall cut this tree down' for you. In the case of BrE versus AmE the thing is easier as you usually recognise the person for a British or American speaker.

    Even then, though, you might be at a loss if you hear a word somewhat out of context. I once heard a person speaking with a strong AmE accent say something like 'cayairf' and on my request to please tell me what a 'cayairf' be, the person replied 'the child of a cow'... . He said 'calf' outside of the context of thing vituline/bovine/pastoral or the like.

    I am of course not saying that the problem in hand makes the whole communication break down totally, turning everything upside down etc. But if unfamiliar with the speaker's particular way of articulating either the STRUT or the TRAP vowel you _might_ need to wait a bit till your ear has got(ten) used to it.

  99. Even if you know what you heard, you may not know what it means out of context. If you correctly identify what you heard as /sɛnt/, you still don't know if the speaker actually meant sent, cent, or scent.

    Getting the meaning of a word out of context is tricky even if you know exactly which word you heard. Take for example date. Is it a point in time? A rendez-vous? A fruit? You'll have no idea.

    From this point of view, hearing [kat] produces a similar ambiguity, but unlike date or /sɛnt/, only until you've heard the speaker pronounce either their STRUT or TRAP vowel in some other word, not necessarily both. Once you've heard their STRUT as [a] in any other unambiguous word, you can be quite certain —even without hearing their TRAP vowel— that [kat] stands for cut rather than cat (or the other way around), since, and this is what I aimed to point out in my previous comment, native speakers do not neutralize these two phonemes. That's the point.

    1. Ad Teardrop

      yes, I agree by and large, yet I have missed the point which supports your 'even without hearing their TRAP vowel' intrusion. The thing is, even if NS (of the right region) don't neutralise vowels, these non-neutralised vowels do sound sometimes pretty much the same to an NNS or a NS from another region. Was is a cat or a cut? Hold on sir, can you please say 'the cat is on the mat' and 'I cut myself in the finger' for my benefit? And even then I might not be able to really hear the difference....

  100. Wojciech

    You've said a lot to make it clear that you have a difficult problem. The good news is that it's a very simple problem. For any new speaker with an unfamiliar accent, you have to listen for a while until you're familiar with what he or she does with TRAP words and STRUT words. This may be difficult, but once you've done it, there's nothing else you'll ever need to do. And there's a good chance that the next unfamiliar accent will be easier.

  101. Ad David

    yes, thank you. This is indeed the way I have always dealt with this problem---just waiting patiently till he says something like 'the cat is on the mat'.