Friday 7 October 2011

the Jane and Tim show

How can we popularize phonetics to a lay audience?

My colleagues Jane Setter and Tim Wharton have just had what can only be called a gig, at an event called Science Showoff, “an open mic night for scientists, science communicators, science teachers, historians and philosophers of science, students, science popularisers and anyone else with something to show off about science.”
Grab yourself 10 minutes to show off absolutely anything about science. Got a demo, sketch, song, video, talk, performance, dance or anything else about science that you’d like to try out in public, or show to a new audience? Bring it to Science Showoff.

Jane and Tim are both tutors on the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics, as well as holding academic posts at Reading and Kingston universities respectively. They are also both talented singers, with plenty of experience as performers.

Their set comprised some elementary phonetic theory illustrated with two songs, In summer in London and Doing intonation. You may recognize the tunes.

I’m afraid there is no video available. There is a (rather poor-quality) sound recording here. You can listen to it while following the script here. Enjoy the audience participation.


There was one slight performance error. Where Jane was supposed to say (an exaggerated version of)
\really looking ₒforward | to \/science ₒshowoff
she actually produced
\really looking forward | to \/science | \/showoff
…which reflects our uncertainty about the stress pattern of newly coined compound nouns. Ideally I think I would have scripted, and performed,
\really looking forward | to \/Science | \Showoff

From a review on the Science Showoff website:
Highlights for me included ... Jane Setter earworming everyone with songs about phonetics (WHY DID I WAKE UP WITH THE LOCOMOTION IN MY HEAD??!?!) ...

Here's an old picture of Tim and Jane with students at the summer course.


  1. Terrific. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for letting people know about this, John. It was a fun event ... and of course I can't let an opportunity like that go past! And yes, I did realise I hadn't performed according to script. Jane

  3. John Wells: "How can we popularize phonetics to a lay audience?"

    The language of this question is indicative of the fundamental problem. "Lay" is elitist, self-absorbed language that divides and condescends rather than unites and inspires.

  4. In view of the recent 0.083 comments thread, John, is it possible to ban someone from your blog?

  5. Glen: Here's the definition of lay 3 (adj) from LDOCE: "1. not trained or not knowing much about a particular profession or subject ...". Nothing to do with elitism.
    Gassalascajape: Just put up with it and draw your own conclusions about those who post comments.

  6. What Glenn means is that the word "lay" has some derogatory sexual connotations -"...a lay audience" may well refer to an audience who is ready and willing to have sex (at least from a non-native speaker's point of view).

    I know everything I say is nonsense, but I'm just a poor lay person.

  7. Gassalascajape, if John Wells has trouble deleting spam and homophobic comments by others, it would be ridiculously hypocritical of John Wells to suddenly develop standards now. And they certainly wouldn't be coherent ones that sensible people could understand.

    John Wells, as you should well know having studied English for decades, lay can mean "of the people of a church not belonging to the clergy".

    Of course, the second meaning is given as "of the people who do not belong to a particular profession" yet I'm sure it's not your intent to make people feel like they "do not belong" to a particular clique or clergy.

    Beatrice, cheer up. You may be cheap but you're no lay.

  8. Glen Gordon, I (and probably most other visitors here) read this blog for the insights on all things phonetic that John Wells provides. I definitely do not come here to read uncivil rants and insults coming from overly paranoid and touchy people who nurse petty, imaginary grudges. Please take your vindictive self-righteous agenda elsewhere, or maybe vent out your steam on your own blog.

    I just had to post this despite the very likely danger of fulminatory retaliation from you. For once, don't live up to your reputation.

  9. I have deleted Glen Gordon's riposte to the above, and will probably delete all further comments from him, since he persists in attacking both other commentators and me personally. I hope it will not be necessary to make all comments subject to moderation before publication.

  10. Hey! I was going to ask: Should I say " were some sort of A clown..." or "...some sort of clown" (without the indefinite article)?


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