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Author Topic: English is weird  (Read 163940 times)

Morituri

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1050 on: 24 Nov 2020, 13:59 »


Not to be nitpicky or something, what you mean is called Diaeresis.
And yes, it would be quite helpful.

Actually, I did in fact mean the umlaut.  Where spun is the past tense of spin, but the spün goes next to the knïf and fork when you're setting the table.

Because I'd far rather have letters for most of the extra vowels, and save digraphs for diphthongs or vowels pronounced as separate syllables.

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1051 on: 24 Nov 2020, 14:41 »


Not to be nitpicky or something, what you mean is called Diaeresis.
And yes, it would be quite helpful.

Actually, I did in fact mean the umlaut.  Where spun is the past tense of spin, but the spün goes next to the knïf and fork when you're setting the table.

Because I'd far rather have letters for most of the extra vowels, and save digraphs for diphthongs or vowels pronounced as separate syllables.

I stand corrected.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1052 on: 24 Nov 2020, 14:44 »

...said the physiotherapy patient.
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Case

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1053 on: 25 Nov 2020, 10:04 »

The little e's atop the a, u and o vowels are an alternative/older symbol for the German umlouts. https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umlaut

Not sure whether the Umlaute are strictly speaking 'additional vowels', or merely "sound-shifted" pronunciations of the original ones. Um-laut means something like "re-sound(ed) (vowel)" - if you can pronounce them, you'll notice the ö and ü differ from the original vowels merely in a little shift in the position of the tongue. (https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vokaldreieck)
« Last Edit: 25 Nov 2020, 10:10 by Case »
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Morituri

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1054 on: 25 Nov 2020, 10:41 »

In English we have something of the same idea of 'shifted' pronunciation.  When we are in grade school we are learning the difference between "long" and "short" vowels - and if we pay attention we notice the same thing about the distinction in pronunciation being mainly the position of the tongue.

I went looking for an article on this and found this one.  It's a little more general than I was looking for in that it discusses English vowels generally.

https://www.speechactive.com/english-vowels-ipa-international-phonetic-alphabet/

Among its more spectacular claims is that English has 20(!) vowel sounds, although I know of no variety that distinguishes all 20.  You might need to learn all of these if you intend to be able to produce every variety of English, but knowing nine or ten will make it possible to effortlessly communicate with English speakers because we tolerate some 'accent' in vowels mostly without noticing.  You'll just sound like someone used to a different dialect, and in English dialect is a relatively minor issue.
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Morituri

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1055 on: 25 Nov 2020, 11:06 »

American English:  You can hear all 20 of those vowels here, but not in any one variety. All these people understand each other.  Often without even noticing.

Here's about the thickest an American Accent gets.  This guy speaks a low-status dialect; everybody understands him, but if he wants to be taken seriously in a large part of the country, he will have to work - and if he grew up speaking it, he will have to work HARD - to learn to speak a different variety.

Warning:  This is vaguely political, insofar as he's arguing against stupidity.
« Last Edit: 25 Nov 2020, 11:14 by Morituri »
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1056 on: 25 Nov 2020, 11:15 »

As a non-native speaker of English, Americans who say they "don't have an accent" infuriate me. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "not having an accent". In any language.

There's some kind of metaphor about American culture in there: it's all extremely varied, but for some reason a LOT of people think anyone similar to them is basically the default, and it's other people that differ and stand out.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1057 on: 25 Nov 2020, 11:38 »

There is what is widely considered to be a "neutral" accent in American English, it is generally taught in broadcasting school/training. This could be what people mean when they say they "don't have an accent".
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1058 on: 25 Nov 2020, 12:30 »

There is what is widely considered to be a "neutral" accent in American English, it is generally taught in broadcasting school/training. This could be what people mean when they say they "don't have an accent".

Yes, I'm aware of that. But that's still not the same as not having an accent, and even if it possibly stems from ignorance about what words mean, I still associate it with a "what's happening here is the default" attitude I associate with American culture strongly.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1059 on: 25 Nov 2020, 14:48 »

There is what is widely considered to be a "neutral" accent in American English, it is generally taught in broadcasting school/training. This could be what people mean when they say they "don't have an accent".

Back when I got English lessons in ... the early neolithic, we were told that we'd be taught the only true English, that it's called 'BBC-English', and the only place it was spoken correctly was Amsterdam ...  :wink:
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1060 on: 25 Nov 2020, 15:01 »

There is what is widely considered to be a "neutral" accent in American English, it is generally taught in broadcasting school/training. This could be what people mean when they say they "don't have an accent".

Not to speak for Oddtail, but I think what he means is something similar to what Margaret Atwood (she of 'Handmaiden's Tale'-fame) meant when she wrote that little essay about the 'one-way mirror' along the US-Canada border.

That when the Canadians look south, they see Americans, but when Americans look north, they see only reflections of themselves.


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The noses of a great many Canadians resemble Porky Pig’s. This comes from spending so much time pressing them against the longest undefended one-way mirror in the world. The Canadians looking through this mirror behave the way people on the hidden side of such mirrors usually do: They observe, analyze, ponder, snoop and wonder what all the activity on the other side means in decipherable human terms.

The Americans, bless their innocent little hearts, are rarely aware that they are even being watched, much less by the Canadians. They just go on doing body language, playing in the sandbox of the world, bashing one another on the head and planning how to blow things up, same as always. If they think about Canada at all, it’s only when things get a bit snowy, or the water goes off, or the Canadians start fussing over some piddly detail, such as fish. Then they regard them as unpatriotic; for Americans don’t really see Canadians as foreigners, not like the Mexicans, unless they do something weird like speak French or beat the New York Yankees at baseball. Really, think the Americans, the Canadians are just like us, or would be if they could.

"Through the one-way mirror", Margaret Atwood, 1984

Thing is - it's not only the Canucks anymore feeling like that. It's basically anyone whose lives have been shaped to a not-insignificant degree by the process called 'Englishization' (and the US becoming 'the sole remaining superpower'). Of course, we on the other side of the one-way mirror come from vastly different places, with vastly different degrees of privilege - but at the core, there's an experience that a white MAWG from Germany shares with people from India, exchange students from China or my former office-mate from Kamerun: And that's being 'not-default in the eyes of America' - or more polite, but no less vexing: 'Default in the eyes of America when we're reallyreally not'.

And yes, it does feel exactly like that - Americans do tend to speak as if they instinctively assumed they are the default, and that everybody else is just the same, except maybe for a regrettable fact of their having to run to catch up so they, too, can "get with the program already" (And yes, 'Merricans abroad actually do say that line. And no, it's not just the pinky-skinned ones).

And it's a lot of 'you' - to varying degrees - even admirably ethical and painstakingly considerate folk like IICIH (sorry for making an example of you, IICIH)

It's OK, we still like you - Why do you think we spend non-negligible shares of our free time seeking out conversations with 'you guys'? And it's not like it's your fault being shaped by the place you were born into, just like we all were. It's just ... yeah, it is 'a thing' - and 'the thing' in this our world and these our times is that there's lots of places, and then there's America.

[Edit: And no, I don't think it's the same thing as 'American Exceptionalism' - rather something adjacent. And no, this isn't an accusation or a 'you have to change your ways' or anything. It just ... is.]



P.S.: Come to think of it: You, SnS, are probably the 'worst' example of an American to tell this to -> I have yet to see you write something that even remotely smacks of your assuming yourself to be the default, in any meaning of the word. Just coincidence, hope I didn't overstep my bounds.
« Last Edit: 25 Nov 2020, 15:59 by Case »
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Cornelius

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1061 on: 25 Nov 2020, 15:13 »

Some people seem incapable of seeing an accent as something that could apply to them. Some of them will even maintain that theirs in no way differs from what is seen/ set as the standard.

I suspect in some cases, that may be true; that through lack of opportunity or inclination, they never developed the ability to hear the differences. Actively hearing a different phonology is what makes learning another language difficult, and some people simply map approximating phonemes they know over ones that they don't.

This is even stronger if the media they come into contact with, uses an accent that is close, if not simply the same as theirs. Any difference they may pick up, is easily rationalised as just another register of their language, since it is broadcast. As an aside, many people will shift register if interviewed.

And some can be just simply arrogant, and dismiss anything but their own accent as inferior. But I suspect you can find those in any language.

Warning: an interesting post came through while you were typing, 
Okay, I'm letting that speak in stead of the second part I was writing.

Edited to cross dotted t's and dot crossed I's.
« Last Edit: 25 Nov 2020, 15:32 by Cornelius »
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Morituri

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1062 on: 25 Nov 2020, 17:31 »

I thought that was just what accents are, almost by definition: one of the things about your own speech that you yourself never hear. 

"I don't have an accent" is best interpreted as a joke, or as a statement so obvious it's dumb.  Somebody might as well say "The sky looks blue to me."  Give it a belly laugh and go ahead with what you were doing.

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FreshScrod

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1063 on: 25 Nov 2020, 18:53 »

I always thought it's really silly whenever someone points out accents. Like, who cares? I'm sure some people do, and it's interesting to listen to different ways the same language can sound. Doing it in person, seems like another unnecessary divide between people. Sometimes, as a joke, I'll respond like: "I don't have an accent. Nobody has an accent.", have an inward chuckle, and keep doing whatever it is I was doing.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1064 on: 25 Nov 2020, 20:40 »


P.S.: Come to think of it: You, SnS, are probably the 'worst' example of an American to tell this to -> I have yet to see you write something that even remotely smacks of your assuming yourself to be the default, in any meaning of the word. Just coincidence, hope I didn't overstep my bounds.

To be fair, I am pretty far from the "default" as far as the culture of the USA considers it, being a gay Indigenous woman. I am only an "American" because the current occupying force has labeled me such.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1065 on: 26 Nov 2020, 06:19 »

I always thought it's really silly whenever someone points out accents. Like, who cares? I'm sure some people do, ...
A lot of people do.  Accent is used as a first approximation for social class, which anyone from the south eastern portion of the US moving north and/or west-wards rather quickly learns.  Simply answering common introduction phrases in a Southern accent can dig one a social hole that may take decades to get out of, and can directly affect pay rates, job opportunities, etc.  I'm not saying that's in any way right, but I have observed it.

Growing up military and moving around the US a lot, I was exposed to many accents growing up and can mimic many of them pretty well.  Please note that there is a difference between idiom (word choices) and accent (way words are pronounced).  I've learned to keep my accent fairly flat since I moved to the upper midwest so I sound like most people.  But with few exceptions I've avoided taking on the idioms of my area, which I find mostly horrifying.
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Case

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1066 on: 26 Nov 2020, 06:42 »

Truth be told, if the 50 accents in the vid Morituri linked are realistic samples ... I hardly hear the differences, I have to admit. Except for the southern "drawly" (?) ones, that is. They're very noticably not British accents, but that's about it.

A few years back, the "Liberal Redneck" guy (love him, btw) would have been beyond my capacity to parse - but apparently, my English-ears have become better. I have to focus a bit, but it's nowhere near an Australian "Bogan" accent (POIDAAAH!), for example, or some of the British ones.


P.S.: I should point out that as a non-native speaker, I approach English accents as a challenge - I couldn't care less about where the people come from (I'm a foreigner to whatever place they come from), or whatever nitwit thinks about their social class: To me,  it matters how much mental resources I have to expend to enable communication (In my experience, conversation in my second language will always tire me out faster than convos in my native one - and accents add to the amount of 'brain-fuel' I have to expend), whether there's a polite way to ask the speaker if they could switch to a more standard pronounciation etc.
« Last Edit: 26 Nov 2020, 07:16 by Case »
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1067 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:09 »

American English:  You can hear all 20 of those vowels here, but not in any one variety. All these people understand each other.  Often without even noticing.

Here's about the thickest an American Accent gets.  This guy speaks a low-status dialect; everybody understands him, but if he wants to be taken seriously in a large part of the country, he will have to work - and if he grew up speaking it, he will have to work HARD - to learn to speak a different variety.

Warning:  This is vaguely political, insofar as he's arguing against stupidity.

There's a little island off the Coast of Maine that technically speaks English.
Then there's getting into the deep back woods of Arkansas, some parts of the Appalachians, and Cajun.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1068 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:17 »

As a non-native speaker of English, Americans who say they "don't have an accent" infuriate me. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "not having an accent". In any language.

There's some kind of metaphor about American culture in there: it's all extremely varied, but for some reason a LOT of people think anyone similar to them is basically the default, and it's other people that differ and stand out.
Apparently I have a 'cosmopolitan accent'. Most people can't really tell where I'm from, just that I grew up in a 'big city'. I've had guesses for New York New York [1] and 'California'. Though, I'm told that I have a little bit of a Wisconsin undertone even though I've never been and my grandfather from Kenosha hadn't lived there for 30 years by the time I came around.

[1]Nebraska, one of the hickest of hick states. Sorry, but it's true. And I'm not just saying that as a Kansan.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1069 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:31 »

Apparently I have a 'cosmopolitan accent'. Most people can't really tell where I'm from, just that I grew up in a 'big city'.

Is that 'most people in the US can't tell which part of the US I'm coming from' or 'most English speakers can't tell which continent I live on'?

Bcs if you sound remotely like the compatriots of yours that I've met, pretty much anyone on the planet knows where you're coming from the second you open your mouth, if you know where I'm coming from?  :wink: :-D
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Morituri

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1070 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:34 »

With the people in the 50-states vid, the accents are at the level where you could just interpret them as some particular speaker's pronunciation and cadence.  It's within "normal" and understood without thought.  And this is a pretty accurate rendition of the way it's spoken in major cities.  Which, at this point, means by well over 80% of the US population.

The further you get from big cities - the more you're among those who've lived generations in those places instead of a decade or so - the stronger accents tend to be.

The 'Redneck Liberal' guy is demonstrating an accent found mainly in rural areas of southwestern Louisiana. eastern Texas, or southern Arkansas.  I can be pretty specific because I used to live fairly close to there.  Urban people who live within a hundred miles of him have a barely-noticeable 'twang' but that's about it.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1071 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:41 »

@Morituri: Sorry, didn't you mention something about growing up with 'Pennsylvania Dutch'? (which isn't actually Dutch, btw, but German with a heavy Palatine dialect - it's just that the German word for 'German' is 'Deutsch')
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1072 on: 26 Nov 2020, 09:57 »

As a non-native speaker of English, Americans who say they "don't have an accent" infuriate me. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "not having an accent". In any language.

There's some kind of metaphor about American culture in there: it's all extremely varied, but for some reason a LOT of people think anyone similar to them is basically the default, and it's other people that differ and stand out.
Apparently I have a 'cosmopolitan accent'. Most people can't really tell where I'm from, just that I grew up in a 'big city'. I've had guesses for New York New York [1] and 'California'. Though, I'm told that I have a little bit of a Wisconsin undertone even though I've never been and my grandfather from Kenosha hadn't lived there for 30 years by the time I came around.

[1]Nebraska, one of the hickest of hick states. Sorry, but it's true. And I'm not just saying that as a Kansan.
According to the New York Times dialect quiz, I'm from Tennessee (my top matches were Knoxville and Nashville). A grad student in my old lab (in Wisconsin, but he was from California) insisted that I sounded like I was from upstate New York. And in Pennsylvania they made fun of my "southern accent".  :psyduck:
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1073 on: 26 Nov 2020, 10:16 »

Truth be told, if the 50 accents in the vid Morituri linked are realistic samples ... I hardly hear the differences, I have to admit. Except for the southern "drawly" (?) ones, that is. They're very noticably not British accents, but that's about it.

A few years back, the "Liberal Redneck" guy (love him, btw) would have been beyond my capacity to parse - but apparently, my English-ears have become better. I have to focus a bit, but it's nowhere near an Australian "Bogan" accent (POIDAAAH!), for example, or some of the British ones.


P.S.: I should point out that as a non-native speaker, I approach English accents as a challenge - I couldn't care less about where the people come from (I'm a foreigner to whatever place they come from), or whatever nitwit thinks about their social class: To me,  it matters how much mental resources I have to expend to enable communication (In my experience, conversation in my second language will always tire me out faster than convos in my native one - and accents add to the amount of 'brain-fuel' I have to expend), whether there's a polite way to ask the speaker if they could switch to a more standard pronounciation etc.

Which is hilarious because the Southern accent and dialect of the U.S.A. is derived from the pre-Received Pronunciation British upper-class accent.

Apparently I have a 'cosmopolitan accent'. Most people can't really tell where I'm from, just that I grew up in a 'big city'.

Is that 'most people in the US can't tell which part of the US I'm coming from' or 'most English speakers can't tell which continent I live on'?

Bcs if you sound remotely like the compatriots of yours that I've met, pretty much anyone on the planet knows where you're coming from the second you open your mouth, if you know where I'm coming from?  :wink: :-D

Ja.....it's country level as opposed to international.  :roll:  But I can do a fairly decent imitation of a southern central Canadian English dialect.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1074 on: 26 Nov 2020, 10:29 »

Yes, my Grandma Kate and Grandpa Sam were Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch.  They lived in Yoder, Kansas, which was part of the Amish community around Hutchinson.  (I would have to check to see if Yoder is still on maps.  There were only about 25 people when we visited them decades ago. The town may be no more.)   We spent a few days to a week with them several times a year.  They spoke an antique, crazily beautiful, variety of English that got stuck somewhere around the turn of the 18th century. 

It was my grandparents on the other side - Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Beryl - who came originally from Southern Arkansas.  They had moved north (near Lake of the Ozarks) before I was born but we still had cousins south of that area and went to see them too.

And I worked for a few summers on custom harvesting crews and got to live for a few weeks, each time, in East Texas, Oklahoma, Central Kansas, Northern Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota, dealing the whole time with co-workers from everywhere else along the way.

I don't know if you're aware of the tradition but we had "custom harvest" as summer employment.  Custom Harvesters start somewhere in Texas, work a few weeks there until the wheat is in, then pack up their camp and move a few hundred miles north to where wheat harvest is just starting, rinse and repeat until by the end of summer they're finishing up at their last station somewhere in North Dakota.   It's pretty crazy; on those crews you work hundred-hour weeks sometimes.  When I was doing it, it was almost the only way to earn enough money for a year's college tuition during a single summer.

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1075 on: 26 Nov 2020, 11:28 »

Yoder is still on maps and even has a bit of a tourist trap element to it now.

Definitely worth a visit for the food alone.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1076 on: 26 Nov 2020, 12:29 »

I just wrote the word "diaphragm" and noticed how strange it is. The g is silent, like in sign - I've known that g tends to be silent before n but this is the first time I'm noticing it silent elsewhere. Funnily enough, it's not silent in signature, or signatory, signal, signify, signet... I actually used to think it was spelled cygnet, I think because I read the title Dance of the Cygnets before hearing about cygnet signet rings.
But I'm pretty sure it's not the same as the silent g in enough. I think I read somewhere that it used to signify that the h is voiced.

David Alan Stern has a set audio programs, Acting with an Accent, for different accents. They're a couple hours each, and they do a good job explaining how the accent works, like in the mouth, stuff like center of resonance - taught in the accent, for immersion, which stood out to me, especially, because, each time, I thought that was their default accent. I haven't done all of them, though. Maybe they're American?
Tried various forum searches... didn't someone mention affecting an American accent? While playing a video game, but when they changed back to their usual (British?) accent, the other players didn't believe it was real. I might have daydreamed that, because I had a similar experience: a transfer student, for their whole first month, affected Received Pronunciation - pretty poorly but it fooled everyone - so they got alotta flak the week they changed back for "making fun of our [American] accent". To be honest, I was waiting for them to change to a third accent for the third month. They never did. I wonder if that might be interesting as part of a performance art piece. Maybe the same play, but with different accents for different acts or different performances.

Edits: removed unnecessary mention of gender, corrected markup error.
« Last Edit: 26 Nov 2020, 12:41 by FreshScrod »
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1077 on: 26 Nov 2020, 13:41 »

And here I always thought that a cygnet was a baby swan.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1078 on: 27 Nov 2020, 00:26 »

And here I always thought that a cygnet was a baby swan.

Presumably when cygnets are ringed for identification, it's done using cygnet rings...
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1079 on: 27 Nov 2020, 13:57 »

Well if we're talking about regional accents in the UK

I'm from the East Midlands, which is an area with accents heavily influenced by both the North East and West Midlands of the country, ending up somewhere weird in between.

Better yet, my parents are both from the Kent area, much further South. So what accent did I have? Well, if you ask my school friends, 'posh' would be the answer. I only realise with hindsight that I was middle class as fuck (my parents owned their house) despite feeling like we lacked many of the obvious trappings of being not-poor (Playstations, fashion labelled clothes). But I sounded very out of place in my comprehensive school, as an identifiably posh boy.

This as also given me a lifelong vowel problem. Depending on who I am talking to, the 'grass'/'grarse' sounds can both show up in the same sentence, because having been raised by 'grarse' parents in a 'grass' area I never really settled on one.

Then I moved to the North West, where anyone who had been to my hometown could pick me out, but then got confused why I didn't sound that much like it. Being in the North West also shoved a whole lot more of the working-class/Midlands elements into my speech than there used to be. And yet, I was always a 'Southerner.' Because I was from the South, you see. Because anything that isn't The North is The South, if you're a Northerner. Great.

Then I moved to Oxfordshire, in the South East. This is when Hodges met me, the only person who still frequents this forum regularly enough and has met me to be likely to comment. So I would be most interested to know what the fuck he thinks I sound like if anything. Around that area, I was noticeably too working-class/Northern sounding to fit in. I was now surrounded by people who were, generally, much posher-sounding than I was, and all of a sudden I became a Northerner.

Do people from Southampton call people from Northampton Northerners? I genuinely might want to know this. It drove me insane, in both places.

Now I live in Berkshire, which is both more posh than Oxfordshire (loads of people who work in London live here in ludicrously expensive houses) and then also less (the urbanised areas, however, are much more urban and run-down than those in Oxfordshire). Having now lived in the South of the country some eight years, when I visited my Northern friends a summer or two ago they were aghast at how Southern I sounded.

Sigh.

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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1080 on: 28 Nov 2020, 05:50 »

his is when Hodges met me, the only person who still frequents this forum regularly enough and has met me to be likely to comment. So I would be most interested to know what the fuck he thinks I sound like if anything

I am not a good person to ask about accents, and more so in this case because I met Thrillho some years ago now.  I don't particularly notice accents, or at least I don't link them with people in my memory, so I'm afraid I can't recall what I thought about Thrillho's!  If he was then "Northern sounding" that would simply have been a variety of normal that my father had familiarised me with, and so unremarkable in my mind.

My own background is solidly upper middle class - father was a university professor in Reading, though from a Sheffield working-class background, mother a grammar-school English teacher who grew up in a country rectory, and I went through a classy (not famous, though) boarding school and Oxford University.  So my accent is variously described as RP, BBC, or simply "posh" (but not proper posh like landed gentry etc). Back in the 70s I used to get Americans come over to me in an aeroplane and ask to listen to me speak - I guess they found me quaint!  You can judge for yourself - there are a number of links in this forum of me reading various stories and book extracts (early in this thread, even).  But because some of those links are dead, I've collected them all here for you.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1081 on: 05 Dec 2020, 02:22 »

Why the hell is the 'l' in 'solder' silent?
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1082 on: 05 Dec 2020, 03:01 »

You mean the "i" in "soldier", I presume.  Well, it isn't; it modifies the "d" to be more of a "j" sound in many people's speech - though I was ridiculed at school by my Latin master for that pronunciation (in the 1950s, to put it in perspective), as he insisted on a simple "di" as the central one of three syllables...
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1083 on: 05 Dec 2020, 04:12 »

Why the hell is the 'l' in 'solder' silent?

I've never understood this myself about US English, but Google has answers.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1084 on: 05 Dec 2020, 04:24 »

Ah, I misunderstood - you were on the "l" not the "i" (I read it as capital i and presumed a typo). 

I have never heard the "l" in solder not pronounced nor had any idea that was a possibility, and so that is a complete surprise to me.  British dictionaries don't mention the possibility either.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1085 on: 05 Dec 2020, 07:49 »

Ah, I misunderstood - you were on the "l" not the "i" (I read it as capital i and presumed a typo). 

I have never heard the "l" in solder not pronounced nor had any idea that was a possibility, and so that is a complete surprise to me.  British dictionaries don't mention the possibility either.
You all say 'solder' as "sol-der"?

EDIT: "Solder (/ˈsoʊldər/,[1] /ˈsɒldər/[1] or in North America /ˈsɒdər/)"

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« Last Edit: 05 Dec 2020, 07:55 by Gyrre »
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1086 on: 05 Dec 2020, 08:11 »

In the Renaissance some people tried to make English spelling more like Latin; there's an article about it here.  Apparently sodder > solder was among those changes, and then in Britain the pronunciation also ended up shifting while in American English the older pronunciation continued.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1087 on: 05 Dec 2020, 18:56 »

I believe, without specific evidence that I remember, that the 'f' and 'ph' spellings now pronounced in the same way used to have different pronunciations.

Thing is, it's ridiculously subtle.  You produce the 'f' sound with the lower lip and upper teeth, and you produce the 'ph' sound with both lips and no teeth.   The problem with this is that unless I'm actually the one doing it, I cannot *hear* any difference between these sounds.  One unvoiced approximant aspiration sounds pretty much the same as another to me. 

*BUT* there's also the exception of 'th.'   Unvoiced 'th', (as in 'thief' or 'teeth') is also an unvoiced approximant aspiration, produced between tongue and hard palate, and it sounds very different to me.  And I don't know whether that's because it's *more* different from other unvoiced approximant aspirations, or because I as a speaker of modern English have learned to attend to it because the distinction is important in English.

*AND* there's the other exception of 'th'. Voiced 'th' (as in 'the' and 'there' and 'they' and 'other') is genuinely a different sound, but in English they are sort-of regarded as equivalent.  Even though we pronounce lots of words containing them, every day, and even though we have 'picked up' which version of the 'th' to use in which word more or less from context, the distinction is hardly ever taught.  And a good number of adult speakers of English are surprised to learn that it exists - they just never thought about it before, and when you inform them that there are different sounds, you watch their faces as they finally realize, yes, they have been hearing the difference and producing it in speech every day for most of their lives, are likely not to have messed it up since they were two years old, and have.  never.  even.  noticed.  it. 

And I don't know if that ... ignorance?  "Cognitive" deafness entirely unrelated to a genuine inability to hear and speak?  Whatever you call it, I don't know if that's properly part of being a native speaker or has anything to do with the way we don't distinguish other unvoiced approximant aspirations?  Maybe the difference is there but we don't 'code' it because it doesn't matter in language, the same way we *almost* don't code on the different 'th' noises.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1088 on: 06 Dec 2020, 03:56 »

Quote
Thing is, it's ridiculously subtle.  You produce the 'f' sound with the lower lip and upper teeth, and you produce the 'ph' sound with both lips and no teeth.   The problem with this is that unless I'm actually the one doing it, I cannot *hear* any difference between these sounds.  One unvoiced approximant aspiration sounds pretty much the same as another to me.

You do? I pronounce words like 'elephant' and 'phase' just like if they had an f instead of a ph.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1089 on: 06 Dec 2020, 09:23 »

I believe, without specific evidence that I remember, that the 'f' and 'ph' spellings now pronounced in the same way used to have different pronunciations.

Thing is, it's ridiculously subtle.  You produce the 'f' sound with the lower lip and upper teeth, and you produce the 'ph' sound with both lips and no teeth.
(Preliminary: In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the English "f" sound is written as /f/ and the other sound you describe is written as /ɸ/.  I'll use those below.)

I'm not aware of English ever having contrasted those sounds, and I think it's quite unlikely.  There are apparently a few languages in the world that do contrast them (such as Ewe) but it's very rare and generally at least one of the sounds would be modified a bit to increase their difference.

English words written with "ph" generally come from Greek.  In Modern Greek the letter phi is pronounced as /f/, but it has changed over time.  It's certainly possible that at some point in English history scholars might have tried to pronounce Greek loan-words with a different sound, basically treating them as foreign words before they became fully adopted into English.  If they did, though, I don't know where they would have gotten the idea of using /ɸ/.  As far as I can tell, the /ɸ/ might have been used in some Greek dialects during the last couple centuries BCE and the first couple centuries CE, but it became /f/ long before any English scholars were trying to pronounce Greek words.

There is a possible point of confusion since the IPA symbol for /ɸ/ does use a form of the Greek letter phi.  But that's only the IPA; the Greek language itself has used the sound /f/ for over a millennium now, and in any case it never contrasted those sounds.  The original letter phi was pronounced somewhat like the modern English "p", then later it turned into /ɸ/ and finally /f/.

Another complication is that in Classical Greek the letter phi contrasted with the letter pi (in a way that doesn't involve /f/ at all) but it did involve a contrast that's hard for English speakers to perceive.


As far as the voicing difference in "th", I suspect that spelling has a significant influence.  People tend to be more aware of sound distinctions that require different spellings, while sounds that are written the same way may only be distinguished subconsciously.  For example, many people tend to think of the "n" in the word "thank" as an "n", not realizing that they pronounce it like the "ng" in "sang".
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1090 on: 06 Dec 2020, 09:49 »

Yeah, I pronounce them the same way too.  I can do the thing if I'm thinking about it, but nobody else hears the difference when I do, and I don't hear the difference if anybody else does.  It has turned into a big old semantic zero, vaguely remembered in some fossilized spellings that may reflect the way words were pronounced in earlier versions of the language.

Like I said, I can't hear the difference.  The difference absolutely doesn't *exist* in modern English.  I was musing about whether the *ability* to hear it - which seems near-impossible to modern speakers - is because it's something that's inherently hard, or just something English hasn't trained us to do.  Like, is there somebody out there who grew up with a different language, who'd find it easy to hear or obvious to produce?

My neighbor across the street had a hard time with ESL when he was a new immigrant some years ago.  He is a native speaker of a language that doesn't distinguish the 'l' sound and the 'r' sound and had real difficulty first learning first to *hear* the difference, and then to *produce* the distinct sounds.  Their language has *a* sound, made in approximately the same place in the mouth by doing approximately the same thing with your tongue, and speakers make the 'l' and 'r' sounds both as minor variations of it, the way we have but don't  really 'code' the difference between the rounded 'o' and the front 'o' (Minnesota/Canuck/Newfie accent vs. "Mainstream Urban" American accent). 

Meanwhile, his wife found it much easier and his kids who have grown up from toddler age to high-school age speaking English have no problem with it at all and don't seem to understand how their dad ever did.

And what I'm wondering, is whether we English speakers have done the reverse - actually merged two distinct but "close" sounds - sounds that once seemed obvious to speakers of some earlier dialect - into one sound, where the distinction is one that we no longer learn to even hear.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1091 on: 06 Dec 2020, 10:22 »

Some languages do use both in a contrasting manner, but the 2 such languages that I know of modify one of the sounds a bit to increase the difference.  So they're probably quite a bit closer acoustically than "f" and "th" are.

The 2 that I've found are Ewe (where the upper lip is raised more than a typical /f/), and Venda (where the /ɸ/ is pronounced with the lips slightly rounded).

Edit: In contrast to what I wrote above, this paper concludes that Ewe speakers don't exaggerate the difference, and the acoustic plus visual differences between the sounds may be sufficient to distinguish them without much difficulty.
« Last Edit: 06 Dec 2020, 10:56 by alc40 »
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1092 on: 06 Dec 2020, 11:11 »

Isn't there a langauge with only one word for blue and green, and all those colors (that we'd call green or blue) are often used as the same color? I think that might be similar to the "l" or "r" distinction. I don't know if it's the same about "f" or "ph" (what about "pf"?), but I have always thought "oof" was spelled wrong, like it should have a "ph". Maybe it's because of that lips thing, that if you're getting your wind kicked out of you, you're not gonna curl your lip up to your teeth, so the fricative-ness would come from the lips close to each other?
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1093 on: 06 Dec 2020, 15:52 »

Japanese is the well-known example.  The classical word is ao (or aoi) which covers both.  But later they added midori for green, which is commonly used; however, ao has not become restricted to blue, and will be used for the colour of a traffic light for go, or even by some for vegetables.  Interestingly, this has gone the other way, and the "green" traffic light in Japan is often distinctly blue!

However, the overlap of these colours has actually occurred in many languages, as Wikipedia will tell you.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1094 on: 06 Dec 2020, 20:12 »

See, I would just translate that word as 'turquoise' which is a color name in English for a shade between blue and green.

However, it's also the name of a rock, which can cause confusion to an ESL speaker if they are familiar with one word and not the other.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1095 on: 06 Dec 2020, 20:27 »

Japanese is the well-known example.  The classical word is ao (or aoi) which covers both.  But later they added midori for green, which is commonly used; however, ao has not become restricted to blue, and will be used for the colour of a traffic light for go, or even by some for vegetables.  Interestingly, this has gone the other way, and the "green" traffic light in Japan is often distinctly blue!

However, the overlap of these colours has actually occurred in many languages, as Wikipedia will tell you.
Something that sticks out at me about the horizontally-mounted Japanese traffic lights is that green/blue is on the left. Some areas in the U.S. (in particular, Texas) mount the traffic lights horizontally like that, but red is always on the left.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1096 on: 07 Dec 2020, 04:03 »

In the UK, traffic lights are never horizontal.

See, I would just translate that word as 'turquoise' which is a color name in English for a shade between blue and green.

But turquoise is a fairly specific shade in the middle of the range.  Ao can be any part of the whole blue and green range.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1097 on: 07 Dec 2020, 12:23 »

Something that sticks out at me about the horizontally-mounted Japanese traffic lights is that green/blue is on the left. Some areas in the U.S. (in particular, Texas) mount the traffic lights horizontally like that, but red is always on the left.
It would be tempting to think that this had something to do with the right to left reading that was traditional in Japan, and persists in the reading order of panels in manga, but it is not obvious whether red should be the beginning or end of a "line".

In Australia, as in the UK, traffic lights are always vertical with red at the top. So no, our traffic lights are not upside-down.
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1098 on: 07 Dec 2020, 12:34 »

I started writing a response then consulted a wikipedia article and thought this is better information than what I was going to say....

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity_and_the_color_naming_debate
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Re: English is weird
« Reply #1099 on: 07 Dec 2020, 12:36 »



I was thinking it could have to do with Japan driving on the left-hand side of the road (like the UK and Australia), but without any other left-driving countries known to mount lights horizontally, it’s not clear if it’s because of that, or something that’s just particular to Japan.
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