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.

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 in an unknown location and are walking through a dark rocky landscape. While the Doctor is rather pensive and monosyllabic, his companions, Captain Jack Harkness and Martha Jones, are chattering away. There is an undercurrent of jealousy, and at one point Martha gets a bit snippy. Here’s how the Doctor calls them to order:

To me, the interjection after “end of the universe” sounds pretty much like the French word hein. Moreover, it has here exactly the meaning of hein: something like a rather aggressive question tag, which could be glossed as “right?” or “isn’t it?”

But here’s the problem. If I transcribe this passage as:

  • You two — we’re at the end of the universe, hein? Right at the edge of knowledge itself, and you’re busy … blogging! Come on.

… then it looks to the reader as if the speaker was speaking with a French accent, which would be misleading.

I asked some irquaintances for other, more English-looking spellings. The suggestion that might fit best was hunh.

(That this was one of the funniest TV quotes I’ve encountered in a while may have contributed to my noticing this.)

Via Kevin Marks : Il existe un petit logiciel étrange mais remarquable de chez Apple, appelé « Speak After Me », qui prend morceau de texte et l’enregistrement de quelqu’un l’énonçant, le transcrit en phonèmes (du moins, c’est-ce que le logiciel dit qu’il fait), et calcule une courbe de tonalité en fonction de ces unités sonores. On peut éditer le résultat et exporter les données dans un fichier texte.

Voici une capture d’écran de l’interface. Kevin vient de dire « Coco is the queen of the space monkeys » (cliquez sur l’image pour l’agrandir). En surbrillance jaune, on voit la transcription, qui utilise un système d’écriture assez déroutant.

Mac OS X: Speak After Me Comme je n’ai pas de Mac, je ne peux vous dire si le logiciel est capable de traiter d’autres langues que l’anglais. Mais même dans le cas de l’anglais, il est clair que la décomposition en « sons » est forcément un point faible du concept : l’inventaire de phonèmes n’est pas le même pour toutes les variétés de l’anglais (ou d’une autre langue). Il y a nécessairement un choix qui en privilège une. Néanmoins, le logiciel pourrait être intéressant quand on veut apprendre plus sur le fonctionnement de la parole. Je pourrais même le voir dans les classes de langue (étrangère ou maternelle). Selon Kevin, il s’agit avant tout d’une application qui vise de montrer les capacités d’OS X, faisant partie de l’« installation pour développeurs », apparemment disponible pour tous les utilisateurs de Mac OS X. Est-ce quelqu’un l’a déjà essayé et pourrait nous en dire plus ?

Who are you callin’ ungrammatical? — un bon article de Jan Freeman, correctrice et chroniqueuse sur les questions de langue au Boston Globe. Vous l’aurez déviné : elle parle de whom et de sa disparition. American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift — un entretien avec le linguiste William Labov dans l’émission All Things Considered, animée par […]

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Via Bridget Samuels de chez ilani ilani nous apprenons que le conseil de l’Association Phonétique Internationale vient de rajouter le caractère ci-contre, un v avec un crochet droit, à l’API. Il symbolise une consonne battue labio-dentale. Pour produire ce son, il faut faire rentrer la lèvre inférieure à l’intérieur de la bouche et la faire […]

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Show me your vowels!

L’accent écossais, ou : comment analyser les voyelles quand on a du mal à bien les distinguer à l’oreille nue.

This is a bit of a side-piece to the investigation into the pronunciation of the and a — reduced or unreduced? in which context does which form occur? My previous posts are here and here, Mark Liberman’s principal ones here, here, here and here, and David Beaver chipped in here and here. Looking into when a […]

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No word too small

Comment les articles de l’anglais tissent des liens entre êtres humains, pourvu qu’ils bloguent [hé, c’est un subjonctif, ça !].

  • 2005-07-26
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You know, a little over a year ago, I was wondering whether blogging was an activity I should take up. I was hesitant for a while because it seemed you had to be either your own journalist, which I am not, or to spend a considerable amount of time gazing at your own navel. I was, […]

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Thy “thee”s, Ed Felten…

Quelques observations concernant la prononciation, réduite ou pleine, des articles a et the devant consonne dans un échantillon d’anglais américain parlé.

Some of Mark Liberman’s recent Language Log posts were dealing with dealing with reduced vs. unreduced vowels in the pronunciation of the articles a and the. (Reduced: [ə] and [ðə]; unreduced: [ɛɪ] (or [ɛj]) and [ði:]). In his latest post, he examined a G. W. Bush speech and found that, as other readers had claimed, […]

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Voici un site intéressant : Les Accents des Français : Nous - les auteurs de ce site - sommes deux étudiants de l’Ecole des Mines de Paris, victimes de la “standardisation” du parler qui sera évoquée dans ces pages… puisque nous parlons un français “sans accent”. Nous constatons qu’un patrimoine est en péril, la richesse des […]

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Les marques : API et exotisme

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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