What you can see in the picture is a pinnace – a small boat carried on board ship and used for taking people or goods ashore. The word features in the title of a book I have just received.
Don’t Ask the Admiral to Show you his Pinnace (ISBN: 978-1-291-30237-0) is written and published by John Higgins. It is subtitled Delights and wrongs of minimal pairs and the blurb on the back cover reads:
A light-hearted tour of minimal pairs and some of the problems they create for those who speak English or are trying to learn it.
I think the blurb actually undersells the contents of the book. It is true that more than half the 49 pages are taken up with minimal pairs and that the tone is jovial and occasionally a little risqué, but the first part of the book constitutes a friendly introduction to some concepts of English phonetics and linguistics, including the phoneme principal, homophones, homographs, rhymes, mondegreens, spoonerisms, and malapropisms. There is also a series of boxed notes entitled The Professional Linguist which make some very good points about how linguists think about language.
The minimal pairs section is subdivided into two sections, one dealing with vowel contrasts and the other with consonant contrasts. These sections are scattered with quips. The best joke, to my mind, occurs on page 41 in a paragraph dealing with the v/w contrast, but I’d better not spoil the fun by giving details. For most contrasts there is an indication of the problems caused for speakers of various languages and warnings are given about vocabulary items which need especial care.
The book is non-technical and contains only the odd reference to technical terms. It uses only two phonetic symbols: ə and ŋ. The writing is clear and engaging. The production of the book is very good. I heartily recommend it to all. It costs £5.50 plus postage and can be ordered from
My copy arrived four days after the order was placed.
Photo credit: edoddridge. Used under this licence.