Catz and Dogz

I remember seeing outside a veterinary practice a sign including the words ‘Catz and Dogz’ (or vice versa). I didn’t remember the name of the practice, but I knew exactly where it was/is, so was able to search by location online. The practice’s website  contains no mention of ‘Catz and Dogz’ and indeed mentions ‘Boarding Dogs and Cats’, but mentions ‘groomz Pet Salon’. Even if my memory of ‘Catz and Dogz’ is faulty, the linguistic issues it raises – pronouncing and spelling final ‘s’ as ‘z‘ – are still valid.

I suspect that many native speakerz of English do not realize that the pronunciation of the ‘s’z on the endz of most plural nounz is actually ‘z’. I didn’t until I starting reading semi-seriously about linguistics. (Or maybe not even then. I didn’t consciously know about the similar alternation of ‘d’ and ‘t’ in past simple verbs until the class component of my first TESOL qualification.) But some wordz stay with the ‘s’ pronunciation. If you say ‘Cats and Dogs’ very slowly and carefully, you will hear that ‘Dogs’ is actually pronounced ‘Dogz’ and ‘grooms’ as ‘groomz’, while ‘Cats’ stays as ‘Cats’.

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Dr Seuss ABC part 3

We’ve gone right through the alphabet (A-M) and (N-Z) but not yet encountered every sound in the English pronunciation system, partly because some sounds are comparatively rare and less likely to be found in a book this size, but mostly because they are usually represented by two letters together. Indeed, we have already seen ‘Aunt’,  ‘oiled’ and ‘owl’, and considered <ge, gi, gy> representing /dʒ/.

Consider the following sentences, especially the sounds in italics:
Camel on the ceiling
Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo W oo.
Kitten. Kangaroo. Kick a kettle. Kite and a king’s kerchoo.
Vera Violet Vinn is very very very awful on her violin.
Uncle Ubb’s umbrella and his underwear, too.

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Dr Seuss’ ABC part 2

(If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first part.)

Nine new neckties and a nightshirt and a nose.
<n> is usually /n/. Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also go in the middle and at the end). (<nn>, which is always /n/, is also possible in the middle or at the end of words, but not at the beginning.)

Oscar’s only ostrich oiled an orange owl today.
For me, there are 5 different vowels here. ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ have /ɒ/ (a “short o”), ‘only’ has /oʊ/ (a “long o”), ‘oiled’ has /ɔɪ/, owl has /aʊ/ and ‘today’ has a schwa /ə/ (in quick, informal speech, at least; I probably pronounce it carefully as ‘tudeɪ’). It is possible that Dr Seuss had a FATHER/BOTHER merger, and pronounced ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ as (approximately) ‘Ahscar’, ‘ahstrich’ and ‘ahrange’.

Painting pink pyjamas. Policeman in a pail. Peter Pepper’s puppy. And now Papa’s in a pail. Continue reading

Dr Seuss’ ABC

When I was a child, we had several Dr Seuss books, but they weren’t a particular feature of my early reading. Over the past few years, I have returned to some of his books to find material for lessons and for general linguistic interest. ‘Let’s start at the very beginning … when you read you begin with A, B, C’, so the first book I’ll look at here (though I haven’t used it in class) is ‘Dr Seuss’ ABC’. In particular, I am looking at the differences between spelling and pronunciation. I use < > to mean ‘spelling’ and / / to mean ‘pronunciation’. I have split the alphabet into two – it’s well over a thousand words already.

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Ship or sheep?

(warning: mild coarse language)

One recurring issue of pronunciation for many learners of English as a second language is making the difference between /i:/ (long ‘ee’) and /ɪ/ (short ‘i‘). Many languages have one high front vowel, which is usually /i:/ but which can turn into /ɪ/ without turning into a different word. (Technically, in English /i:/ and /ɪ/ are phonemes; they make different words. In many languages they are allophones; they are simply a different pronunciation of the same word.)

One famous book on English pronunciation is Ship or Sheep? Many other pairs of words illustrate the same phonemic difference. In my Korean diary, I noted: ‘Another class was talking about risk and adventure v calm and security and one student said “Since I know Jesus, I have piss in my heart”.’

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‘Round yon virgin’

There is a story of a young girl in a Sunday school class drawing a picture of the Nativity. Her teacher looked at it: there were Jesus, Mary and Joseph, an angel, shepherds and sheep … and a very fat man. The teacher asked ‘Who is he?’ and the girl replied ‘Oh, that’s Round John Virgin’.

The line is, of course, ‘round yon virgin mother and child’. In fact, the line is ‘All is bright round yon virgin mother and child’, but most people take too much time and breath after ‘bright’. There are two linguistics issues here, possibly reinforcing each other: misunderstanding the archaic word ‘yon’ (and the meaning of ‘virgin’), and running the /d/ of ‘round’ and the /j/ of ‘yon’ into /dʒ/. (Note that the IPA symbol /j/ stands for the English consonant sound ‘y’. The IPA symbol /y/ is something completely different.)

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oneth, twoth, threeth, fourth …

Yesterday I wrote about the song ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ and since then I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the cardinal numbers (one, two, three …) and the ordinal numbers (first, second, third …)

eleven > eleventh, ten > tenth, seven > seventh, six > sixth and four > fourth simply apply the basic rule of adding ‘th’. nine > ninth has an extra spelling rule of dropping the ‘e’, broadly consistent with many other spelling rules which drop a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word when other letters are added. twelve > twelfth drops the ‘e’ and changes the ‘v’ to ‘f’. Here we move from simply considering the spelling, to considering the spelling and the pronunciation together. In all of these words, ‘th’ represents /θ/, which is an unvoiced consonant, whereas the ‘v’ of ‘five’ is voiced. Very often when an voiced and unvoiced consonant fall together in a word, one will change its voicing to match the other. Here, the ‘v’ /v/ of ‘twelve’ changes to ‘f’ /f/. five > fifth drops the ‘e’, changes the ‘v’ /v/ to ‘f’ /f/ and shortens the /aɪ/ to /ɪ/. eight > eighth is intriguing. It really should be ‘eight’ + ‘th’ = ‘eightth’ – and that’s actually the way we pronounce it, at least in careful speech. three > third are recognisable as being related, but something strange has happened; whether a change in pronunciation led to a change in spelling (probably), or vice versa. (There’s lots more information about Middle English and Old English and other Indo-European languages which I won’t go into.)

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Going to any lengths to speak Korean

In 2011, I read the following story in the free commuter newspaper on Sydney’s trains, posted it in the discussion forum of one of my Masters subjects and saved it for future reference. (The title of this blog post is taken from the newspaper.)

“A [sic] English uni student had surgery to lengthen her tongue so she could speak better Korean.
Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones, 19, dreams of living and working in South Korea, even though she has never visited the country.
But while taking language lessons, she found she couldn’t pronounce certain crucial sounds in the Korean alphabet.
Her dentist [nb!] suggested it may be because she was born with a slightly shorter than average tongue.
Rhiannon decided to have an operation to correct the previously untroubling condition.
As a result, self-professed perfectionist Rhiannon’s tongue is now about 1 cm longer, and she can say words that were impossible before.
Rhiannon, of Beeston, Nottingham, said: “Some might say it’s extreme, but … for me, it was like having a tooth pulled.” ”

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choking/joking

While I was teaching at a language college in Korea, I sometimes taught pronunciation classes. My manager provided me with very good worksheets. One focused on ‘ch’ (/tʃ/) and ‘j’ (/dʒ/). Two of the words for practice were ‘choke’ and ‘joke’. I led into a joke. I said ‘Choke [action] … joke, funny story hahaha … choking [action] … joking … telling a funny story hahaha … I am choking [action] … I am joking, I am telling a funny story hahaha … A man rang the doctor and said “Help me, doctor. I’ve just swallowed a fishbone.” The doctor said “Are you choking?”. The man said “No, I’m perfectly serious.”’ There was dead silence from the students. I tried again with the next class and got one small guffaw.

This week, teaching in Australia, one of the topics in the chapter of the textbook was illness, injuries and medical emergencies, one of which was ‘choking’. I told the same joke again and got dead silence again. Either their English was/is not good enough to understand the joke, or they just don’t have a sense of humour, or I’m telling it badly, or it’s just plain not funny. (It might, in fact, be beyond a choke.)