Last month, a new book on phonetic transcription was published by Cambridge University Press. The book is called Transcribing the Sound of English: A Phonetics Workbook for Words and Discourse. Its author, Paul Tench, is former senior lecturer in phonetics and applied linguistics at the Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University.
“is not so much a coursebook in phonetics nor a textbook on English phonology, but a training course in developing students’ powers of observation on features of English pronunciation and their skills in recording them in writing. It begins in a very elementary way but it is thorough, and eventually leads to the most comprehensive coverage of the sounds of English from words to full discourse that is available anywhere.” (p.1)
Petr Rösel has already discussed some of the characteristics of this book on his blog, and has come to the conclusion that he can recommend it to his students, “but with some accompanying comments”.
I finished reading it two days ago and I can say that it is not bad. The book is fun to read and coverage is also quite comprehensive and clear, especially as far as English intonation is concerned. But there are, unfortunately, also some inaccuracies which I’d like to point out on here. (I find myself in complete agreement with Petr Rösel’s comments, so I’m not going to reiterate them here.)
For some reason, the workbook is riddled with transcription errors. Just to give you some examples: lovesick (p.64) is narrowly transcribed as ˈlʌʌ̥ˌsɪʔkʰ; soon (p.66) as ʃuːn; the verb (to) converse (p.68) is transcribed kənˈʌɜːs, kʰəɱˈʌɜːs; sunk (p.70) is transcribed as sʌɲk, sʌ̃ɲkʰ; (he’ll) meet you (p.93) as ˈmiːʔ u; of is ɒʌ on page 107 and əʌ on pages 108 and 123; he mightn’t care (p.119) is transcribed as hi ˈmɑitŋ ˈk kɛə; and (pleasant) places is ˈpleɪʃəz on page 120.
There is then the word principles (p.57) which is ˈprɪnsipəlz according to the author, rather than the usual RP ˈprɪn(t)səpl̩z, -ɪp-. Here, apart from the symbol ɪ mistaken for i, it’s the non-syllabicity of the l which strikes me as unusual. I know that some speakers today tend to replace syllabic l and n in words like garden, little, bottle with schwa plus non-syllabic consonant, but this is to be regarded as a change on the verge of RP. That’s why I’m not 100% happy with transcriptions like ˈæpəl (p.52) for ˈæpl̩, ˈlaɪəbəl (p.71) for ˈla(ɪ)əbl̩, ˈɪzənt (p.119) for ˈɪzn̩t, ˈriːznəbəl (p.122) for ˈriːznəbl̩, or indeed ˈkʌmftəbəl (p.122) for ˈkʌmftəbl̩. The transcriptions proposed by Paul Tench are obviously not wrong in themselves, but the author doesn’t mention any other alternative, nor does he point out that these pronunciations are less usual in mainstream RP and are sometimes considered as “baby-like” or “childish”.
On page 98 we read:
“Notice that /t/ does not readily get elided if it would otherwise bring two /s/s together at the end of a word: ghosts /ˈɡəʊsts/”.
This is not true! I would say that pronunciations like ɡəʊsː for ɡəʊsts or ˈsa(ɪ)əntɪsː for ˈsa(ɪ)əntɪsts are quite common in rapid, colloquial RP speech. Here the t gets elided and thus disappears, but it leaves some trace of its former presence behind: the s is lengthened to compensate for its absence.
Finally, on pages 9-10, we read that in IPA the symbol e “represents the sound in the German word Tee and the French word thé, Italian té, Welsh tê”. Now, the Italian word for tea is NOT té: it’s tè. And it ISN’T pronounced te but tɛ! The spelling té for tè is regarded as sub-standard or non-standard and, for this reason, it’s not included in any dictionary – apart from Canepàri’s DiPI. On top of that, people who misspell tè and write té are, for some reason, still likely to pronounce it tɛ. This is probably because this word is so common in speaking that its pronunciation is quite clear. When it comes to writing it, though, Italians may get confused, as they sometimes think that this is “not an Italian word” but an English one! Also, accent marks on Italian headwords are for some native speakers quite difficult to master, especially on monosyllabic words.
The pronunciation te is used in Standard Italian for the pronoun te (without any accent) in expressions like Te lo dico (‘I’m going to tell you’) or in, for instance, Te vieni al cinema? (‘Are you coming to the cinema?’), where the te is a subject pronoun meaning tu (‘you’).
I very much hope all these inaccuracies will promptly be corrected by Mr Tench before the second edition of Transcribing the Sound of English comes out!