March 3rd, 2014
The guy in the picture to the left is Damon Runyon. He is one of my favourite authors. If you have never read him, give him a try.
Quite by chance today I came across a site with freely downloadable sound files of many (if not all) the episodes of the Damon Runyon Theater, which was syndicated to local radio stations in the USA in 1947 and 1948. Even if Runyon’s style and subject matter are not to your taste, you may be interested in the hours of recordings of now outdated American accents, many of them from New York and environs.
Photo in public domain
February 27th, 2014
My colleague Michael Ashby tells me that he has been successful in getting The National Portrait Gallery to accept a photographic portrait of Henry Sweet. An enlarged copy of this used to hang in the Dept. of Phonetics at UCL. You can see the original, which apparently was a gift from Sweet’s widow to Daniel Jones, on the NPG’s website. This is the first mention of the word phonetician in the NPG’s catalogue.
Michael says there is another image of Sweet on the internet, probably from the same studio session, but he has not yet been able to locate the original. He is also interested to learn if there are any other original images around, so if you know anything, please let me know and I’ll pass on your message.
February 23rd, 2014
I have been musing on the innocuous looking little word <to>, not the preposition as in I’m going to Scotland, but the infinitive particle as in I want to eat that cake. This train of thought was prompted by a question from my friend JDL — a question I couldn’t answer — but I’ll return to that later.
Consider the skeleton dialogue:
A: Why did(n’t) you Y?
B: Because I Xed to Y.
where both X and Y are verbs. It is highly likely that Y will be deleted in B’s response. However, some X verbs require the word to to remain and others don’t. So, for example, A: Why did you eat it? B: Because I wanted to. Leaving out the to results in a distinctly odd-sounding utterance. However, if A says: Why didn’t you eat that cake? and B replies: Because I forgot to, leaving out the to is fine.
Why? It seems to me that this is a bit of a minefield for non-native learners of English. Furthermore, there are some horrible verbs like suggest, which don’t allow a TO + VERB complement. I suggest to go now is an example of a fairly frequent non-native learner error.
Back to JDL’s question. It is: are there any other languages like English which allow the construction exemplified by I wanted to?
February 18th, 2014
At the end of last week I received a copy of the book you can see to the left. It is L’inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all’ascolto (English for medical science: pronunciation and listening comprehension). The author is Alessandro Rotatori, a long-time friend of this blog. It is published by EdiSES (ISBN 978-88-7959-8507, xviii,162pp.). It has a foreword in English by Jack Windsor Lewis. It is available from the publisher at a cost of €15.00.
In his foreword JWL says that it is a remarkable book. I agree with this opinion wholeheartedly, and for more than one reason. First, the book uses modern information technology to splendid effect. There are many internet links to useful websites, such as blogs and on-line exercises. The book has a dedicated web page on the publisher’s website which contains downloadable sound files for many of the example utterances in the book. The recordings are in mp3 format and are very professionally done.
Secondly, the book is very well produced with a clear font, helpful layout and good diagrams. Phonetic transcriptions are shown in bold. The phonemic symbol set is that used in John Wells’s Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, with the exception of the vowel in care, fair, there and the like. The symbol ɛː is used instead of Wells’s eə. The attention of the reader is directed to important points and to examples with sound clips by panels with a grey back ground. The sound clip examples are also indicated by a numbered headphone icon.
Finally, the coverage of the book is impressive and the information given to learners is clear, accurate, and up-to-date, both for General British and General American varieties. The main text is divided into five chapters:
- Introduction: The chapter presents some basic concepts, such as the spelling ~ pronunciation dichotomy, the phonemic principle, accent variation and also has a useful section on pronunciation dictionaries and their use. It concludes with a list of recommended websites where the student can find further information of a phonetic nature.
- Consonant sounds: The basic voice, place, manner classification of consonants is presented with numerous examples and sound clips. The chapter also deals admirably with allophonic variation, such as aspiration, devoicing, velarisation and the like, and in passing alerts the learner to the pitfalls of English orthography such as silent consonants. There are plenty of exercises and acivities to reinforce the message.
- Vowel sounds: This chapter, in addition to detailing the basic vowel system of GB and GA, deals with pre-fortis clipping, compression and smoothing, and provides numerous recorded examples and useful exercises.
- Accentuation and connected speech features: A long chapter dealing with lexical stress, accentuation of compounds, stress shift, tonic placement, weak forms, elision, and assimilation. There is also a useful section on the pronunciation of acronyms and abbreviations. Again there are plenty of examples and exercises.
- Intonation: Intonation is treated in a simple and effective way in this chapter, using an inventory of three nuclear tone categories: fall, rise, and fall-rise.
The book ends with a section giving answers to the exercises, a short bibliography and an index. Although the material used as examples is targeted at Italian professionals in the health-care sector, where increasingly the medium of communication at conferences and the like is English, it strikes me that the book presents such a succinct and useful survey of modern GB and GA pronunciation that it would be extremely useful to a more general audience of Italian learners of English.
So well done, Alex. Congratulations and welcome back to the blogosphere.
January 22nd, 2014
Just a couple of quotes from the Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly that I came across when listing books at Oxfam earlier today.
“Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”
“Who first discovered you can get milk from a cow, and what did he think he was doing at the time?”