Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Interdental ell

I must admit it never occurred to me that there are people who stick their tongue tip out when they pronounce an ell. Browsing my video clips I found a short recording of a speech by Ed Miliband from 2011.

Watch his tongue as he pronounces the words "Labour" in the phrase "Labour's plan for Britain's future" and "Let's" in "Let's make it happen together". The /p/ of "plan" seems to block an interdental articulation.The film lags a bit behind the sound.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Pronunciation exercises for EAL students - no. 4

My previous blog on exercises (see here) was about abutting plosives such as /tt/ or /gg/, which share both voicing and place of articulation. In the present blog I'd like to introduce a bit of a variation: the place of articulation remains identical but one of the plosives is voiceless while the other is voiced or vice versa. So we get /pb/, /td/, /kg/, /bp/, /dt/, and /gk/. What is the usual release behaviour here?
Try this sentence: "How can I make my own lip balm?" Do you release the /p/ in lip? My suggestions is - don't! Unless, of course, it's a situation in which you're required to speak very clearly, for example, when there's a lot of ambient noise or your interlocutor is hard of hearing.

Basically the release behaviour is the same as in the case of /pp/, /bb/, etc. BUT make sure that you observe the feature called pre-fortis clipping. Compare
  1. This is a portable lock cabin.
  2. This is a portable log cabin.
 You neither release lock or log audibly, but the vowel in front of /k/ (= the fortis plosive) is shorter (i.e. is clipped in its duration) than the vowel in front of /g/ (= the lenis plosive).

Here are a few sentences for you to practise:
lock gate
  1. Mad TV broadcasts international music.
  2. Matt Damon is a famous American actor.
  3. The sun beat down over the desert.
  4. A bead tool is a cutting tool to make beads.
  5. This is the sad truth about double standards.
  6. She sat down in the couch next to me.
  7. You must check the position of your lap belt.
  8. We're going to celebrate her birthday at the lab party.
  9. Rip bullets penetrate deep into the object.
  10. Players will benefit from a rib protector.
  11. To raise and lower boats you need a lock with two lock gates.
  12. Where can I buy a portable log cabin?
  13. I bought a back glitter cover for my iPhone.
  14. It's a bag company where fashion meets function.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The sound /l/ in your mouth - but how?

I'm shore (sorry: sure) you can pronounce the sound /l/ without difficulty, but do you know exactly what your tongue does when it's supposed to pronounce the sound? Did you know that one side of your tongue is bent downwards? The question of existential importance is this: Which side is it you bend downwards? Are you a right-bender or a left-bender?
Here's an answer to this tormenting question.
  1. Articulate an ell, i.e. /l/.
  2. While doing this, freeze your tongue position; don't move it!
  3. Now inhale the air.
  4. Which side of your tongue gets cold?
  5. If it's the left side, you're a left-bender, otherwise a right-bender.
There you are!
Krautus locutus - causa finita!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Pronunciation exercises for EAL students - no. 3

This third blog with exercises is on releases again, but this time it's about
identical plosive sequences.
When you say the sentence "he hit two cars", do you pronounce the phrase "hit two" like this: [hɪth thuː]? Or d'you prefer to say [hɪt thuː]? Well, usually the first /t/ is not released, i.e. you as a listener do not hear the puff of air when the speaker releases the closure, and you as a speaker silently manoeuvre from the word-final /t/ of hit to the initial /t/ of two.
Imagine you were to say the admittedly silly sentence "the two-toed toad took the two other toads to the top" and you were to aspirate each and every /t/ or /d/. What a 'spitting event' this would be! Listeners - put up your umbrellas!
"Two T's"; photo credit:

Identical plosives are consonants that share both place of articulation and voicing:
/-pp-/, /-bb-/, /-tt-/, /-dd-/, /-kk-/ and /-gg-/. If there's no speech pause between such a pair or no special semantic reason nor any reason why your speech should be very articulate, then do not release the first plosive audibly.
Coming back to the phrase "hit two", you form the approach stage of the first /t/, make an extra long hold stage - this will provide the listener with the cue that there are theoretically two t-sounds -, and then release the closure: [hɪt:huː].

Ready, steady, go!
  1. Stop prying eyes from looking at your screen.
  2. Ripe peaches don't belong in the fridge.
  3. Stop pushing him to his limits.
  4. This is a list of top products for fun in the sun.
  5. Try our kitchen sink and tap pack deals.
  6. This neutral coloured lip pencil creates fuller lips.
  7. Heat the fluid in a lab beaker.
  8. Grab both ends of the rope.
  9. We tested models from the biggest hob brands.
  10. Senator Bob Brown held a press conference.
  11. These pub bar stools are manufactured in a fine chestnut finish.
  12. The rib belt provides even compression of the rib cage.
  13. Repeat this eight times.
  14.  The story is a bit too close to reality.
  15. While driving drunk he hit two cars.
  16. Do you allow your cat to go outdoors?
  17. Red deer are the largest wild mammal in Britain.
  18. One-third of the world's land mass is an arid desert.
  19. She tried on a bridesmaid dress.
  20. The bread dough has to be rolled out.
  21. It's an attractive backyard design.
  22. With a gas grill, the lid down will hold in heat.
  23. Rabies is also called 'mad dog disease'.
  24. Why is it a sad day for you?
  25. Her black cat is the most wonderful thing in her life.
  26. I'm looking for a black car seat cover.
  27. This course in rock climbing is for beginners.
  28. Unfortunately, I forgot the lock code.
  29. The dock connector was introduced with the latest generation of iPods.
  30. Many people lack confidence in the present administration.
  31. Mike Clark is a well-known photographer.
  32. A single pack contains 20 cigarettes.
  33. A big game hunter has been trampled to death by an elephant.
  34. Dog gifts are something no pet owner can resist.
  35. The big geese are hard to hunt because they move so quickly.
  36. Bog gardens are relatively easy to care for once they are established.
  37. Check back soon for the latest news on what's happening at Fig Garden Village.
  38. When the rag gets dirty, throw it in the laundry basket.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Pronunciation exercises for EAL students - no. 2

This is another blog on the joys of plosive releases (for the previous blog on nasal release see here). It's about what phoneticians call

lateral release.

'Lateral' in this context indicates that the air does not flow over the centre of the tongue, but rather along one of its rims. Let's take a closer look at what's going on here:

Pronounce the word atlas and feel what your tongue does when the two consonants /t/ and /l/ are pronounced. The tongue tip approaches the alveolar ridge to form a closure (= the approach stage), the soft palate (= velum) is already in a raised position to shut off the nasal cavity because the initial vowel is neither a nasal nor a nasalised sound. Then the closure is held for a few milliseconds (= the hold stage), while the air you exhale is blocked and compressed behind the closure.When it comes to articulating the /l/, one of the sides of your tongue is lowered while the tongue tip remains in contact with the alveolar ridge and the velum keeps shutting off the nasal passage by being raised. As a consequence the air escapes along the side of the tongue (= the release stage). You can pronounce this consonant sequence in isolation by saying /tl, tl, tl, .../.

BTW: Do you know how you personally pronounce an ell? Is your right or your left tongue rim lowered? There's an easy self-administrable test. I'm going to explain it to you in a separate blog, so stay tuned!

Lateral release does not only occur with homorganic consonant sequences - /tl/ and /dl/ - but also with heterorganic sequences, i.e. with consonants that do not share the same place of articulation as /l/. The word burgle is an example of such a heterorganic sequence as the /ɡ/ has a place of articulation totally different from /l/. Some native speakers will say /ˈbɜːɡəl/, others - the majority, at least the majority of GB speakers - say /bɜːɡl/. As the two consonants are heterorganic, some phoneticians do not call it lateral release, but rather either lateralised release or lateral escape, which is fine but irrelevant for our purposes here.

Lateral release does not only occur word-internally, but also at word bondaries where the first word ends in a plosive and the next word starts with a /l/ and there's no speech pause between the two. So we can also have a lateral release in cases such as lab locker, bad luck, hit list, lock laces or stop light. Try /bl, bl, bl, ... dl, dl, dl, ... kl, kl, kl, ... gl, gl, gl, .../.

Ready for a few sentences? Make sure you first recognise the places in each sentence at which a lateral release is possible. Here you go:
  1. Take out your atlas.
  2. Her son was killed in battle.
  3. You should use dental floss.
  4. The novel was translated badly into English.
  5. Take time to plan your bridal outfit.
  6. They were hired as soldiers by feudal lords.>
  7. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  8. There was a first backlash against the women's movement.
  9. He held a towel around his middle.
  10. This is the best dog leash.
  11. It will take you at least twenty minutes to get there.
  12. It didn't last long enough.
  13. What luck for rulers that men do not think.
  14. He had good luck with his roses this year.
  15. I've had nothing but bad luck since I moved to this town.
  16. What's the best place to grab lunch?
  17. Would you please stop lying!
  18. Put a thick layer of cheese on top.
  19. The Fig Leaves are Falling is a Broadway musical.
  20. The desire for big lips is a recent phenomenon.
  21. You shouldn't return to work while on sick leave.
  22. The fig leaf is sometimes used in paintings to cover a naked person's sex organ.
  23. Stop lights are red lights fitted to the rear of a vehicle.
  24. From now on I'm going to work a lot less.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Pronunciation exercises for EAL students - no. 1

How do you usually pronounce button: [bʌthən] or [bʌtn̩], as in my belly button is itching. (No, I'm not going to discuss body hygiene). It's fine to use the former version with the schwa if you prefer a very clear and a more formal way of enunciation. In a normal, relaxed situation you will hear native speakers say [bʌtn̩] and you're invited to follow suit.
What happens here phonetically after you've dropped the schwa? The process is called

nasal release.

The consonants /t, d/ have the same place of articulation as /n/; they are all alveolar sounds (phoneticians call them homorganic consonants). Your tongue approaches the alveolar ridge to form a closure (= the approach stage of a plosive) and the soft palate (= velum) is raised  to shut off the nasal cavity. Then the closure is held for a few milliseconds (= the hold stage), while the air that you exhale is blocked and compressed behind the closure. As the /n/ has the same place of articulation, all you have to do is to lower the velum, let the compressed air escape through the nasal cavity and make the vocal folds vibrate because the /n/ is a voiced sound, is it not? You can practise the nasal release in isolation by repeatedly saying /tn, tn, tn, tn, .../. What happens when you pinch your nostrils shut and try to say /tn/? You simply can't or can you? If you can still say /tn/, the air must be able to escape through some hitherto undetected crevice. Hmm ... where would that be?

But let's get serious again:
Nasal release (which some phoneticians call nasal plosion) also occurs when there's no schwa to be dropped as in chestnut or bet now. It would, however, sound very peculiar to say [ʧesthnʌth] rather than [ʧestnʌth] and less relaxed to pronounce bet now as [beth naʊ].  The same process of nasal release applies to the sequences /dn/, /pm/ and /bm/ as in sudden, bad news, topmost, lap memory, webmaster or nab meat,  though - again - there's not always a schwa to be deleted first.The plosives /p, b/ are bilabial as is /m/, so that at the transition from the first to the second consonant it's just the velum which has to be lowered. And you can say the two consonants in isolation without any intervening aspiration: /dn, dn, dn, ..., pm, pm, pm, ..., bm, bm, bm, .../.

Ready for some practice sentences? Make sure you spot the nasal releases before you practise them!
  1. A chipmunk dashed across the grass.
  2. A lot of money was spent on the equipment of the new lab.
  3. He saw Andrew as nothing but a helpmate for Anne.
  4. His stepmother urged him to hurry up.
  5. The topmost branches had all been cut off.
  6. How d'you choose a ripe melon?
  7. He's the top manager.
  8. Crop management is vital.
  9. Maternity clothing should be comfy.
  10. I want to rip music from my iPhone.
  11. The road network resulted in landscape fragmentation.
  12. The Chestnut Tree is a funny short story.
  13. Small companies may be a good bet now.
  14. The room looks a lot newer now.
  15. There is not now, nor has there ever been an easy programming language.
  16. The ink cartridges are not new, but still half full.
  17. I got near the top of the steps to see the hallway was on fire..
  18. It's hard for her to let new people into her life.
  19. He got none of the blame.
  20. It got a bit nasty in the end.
  21. All of a sudden, the two doors to the hall were shut.
  22. He is bedridden with arthritis.
  23. He was not a bidden guest, but rather a surprise guest.
  24. Travelling broadens one's horizons.
  25. The burden of proof is on the student.
  26. We have some very good news for you.
  27. I'm afraid I've got some bad news.
  28. There are so many doom-laden headlines in the newspapers these days.
  29. The gardener was charged with murder yesterday.
  30. Groundnuts are a high value crop.
  31. The reader can submerge himself into a totally different world.
  32. Here you can submit a review of any of the books.
  33. Access is for club members only.
  34. Web marketing companies offer a great variety of solutions.
  35. We provide a wide range of good pub meals.
  36. There was a dispute among rival tribe members.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

From the listening post

Paul Carley, our phonetic listening post, has spotted an interesting weakform. On BBC Radio 4 of April 24 one of the presenters of the news and current affairs programme Today said: "And the time now is half past six". The preposition 'past' is pronounced with a schwa (sheva). Listen:
The speaker is Nick Robinson, a member of the team of regular Today presenters. I guess the weakform tends to be used only in such fairly tight-knit phrases as "x past y".
Thanks, Paul!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

An historic moment

The indefinite article of English is either <a> or <an> depending on whether the following word starts with a consonant or a vowel sound - so far so regular. But what do we make of book titles such as these?
How do you pronounce the phrase "an historical" or "an historic"? Should it be /ən ɪstɒrɪk(əl)/ or /ə hɪstɒrɪk(əl)/? Could one also say /ən hɪstɒrɪk(əl)/?
Well, Alex Rotatori has spotted an interesting spoken example of the latter version (though the indefinite article is used here in its strongform /æn/); it's taken from Theresa May's speech in the House of Commons announcing the delivery of the Brexit letter to His Excellency Mr Donald Tusk, president of the EU.

Is it something which occurs occasionally, even regularly, is it idiosyncratic or just a slip of the tongue/brain?

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Seven Sisters

"Seven Sisters Station" is an underground and overground station in an area of North London called  "Seven Sisters". This strange name seems to go back to seven elm trees that had been planted there in the 17th c.,
before they were finally replaced by a ring of hornbeam trees at the end of the 20th c., though not exactly at the same place.
The Independent published this photo of seven nuns making for an amusing appearance while they were waiting at Seven Sisters station.

credit: The Independent

PS: Should you be a lady heading for Cockfosters, a London suburb, and are unsure whether you are on the correct line, never ask the gentleman next to you: "Is this Cockfosters?" You might get an unexpected answer.
PPS: Others spring to mind: Bakerloo, Barking, Elephant and Castle, ...