Saturday 30 June 2012

Italian triphthongs?

In a discussion on the history of the terms smoothing and compression, Jack Windsor Lewis, in an article published on the 25th of June 2012, said:

“Sequences like /aɪə/ and /aʊə/, [Daniel] Jones pointed out, because they were not single syllables, were strictly not properly termable as ‘triphthongs’. In the first edition of his Outline of English Phonetics (1918 §107) he instanced the Italian word buoi as containing a true triphthong.”

The last sentence in the quote above I find a bit baffling. Does Italian really have triphthongs?

According to a traditional view shared by the majority of linguists in Italy, a true triphthong is a sequence of three vowel sounds belonging to the same syllable. If we take this definition and apply it to the word buoi (‘oxen’) proposed by Daniel Jones, we get something like (ˈ)buːɔi, a pronunciation I've never heard from Italian native speakers. Buoi is normally pronounced (ˈ)bwɔːi

Buoi is not a word 'containing' a true triphthong but just a sequence of sounds consisting of a semivowel plus a falling diphthong. This claim is also supported by the fact that when Italians want to put emphasis on this word, or when in school teachers ask their pupils to syllabify it, the pronunciation that is often produced is buˈɔːi. This realization suggests that buoi is underlyingly disyllabic although Italians normally pronounce it compressed and monosyllabically as a sequence of w + ɔːi

Like buoi, terms such as miei, suoi, guai, aiuola, continuiamo, and quiete all exhibit similar phonetic features. In the case of continuiamo ('(we) continue') or quiete ('quietness'), we can even get, often in fast speech, the change of w → ɥ because of regressive assimilation: ˈkɥjɛːte/ˈkɥjeːte, (ˌ)kontiˈnɥjaːmo. Why then do most Italian writers consider these good examples of words 'containing' a triphthong?

The answer, I think, is to be found in the fact that grammarians and linguists in Italy have always been traditionally too much 'attached' to the orthography of words and only rarely have they paid attention to the actual phonetic reality of the language. A term like buoi DOES, of course, have three vowels but it's three vowel letters not sounds! The same can be said of all the other examples I gave above. 

It is perhaps not surprising to hear that some primary school teachers, when wanting to explain to their pupils how many vowels we use in Italian, often provide the noun aiuole ('hedges') as an example. This, they claim, is an 'excellent' word as it contains all the vowels of Italian. But again they don't realise that they're talking about letters, not sounds! Aiuole normally contains three vowels: a, ɔ and e.

As I see it, triphthongs in Italian are a no-no, but you might disagree with me.

Saturday 23 June 2012

r-intrusion in British hospitals

Can the preposition via be pronounced (ˈ)vaːr in English? The answer is yes, at least in non-rhotic accents. 

As you know, the term via can be (ˈ)vaɪə and (ˈ)viːə in both RP and General American (GA). In LPD3 (p.875) we find that the former is definitely the established pronunciation at least in British English, and that it is preferred by 88% of the British people who responded to John Wells's questionnaire (that number rises to 92% if one also considers those respondents born before 1942). 

The latest edition of CEPD only gives ˈvaɪ.ə for British English but acknowledges both ˈvaɪ.ə and ˈviː.ə for GA (p.531). ODP has ˈvʌɪə [=ˈvaɪə] for British English and both ˈvaɪə and ˈviə [=ˈviːə] for GA, though for the latter accent ˈviə is prioritised (p.1158). Finally, the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation (2006) has ˈvʌɪə [=ˈvaɪə] but adds the comment “[c]ommonly also vee-uh, especially in phrases” (p.412), where “vee(-)” in bold type indicates main stress.   

Both (ˈ)vaɪə and (ˈ)viːə can undergo smoothing and compression in British English. So for the latter we can get the smoothed variant ˈvɪ.ə and the smoothed and compressed vɪə. As far as the former goes, we can have the following: ˈvaɪ.ə → ˈva.ə → vaə → vaː (or vɑː). If we then take the monophthongal vaː and add the noun phrase a mask (ə ˈmɑːsk/ˈmæsk) to it, as in the sentence Oxygen was administered via a mask, what we are likely to end up with in British English is something like (ˈ)vaːr ə ˈmɑːsk/ˈmæsk, with the so-called "intrusive r" phenomenon extremely typical of non-rhotic accents. 

And (ˈ)vaːr ə ˈmɑːsk is exactly what my Medical English pronunciation students heard in a listening test I gave them recently. The phrase, which at first sounded completely incomprehensible to them, only became clear when I gave my students the chance to look at the audioscript in the book. Not being aware of the possibility of r-intrusion in British English, it is not surprising that some of them also struggled when it came to understanding the expression ˈæsmrəˌtæk (asthma attack) a couple of minutes later into the audio clip I played. 

These examples show us once again that teaching English pronunciation in EFL is absolutely vital and that failing to do so may mean depriving our students 'of the right' to understand English as it is spoken by native speakers.  

Saturday 16 June 2012

Smoothing and compression in CEPD

On looking up the word diamond in the new Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (CEPD; 18th edition, 2011), one finds that it is transcribed ˈdaɪə.mənd in British English (p.137). The transcription provided is explained as to be interpreted as conveying that the variants ˈdaəmənd, ˈdaːmənd, and ˈdɑːmənd, which I used in my post on the diamond jubilee last week, are all possible. What this transcription also shows is that, according to the editors, the word in question is usually perceived as being disyllabic by British native speakers. 

If one looks up other varisyllabic words in the dictionary, words that is in which smoothing and compression are both possible (and indeed extremely common) in current RP, one finds a great deal of inconsistency: 

hour is (usually smoothed and monosyllabic) aʊər, (less commonly disyllabic and not smoothed) ˈaʊ.ər (p.239);
our is (usually smoothed and monosyllabic) aʊər, (less commonly disyllabic and not smoothed) ˈaʊ.ər, (monosyllabic) ɑːr (p.355);
nowadays is (usually trisyllabic) ˈnaʊ.ə.deɪz, (less usually disyllabic) ˈnaʊə- (p.342);
shire is (monosyllabic, often heard as smoothed) ʃaɪər, (less commonly disyllabic and not smoothed) ˈʃaɪ.ər (p.447);
society is (only heard with four syllables and not smoothed) səˈsaɪ.ə.ti (p.457).

Why all this inconsistency? The answer is to be found in the introduction to the CEPD, pp.vii-viii:

“We need to consider the special case of diphthongs followed by a schwa (…). Such sequences are sometimes referred to as triphthongs; they are not phonemes of English, but combinations of diphthongs with the schwa (/ə/) vowel. However, they present unique problems: in BBC pronunciation [aka RP] many of these triphthongs are pronounced with such a small movement in vowel quality that it is difficult for foreign learners to recognize them; for example, the name ‘Ireland’, which is traditionally transcribed /ˈaɪə.lənd/, frequently has an initial syllable which sounds virtually indistinguishable from /ɑː/, with just a small movement towards /ɪ/ and then towards /ə/ at the end. Some triphthongs are pronounced like single syllables, as in the example just given, while others are more likely to be divided into two syllables (…). We usually find the two-syllable pronunciation (i) when the schwa is a separate morpheme (e.g. '-er' in 'buyer’ /ˈbaɪ.ər/), (ii) when the word is thought to be foreign (this includes many biblical names originating from Hebrew, e.g. ‘Messiah’ /məˈsaɪ.ə/), and (iii) when a word is not used very frequently, e.g. ‘cyanosis’ /ˌsaɪ.əˈnəʊ.sɪs/. Where we feel a triphthong may be pronounced either as two syllables or as one, we give one pronunciation with a syllable division and an alternative with a one-syllable pronunciation. In the single-syllable case the middle vowel is printed in italic to indicate that in this reduced pronunciation the middle vowel may be very much reduced or even elided (omitted); for example, ‘briar’ /ˈbraɪ.ər, braɪər/; where the one-syllable pronunciation seems more likely, that pronunciation is given first: ‘fire’ is /faɪər, ˈfaɪ.ər/. “ 

What does "seems more likely" in the last sentence mean? 

I wonder why power, for example, would be more usually heard as ˈpaʊ.ə (p. 389) but flower more commonly flaʊə (p.191). Why would science be ˈsaɪ.ənts and (less commonly) saɪənts (p.437), but scientist only ˈsaɪ.ən.tɪst (p.437)? A bit confusing for foreign learners of English, I think. 

What is the rationale behind these choices? Can word frequency be a valid reason for transcribing the above words as disyllabic in some cases and monosyllabic and smoothed in others?

Saturday 9 June 2012

ðə dɑːmənd dʒuːbəliː

ðə dɑːmənd dʒuːbəliː əz bɪn ə mʌltinæʃnəl seləbreɪʃn̩ mɑːkɪŋ ðə sɪkstjəθ ænəvɜːʃri əv ði əkseʃn̩ əv kwiːn əlɪzəbəθ ðə sekən tə ðə θrəʊnz əv sevŋ̩ kʌntriz.

ðə fɜːs meɪdʒər ɪvent ə ðə dʒuːbəliː seləbreɪʃn̩z wəz ðə dɑːmənd dʒuːbəliː pædʒənt, ə kævl̩keɪd held əʔ wɪnzə kɑːsl̩ tə seləbreɪt ðə kwiːnz vɪzɪts tuː ən tɔːz ɒv əʊvə tuː hʌndrəd ən fɪfti kʌntriz ən hə pæʃn̩ fə hɔːsɪz. ðə ʃəʊ fiːtʃəd faɪv hʌndrəd ən fɪfti hɔːsɪz əm wʌn θaʊzm̩ wʌn hʌndrəd pəfɔːməz frəm əraʊn ðə wɜːld.

ðen, ɒn ðə θɜːd əv dʒuːn, ðə rɪvə temz dɑːmənd dʒuːbəliː pædʒənt wəz held. ɪʔ wəz ə mærətaɪm pəreɪd əv wʌn θaʊzm̩ bəʊts frəm əraʊn ðə kɒmənwelθ – ðə lɑːdʒəs flətɪlə siːn ɒn ðə rɪvər ɪn θriː hʌndrəd ən fɪfti jɪəz. hevi reɪn stɑːtɪd dʒɜːrɪŋ ði ɪvent, ən ðə kəmemərətɪv ɛːfɔːs flaɪ-pɑːst əʔ ði end wəz kænsl̩d dʒuː tə veri bæd vɪzəbɪləti. ði ɪvent wəz ətendɪd baɪ vɛːriəs ɡʌvnə dʒenrəlz frəm ðə kɒmənwelθ relmz ʌðə ðn̩ ðə juːkeɪ.

ðə naɪt ɑːftə ðə temz rɪvə pædʒənt, prɪnts fɪlɪp, ðə kwiːnz hʌzbənd, fel ɪl wɪð ə blædər ɪnfekʃn̩ ən wəz teɪkən tə hɒspɪtl̩. ðɪs ment ðət i wəz ʌneɪbl̩ tu ətend ðə rimeɪndər əv ðə dʒuːbəliː ɪvents.

membəz ə ðə rɔːl fæmli əm praɪ mɪnəstəz frəm ðə kɒmənwelθ relmz ətendɪd vɛːriəs ɪvents ɒn ðə fɔːθ ən fɪfθ ə dʒuːn. ə rəsepʃn̩ wəz held əʔ bʌkɪŋəm pæləs bɪfɔː ðə dɑːmənd dʒuːbəliː kɒntsət ɒn mʌndeɪ, ən ə sɜːvɪs ə θænksɡɪvɪŋ tʊk pleɪs ɒn tʃuːzdi əʔ sm̩ pɔːlz kəθiːdrəl, ɔːlsəʊ ətendɪd baɪ tuː θaʊzn̩d ʌðə ɡess.

ðə laɪtɪŋ ə θaʊzn̩dz ə biːkənz əkrɒs ðə kɒmənwelθ tʊk pleɪs ɒn dʒuːn ðə fɔːθ. ðə nʌmbər əv biːkənz wəz ərɪdʒnəli set əʔ tuː θaʊzn̩ ən twelv bəʔ baɪ ðə kləʊzɪŋ deɪt fə redʒɪstreɪʃn̩z, əprɒksɪməʔli fɔː θaʊzn̩d əd bɪn səbmɪtɪd ɪn ðə junaɪtɪd kɪŋdəm ələʊn. ðə fɜːs biːkən ə ðə dʒuːbɪliː wəz lɪt ɪn tɒŋə, baɪ tɒŋən ɡɜːl skaʊts əm bɔɪ skaʊts juːzɪŋ kəʊkənʌʔ ʃiːθ tɔːtʃɪz. ʌðə neɪʃn̩z ɪŋkluːdɪŋ kenjə, ɒstreɪliə, njuː ziːlənd, ɪndiə, ʃrɪ læŋkə, ən sevrəl kærəbɪən steɪts tʊk pɑːt ɪn ðə biːkən laɪtɪŋ. ðə wɜːldz məʊs riməʊʔ biːkən wəz lɪt ɪn ðə saʊθ əʔlæntɪk. ðə kwiːn ɔlːsəʊ lɪt ə biːkən aʊʔsaɪd bʌkɪŋəm pæləs ɒn tjuːzdi əʔ ten θɜːti piː em, baɪ ɪnsɜːtɪŋ ə lɑːdʒ, speʃli meɪd, dɑːmənd-kʌʔ krɪstl̩ ɪntu ə riseptəkl̩. ðə laɪtɪŋ prəsiːdɪd əntɪl ðə faɪnl̩ biːkən wəz lɪt ɪŋ kænədə eɪt aəz leɪtə.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Ca(p)pannoni in Emilia Romagna

The catastrophic events in northern Italy, recently hit by a series of powerful earthquakes, have given phoneticians the opportunity to listen more closely to the regional accents spoken by the people who live in the Emilia Romagna region.

One of the characteristics of these accents is the doubling of p, t, k and after a stressed vowel. This can be heard in, for example, andato (‘gone’), often realised as something like anˈdaːtto, rather than the usual anˈdaːto of SIP (=Standard Italian Pronunciation).

Another word that one constantly hears with a doubled consonant is capannone (‘warehouse’). As you know, many capannoni and factories have been destroyed in the quake. People in Emilia Romagna normally pronounce this word (ˌ)kappanˈnone. This can be heard, for example, in this YouTube video clip at 0:36 and 0:38. 

Forvo, too, has a recorded pronunciation for this word. Funnily enough, the woman who pronounces it is from Scandiano, near Modena. She says ˌkappanˈnone, not ˌkapanˈnone

Although ˌkappanˈnone is a typical regional pronunciation, I get the impression that it is also becoming more common in SIP. You can in fact frequently hear it on television from journalists and reporters on several channels. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the occurrence of this variant. I suppose one of them could be regularization, that is producing a series of doubled consonants in the same word rather than alternating a single consonant with geminate ones. Or it could be due to the influence of the term cappa (‘cowl’), though this is less likely I think. 

A quick Google search reveals about 13,100 hits for cappannone vs 10,500,000 for capannone. Does that mean we can begin to use both spellings? Also, is ˌkappanˈnone only heard in Emilia Romagna or do people from other Italian regions say that as well? (My grandmother, for instance, born and bred in Lazio, also regularly pronounces this word with -pp-.) 

Among the towns shaken by the quake is San Felice sul Panaro. The last bit of this name is locally paˈnaro, but people not familiar with the place sometimes call it ˈpanaro. I have to confess I didn’t know how to pronounce it either when I first saw it written in the newspapers, so I looked it up in the DiPI and found the former is the ‘correct’ pronunciation. This fact reminds us of how difficult it can be for both native and non-native speakers of Italian to locate stress in polysyllabic words. (I recently discovered I’m not the only one to ‘mispronounce’ the place name Panaro: presenters and newsreaders, too, seem to be having exactly the same ‘stress’ problems!)