Thursday 16 December 2010

Black or white ice?

Here we go again! I've spotted another howler in my English-Italian Italian-English 2010 Hazon Garzanti Dictionary (cf. my blog for the 20th of November).
Having to check the exact translation into Italian of the English compound black ice, I opened my dictionary and looked it up in there. Much to my surprise, I found that the phonemic transcription the authors offer for this expression is ˈblækaɪs. But this is obviously wrong! The correct stress pattern in English is ˌblæk ˈaɪs, with main stress on the final element, NOT on the initial one.

The expression black ice refers to ice in a thin layer on the surface of a road. While not truly black, it is virtually transparent, allowing black asphalt roadways to be seen through it.

The late stress on the compound noun highlights the fact that we are NOT talking about 'ice that is black' (I haven't seen any yet!), rather that black ice is just a particular type of ice that is to be found on the surface of roads in frosty weather - a topical issue in this part of the world, I would say.

The double stress on black ice is similar to the one you get in such words as black board or black bird:
1) a ˈblackboard is a particular board with a dark smooth surface, used in schools for writing on with chalk; a ˈblack ˈboard is just a board which is black.
2) a ˈblackbird is a common American and European bird, the male of which is completely black; a ˈblack ˈbird is just a bird that is black.

Does anyone in the English-speaking world pronounce black ice front-stressed? Please, let me know. I'm really curious!

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