Friday, March 16, 2012

John Wells

This guy has a blog about nothing but phonetics. It's wonderful. If you can tolerate to add another blog to your reading list, add this. To help convince you, here is his latest post about phonetics, regional and social variance. Wonderful stuff.

English places

Comments on yesterday’s blog addressed the fraught question of proper names in pronunciation dictionaries. I thought it might be useful if I tried to say what my policy was in LPD, at least as concerns place names in England.

I must confess that I did not set up a set of principles before starting work. Rather, what follows is a post-hoc attempt to express the principles I think I generally followed.

Let’s start from the difficult fact that in England everything is complicated by social class factors. A hundred years ago, certainly fifty years ago, and still to a large extent today, most English people spoke and speak with a local accent. Broadly speaking, the lower your social class, the more your pronunciation diverges from RP; the higher your social class, the closer to RP. Whereas RP speakers can be found in all parts of the country (or could when I were a lad, when not only the local landed gentry but also the vicar and the doctor probably spoke RP or something very close to it), “local” implies non-RP. The local accent typically includes various features that are regarded as non-standard and have traditionally been considered unworthy of mention in normative reference works such as dictionaries. (Note to nonNSs: when I were a lad is a stock phrase with non-standard werefor was, used for comic effect.)

So let’s agree, for the purposes of argument, that most people who live in Hull call it ʊl. But in RP it’s unquestionably hʌl. We can leave it to the sociolinguists to determine the precise details of who uses which of these pronunciations and under what circumstances, and to what extent there are also intermediate forms such as hʊl, həl and perhaps also ʌl.
Continue reading at John Wells's blog…