Wednesday 18 June 2014

Grazie di tutto, Bev!

It's so desperately sad to hear you are no longer with us, Bev! The field of phonetics has lost a great man and a very knowledgeable phonetician.

I first met you at SCEP (Summer Course in English Phonetics) in 2011. On that occasion, between one coffee break and another, we had the chance to get to know each other and discuss what to include in the third edition of Practical Phonetics and Phonology as far as Italian pronunciation was concerned. Our discussions continued on Skype for a couple of months between January and February 2012. These resulted in the publication in 2013, together with Inger Mees, of a fascinating account of the pronunciation of current Italian.  

Practical Phonetics and Phonology was the first book that really sparked my interest in phonetics in 2003, when I was only 20. Back then, I kept repeating to myself "I hope one day I'll be able to write an article for this book". Well, the dream came true in 2013, thanks to your help (and that of Inger, of course!).

I was so happy when you decided to send me a copy of the book you had written with Anne-Marie Vandenbergen Modern English Pronunciation: A Practical Guide for Speakers of Dutch (2000; 2nd edition; Academia Press, Gent): I treasure it a lot and I want you to know that it very much provided the inspiration for my very own L'inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all'ascolto (EdiSES, 2014)

I'll never forget the extremely kind words you wrote to me in your last email you sent me on 16th February 2014, soon after you received a copy of my book:

"Hi Alex –

Many thanks for sending me your new book – which arrived here safely a couple of days ago. I must say it looks top-class, inasmuch as I can judge it through the dense mist of Italian! You've scored with a most impressive first publication. And you've hit upon an area where pronunciation is really crucial. After all, for doctors and their patients it's truly a matter of life and death. […]

It really is a piece of work to be proud of. Well presented in all ways, good diagrams, much pertinent illustrative exemplification, and appropriate translation where necessary. In about a hundred years from now, Alex, linguistic historiographers will be searching desperately for extra biographical detail about you – you'll appear to have risen dramatically on to the early 21st century articulatory phonetic scene from virtually nowhere!

I'm quite sure the book will achieve the success it deserves. 

Very best wishes,


These words moved me to tears on that cold evening in February, and they still do today, especially when I think that you have gone forever and are no longer with us. 

Thank you very much for everything, Beverley! Rest in peace and pray for us – phoneticians need your support!

Grazie di tutto! 

NB: Readers of this blog might also like to have a look at Jack Windsor Lewis' personal remarks on the death of Beverley Collins here.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Horses and whores

Nice joke, isn't it! It plays with the pronunciation of the terms horse and whores. In General British (GB) the former is (phonetically) hɔˑs and the latter hɔːz̥. (Some General American (GA) might have hoʊɹz̥ or hʊ(ə)ɹz̥ for whores.) As you know, in horse the vowel is clipped (= shorter, pronounced more quickly) because it is followed by the fortis consonant s (hence the symbol ɔˑ in the transcription). In whores, on the other hand, the vowel tends to be longer as it is followed within the same syllable by the lenis z, which is devoiced because it is on the end of the word and there is no other voiced sound coming after it: . Have a look at this amusing YouTube video clip.

Take the famous example sheep and ship: in both words the vowel sound is short(er) because both words end in the fortis consonant p. Phonetically speaking, the main difference between the two terms is not so much in the length of the vowels (they're both clipped) as in their quality: the former is (ɪ)i, the latter ɪ. The use of the lengthmark to represent the vowel in sheep (= ) is therefore utterly useless in this case. Jack Windsor Lewis has already discussed the confusion the use of lengthmarks may cause for EFL students in this article of the 25th of April 2014. In his Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English (OUP, 1972), now sadly out-of-print, he transcribes sheep as ʃip (p. 184) and ship as ʃɪp (p. 184). 

Readers of my book can practise pre-fortis clipping and devoicing of the English lenis consonants on p. 13 of my L'inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all'ascolto (EdiSES, 2014):