Friday, 3 February 2012

newly minimal

Christian UffmannChristian Uffmann reports an interesting development that he has observed in 18-year-old applicants for university places at Sussex. He asked them whether ruler (king) and ruler (for measuring or drawing straight lines) are homonyms or not. The unanimous opinion was that they are not homonyms, because they are pronounced differently. (So technically they would be homographs.)

This is because in southeastern England // has developed two very distinct allophones: a truly back [] before tautosyllabic (or stem-final) /l/, but a fronted quality approaching [] in other positions. The kingly ruler, ˈruːlə, is taken as transparently bimorphemic, rule#(e)r, so retains the back of rule; but the measuring ruler, ˈryːlə, has lost touch with its origins and is taken as an unanalysable unit, with a corresponding clear l and fronted vowel .

This parallels the “GOAT split” that I described for London English in Accents of English (p. 312–313) and which gives us non-rhyming goal#ie vs. slow#ly.

As Uffmann comments, in his Facebook status update from which I have taken this,
GOOSE fronts to (y) but not before tautosyllabic L. This is complicated by morphology, so in king ruler you preserve (u), a neat cyclicity effect which is now leading to a phonemic split, for GOOSE and much more advanced in GOAT, which has acquired exceptions. For example, polar and molar have different vowels.

The l sounds are presumably different, too.
king r[u:]ler precisely because it is transparently related to r[u:]le, but desk r[y:]ler. I do think the l's are different, so this is something to look into.
In the citation form of rule you would expect the l to be vocalized, making it a close back vocoid. But before a following vowel a linking lateral contoid is retained.

Christian also says
I was struck by the unanimity, because the informal surveys on the GOOSE/GHOUL and GOAT/GOAL split that I have done so far all pointed at a lot of variation. So while many people have [y:] in 'roulette', you do find speakers that have [u:], etc. The only other stable minimal pair with [u:/y:] that I had found previously was 'cooler' ([u:] )vs our esteemed colleague Nancy Kula ([y:]).

I think Brits just realised that without a three-way back/round opposition, you're not a proper Germanic language, so they're reintroducing the contrast.

I suggested that we may have a similar development in, for example, feeling vs. Ealing, failing vs. railing(s), where again the first of each pair is morphologically transparent, leading to an epenthetic schwa (“Breaking”) and a dark l as in feel and fail, whereas the second is seen as morphologically indivisible, so has a clearer l and no schwa.

The up-and-coming young scholar, possibly as yet unknown, who attempts a comprehensive new description of son-of-RP English phonetics will have to cope with a newly complex vowel system. Just as the vocalization of historical r and its effect on the preceding vowel gave us the centring diphthongs, so further new diphthongs are arising as a consequence of the the vocalization of l.

45 comments:

  1. Is the GOOSE/GHOUL distinction in the quoted text referring to the split between [u:] and [y:], or is that something different? (Writing from memory) In Urban Voices, the chapter on South-East London gave [ʊ:] for GHOUL.

    It seems to me that fronted pronunciations of GOOSE are much more common amongst young women than amongst young men. Does anyone else find this?

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  2. I am a male, native speaker of RP, born in 1989.
    For me, the following are pronounced like so:

    rule (as in ‘I wouldn’t rule it out’)
    /rɔːl/

    ruler (for measuring)
    /rʉːlə/

    rule (as in ‘He ruled for twenty years’)
    /rɔːl/

    ruler (= sovereign)
    /rɔːlə/

    I pronounce school and other words ending in -ool /ɔːl/, making fall and fool homophones, both being pronounced /fɔːl/.

    Similarly, tall and tool are also homophones, both being pronounced /tɔːl/.

    My father (born 1957) pronounces cool as /kɔːl/ and cooler as /kʉːlə/, whereas I (born 1989) pronounce cool as /kɔːl/ and cooler as /kɔːlə/.

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    1. Remarkable.

      I grew up a near-RP speaker in the Midlands (born in the mid-1970s). I had the "wholly"-"holy" split in the GOAT vowel but no split in GOOSE. (My wholly-holy split is now considerably less pronounced as a result of having lived in California for a considerable time).

      Interestingly, my 3-year-old daughter (born and raised in California) pronounces "cool/school/tool" quite differently, with a diphthongal offglide reminiscent of the CURE words: something like /skuəl/

      .

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    2. Very interesting.

      I was born in the mid-70s and grew up near-RP in the midlands. I used to have the wholly/holy split, but no similar allophony in the GOOSE set.

      My daughter, born and raised in California, pronounces words like "school" with a marked offglide reminscent of the CURE words: /skuəl/. I think that I often have a tiny, almost unnoticeable, offglide in these words too.

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    3. Do you also have /ɔː/ in CURE words (e.g. "cure", "Europe", "tour", "tourism")?

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    4. I'm from 1991 so will chip in with my own data.

      After a bit of thinking this is what I think I have, which is totally different (also broadly an RP speaker, Gloucestershire, but middle-class).

      RULE [ɹʉːɫ]
      RULER [ɹʉː.lə] (sovereign)
      GOOSE [ɡʊus]
      RULER [ɹʊu.lə] (measurinɡ)
      COOL [kʰʉːɫ]
      CALL [kʰɔːɫ]

      The RULE/COOL vowel varies between two points, I can also go towards the COOL/CALL homophony with it.

      ABOVE RANGE ORIGIN(?)
      /ʉː/ [ʉː~ɵː] parents
      /ɔː/ [ʌː~ɔː] peers

      As can be seen from the range I ALWAYS seem to keep the distinction between COOL and CALL when saying it as /ɔː/, COOL is slightly unrounded whereas CALL is wholly rounded. I NEVER produce or think of the two as full homophones and wouldn't rhyme them.

      As for CURE, as far as I can tell it's the same vowel as RULE and COOL with the same potential variation.

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  3. The concept of RP is a difficult topic.

    But I wonder if you have the more recent variety of the THOUGHT vowel, which is still usually written [ɔː], but is closer to [oː], if it doesn't surpass it.

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  4. Were these students mostly from the South-East, or is there evidence of this split more widely in England?

    As a "near RP" speaking northerner, I seem to have some variation as to whether the fronted allophone occurs in this context, but I don't think it matters which meaning of "ruler" is involved.

    For GOAT, my pattern is definitely different from the one reported from the South-East: the vowel is back before /l/ unless a morpheme boundary intervenes. So "roller", "polar" and "molar" are all back, but "slowly" is not.

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    1. Sheffield has its own GOAT-GOAL split, which is detailed in Urban Voices (second mention today). The fact that "folk" takes a back vowel (despite the [l] being lost) in this part of Yorkshire suggests that the split has been around for a while.

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    2. I have the "front" vowel in "folk", but then I don't have a very strong accent.

      (As far as I can tell, with a bit of help from Praat, the "front" vowel is [öː] or thereabouts, while the "back" vowel is distinguished by a backwards glide, so [öo] or similar.)

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    3. I first read that as "I have the FRONT vowel in folk" and wondered A. how that was possible, and B. whether people often misunderstood you.

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    4. Lipman, if I could attach a sound file to your comment that went "Ba-da-BOOM!" I would do so, even though it took a couple of seconds for the penny to drop for me.

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  5. Shane, don't you find that your pronunciation of "cool" is different depending on whether it's being used as a term of approbation or not?

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  6. @Lipman: THOUGHT has become very high in the South. But it does sound noticeably different from what get transcribed as /o:/ in e.g. German, woudln't you say? If so, why? Less lip rounding? Higher? No diphthongisation? Some kind of pharyngealisation??? Or is it just my ears ;)

    BTW, Shanes's transcriptions, and his tool=tall, are quite interesting, no?

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    1. Frankly, I can't hardly believe in Shane's revelations... but then, I seldom hear Britons. tall=tool, are you, is he, serious? And that should be good ole RP? Well, clearly not 'ole'.

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    2. Wjarek,

      maybe your ears, but then again, it's just my ears telling me in turn. :-) And there's a certain bandwidth, to be sure. But even the LOT vowel is sometimes [o], which wouldn't even be possible in Standard German in a closed syllable.

      I wonder if the two really are identical in Shane's speech, but if most [uː] are now [ʉː], there'd be some space for former [ɔː] in the [o] area.

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    3. Well, I wouldn't be surprised if they are very close indeed. Once upon a time, I was recording two people for a pronunciation teaching project. For THOUGHT-GOOSE, I deliberately selected the one who had them very close to each other, expressly in order to drive the point home to my students. I ended up having a very hard time telling them apart myself ;)

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    4. Wojciech:
      > tall=tool, are you, is he, serious?
      I mentioned this possibility thirty years ago in Accents of English, p. 316 (the chapter about London). I'm sure Shane is entirely serious. Please catch up.

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    5. THOUGHT has become very high in the South. But it does sound noticeably different from what get transcribed as /o:/ in e.g. German, woudln't you say? If so, why? Less lip rounding? Higher? No diphthongisation? Some kind of pharyngealisation??? Or is it just my ears ;)

      Definitely not your ears. I used to have this kind of THOUGHT/NORTH/FORCE vowel (actually two vowels: I had the "board"/"bored" split). My BOARD (i.e. non-morpheme-final) vowel was something like [o̹ˤ̙ː] (i.e. rounded, retracted and pharyngealized). My BORED (morpheme-final) version was less rounded and less pharyngealized, but still slightly retracted: [o̙ː]

      I've since modified my THOUGHT vowel in the direction of [ɒː], since it caused significant communication difficulties once I moved to the US.

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  7. Interesting. I certainly wouldnt make those distinctions in ruler (but then I live in the north east of England). However it reminds me of a difference I heard you explain back in the early '70s between hangar and hanger. In many accents including mine they are not homonyms - the g being pronounced after the angma in hangar but not in hanger as it is understood as a hang plus er.
    Interestingly I do pronounce the g in comparatives (and again I think that is general in the North East) - so longer (someone who longs for something) and longer (more long) are also not homonyms.

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  8. Dr Samuels:
    I always pronounce cool as /kɔːl/ regardless of context. I'm not aware of anyone who makes a distinction between, for example, /kuːl/ for temperature and /kɔːl/ for approval etc.

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  9. Lipman:
    Yes, I think my THOUGHT vowel is closer to oː than ɔː. Perhaps it would be transcribed in narrow transcription as o̞ː ie. o with the lowering diacritic.

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  10. I posted a reply to Shane's original comment which initially appeared to get published, but after reloading the page I no longer see it. Has anyone else experienced this with the "Reply" feature?

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  11. Are we to equate southeastern English with (son-of-)RP then? And changes in southeastern English with changes in (son-of-)RP?

    It's a slippery fish, this RP.

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    1. I feel that descriptions of modern RP often drift into equating it with middle-class south-eastern speech. L-vocalisation is a good example. Linguists are talking about it as a feature of modern RP, yet the trend is mostly confined to the south and other parts of the country have actually seen the opposite process in words like "cold", "old", etc.

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  12. Since the upgrade of Blogspot, all my comments submitted via Google Chrome have appeared to be published, but then disappear into a black hole as soon as I reload the page. Has anyone else seen this?

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    1. Upgrade, vp? I called it a revamp yesterday, and even that was a misnomer. It's a rehash of the various hashes that we've seen before. What you describe happened to me as well at first on Firefox, but now I find I can use that, having first found that IE and Safari caused no problems. Yours seems to have sorted itself out as well, but the absurdity of John and us being in different time zones remains.

      As for the fishy business identified by Paul Carley, we have discussed this before in the course of a long and interesting discussion on
      http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/02/scolding-water.html

      vpMar 12, 2010 08:30 AM

      I wonder whether anyone has "scald" and schooled as homophones? I frequently hear an open and relatively unrounded allophone of the GOOSE vowel, approaching the quality of THOUGHT, in words like "school" where it is followed by nonprevocalic L.

      mallambMar 12, 2010 09:55 AM

      Yes, vp, I have the impression that that homophony is practically compulsory in some forms of Estuarine!

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    2. Since the changes, I haven't been able to post any comment using Opera, even if I mask it as IE. Bloody annoying, and I don't understand why they're ignoring the agreed standard in favour of some IE-specific coding.

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    3. I can post now. Perhaps Google has fixed the issue.

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  13. I have an RP accent with GOAT/GOAL split but not L-vocalisation or GHOUL-fronting (ant any rate I don't front it anything like as far as [y]).

    I break /i:l/ and /eɪl/ in e.g. "feel" and "fail", but not when a vowel sound follows in the same word, e.g. in "feeling" and "failing". In this context, for me, phonotactics trumps morphology: the /l/ moves from the first syllable's coda to the second syllable's onset, and thus does not trigger a break.

    I wonder if any of Christian Uffmann's respondents who pronounce the two senses of "ruler" with different vowels have [ɫ] in "rule", that is, don't vocalise that /l/. If so, that'd show that it'd be wrong to conclude that the phenomenon whose consequence was the emergence of the new diphthong is l-vocalisation.

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    1. I wonder if any of Christian Uffmann's respondents who pronounce the two senses of "ruler" with different vowels have [ɫ] in "rule", that is, don't vocalise that /l/.

      The view that they are different was apparently unanimous, so I would imagine so, unless the sample was pretty small; For the same sort of reason I suspect the phenomenon isn't limited to the South-East.

      I have some sound changes which are sometimes associated with /l/-vocalisation, such as a neutralisation of the LOT/GOAT contrast before word-final and pre-consonantal /l/ (and FOOT/GOOSE is in trouble in the same environment, though THOUGHT/GOOSE is robust). But I don't have /l/-vocalisation.

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  14. Ed >>It seems to me that fronted pronunciations of GOOSE are much more common amongst young women than amongst young men. Does anyone else find this?<<

    Yes, very much so (think of: "Hello, I'm Tracy. Can I help yü") -- almost to the extent that, to me at least, it sounds effeminate when produced by young men.

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    1. this does seem so, but in part perhaps because too many front vowels in your speech makes an effeminate or baby-talk-like impression anyway. Sometimes, a front component brings on this impression of exaggerated tenderness or such, I remember in my youth there was a song where they sang:

      nobody loves me and nobody --- something or other, I forget what -- me like you do,

      and then they added: like you dyouu, like you dyoo dyoo

      there: yoo, here: ü. Maybe this Tracy wants to create the impression of caring for her customers with particular tenderness, perhaps a bitchy, domineering Tracy would---in an appropriate situation---say 'you' rather than 'yü'?

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    2. You can't be serious, Wojciech.

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    3. Well... this is a blog, ain't it? But no, I am afraid I am serious. Fronting vowels---or adding a front component to their articulation---is a tool for turning normal into speech to baby-talk in at least two languages known to me, viz. Polish and German. In English---I wot not.

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    4. OK, adding a palatal component to vowels that are not usually front in the community is one of the features of imitated baby-talk, I'll grant you that; so if that's how you want "too many front vowels" interpreted, then OK. But front vowels as such? Think Führer or Übermensch (excuse me).

      So if GOOSE is front, or at least central, in /j-/ contexts in the community at large (which it is), then this Tracy's you is unremarkable.

      (Yes it's a blog, but quite a few posters on here are distinguished by, erm, meticulous attention to detail, if you know what I mean. So forgive my harshness.)

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    5. That's interesting to hear that someone else has noticed this. I think that gender may be becoming more significant as a variable that explains one's speech in Britain.

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  15. 'Too many front vowels' was of course terribly sloppy, I meant front vowels where they normally don't occur, or where they have not occured until recently... or perhaps: .. where they don't occur in the speech of people not known to speak in a particularly soft and tender manner... . I am hard put to be precise here, I admit.

    But the 'Tracy' example---I cannot help feeling that that 'yü'-pronunciation in phrases like 'how can I help you' or similar does, in part at least, express a somewhat affected friendliness which would perhaps be out of place elsewhere and in male speakers gives rise to an impression which for want of a better word we call 'effeminate-ness'. I have very little exposure to living British speech, so maybe all of that is just phantasy and projection... In particular, I have never been among a speech community whose GOOSE (hüz güz? looks Turkish a bit) were central on a regular basis, but if there is such a community then you're right that Tracy's 'yü' is---almost by definition---unremarkable.

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  16. I (grew up near-RP in the Midlands, born mid-70s) never had this allophony in GOOSE, but I did have it in GOAT, with splits like wholly/holy.

    My three-year-old daughter, born and raised in California, pronounces these words with a big schwa offglide reminscent of the CURE words: /skuəl/. I think that I too have an almost-unnoticeable schwa in these words.

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  17. For just to look in to any linear phonotatic phenomenon here, it seems that it would be not wrong to conclude that the phenomenon of whose consequence be the emergence of the ‘trisyllabic laxing’ (or rather triletter vowel laxing?) whereas the ‘ruler’ is apart but the [ɫ] in ‘rule’ is, for the sake of /l/ neutralisation.

    Then, there is a conflict with the same analogy as well, like in these examples--'cable' [ˈkeɪbəl], 'capability' [ˌkeɪpəˈbɪlɪtɪ], 'captive' [ˈkæptɪv] etc.

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  18. Actually, a correction should be made— the ‘trisyllabic laxing’ in my post should be ‘trisyllabic tensing’

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  19. Ad John

    sorry for having overlooked your reply to my 'doubts' about Shane's tall=tool. Thank you. I was doubting Shane's seriousness tongue-in-cheek, as I quite often do (some posters seem to think I joke too much in my modest contributions to your blog).

    So, if you mentioned the said merger in Accents ... thirty years ago, it IS, after all, 'good *ole* RP'? All the better.

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  20. Very interesting.

    I remember, as a teenager, feeling that distinguishing u and y was unreasonably difficult to the English ear, after a mix-up in French where I headed in the opposite direction from what I had been told because I failed to distinguish dessous and dessus reliably.

    It seems from your example that today's English teenagers now manage it effortlessly.

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    1. P.S. I also remember a French work colleague complaining that English people tend to say merci beau cul!

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  21. Is there a similar thing going on with vowel fronting in morphologically indivisible 'tuna' against morphologically transparent 'tuner'?

    Humphrey Lyttelton, as an elderly RP speaker, reported himself baffled by much younger speaker incomprehensibly offering him a 'cheena' sandwich: I'm inclined to think (though have no evidence; the comparison has only just occurred to me thanks to this post) the same degree of fronting wouldn't occur if the same speaker were talking about a piano tuner. And that would imply it's not all about the development of 'l' as the following consonant.

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