Wednesday 18 November 2009

royal enhancement

The Queen’s Speech to Parliament today gives us another opportunity to observe her pronunciation first-hand.
It is striking that she regularly pronounces enhance as ɪnˈhæns rather than the ɪnˈhɑːns which most RP speakers have. I feel sure she wouldn’t pronounce æ in dance or chance. I wonder why enhance for her has not undergone the usual broadening (backing plus lengthening) in the environment _ns.
There are two well-known exceptions to this sound change for all RP (etc.) speakers: romance rə(ʊ)ˈmæns and finance (stress variable, but always -næns). Speakers vary in the case of stance stæns ~ stɑːns and even more for circumstance (where you very frequently also get weakening to -stəns).

Hm. Why do I feel confident that the Queen would say lance, glance, answer and France with ɑː, while with (to) enˈtrance and fiancé(e) I feel there is a slight possibility that she might have æ?


  1. One phonetic difference is that there's another syllable before the one in question, but that usually doesn't make a difference.

    Fiancé(e) is much more an [æ] word, actually sounds strange to me with [ɑː]. But wouldn't she say [fɪˈɑ̃seɪ] ?

    Unreduced circumst[ɑː]nce always looks like a spelling pronunciation. Actors in RP roles seem to like it.

    It's a pity the modern preferences can't just be traced to older forms (-au-, nasal a &c.)

  2. I've always pronounced fiancé(e) as fi.ɑnˈseɪ (except when giving it a proper French pronunciation, which I'm seldom called upon to do). I can't recall ever hearing an American pronounce it any other way than mine, except perhaps in caricatures of hillbilly accents: fiˈænsi. I'm surprised to see that æ is a possibility in BrE. You learn something new every day.

  3. I didn't say I'd actually heard æ in fiancee from HMQ or anyone else, I said I felt there was a slight possibility she might say that. (Commonest in BrE is actually fiˈɒ̃seɪ, fiˈɒnseɪ.)
    Penultimate stress in this and many other French words is normal in BrE.

  4. Do you mean to restrict this blog entry to words in "-ance"? ("Answer" suggests not.) Anyway, if not, "expanse" and "manse". The latter probably had an /æ/ for that hapless employee who took a wedding announcement over the phone for a newspaper, which then later had to issue a correction: "Due to a mishearing on the telephone, we reported last week that Mr & Mrs ___ would be living with the bride's father. They will in fact be living at the Old Manse."

  5. Got it! It's a coded cry for help. Royally enhanced of course, so why didn't we spot it sooner?

    It's the hostage saying, "We're being very well looked after – they always give us hominy grits – the best Ive ever tasted." Isn't it?

    Cue to parents: "He would never in a million years acknowledge hominy grits were fit for human consumption!"

  6. Taken from the county jail
    By a set of curious chances;
    Liberated then on bail,
    On my own recognizances;
    Wafted by a favouring gale
    As one sometimes is in trances,
    To a height that few can scale,
    Save by long and weary dances;
    Surely, never had a male
    Under such like circumstances
    So adventurous a tale,
    Which may rank with most romances.

  7. For me, the most interesting part of H.M.'s pronunciation of "enhance" is the initial vowel sound, which you give (accurately, I am sure) as ɪ as in ɪnˈhæns. I have never thought of my speech as being unusual in this respect, but in this (as in many other words commencing "en", such as "England"), I have always used the spelling-based pronunciation ɛ, as in ɛnˈhɑːns. Am I unusual in this respect ?

  8. Are you sure you're actually saying a full-blown [ɛn], not [ən]?

  9. 95% confident; given a choice, I would favour [ɪn] over [ən], but in practice use [ɛn] in preference to both.

  10. @Sir William - [æns] each time, I take it, which at the time was the normal way in RP.

    Prof. Ross wrote in 1970 about the pronunciation of ask: "Something like [ɛəsk] is very old-fashioned U." That's with the TRƐƏP, not the BATH vowel.

  11. "Penultimate stress in this and many other French words is normal in BrE."

    Yes, that's one of the interesting differences from AmE. When coaching American actors in BrE, I find this is one of the features that trips them up most often. It takes extra practice to get comfortable with the different stress pattern in anglicized French/words of French derivation, and to use it fluidly on stage.

  12. These pronunciations are characteristic of Northern dialects.

    Do you also do this with the first vowels of 'consume', 'subsume' etc., chaa?

  13. I meant chaa006's pronunciations of course. It's taken several eternities to fight messages about Internal Server Errors of late.

  14. [ɛnˈhɑːns] looks like a Northern first syllable and a Southern second syllable.

    (I say [ɛnˈhan(t)s].)

  15. Yes JHJ, I wonder if chaa's statement "given a choice, I would favour [ɪn] over [ən]" could be an indication of RP influence which also accounts for the [ɑː] .

  16. David Marjanović19 November 2009 at 16:13

    in this (as in many other words commencing "en", such as "England"), I have always used the spelling-based pronunciation ɛ, as in ɛnˈhɑːns. Am I unusual in this respect ?

    Do you seriously pronounce England with [ɛ]?

    What about English?

  17. I think that there is a probability continuum here, with [ɛnˈhɑːns] close to 100%, England [ɛŋɡlənd] 95%, and English [ɛŋɡlɪʃ] quite low -- maybe 20%. I am far more careful with my pronunciation when talking to non-native speakers, particularly at international conferences, and considerably more relaxed when just chatting to friends, but would almost certainly use [ɛnˈhɑːns] in both situations whilst I am far less certain about [ɛŋɡlɪʃ]. I think that the second vowel sound [ɪ] in [ɪŋɡlɪʃ] has an influence on my pronunciation of the first vowel ([ɛ] or [ɪ]), pulling it towards the latter.

    Re. the earlier suggestions that there may be a Northern influence at work, I do think that unlikely; I was born and raised on the London/Kent border, and started travelling to the North (Cheshire) only in my late teens or early twenties, and spent very little time there.

  18. "Time is like a fuse, short and burning /fA:st/
    Armageddon's here, as said in the /p{st/!"
    (James Hetfield in Metallica, "Fight fire with fire")

    "Another junkie lives too /fe@st/"
    (James Hetfield in Metallica, "Fuel") -- yeah, that's the same guy, only thirteen years later.

    ...have you checked whether it "has not undergone the same broadening" in the first place or she shifted pronunciation sometime in her life?

    "Whatever happens, I'll leave it all to /tSA:ns/
    Another heartache, another failed /r@'m{ns/"
    (Freddie Mercury in Queen, "The Show Must Go On")

  19. Now here is a really funny account of the 'enhance' phenomenon that sort of echoes mine of 19.55 last night:

  20. It's interesting that the 1st edn of Jones's EPD (1917) gives 'enhance' with /ɑː/ but with /æ/ as an alternative, and that this was maintained in the EPD up until the 1989 14th edn. Another interesting case is 'contrast', shown by Jones with /æ/ as first choice and /ɑː/ as the al;ternative. This was only at last changed, I believe, in 1967 when Gimson effectively took over completely from DJ.

  21. The OED(1) has [en]- for enhance, at the same time listing alternative spellings with in- through the centuries.

    How comes?

    (Concerning the article on the Independent's site, I don't feel like watching the speech another time and closely - anyone knows where the alleged pausing and raising of the eyebrow is?)

  22. The OED has a lot of funny ideas, but I suppose it is after all the still point of the turning world. My subscription to the online version has just run out, and I am in some anguish as to whether I can justify the expense of renewing it.

    Re Indy article, I'm afraid I just relied on this bit of it:

    "as our Monarch recited some vacuous drivel about My Government intending to In Hants and safeguard democratic institutions, she seemed to pause for about 0.07 seconds and raise her left eyebrow 1/16th of an inch."

    Irresponsible of me not to look more closely at those figures before posting it, wasn’t it? Of course she would be incapable of being so unprofessional. The irresponsibility was not the commentator's, as it's obviously the same sort of silly comment as mine about it being a coded cry for help.

    So I did look at the recording again (In Hants is at 1.50mins), and regret to report that I saw no raised eyebrow. Your refresh rate may be better, but for the moment I'm going back to the coded cry hypothesis, which is based on the pronunciation alone.

    But looking at it again, I was also struck by the fact that she pronounces the verb ˈkɒmbæt. Several dictionaries, both Br and Am, only recognize kəmˈbæt for the verb. She's on the slippery slope! Somehow I think she still says prəˈtεst (or perh prɜʊˈtεst), but I wouldn’t be too sure about dɪsˈtrɪbjut.

  23. kəmˈbæt? That sounds as strange for the verb as ˈprəʊtεst. And concerning the first syllable, wouldn't you expect /ˈkʌmbæt/ (where /æ/ = [ɛ])?

  24. Well as I said, those dictionaries don't recognize initial stress for the verb, but of course they are out of date in that. But so I would have expected HMQ to be! Whereas I am the fogeyer of us (or should that be Us?) for still having kəmˈbæt. /ˈkʌmbæt/ is fogeyer still for the noun, and it doesn’t appear she has that. And neither do I.

    But I don’t understand why you have got /æ/ realized as [ɛ]. Do you think that that is a closer representation of the tradition RP /æ/ (in which case you could even assign the symbol to the phoneme)? Or do you perhaps disagree with /a/ for the phoneme (which is probably more appropriate for MRP), and want to emphasize the fact? I think I have probably moved closer to [a] over the course of my life, but I don’t think any closer than the Queen.

  25. Just looked it up, and the OED(1) has both the verb and the noun with initial stress (and both ɒ and ʌ to choose), so maybe the differentiation is the newer variant, formed in analogy to the existing pairs of nouns and verbs.

    The [ɛ] wasn't a general remark, just about this particular speaker of RP. (Or This, if insist.)

  26. That would be These, then.

    - maybe the differentiation is the newer variant

    The trend seems to be more in the other direction, and how do you account for dictionaries only recognizing the differentiated kəmˈbæt if it's so new that you don't seem to recognize it yourself? More likely to be an old variant, I should have thought. At any rate I am in total agreement with you that it is not in fashion, but neither is the Queen! That is why I was struck by her use of what I thought was the newer variant.

    But whether it was is irrelevant: what I shouldn’t have been so ready to suppose was that it was new for her. These things have always been in and out of fashion like yo-yos, as people have been pointing out about various cases of æ/ɑ variance. And of 'enhance' army1987 asked...

    ...have you checked whether it "has not undergone the same broadening" in the first place or she shifted pronunciation sometime in her life?

    I don't know how JW could have been expected to do that, mind. Here are we thinking it a chore even to have another look at that one recording, and there are a helluva lot of them. But such of this material as has in fact been subjected to studies of her pronunciation over her lifetime does not seem to have revealed much in the way of shifts of that sort. So no, I think she probably always did say ɪnˈhæns and ˈkɒmbæt for both n and v.

    In my tragic OED-lapsed state, I can't check whether there are any updates for this entry, which might account for the recognition of all the variants you mention, and the various hard copies of various Oxford dictionaries I have dug out are variously hopeless at throwing any light on this. But the online Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary has only /ˈkɒm.bæt/ for the noun and /kəmˈbæt/ for the verb.

  27. Just looked again, and the OED1 says

    "Cf. ABATE, DEBATE; the different accentuation of combat is perh. due to association with the sb."

    That makes sense. So if the stress on the ultimate were old and the initial stress the innovation, it would rather be combate in the first place.

  28. I concur that the trend is to stress the verbs of such pairs like the nouns, but on the other hand, in fact enforced by this trend and the resulting insecurity, there might be a tendency, once you speak "correctly" to file pairs under this pattern even if both noun and verb used to be stressed the same way.

  29. Ye-es. But I would still guess that both /ˈkɒm.bæt/ and /kəmˈbæt/ have been yo-yoing in tandem for the verb ever since they were both around. And don't overlook the fact that the verb was around first. In fact thinking of the original L combattere and Fr combattre I would surmise that the noun was formed by initial stress in the first place.

    Can anyone think of any early poetry whose scansion might help?

  30. Fairy Queen:
    He started vp, and did him selfe prepaire,
    In sun-bright armes, and battailous array:
    For with that Pagan proud he combat will that day.

    Da yum-da yum-da yum, da cómbat yum-da yum.

  31. Other quotes in the OED too - Shakespeare, Milton...

  32. Not as I say having such easy access to OED, at least I had the right idea. But

    In sun-bright armes, and battailous array

    doesn't seem to have very conclusive scansion for anything much.

    And the other bits and pieces of OED you have mentioned finally drove me to renew my subscription, with subsequent "auto-renewals", which it will be up to someone else to stop after my imminent demise, and for this (the renewal that is, but probably the demise too, or at any rate the thought of its imminence while yet I live) I am unfeignedly thankful and shall henceforth go on my way rejoicing and be exceeding glad.

    Right, so in the first place it says ( kɒmbæt, kʌmbæt, - bæt), and you seem to have missed the - bæt.

    And in the second place "Cf. ABATE, DEBATE; the different accentuation of combat is perh. due to association with the n." can only mean this:

    1. It's under the verb, for which both final and initial stress is given, and is therefore talking about the possibility of a different accentuation of combat v., i.e. why it's different from abate and debate in having the possibility of initial stress.
    2. It's saying that possibility is perh. due to association with the n. (scil. because the noun had initial stress, once it existed.)

    It doesn’t imply that "if the stress on the ultimate were old and the initial stress the innovation, it would rather be combate in the first place". And in fact combate was one of the things it was in the first place.

  33. Would you believe it? The stress was marked with graphics. So that should have been ˈkɒmbæt, ˈkʌmbæt, - ˈbæt. Pretty crucial, eh?

  34. I figured. Anyway, I looked it up in, and quoted from, the 1930s edition, where no mention is made of -ˈbæt. This is why I wondered whether this latter form wasn't newer.

  35. I did say I wondered whether it reflected an update, and should have said that once I got access to it I saw that there had been a 1989 update. So it's just like all the other dictionaries these variants have been in and out of. But at least it's got it right now. Not like the other place!

  36. I find it extremely counter-intuitive that these words are transcribed as ending in /ns/. Every instinct in my brain wants to interpret the abrupt termination of the /n/ as a realisation of a distinct phoneme, thus ending the words in something like /nts/. I wonder what this intuition says about the way my brain processes speech, and how you would go about re-training it.

  37. David Marjanović28 November 2009 at 21:16

    I wonder what this intuition says about the way my brain processes speech

    You probably actually say [nts]. Are prince and prints homophones for you? They are for lots of people (but not for others like me).


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