Cluster fun

Petr Rösel’s latest post deals with variations in the pronunciation of the word length. He points out quite rightly that it can be pronounced leŋθ, leŋkθ , lenθ or lentθ. The same sort of variation also applies to the word strength.

I have always thought it a shame not to pronounce strength with a three-term final cluster – ŋkθ or ntθ, because this means that the plural of the word is a maximal monosyllable for GB English. By this I mean that it is not possible to have more consonants than seven in a syllable, three at the beginning and four at the end. This is what we have in streŋkθs or strentθs and as far as I know this is the only English word like this.

Phonetic Adventure

More as a bit of nostalgia than anything else I acquired a couple of months ago BBC Basic for Windows. I bought a BBC Micro (pictured) in about 1983 and had lots of fun with it. It turns out that BBC Basic has been available on various platforms all the time since it was first released. The first Windows version was released by R.T.Russel in 2001 and version 6 is the one I have. It is now a very sophisticated programming language.

One of the things about BB4W that caught my attention was the ability to produce stand-alone applications from one’s programs. This means they can be distributed to anyone with a Windows machine, even if they have not got BB4W installed. In order to re-acquaint myself with BBC Basic I have written an old-style adventure game. This is in the tradition of the original 1970s Adventure (also called Colossal Cave or Colossal Cavern). For those not familiar with this sort of game, the player can interact with the program by typing simple commands. For instance, north may take you to another location in the game’s universe. Another example: take ring, assuming there is a ring present at the current location, will add the ring to your list of possessions. Part of the fun of the game is finding out what you can and can’t do.

The only difference between my game and those of the 1970s and 80s is the program’s output is in GB phonemic transcription rather than English orthography. The player, however, must use normal spelling for input. If you like this sort of thing, you can download the game here. This will deliver a 1.81mb zip archive called You should then extract all the files in the archive to the same folder on your computer. There are 5 files: phon_adv.exe, readmefirst.txt, goldallo.bmp, alloblank.bmp and zara.wav.

The game is called, rather unadventurously, Phonetic Adventure. I am sure I have perpetrated some typos in there somewhere. I’d be grateful to know about them if you find any and also to know what you think of the game.

Photo credit: Stuart Brady. In the public domain.


I have finally got round to finishing and publishing an idea I had back in 2009. It is called Paratrans and you can find it here. More content is on its way. Comments welcome.

Update 2015_06_14: One can now play any of the visible transcription sections at will.

Update 2015_06_15: Added another text to Paratrans.


Credit: Google Maps.

The marker on the map shows the location of the village of Rottingdean in East Sussex. Most fans of English traditional folk music will know it as the home village of The Copper Family. Generations of Coppers up until the present day have performed unaccompanied English songs and have had a great influence on the British folk scene. The sound clip below is the last verse of a song called Thousands or More, sung by Jim Copper (1882-1954).

I am sure you have noticed that Jim pronounces ɹ at the end of the words poor, or, and more and that these words are not followed by a word which begins with a vowel. Another member of the family, Ron (c.1913-1979), also pronounces the consonant at the ends of words, not always, but quite often. From the little I have heard of Jim and Ron I would very tentatively rate their accent as one of medium-low rhoticity. General British is an extremely low rhoticity accent.

Of course what one does when singing may not be what one does when speaking. I have only managed to find one small snippet of Jim Copper’s speech. In it there are three opportunities for a coda /r/ to be pronounced. One of these is followed by a vowel-initial word and the /r/ is pronounced. The word farming has no /r/, but the word shepherd does have a very weakly pronounced /r/.

From what I have been able to ascertain by listening to sound clips available on the internet, this coda /r/ no longer exists in the accent of the area. It is way outside the area normally thought of as the domain of high rhoticity accents in the UK. I have never seen any real attempt to trace the history of coda /r/ and its loss in the UK. Please let me know if you are aware of any useful pieces of work on this.

Braille IPA

The image above shows the final words of the North Wind and the Sun in Braille IPA. The version is that for North American English from the IPA Handbook. In “inkform” it reads:

ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ əv ðə ˈtu

This post was prompted by an enquiry from a colleague in Spain, who will have a visually impaired student in the next academic year. If anyone out there has experience of using Braille IPA, or has any useful advice for my colleague, please let me know and I will pass the information on.

If you are interested, there is a PDF document which details the Braille encoding of IPA symbols. It can be found here.