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   ENS101G Phonetics I
Questions and  Answers  2008

Towards the end of the term I usually get a number of questions which need discussing.
I shall post here my answers to some of theses questions.

Vowels are clipped when fortis consonants follow them.
Please note that on my web page there is a sentence which reads (or used to read - I've changed it):

We find that vowels are clipped (shortened) by following UNVOICED consonants in RP English.

Benjamín Sigurgeirsson has just made me realise that this sentence can be misread, so I've changed it!

There are two ways of reading it:
My reading (at least obvious to me): "Vowels are clipped (shortened), and the clipping is done by following unvoiced consonants (= unvoiced consonant that follow)." "Following" refers to the consonants.

The other reading is: "Vowels are clipped (shortened) by following (= "when following") unvoiced consonants." "Following" refers to the vowels! OK, it is possible to read the sentence this way, but then it sounds like a badly written sentence  to me!

But clearly this is misleading, and I must change it. So I'll say:

We find that vowels are clipped (shortened) when followed by unvoiced consonants in RP English

Pia Tveterås asks:

Will you allow a little creativity? If we for example (I learnt today not
to write f.ex. thank you very much) are asked to transcribe: "Talk to
her", would you concider it a mistake if I stressed "her"? A sentence can
be interpreted in many ways. I assume you agree on that, but one can never
be too sure.

Answer: Well of course I prefer creativity every time. BUT stress-patterns are ALWAYS highly contextual - they always have some meaning, and they always refer to what has gone before. So for instance:

"Corrie´s got an eating problem."
"What shall we do?"
"I'll talk to her."

Obviously, here you couldn't stress "her" - the conversation i all about Corrie, so "her" couldn't apply to anyone else.
But here's another conversation:

"I haven't made up my mind who I should talk to about my BA essay. I'm interested in dialects, but Pétur is such a wierd guy, I wouldn't want to deal with him."
"Yes I agree. But I rather like Guðrún, she really knows her stuff, and she's friendly. I think I'll talk to her."

Here, you have to stress "her",  because it's in contrast with a previous "him".

SO the answer is, look at the context. And if the sentence has NO context (an isolated exam question, for instance), then TAKE THE MOST OBVIOUS INTERPRETATION. For instance, if I asked you to transcribe:

"I like her a lot."

Then you have to imagine a fairly normal lead-up. Is it "Judy's nice, - I like her a lot.." or is it "Wow, look at that girl with the padlock in her nose.- I like her a lot.."  ?

WHEN IT COMES TO IT of course, I'll try to ask questions which are fairly obvious .... 

The vowels of "of" and "love"

Ólöf Ásdís posted this question on "Almmennar fyrirspurnir" in Ugla:

"of" not the same phonetic vowel sound as .."love"
Pétur...why is that?
I  "think" I say both sounds the same......or is love with a longer /o/ sound?
love, of, dove, shove, above,
or is it because the /f/ in "of" has the /v/ sound.?...
Is it a GA to RP confusion?...or did I use the wrong "ipa" symbol?..
 am phonetically confused .....being an English speaker...I feel like I should know better...


OF  has TWO pronunciations in both RP and GA : a weak, untressed schwa, , prases like the bottom of the box, a piece of paper, and a strong pronunciation, RP , GA (or ), in phrases like what of it?, what's it made of?
The rest of this answer only concerns the STRONG pronunciation. becasue that's what Ólöf was asking.

In RP, these words have the STRUT vowel : love, dove, shove, above
(there's a reason for this: see "Why this crazy spelling" below...)
But of has the LOT vowel , like hover, proverb, poverty, novel, sovereign, providence.

In GA, the words of, love, dove, shove, above, ALL have the STRUT vowel - so of DOES RHYME WITH  love in GA.

Why this crazy spelling?
Here's one explanation: in Medieval English, say in the 14th century, words like love, dove, shove, above were written with u, not o. But in those days v and u were written with the same letter, so they came out luue, duue, shuue, abuue. The practice arose of writing o instead, to make them easier to read. The idea spread to other words like mother, brother, other.

The GOAT vowel: or ?

Fríða Kristinsdóttir asks:

I´m mainly having trouble with goat words. Longman dictionary wants to
transcribe them as
, but we have not been using "o" in this course at
all. Should I just transcribe them as
(like in RP)?


I had forgotten that LPD transcribes the American GOAT as . Originally I seem to remember they used as in RP - or maybe this was the old Longmans Learner's Dictionary (which also gave RP and GA). In fact both pronunciations can be found in America.
Whichever form you use in transcribing GA, it will be acepted.

Fríða also asks:

And one more thing, is it not correct that in GA the tense vowels are
simply ,
, and so on, not , . But the dictionary  wants to put the
prolonging : sign behind the vowels in GA as well...


As for the tense/long vowels - it's OK to leave out the length sign (:) in GA., but
also OK to include it. (In GA the tense vowels ARE slightly longer, but all
vowels are more variable in length.) The reason why LPD keeps the length
sign is that otherwise they would have to give two forms for so many entries.

Any more questions? ...