Wednesday 4 May 2011

Aussie dogs

In a newspaper story of the kind you’d expect to find in the doldrums of August or on April Fool’s Day rather than in a news-filled month such as we have just experienced, the Adelaide Sunday Mail tells us that
a restaurant that refused a blind man entry because it thought his guide dog was "gay" has been ordered by the Equal Opportunity Tribunal to pay him $1500.

What was strikingly missing from this story, as I read it, was a discussion of why and how the misunderstanding could have arisen. Pretty obviously, I would have thought, it must have been because the expression guide dog, pronounced in a mainstream English way as ɡaɪddɒɡ — with dd standing, as usual, for a geminated , with no release of the word-final consonant and no onset of the following word-initial one — was interpreted as the Australian sequence ɡaɪdɒɡ, where is the quality associated with the FACE vowel rather than with the PRICE vowel. So gui(de) was misheard as gay.

As is well known, Australian English, ‘broad’ and ‘general’, has undergone a diphthong shift like that of Cockney, with the onset vowel qualities of FACE, PRICE and CHOICE shifted anti-clockwise. This makes Australian FACE sound like the PRICE of most other accents.
Most readers will have heard the joke about an Australian patient who said “I came into hospital just [təˈdaɪ]” (today), only to be treated as a suicide risk.

Interestingly, the waiter who misheard guide dog may well, like the restaurant owners, have been Vietnamese. We are not told the origins of the customer’s partner who uttered the words. Perhaps she was a posh Australian who had an unshifted PRICE diphthong.

In other relevant and equally world-shattering news, Australians are apparently now complaining about their prime minister’s voice. (To an outsider such as me she just sounds typically Australian.)
What is really grating on a lot of Australians is the heavy ''Gillard twang''. She regards this as central to her distinctly Australian speech manner and she's proud of it. Yet it is weighing down her communication efforts and dominating the impression she leaves with the public. […] What Gillard regards as identifiably ''Australian'', the public largely regards as annoying.

What I regard as annoying is not Ms Gillard’s voice but the sort of advice offered by her vocal coach, one Dean Frenkel, who is “an overtone singer and author of the forthcoming book Evolution of Speech”, as well as being the holder of the world record for singing a continuous note.

I just don’t know what Mr Frenkel means by such things as
Vowel articulation - ''e'', ''i'' and ''o'' should be exercised in a far more understated way. No over-articulating of vowels.
Is he really advocating a reduction in clarity? Or is he asking for more vowel reduction, more weak forms?
More lightness - there's too much gravity in her voice. Add some occasional lightness that taps into a greater range of melody and more frequent higher melody. This would raise her energy and sound more natural.
Whatever his qualifications as a vocal coach, he doesn’t seem to know much physics.


  1. Over-articulation of vowels Depending on the vowel in question probably means first parts of the diphthongs that are closer ("o") and further to the front ("i"), and weaker diphthongisation ("e").

    It's a variation of the idea that paɪnt, as in paint the wall, is intrinsically ugly.

  2. Language Log post about the “gay dog” thing:

  3. My favorite version is the Aussie in America who repeatedly says he wants his coffee later (= at the end of the meal), but it keeps coming back with more cream in it ....

  4. For what little it's worth, I don't understand what Dean Frenkel means either. Certainly these are not terms in which I would couch advice to anyone who wanted to adjust their speech pattern or overall vocal delivery and resonance.

    Not being Australian, I have no idea why anyone finds the Prime Minister's voice and speech "grating." She sounds pleasant enough to me; but that is a purely subjective personal opinion, not a professional evaluation of her speech. If the majority of Australians are more focused on her style than her content, that is a reasonable argument for adjustment of her style - so that she can govern more effectively. Otherwise it's completely irrelevant. Would that it were irrelevant, period.

  5. Maybe Frenkel means that the diphthongs should be narrower?

  6. That's basically the same, isn't it?

  7. I think she does have quite a strong accent. But what I find truly "grating" is the use of meaningless terms like "lightness" and "understated vowels". You see it a lot in the mass media.

    Another, very common term of this type is "flat vowels", which can be used by Americans to characterise British, Canadian or Southern-States accents, by British English speakers to characterise American, Scottish or Australian accents, and so on.

  8. I'd be interested in how John or some other specialist would describe the GOAT diphthong in this lady Prime Minister's English. I have heard it from several Aussie women, younger generation, already --- it is a kind of 'oy' to my ears, goyt, voyt, the labour party is HOISTING the first political social network in this country... well, something like it. I can't describe it any accurater precisely because I can make no phonetic sense of it. It baffles me. Thank you. This is not a value judgment in any possible dimension, just an observation.

  9. I think that voice teachers use terms like "lightness" and "gravity" a lot when they teach. Of course it isn't physics! It is metaphor. It surprises me how literal-minded we're being here. The audience for the bit of writing isn't a scientific one, and the author is using metaphor to describe vocal qualities. He also says "Energy/tone - it's time to think about the colour in her voice. Her tone is heavy and earthy. But she could do with some lighter and brighter tones that introduce more melodious qualities." There in no "colour" in a voice either. Artists (and the author is clearly an artist) frequently see the world through synesthesia; they hear colour, they feel sound, etc. Scientists HATE this stuff! It isn't physics, it's POETRY!

    Listening to her voice at , she starts off with lots of inflection, a varied range of "pitches". But as she goes on, she gets tired a bit, and her tone flattens out. She runs out of energy at the ends of sentences, and by the end is finishing sentence in glottal fry. The first half of the piece is not bad—quite a lot of variety actually, but the second half is lower in pitch, generally, which, I believe, is what the author means by "gravity".

    In that bit of video, I didn't hear a lot of "Gillard twang" as he calls it—perhaps twang means something different in Australia than it does to me. To me, twang is a vocal quality associated with a bright, forward buzziness in the face, often related to nasality. The term comes to the voice training world via Estill Voice Training. Wikipedia says "The key to twang quality is a narrowing of the epilarynx via a narrowing or constriction of the aryepiglottic sphincter. Twang quality has been used by speakers and singer to boost vocal resonance or 'squillo' and is referred to as the speaker's ring or singer's formant. The quality is excellent when teaching safe shouting and at cutting through background noise, increasing clarity of the voice, and is taught to both singers and actors to enable them to be heard clearly in large auditoria without vocal strain. Twang quality may be nasalized or oral, as differentiated by an open or closed velopharyngeal port."

    But I suspect that Frenkel's use of twang is just about an accent (OED: "A distinctive manner of pronunciation or intonation differing from that usual, or regarded as the standard, in a country; esp. one associated with a particular district or locality.")

  10. @Eric - which book (perhaps one that comes with a disk) would you recommend as an introduction to the field, where a beginner could learn about voice training etc.?

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  12. Mrs Gillard is from Adelaide where one can find some relevant features which sound more like a sort of exaggerated Aussie accent. Also, I thing what makes many australians think she's got a "bogan" accent is more her very nasal voice (non-linguistically relevant factor though). By the way, she's definitely somewhat inbetween General and Broad.
    Also her "NEXT generation" (what she says in the vid) sounds almost "nixt". I mean, the vastest majority of younger Australian speakers will pronounce maaaaany words in way which would make no actual difference compared to other (young) speakers of RP. Still, if one listens to Turnbull's speech, Abbott''s speech or Costello's etc... it'd be also pretty clear that linguistically speaking the quality of their vowels is substantially the same as those of Gillard.


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