Thursday 3 May 2012

you're 'avin' a larf

Yesterday’s Sun newspaper reported Roy Hodgson’s appointment as manager for the England football team with this headline.

That is, Bring on the Euros (the European football championships), supposedly as pronounced by the new manager.

The Sun’s story continued “We’ll see you in Ukwaine against Fwance”.

It is gratifying to see that this mocking of Hodgson’s pronunciation has led to numerous complaints and to the Football Association condemning the headline as ‘unacceptable’.

The FA and the Press Complaints Commission have today received a large number of objections relating to the front page headline in the Sun newspaper, regarding Roy Hodgson’s manner of speech.
On this occasion, we will not be making an official complaint to the PCC but we have raised it with the newspaper and made it clear that their front page is unacceptable to us.
The FA Chairman, David Bernstein, said:
We are delighted at the media response to Roy’s appointment but are disappointed with the headline in the Sun, which we consider is in poor taste and disrespectful.

The Sun now claims that Hodgson is “affectionately known as Woy due to his speech impediment”.

We had some discussion of labial r last year (blog, 6 April 2011).

However, Hodgson does not have an r-sound like Sir Peter Tapsell’s. If you actually listen to his voice you will notice that his articulation of r is not particularly labial and certainly not w-like. It is more of a velar approximant, ɰ.

But the criticism remains: no one, and particularly not journalists, should mock the afflicted. We can gently mock Ken Livingstone for being a newt-lover, or Donald Trump for his improbable combover. But we wouldn’t poke fun at someone who was blind or disabled. Equally, we oughtn’t to laugh at someone for their idiosyncratic pronunciation.


  1. 'But the criticism remains: no one, and particularly not journalists, should mock the afflicted.'

    It truly surprises me that such as 'Bwing on...' etc. is seen, in the UK, as 'mocking the afflicted'.

    Obviously you Brits have a different sensitivity than us, Poles. We have always 'mocked' (or rather just mimicked, with a note of benevolent irony, or just guiltless affection) those who, like the present prime-minister Tusk, have an uvular 'r', instead of an apical, which has always been standard in Polish. The (quite frequent) uvular 'r' is, in Polish, either a speech-defect, or, formerly, an innocuously snobby attempt at pronouncing the consontant the French way. Quite a few prominent people have it. We then write, rendering their _pronunciamientos_ in writing: Euchopa, Amechyka, Afchyka, Vechdi (Verdi), Chodę (Rodin), Camechon, ('ch' is [x] in Polish, remember) etc., and no-one takes offence. Such practices have, obviously, a different status in your country than they have in ours.

    Sorry, that wasn't phonetics but _Landeskunde_ as a German would have said.

    P.S. I remember a language-conscious American once telling me that American children all go through the phase of substituting a [w] for the (American) [r]. True?

    1. ˈvɔjtɕɛx (there's that IPA again), since you seem like a well-informed person on a number of issues, do you perhaps know why is it that that type of speech impediment is so frequent, i.e. pronouncing r as ʁ or ʀ?

      (P. S. I have replied to your comment about Polish vowels in that other blog post.)

    2. Thank you. Well, some say (and this is borne out in part by my own observation) that the uvular trill and approximant are easier to learn than the apical trill. Growing up in an apical-trill milieu, the child tries to produce the trill and finds it easier, on experimentation, to produce it with the uvula. Most children in a milieu like that persevere in trying to pull it off with the tongue, they at first fail, so their 'r's are all [l] for a time ('flied lice') until they finally succeed. This is the ingenuous picture, heaven only knows how true or false, but I believe largely true.

      As an adult, you find it easier to learn the uvular trill or approximant (which is I think only a fossilised failed version of the uvular trill, not quite easy either) coming from the apical trill than the other way 'round, I think, again, going by observation.

    3. It sounds reasonable. Thank you.

  2. The /r/ sound is certainly one of the last consonants acquired by English-speaking children, and [w] is a common subsitution, at least in areas where the approximant realisation [ɹʷ] is the norm.

    1. Indeed, my grandson (who is almost four) consistently substitutes /w/ for /r/, /f/ for /θ/, and /v/ for /ð/. He will almost certainly lose the first, but in a city where he will often hear (and quite likely acquire) the AAVE accent, he may retain the other two, at least non-initially. He is unlikely to retain his current /fæŋkju/ for thank you. He may also switch from a rhotic to a non-rhotic or partially rhotic accent.

    2. Non-standard /r/s seem much more common in non-rhotic accents than in rhotic accents.

      The only Americans I have heard with non-standard /r/s have had New York City or AAVE accents.

      In my own case, I grew up (in England) with a labial /r/, but lost it when I moved to North America.

      I have my own pet theory about this, which is that [ɹ] or [ɻ] are more easily produced and learned when in syllabic position. I've noticed this in my own daughter's language acquisition: there was a stage when she would use [w] for non-syllabic /r/, but [ɹ ~ ɻ] for syllabic /r/.

      Perhaps the eventual loss of [ɹ] or [ɻ] is a near-inevitable delayed consequence of non-rhoticity 250 years ago?

    3. Perhaps the eventual loss of [ɹ] or [ɻ] is a near-inevitable delayed consequence of non-rhoticity 250 years ago?


    4. @Duchesse:

      In case my argument wasn't clear, I'll summarize it again:

      1. It's easier to pronunce and learn [ɹ] or [ɻ] in syllabic position than in non-syllabic position.

      2. Non-rhotic speakers never have the opportunity to pronounce /r/ in syllabic position

      3. Therefore non-rhotic accents are more likely, over time, to lose the [ɹ] or [ɻ] realizations of /r/.

  3. How is this different from the treatment of Jonathan Ross, or Wossy as the tabloids call him?

    How is it different from impressionists impersonations of politicians and others?

    What about those people who won't accept that he has a speech 'impediment' or that he is 'afflicted' in any way. On what basis do we defend him then?

    Where do we draw the line? Are we no longer able to draw attention to any aspect of anybody's pronunciation? Is it now a total taboo?

    And why does a football manager of all people need such mollycoddling? Surely he didn't get where he is today without developing a thick skin. Is this really the first time it's come up? If I were his PR manager, I'd tell him to play it up and get a few more front pages - it hasn't done Jonathan Ross any harm.

    1. How is this different from the treatment of Jonathan Ross, or Wossy as the tabloids call him?

      Possibly that Jonathan Ross deserves it? :-)

  4. Not as funny as when Monty Python did it to Caesar:


  5. The Scum's headline from today:

    "Wossy: Roy Row is Ridiculous"

    They don't let things lie until they get their own way.

    As Tom Robinson said of the newspaper in one version of Glad to be Gay, "When someone's in trouble, they stick in the knife."

  6. [H]is articulation of r is not particularly labial and certainly not w-like. It is more of a velar approximant, ɰ.

    Isn't a velar approximant rather w-like? The only difference is the lack of labial activity.

  7. But [we] wouldn’t poke fun at someone who was blind or disabled. Equally, we oughtn’t to laugh at someone for their idiosyncratic pronunciation.

    I'm not condoning the Sun's headline, but Hodgson's speech impediment is hardly comparable with being "blind or disabled".

    Hodgson could, if he really wanted to, take speech therapy or training to change the way he articulates his /r/s. A blind or disabled person doesn't generally have that option.

    1. I mean, there's a difference between a real speech impediment, such as stammering, and an off-standard peculiarity of pronunciation. In my country, the prime minister has a uvular r (while apical r is the standard), so does the mayor of the capital (Warsaw), Mrs. Gronkiewicz-Waltz, so do many other people; our folks see it like having a particularly long or a particularly short nose, i.e. as something lending itself easily to caricature, but a caricature need not be malicious, need it? But that is a way of seeing things at River Vistula, clearly not at River Thames.

    2. Sorry, I forgot to add: I agree with John that there should be no poking fun at such things as stammering, blindness or other disabilities. And at River Vistula we think so too, lest there should be any misunderstanding.

      As an old Polish proverb goes: you should not poke fun at people's names, religion or profession. Disabilities is the fourth item.

    3. @Wojcech:

      You are right: I was wrong to refer to Roy Hodgson's realization of /r/ as an "impediment". It would only be an "impediment" if Hodgson wants to produce an apical or retroflex /r/-realization but is unable to do so. However it may also be the case that, like commenter Pete-jh, he simply prefers his current way of pronouncing it.

  8. As a north London cockney who grew up during the fifties and sixties I have always pronounced /r/ as a labio-dental continuant, and still do even after living in Birmingham for most of my life. Talk in the Independent about Hodgson's pronunciation as a disorder or impediment seems misplaced. I have no difficulty producing either the retroflex /r/ or the rolled /r/, but neither of these allophones feels natural to me. I have for some time believed that the labio-dental /r/ stands in a similar relationship to the linguo-dental /r/ that the labio-dental /f/ does, in my accent, to the linguo-dental /th/ . I'd be interested in your views on this.

  9. Roy Hodgson's main rival for the England manager job (at least in the eyes of the English media) was Harry Redknapp. Because of his Cockney accent, Redknapp is often referred to as "'Arry" or "Arry" in the press, including The Sun.

    Is it any worse to draw attention to "Woy" Hodgson's distinctive pronunciations than it is to "Arry" Redknapp's? Perhaps there seems to be more affection and less mockery directed at Redknapp, but this also reflects their general media personalities, not just their pronunciations.

    1. This is a good point. H-dropping is considered differently to pronunciation of /r/ as [ɰ ~ ʋ]. This may be simply mob rule: /r/ as [ɰ ~ ʋ] has only ever a minority pronunciation, whereas H-dropping was a feature of a large proportion of the population for a long time (although it is less common now).

      Alternatively it may be because most (all?) H-droppers can say [h] if they try, whereas many who say /r/ as [ɰ ~ ʋ] cannot say [r] or [ɹ]. In this case, it is akin to a disability.

  10. The BBC is asking the same questions and has its own comments section:

  11. At a linguistics meeting during the Bush era, I was part of a large group sharing giggles over bushisms. Our laughs subsided when Emmon Bach admonished us that, however popular in the public and the media, such mocking among linguists sends the wrong message (professionalism, descriptivism, etc.) Our respected elder's point was well taken.

    1. Wrong message in what way exactly in terms of professionalism and descriptivism?

    2. Guessing in the cloud of unknowing, I'd understand the former as 'showing supercilious attitude of a professional over against a layman who falls helplessly prey to the professional's objectifying and thereby insulting descriptions' or some such;

      'descriptivism' I don't know, maybe 'describing' people as if they were dead objects or animals to be so described;

      these are all new-fangled sins unthinkable in previous, less democratic ages where people put up with various such things as a matter of course. (Or worse still, felt flattered for being described with much more supercilious professionals: 'you, sir, did you go to school? Wotdyou tyke me for, a fool?' [here a professional description:] 'no-one taught him 'teyke' instead of 'tyke'.)

    3. I should check with Emmon (now at SOAS), but I understood him to mean this: Bushisms were typically wielded as comical evidence that Bush was stupid, which is a non sequitur for professional linguists. Rather than mock or censure regionalisms, lexical innovations, creative blends, malapropisms, etc., descriptive linguists ought to seek out such "linguistic creativity" as valuable sources of insight. Indeed, some of my favorite entries in Prof. Wells' blog are his descriptions and explanations of linguistic blunders. Linguistic creativity is a favorite topic of Emmon's. In his 1996 Linguistic Society of America presidential address he cited several examples of phonetic creativity, including the spontaneous development of implosive voiced stops among students in his elementary school (Canadian Academy, Japan c. 1940), 'Abnormal types of speech in Nootka' (Sapir 1915), and exotic sounds in Damin (Australia).

  12. This type of topic inevitably revolves round round expressions like impediment or habit. An impediment is assessed and confirmed in the clinic, that has already been clarified in previous postings. Some habits may be seen as stigmatizing, and the usual remedy is to modify the victim rather than the stigmatizing community. A stigma is arbtrarily defined by the stigmatizing community (arbitrary: what is an undesirable speech habit in one community might be a highly desirable habit in some other community, or even a phonological process in yet another community). I agree wholeheartedly with Darin Flynn's explanation why linguists should not join the public in mockery.

    Another tendency is to state what someone can do, or can't, without having any evidence. How do we know that someone can't produce, say, a certain consonant, without actually interviewing? How do we know that children are unable to do this or that as they progress through language acquisition? Phonological systems develop as the child splits established categories into new categories. It's safer to say they do, or don't do, something. One thing they commonly seem to do is wait until the last moment before putting the final touches to liquid contrasts. VP mentioned English, it's also true for some other languages.

    Back to stigmatizing and mockery again. Remember the bully's first defence is "it was only for fun".

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I don't think the implied criticism is that 'Woy' and 'Wossy' haven't mastered the knowledge that leads to a w/r contrast as part of development into adulthood. Rather, I suggest, the acquisition is that they lack some social sense that leads most of 'us' to conform. After all, what is an accent if it isn't a badge of social conformity?

    It's one of the features that makes many of us smile at the speech of children — without any stigmatism or mockery. The other major feature is the lisp that is a lack of s/θ contrast. Violet Elizabeth Bott in the 'William' books is represented on the page as saying I'll thcream and thcream and thcreacm 'till I'm thick'. Actresses tend to read this as θkwi:m and θkwi:m.

    Smiling at eccentricities may amount to mockery — but may just amount to expressing surprise that the eccentric is so full of self-confidence and so lacking in self-awareness. This may be a total misperception, but it's a different misperception.

    The two main w-sayers discussed here are a football manager and a popular TV presenter. But in comic fiction the typical w-sayer is a bit of a silly-ass toff.

  15. Rather, I suggest, the acquisition is ...

    Curse of the spell-checker again!

    Rather, I suggest, the accusation is ...

  16. Overnight I've been pondering these two observations:

    1. The Sun is actually inaccurate. Somebody did a quick analysis of Roy Hodgson's speech for the BBC and found at least three different realisations of /r/. This may be because he has moved around so much and has coached foreign teams in their down languages.

    2. The difference between H-dropping and the twin features of lisping and W-for-R is that the former is taken (by some) as an index of ignorance while the latter are taken as indices of childishness. This is an idiosyncrasy which may be attractive (to some) in attractive young women, or a pleasing (to some) eccentricity in confident young men. Which is why writers of comic fiction create quite likeable characters who say Weally.

    Finally, I see a connection. 'Woy' is not the real-life Roy Hodges but a fictional character created by the Sun. The real man has three or more R's; the comic character has only W. A source of amusement yes, but not the way turnip was a source of amusement.

  17. there's one character in the American TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" who speaks like this:

    from 0:59

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