Archive for the ‘Phonetics’ Category


Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

The dates for the 2015 meeting of the Phonetics Teaching & Learning Conference have now been announced. PTLC2015 will take place at UCL from 5-7 August next year. A link to the conference website can be found in the sidebar.


Saturday, May 24th, 2014


This post is prompted by a query from Nobuo Yuzawa about an utterance in my program Plato. First, I see I hadn’t posted a link here to that program, so I’ve put that right. The query ended up in the comments page for EP Tips and started an exchange of comments between Nobuo and Emilio Márquez. I’m going to remove the originals from that page and reproduce them here:

Nobuo Yuzawa says:
May 19, 2014 at 1:45 am
I have a question about the tonicity of Plato Set1 No10 “I can’t imagine what they want”. The intended answer is “what”, which means that its tone is a rise-fall – there is a rise in pitch in ‘they’. Is there any useful perceptual clue to distinguish this case from the case in which ‘they’ is the nucleus and is spoken with a fall?

Emilio Márquez says:
May 19, 2014 at 4:57 am
Nobuo, I think I can hear a mid-level strong “what” and then a high weak short fall during “they”. I suppose that if the nucleus was to fall on “they”, this word would be perceived to be stronger than “what”, irrespective of pitch.

Nobuo Yuzawa says:
May 19, 2014 at 3:55 pm
Emilio, thank you for your comment. Acoustically, what you perceive as stronger in “what” than “they” may be related to duration. This is a noticeable difference in duration between the two words, but almost no change is detected in intensity between them, and “they” is higher-pitched than “what”. As a Japanese speaker, I may be simply more sensitive to changes in pitch. Your perception of more strength on “what” may also have something to do with an overall stress pattern of this sentence, “what” being a content word and “they” being a function word. This may mean that if “they” were highlighted as spoken with a fall, it might require more change in prosodic elements, such as much higher pitch, more intensity, and/or more duration. It seems that a simple comparison of prosodic elements does not always explain satisfactorily perceptual differences of speech sounds by people, especially by native speakers. Would this explanation somehow make sense?

Emilio Márquez says:
May 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm
Nobuo, You’re absolutely right. I’m afraid I mixed up perception with articulation when I referred to strong “what” vs weak “they”.

I think Nobuo and Emilio have outlined part of the answer. I’ll add my thoughts. The first diagram below shows the broadband spectrogram and fundamental frequency contour of an utterance of the word No produced by me with a falling tone. Notice that there is a brief precursive rise in F0 and the peak coincides more or less with the beginning of the vowel.

Diagram 1
The second diagram shows a similar display for the same word said with a rise-fall tone. This time the peak is a lot later, approximately 225ms after the onset of the vowel.

Diagram 2
Diagram 3 shows the utterance No, you fool said with a falling tone on No. The F0 contour is similar to that of Diagram 1, with the F0 peak aligned with the vowel onset.

Diagram 3
Diagram 4 shows the same utterance, but this time with a rise-fall tone on the word No. Again there is a delay in the F0 peak, but this time it is in the syllable following the nucleus, and as you can see quite late in that syllable.

Diagram 4
The final diagram shows the utterance No, you do it, with a falling tone on the word you. Notice that the F0 peak is soon after the onset of the vowel, which is marked with the blue vertical line.

Diagram 5
So there is a distinct difference in the alignment of a falling tone within its syllable and the falling part of a rise-fall tone within its syllable. This difference is a further cue to the distinction between a fall and a rise-fall and this can be added to the “strength” difference that Nobuo and Emilio talked of.

This idea of a delay in peak alignment has been taken up by quite a few intonation researchers. One account you might like to look at is by Gussenhoven C. (1984) On the grammar and semantics of sentence accents. Dordrecht: Foris. He proposes a number of what he calls ‘modifications’ which can be applied to an accented syllable, usually the nucleus. One of these is [±delay]. The positive value of this modification can be applied to tones of all kinds, not only falls, and has the semantic effect of making the information so marked “especially noteworthy”, “not routine”.

Sweet success

Thursday, 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.

English for Medical Science

Tuesday, 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 . 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Sunday, December 15th, 2013

I was listening to a recording of a story in Welsh the other day and it occurred to me that one of the sounds I was hearing doesn’t really have an accepted phonetic description. This is the sound which is written with the digraph <ch>.

This sound is usually labelled as a voiceless uvular fricative and has the phonetic symbol χ. The sound produced by the speaker in the recording was certainly voiceless, uvular and fricative, but the label misses something important about the sound I was hearing. I’d better not use a clip from the recording for copyright reasons, but below is a sentence in Welsh spoken by yours truly in which I have done my best to produce the type of fricative the Welsh speaker used. The sentence means What is your name? Click on the sentence to hear my utterance.

Beth ydy’ch enw chi?

The only term I have ever heard to describe this particular sort of χ is scrapy, but I don’t think I have ever seen the term in print. I heard the term many, many years ago from my former teacher and colleague John Baldwin. It’s perhaps not surprising that the IPA chart makes no mention of scrapiness. It’s a pretty fair bet that no language contrasts scrapy and non-scrapy fricatives. The ExtIPA chart also seems to be silent on the matter.

Here is my take on scrapiness for what it’s worth. Given the evidence of the speech pressure waveform below, which is taken from the first <ch> sound in my recording, scrapiness involves some sort of quasi-periodicity. My proprioceptive impression is that something is vibrating and it is not the uvula itself, as would be found in a voiceless uvular trill . I think the scrapy fricative is a laxer articulation than its smoother counterpart and that it requires a stronger airflow.