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.

The project that has been maturing for a while is finally going public: this blog is getting a makeover, with new name and a new layout.

The old design was seriously going on my nerves — it was time for a change. For the new one, I started from the idea of privileging legibility, with a simple one-column design and a lot of whitespace. The result is what you’re looking at.

This one should also behave better in Internet Explorer, though unsurprisingly it looks prettier in modern, standards-compliant browsers (Firefox or Opera, Safari etc.).

There are a number of small improvements: my lists of linguabloggers (cyberlings) and dictionaries on pages of their own, a better archive, a first implementation of bilingual titles, the tag cloud, summaries for monolingual posts in the feeds (RSS2.0 [en]RSS2.0 [fr]) … and as a special treat, David Romano’s plugin for entering phonetic characters in comments, after an idea by Eric Bakovic. Yeah, as if this blog had so many commenters who absolutely need to use IPA — but who could resist such a fantastic thing! I fiddled with the embedding a bit, and will probably go on experimenting with how to best use it.

If there are any problems with the new site, please do point them out.

Should you prefer the old look to the new one, it is still there, and you can switch back and forth between them (old layoutnew layout ).

As for the new name, my thanks go to Kozlika, the godmother (or good fairy, take your pick) of the French blogosphere and an all-around great person, who went through a list of terms and wordplays with me and came up with the right one. “Serendipity” was a bit of a leftover from when I started out dipping a toe into this blogging thing, not really knowing where I wanted to take it. This is a blog about language, written and spoken, about writing and linguistics as far as my capacities go, and the name should allude to this. It also needs to work both in English and in French. There’s diacritic in there, a bit of critique, and discrimination, too, in the sense of telling things apart and thus seeing more distinctly.

Most importantly, more regular posting is hereby resuming, if nothing major prevents it.

Update, a few hours later: Oops, sorry, I didn’t really actually do the switch-over when I published this. Now it should be fine.

right-hook v

Via Bridget Samuels at ilani ilani: The IPA council has adopted the first new phonetic symbol in twelve years. SIL explains that the “right hook v” will symbolise a labiodental flap, and how to produce this sound. It is a phoneme in several African languages, among which Mono.

The latest beta versions of the Doulos SIL and Charis SIL fonts include the right hook v in their “private use area” (code U+F25F). If you have one of them installed, you might see it here: . (Otherwise, you’ll see some nonsense or nothing at all.)

Branding: IPA and exotism

L’API et les langues étrangères, ça sert a rendre les produits plus intéressants car exotiques. Un example particulièrement frappant est l’abus d’accents et autres signes diacritiques dans la pub sur le marché anglophone. On pourrait dire la même chose du pseudo-anglais dans la pub en France et ailleurs en Europe continentale.

My brain and mind, as I have mentioned before, feel these days like something that stayed too long in a hot frying pan. So I have quite a number of planned or partially written posts on language topics, and just can’t seem to be able to finish them. The question is: should I first […]

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Tutoriel en anglais sur les caractères API (alphabet phonétique international) dans les pages web et les navigateurs. Trop fatiguée pour le faire en bilingue, désolée.

The Tensor at Tenser, said the Tensor (if I’m going to link to him or her in the future I will have to find a better naming scheme) has an enjoyable post on pseudo-IPA in advertising. You will have to be able to view phonetic symbols in your browser. Look up to this site’s logo […]

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