Thursday, 28 April 2016


On page 13 of his latest book Sounds Interesting (2014, CUP), John Wells writes:

"When my cardiologist started me on a drug called amiodarone, he pronounced it ˌæmiˈɒdərəʊn, and that's what my GP said, too. But shortly afterwards I went for a blood test. The phlebotomist called it ˌæmiˈəʊdərəʊn.
So should it be ɒ or əʊ? A short o or a long one? Who cares? The spelling's the same, which is what matters for the pharmacist who has to dispense it."

Look at this panel: 

How do you say, for example, diltiazem? I'm pretty sure both native speakers and non-native speakers of English will find it difficult to answer this question. As you can see from this link, Wikipedia has dɪlˈtaɪəzɛm (= dɪlˈtaɪəzem), as do Forvo and Merriam-Webster Online. But my Dictionary of Nursing (Adams et al (2007), A & C Black) and my Dictionary of Medical Terms (Bateman et al (2004), A & C Black) say we should pronounce it as dɪlˈtaɪəzəm. In the Oxford Dictionary of Nursing (Martin (2014), OUP), on the other hand, the only pronunciation provided is dil-ti-ă-zem (= ˈdɪltiəzem).

What about betaxolol? Is it GB bɪˈtæksəlɒl, bəˈtæksəlɒl, beˈtæksəlɒl or indeed bɪˈtæksəʊlɒl, bəˈtæksəʊlɒl, beˈtæksəʊlɒl? Who knows exactly?! And are the variants ˌbiːtəksˈəʊlɒl/ˌbeɪtəksˈəʊlɒl even possible in GB?  (Cf. metaprolol/metoprolol which can be both GB ˌmetəˈprəʊlɒl and məˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/məˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl.)

John Wells points out in his book that,

"[a]s with so many learned, scientific or technical words, the spelling is fixed while the pronunciation fluctuates. (...) That's because instead of hearing other speakers and imitating what they say, we often create a pronunciation for ourselves on the basis of the spelling, using the reading rules of English, which are notorious for their uncertainty."  

Italian-speaking members of the clinical professions intending to work in the health care sector with English-speaking patients can find information on the pronunciation of medical terms (including medications) in my two books L'inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all'ascolto (2014, EdiSES) and Health Care Professionals Speaking (2015, EdiSES).

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Registered nurses

The English used in online ads by nursing recruitment agencies and their Italian members sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Have a look at these two screenshots:

As you can see, the spelling *(pre) registred nurse is incorrect. It ought to be (pre-)registered nurse of course. The agency nurse who published these ads constantly misspells this common expression in her Facebook postings about the level of English needed to be able to work as a health care professional in the UK. This implies that she not only writes registered nurse incorrectly but that she also probably pronounces it in the wrong way. This is sad, as one would expect an Italian nurse recruiter to speak very good English and especially to know how to spell (and pronounce) the noun which refers to their occupation 

Pronouncing registered ˈreʤɪstrɪd/ˈreʤɪstred or even reˈʤɪstrɪd/reˈʤɪstred is not unusual among native speakers of Italian. This is because Italian has a noun, registro, ɾeˈʤistɾɔ/ɾeˈʤistɾo, which translates the English register and is always stressed on the second syllable, and a verb, registrare, ɾeʤiˈstɾaɾe, which, like the former, contains the cluster /-str-/. Add to this influence the fact that the pronunciation of the -ed ending of the simple past and past participle of English regular verbs often trips up students and you can see why we get the four non-native variants I listed at the beginning of the paragraph.

Register is ˈreʤɪstə/ˈreʤəstə in General British (GB) and ˈreʤɪst(ə)r/ˈreʤəst(ə)r in General American (GA). As you know, in GB a written r is pronounced only when a vowel sound follows, whereas in GA all written r's are normally pronounced. (For further info, have a look at this excellent post by the phonetician Geoff Lindsey.) As far as the -ed ending goes, it is pronounced d both after a vowel sound (GB ˈreʤɪstəd/ˈreʤəstəd) and after all voiced consonant sounds, except d itself (GA ˈreʤɪst(ə)rd/ˈreʤəst(ə)rd). See here.

Registered nurse is a compound characterised by main stress on the second element: thus ˌregistered ˈnurse. Its common abbreviation is RN.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Understanding and speaking un-English in 21 days

The book you see here to the left is called Inglese per viaggiare in 21 giorni (Improve your English on the move in 21 days.). It has just been published by Sperling & Kupfer (ISBN 978-88-200-5978-1, 228 pp.) and costs 12,90 euros. The authors, Massimo De Donno, Giacomo Navone and Luca Lorenzoni, are not linguists or phoneticians but public speaking experts. 

The book, aimed at Italians intending to understand and communicate clearly and successfully with native English speakers, is divided into 21 chapters which deal mainly with how English is spoken in the UK and around the world. The authors describe the pronunciation of RP – as they still call it –, Scottish and Irish English, American English, South African, Australian and New Zealand English. They do so by providing transcriptions in IPA (as well as in a kind of simplified 'phonetic' spelling system) of all the words and expressions that they present. Symbols and their use are discussed at pp. 38-48. The book also has a companion website which, at the time of writing, contains no resources related to it. 

The three authors must have written the book in a hurry because the whole work is riddled with inaccuracies and false statements. It is not just a question of possible typing errors or misprints such as jeləu (yellow) instead of (ˈ)jeləʊ (p. 59) or teik advais (take advice) instead of teɪk əd(ˈ)vaɪs (p. 66). What we have here is serious mistakes about the 'phonemic spelling' of English words as well as phonetics in general. There isn't a single page which doesn't contain at least one error.  

On page 40, for example, we find this: 

The pronunciations they give are for RP (= General British (GB)), which they claim is only spoken by 2-3% of the British population (p. 3). This is totally untrue. Please read here. As you can see, the transcriptions for learn, see and blue are wrong: in GB learn is always lɜːn not lɜːrn; see is siː or sɪi, not sɪː; and blue is never blʊː but bluː or blʊu. (On page 98, though, crew is given as kruː, not krʊː, and tree is both trɪː and tʃriː on page 44, which seems to suggest that the authors are unaware of the difference between the sounds and ʊ(ː), and between and ɪ(ː).)

On page 41, nose is transcribed nɒʊz, and on page 42 gnome is both nəʊm and nɒʊm. As you know, nose is nəʊz and gnome is nəʊm: the ɒʊ diphthong is used in GB only before dark l, as in cold: kɒʊɫd. See here

And what do we make of the pronunciations of dad, feet, bag, horse, universe, piano, serpent, tree, cheese, teeth, and rose on pp. 42-43? 

 They're all completely wrong and never to be heard in GB. 

Other examples of incorrect transcriptions in the book include the following: pence (p. 60) is penz instead of pen(t)s (penz = pens); to get the gist on p. 86 is transcribed as tʊ ɡet ðə ɡɪst rather than tə ɡet ðə ʤɪst; Blood Alcohol Content (p. 109) is blʌd ælkəhɒl kəntent instead of blʌd ælkəhɒl kɒntent (kənˈtent = happy); comprehensive (p. 123) is given as kəmprəhensɪv rather than (GB) ˌkɒmprəˈhen(t)sɪv ~ ˌkɒmprɪˈhen(t)sɪv; natural gas (p. 158) is transcribed nætʊrəl ɡæs instead of næʧərəl ɡæs; preservative on page 188 is given as prɪsə(r)vətɪv rather than (GB) priˈzɜːvətɪv ~ prəˈzɜːvətɪv; dauntless (p. 202) is transcribed dɒn(t)les, but you know that in GB this is ˈdɔːntləs; to follow suit is given as tʊ fɒlɒʊ sʊt rather than tə fɒləʊ suːt (sʊt = soot)… I could go on.

On page 43, the phrase that thing is transcribed as ðæ(t) θɪŋ and hot day is hɒ(t) deɪ. The t is in brackets because – the authors stress – in these cases it may not be sounded. Of course that's false. In that thing and hot day, t can never be omitted, but it can be replaced by a glottal stop, ʔ.

On page 45, ŋ is described as a sound produced with your tongue low in the mouth. Please see this picture from Cruttenden's Gimson's Pronunciation of English (Routledge, 2014, p. 216) which clearly shows that the back of the tongue is raised towards the velum when you articulate ŋ.

According to the authors, GB /r/ is typically realized as ʋ or ɰ (pp. 44-45) not ɹ, and /æ/ = or ɛə (p. 40) rather than a; American English has got vowels which are more open than BrE (p. 103); and Australian and New Zealand English father contains a vowel more open than GB ɑː, so in these accents it can be pronounced both fʌðə(r) and fɑðə(r) (p. 224). 

Connected speech and stress are also extremely problematic: p. 128 has aɪ kʊd hæv kʌm bʌt aɪ dɪdnt fɪːl laɪk draɪvɪŋ (I could have come but I didn't feel like driving), instead of, for example, aɪ kəd əv kʌm bət aɪ dɪdn fiːl laɪk draɪvɪŋ; Does she attend your school? (p. 52) is transcribed as dʌs ʃɪː ətend jɔː(r) skʊːl rather than, for instance, ˈdʌz ʃi ətend jɔː ˈskuːl; the modal going to is given as ɡɔɪŋ tʊ on page 95; and on p. 79 police is pɒlɪs in IPA and pòlis in the authors' 'phonetic' spelling system. This seems to indicate that de Donno, Navone and Lorenzoni pronounce police wrongly in GB as ˈpɒlɪs (or possibly ˈpɒliːs) rather than p(ə)ˈliːs. The 'phonetic' spelling system they use is also hopelessly inaccurate. In their previous book, for instance, the authors give lady as 'ledi' (p. 42) and bus as 'bas' (p. 47): a monophthongal in lady is not GB but a feature of many regional accents spoken in the UK; bus is bʌs or bɐs in GB, not bas, as this latter pronunciation corresponds to bass, a sea or freshwater fish that is used for food.  

And what do we make of p. 82?

The pronunciations given are in Irish (English), the authors say once again, most of the transcriptions are entirely wrong.  

What about this from p. 92?

I don't know where De Donno et al. took this from – the book contains no references. 

The information provided about English grammar is also at some points fairly inaccurate, as when, on p. 192, we read this:

As you know, in Standard English hope is always followed by to + infinitive, never by to + verb + ing.    

The book also describes some technical phonetic terms such as, for instance, intrusive r (pp. 55-56), non-rhotic (p. 193), up-talk [sic] (p. 117) and yod-dropping (p. 207). For the latter, the authors provide a chart showing the 'loss' of j in Australian English:

All of the pronunciations indicated are wrong. 

I very much hope that all these oversights and errors will be sorted out by the authors before the second edition of their Inglese per viaggiare in 21 giorni comes out. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Health Care Professionals Speaking

My new book is finally out! (If you wish to look inside it, click on 'sfoglia' on this link.)

Here's what famous authors from the world of phonetics and medicine think about it: 

"I heartily welcome this excellent practical grammatical, lexical and phonetic analysis that Alessandro Rotatori has written for Italians intending to work in the health care professions with English-speaking patients."

John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics, University College London, UK

"This excellently written book will be a valuable resource for Italian-speaking members of the clinical professions. The coverage and organisation of the book is exceptionally good. The author provides some guidance not only on pronunciation, but also on grammar and vocabulary, and points out many of the potential traps for Italian speakers. 
The material is organised around a number of realistic dialogues in clinical settings: admission to hospital, pain, discussion of treatment, patient discharge and the like. The language is up-to-date, colloquial and lively. Both General British and General American varieties of English are used. A thorough survey of the sounds of the two varieties is provided and the audio clips (available on the website linked to the book) are a great bonus. 
The author is to be congratulated on producing an innovative and well-conceived text book. Any Italian native speaker engaged in the health and allied professions who needs to communicate with patients in English would be well-advised to use this book." 

John Maidment, formerly Lecturer in Phonetics, University College London, UK and Chair of the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (PTLC)

"I'm absolutely delighted to be able to introduce this brilliant new book by Alessandro Rotatori. It's exactly what I should have recommended any Italian-speaking member of any of the health care professions to search for if they wanted a truly authentic and up-to-date guide to the kinds of expressions that English-speaking doctors and nurses etc use every day in the practice of their profession. Not only do the dialogues ring completely true as examples of the way such professionals express themselves in terms of choice of words and grammatical usages but the author has supplied his realistic spoken texts with invaluable accompanying versions in modern simple phonetic spellings which are colloquial in style so that he shows clearly examples of the variations and adjustments to context that he prepares his readers to find that words may undergo in ordinary daily speech. He even includes, for those who may be interested to observe them, simple indications of the kinds of rhythms and intonations that typically accompany the use of the idiomatic speech that he represents. It seems very difficult to imagine any medical situations that his wide range of excellent typical texts do not supply models for.
And of course I heartily endorse the words of my two famous colleagues John Wells and John Maidment."

Jack Windsor Lewis, formerly Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Leeds, UK

"Questo testo, destinato ai professionisti sanitari e agli studenti sanitari di tutti gli ordini e gradi di studio che si avvicinano o già si sono avvicinati alla lingua inglese, esplora in maniera dettagliata, con acribia sintattica e fonetica, alcuni temi sanitari fondamentali per erogare un'assistenza di qualità sia in contesti franchi che propriamente anglofoni. Il testo, scritto secondo una logica conversazionale, è arricchito da clip sonore scaricabili gratuitamente dal sito dell'editore. Ogni conversazione è trascritta foneticamente utilizzando i simboli dell'Alfabeto Fonetico Internazionale (IPA). Tale arricchimento fonetico rende il testo unico nel panorama mondiale di settore e dimostra la cura e la dovizia di particolari riguardo l'elaborazione fonetica e sintattica dello stesso. In ogni analisi conversazionale presentata nel testo, inoltre, i termini tecnici e le espressioni particolari sono sottolineati ed evidenziati per una loro migliore comprensione.
Questo è un testo di fondamentale utilità per chi vuole assistere l'altro, sempre più cittadino globale, attraverso scambi conversazionali in lingua inglese, e che permette di avere sempre più competenze e, quindi, opportunità di affermazione professionale nell'arena planetaria." 

"Il testo di Alessandro Rotatori rappresenta una innovazione rispetto ai libri 'tradizionali' rivolti agli studenti e professionisti sanitari che si avvicinano alla lingua inglese. Le brillanti capacità didattiche dell'Autore si ritrovano in un testo agile e facilmente fruibile, dove la fonetica gioca un ruolo fondamentale. Rivolta ai discenti di oggi con lo spirito moderno che un docente dovrebbe sempre avere, sono certo che la lettura di questo libro sarà di grande utilità pratica e ricca di stimoli non soltanto per gli studenti."

Prof. Orazio Schillaci, Preside della Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia, Università degli Studi di Roma "Tor Vergata"