It’s rather hard

I spent my childhood in various country towns in the Australian state of Victoria. My last year there was my first year of high school. Even now I remember that our science teacher pronounced graph as /gra:f/ (with the same vowel as in palm), in contrast to the prevailing pronunciation of /græf/ (with the same vowel as in trap). The next year we moved to a country town in South Australia, where I quickly discovered that absolutely everyone said /gra:f/ and absolutely no-one said /græf/, not even me after a few days.

In my previous post, I said that for words like bath, the pronunciation with /a:/ is more common in Australia. Between trap and palm is a spectrum of words which some people pronounce with /æ/ and others with /a:/. Graph is one example, but not graphic, which everyone pronounces as /græfɪk/, as far as I know. 

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A travel video blogger’s video contained a brief shot of a can of Sprite, labelled in hangeul as 스프라이트 (seu-peu-ra-i-teu). So one syllable of English becomes five syllable blocks (jamo) of hangeul. There are three reasons for this. 

The first is that the phonotactics of Korean do not allow for initial consonant clusters. The s and p must be extracted to their own syllable, completed with the most neutral vowel ㅡ (eu). This is not quite as reduced as the English schwa, but performs many of the same tasks. 

The second is that there is no single letter corresponding to the English vowel in Sprite, but it can be approximated by using ㅏ and ㅣ. Compare the IPA symbol /aɪ/, which clearly shows that the English vowel is a diphthong. I know of two Korean words which use this combination of vowels: 아이 (a-i, child) and 아이고 (a-i-go, approximately ‘gosh!’, most often used by middle-aged women).

The third is that only a few consonants can occur at the end of a syllable. While ㅌ occurs at the end of 밑 (mit, bottom), this is rare, and as far as I know is never used in transliterations of English words. So the t must also be extracted to its own syllable. Whenever you see a long string of Korean syllables, with the first and last containing ㅡ, it is almost certainly a transliteration of an English word. Some common English loanwords are 스트레스 (seu-teu-re-seu, stress) and 스포츠 (seu-po-cheu, sport(s)). 

I can’t remember seeing Sprite in Korea; the ubiquitous soft drink is Chilsung cider.

There is considerable variation in the names for carbonated soft drinks in English. To me, in standard Australian English, the neutral/slightly lemony drink is lemonade, the distinctly lemony drink is lemon squash or squash (sometimes with real lemon (which might be called traditional lemonade, sometimes only with flavouring), and cider is apple unless otherwise specified (eg pear cider). Other terms include soda, soda pop, pop, coke and cola. There is also soda water, which I would categorise separately. Koreans also use ade and chino either by themselves or attached to part of other drinks.

Who would know?

Some time ago, I encountered the sentence:

Who would know aught of art, must learn, act, and then take his ease

as an example of the vowel sounds of English.

A few days ago, for no apparent reason, I got thinking about this again, specifically “Hang on, there aren’t enough words/vowels in there”. It has 14 words and vowels. Most varieties of English have more (though the number and exact line-up varies). My generally standard Australian English has 20, which matches the Macquarie Dictionary’s count. Further, the six which are missing are all diphthongs, but know and take are there. I searched online and found a blogpost by Lauren Gawne (a fellow Australian) from last year. She quotes a post by John Wells (an Englishman), who says he doesn’t know its origin, then (among other things):

[It] is sentence that not merely contains 14 [different] vowel sounds, but has the sound in a particular order (going clockwise more or less round the periphery of the vowel area) … to work properly the sentence requires the speaker to use RP [received pronunciation, standard British English] or something similar, with strong forms of would, of, and must, which in ordinary speech are usually weakened, but a weak form of and … the sentence covers only the monophthongs and narrow diphthongs. To complete it with the remaining diphthongs aɪ aʊ ɔɪ ɪə eə ʊə we would need something like “My loud voice nears their moors”. Or has someone got something better?

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Grammarbites part 7 – Pronunciation

Part 1 – introduction

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

this part goes in here

Part 4 – consonant clusters

1 – The basic sounds of English

Standard English uses 44 basic sounds (phonemes). They all occur in the following sentence:

Catching weary waterfowl on thin ice gives surly polar bears huge pleasure and ensures they enjoy good meat unharmed.

(This sentence was written by Richard Gunton and posted to the blog Literal Minded.)

meat; unharmed — on; thin; and; ensures; enjoy; unharmed — catching

polar — bears — waterfowl; meat — and; good; unharmedcatching — gives; good

catching — huge; enjoy

thin — they — waterfowl — gives — ice; surly — gives; bears; ensures — ensures — pleasure — huge; unharmed

weary; waterfowl — waterfowl; surly; polar; pleasure — weary — h(y)uge

catching; thin; gives — pleasure; ensures; enjoy — catching; and — unharmed — on — good — polar; pleasure

weary; surly; meat — surly — unharmed — waterfowl — huge

theyice — enjoy — weary — bears — ensures — waterfowl — polar

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Fox in Socks – pronunciation and spelling





So begins Fox in Socks, by Dr Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), a series of increasingly intricate tongue-twisters. Along the way, whether Seuss intended it to or not, it illustrates many points of English pronunciation and spelling.

Each of the words has four phonemes (distinct sounds) in pronunciation, represented by three, four or five letters in spelling, so immediately there is not a direct correspondence between sound and spelling. Each of the words starts with one consonant phoneme /f/, /s/, /b/ and /n/. The first three are represented by one letter, but the last is represented by two letters kn – the k is silent. It used to be pronounced but now it isn’t (long story). (In fact, the k is silent in all English words starting with kn.)

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