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Edwardian phonetics.

Un documentaire de la BBC fascinant, même si le ton du personnage principal peut ennuyer, sur les dialectes de l’Angleterre du début du 20ème siècle : conservés par les chercheurs allemand étudiant des prisonniers de guerre.

Disponnible sur one Google Video ou (en meilleur qualité) Guba.com.

The BBC documentary How The Edwardians Spoke presents audio recordings of English speakers from various dialect areas, made in 1917: German dialectologists and sound recording specialists of the time travelled around the German prisoner-of-war camps to record samples of foreign dialects. These are unusual and quite stunning documents, preserved on hundreds of shellac records.

I won’t embed the video this time — the one on Google Video is of rather poor quality, and I’m not sure how long the much better version on Guba.com will stick around. Both are downloadable — get it while it’s hot if you’re interested in this sort of thing, or watch on the web-page.

Proto-IPA Germany 1917

In addition to simply hearing these 100-year-old voices, and comparing them to what we know about the speech of these regions, dialect-shift, etc., there was one small bit that stood out to me in particular: The hand-written transcriptions of the German researchers, most likely produced by the Austrian-German professor of language and literature Alois Brandel, noted down in an early version of what was to become the International Phonetic Alphabet (click on the image for a larger version — it’s perfectly readable). I certainly should read up on the history of the IPA — there’s not much online, it seems. What appears to be the case, though, is that when their countries weren’t at war with each others, these German researchers and their British and other counterparts were part of the same intellectual environment.

I found the film via Crooked Timber, where Kieran Healy calls it “ponderous”. Indeed, I find it is even worse — Joan Washington, the personality who guides the viewer through the entire documentary, is a voice coach for actors and a “specialist in English accents” only in this particular, very practical sense. I find her overbearing manner and judgmental attitude to pronunciation features (monophthongs “lazier” than diphthongs and the like) rather hard to swallow, and her systematic linking-up of landscape and dialect features is rather quaint. But then, as an accent coach she will have to have developed some ad-hoc methods of getting her material across to students who, most likely, have no formal training in phonetics. Interesting to see that she is indeed using IPA to note down pronunciations she gleans in an new place — this is of course what you’d naively expect, but I’ve become wary of assuming IPA knowledge, which in places like Germany or France is successfully and routinely taught, in rudimentary form, to children aged 10 or 11, in the English-speaking world at any level.


A day late, here’s a proper language instruction video, in the purest style of language instruction videos. A day late, but foreign tongues aren’t learnt in a day, ye scurvy dogs!

(Hat tip: Chris Ambidge. Ahoi!)


Not now, but during past hour

Pas de résumé, désolée.

Following the link to the World Meteorological Organization chart of weather symbols in Roger Shuy’s LL post, I wonder if Eskimos there are people who have a word for any of the following concepts: “freezing drizzle or rain (not showers), not now but during (the) past hour” or “fog, sky not discernible, […]

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London Signage 03: m*ta-avoidance

Les mis en garde du métro londonien contre un comportement agressif des voyageurs utilisent la typographie et le remplacement de voyelles par des signes autrement plus habituellement utilisés pour camoufler les jurons.

Since last year, Transport for London has been running a series of posters aiming at improving passengers’ behaviour. To soften the underlying stern injunctions (”Don’t push!”, “Don’t block the closing doors to squeeze in at the last moment!”, “Keep your music volume down!”, “Don’t eat smelly or drippy food on the Tube!”), the designers have […]

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Hein? Hunh? Hey? Hrm?

Ou l’on constate que l’anglais possède le mot hein.

In my pursuit of acquiring at least some of the trappings of British geek and pop culture, getting a basic grasp on Doctor Who I came across a word that I hadn’t been aware the English language possessed. This is from last Staturday’s episode (”Utopia”), about 7 or 8 minutes in. The protagonists have just arrived […]

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Glimpsed 01

Pas de V.F., désolée.

The awesomest eye-chart ever. Though I can’t exactly see myself rattling off “GEORGIAN CAPITAL LETTER LAS, LEFTWARDS DASHED ARROW, GURMUKHI LETTER AI, GREEK CAPITAL LETTER OMEGA WITH PROSGEGRAMMENI, TAMIL LETTER I, BOX DRAWINGS DOWN HEAVY AND UP HORIZONTAL LIGHT, ORIYA DIGIT SEVEN, VULGAR FRACTION ONE SIXTH, PARENTHESIZED […]

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Unintended consequences

Pas de V.F., désolée.

So I’m quietly editing one of literally hundreds of overdue eggcorns — the lovely image of being in (a) high dungeon — when I come across a cite from an academic publication that so strikingly illustrates Hartman-Skitt-McKean’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation that I hesitate at first to believe my eyes. I read it once, I […]

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Et tu, Grauniad?

Quand on donne des leçons de grammaire, il vaut mieux savoir ce qu’on entend par grammaire. Et quand on parle en tant que journaliste, est-il acceptable de faire de la pub pour ses cours d’expression écrite ?

On the front page of this Saturday’s Guardian’s “Work” section, an article of a familiar genre: Under the heading Bad education, Emma-Jayne Jones and Robert Ashton bemoan the decline of spelling, punctuation and “grammar” skills, and the disastrous effect this has on the employment prospects of young people: Recruiters say grammatical sloppiness is depressingly common […]

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Freenode’s lilo

Il parait que Rob Levin, plus connu sous le pseudo de lilo, l’âme du serveur irc.freenode.net (site web) est mort auhourd’hui suite à un accident de circulation.

I interrupt this blog’s unscheduled silence because of a disturbing annoucement. When I’m online, I almost constantly hang out on a few IRC chanels on the server irc.freenode.net (website). This message was broadcast this evening, about 10min ago: [22:17] -christel- [Global Notice] On the 12th September Rob Levin, known to many as Freenode’s lilo, was hit […]

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