Nothing more from me for a while on the ups and downs of Wikipedia phonetics - we are off to Cuba tomorrow for a couple of weeks, and I don't think I'll be doing much web browsing!
I have been digging into the past and found some material from the 1990’s when I was part of a European Union-funded international group that produced a corpus of spoken Bulgarian, Estonian, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian; the design of the corpus was based on the SAM project for EU languages. Our project was given the rather over-used name BABEL ( I remember having the name foisted on us by an EU advisor at a planning meeting in Luxembourg). I have written a little Wikipedia article called The BABEL Speech Corpus to commemorate it.
I have just made a minor change to the problematic article International Phonetic Alphabet for English Dialects. I happened to notice its claim that [eə̯] is a New Zealand pronunciation of /ɪər/, with the explanatory note that “this is especially common amongst young speakers with very pronounced accents”. I removed the last four words because no accent is more “pronounced” than any other, unless you are explicitly comparing with some standard. This chimes with something I have just read – Peter Trudgill writes an excellent column every week for our local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, with observations about language variation and standards, as well as a wealth of information about Norfolk dialect, on which he is the No.1 expert. This week’s topic was the widely-held belief that some speakers speak without an accent – specifically, here, that Stephen Fry was born in Norfolk, but “now speaks without an accent”. It’s a shame that this column isn’t more widely available, but I believe there is a chance that a selection of these pieces might be published in book form in the future. I’ve been reminded that John Esling wrote a nice chapter entitled “Everyone has an accent except me” in Language Myths, (Penguin, 1998), eds. L. Bauer and P. Trudgill, pp 169-175.
Incidentally, Peter Trudgill and I were colleagues in the Linguistics Department at Reading University in the 1970’s, and now live within a mile of each other in Norwich.
There is a strange article in Wikipedia called International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects, where someone has created a gigantic table that sets out to give phonetic values for the phonemes (well, Wikipedia diaphonemes) of English, for eleven different accents. The consonant section is fairly straightforward, but when we get to vowels it becomes very complicated. The essential question, for me, is whether the phonetic values are based on published analyses by competent phoneticians. There are references peppered over the chart, but some of them seem pretty strange. Below the chart are 51 footnotes, and someone has just queried (on the Talk page) what is said in no. 51. In fact, that question arose over a misreading of the symbol ɵ as e, but it has made me look more closely at the RP column. This is claimed to be based on Roach (2004), which is my “Illustration of RP” published in JIPA 34.2, and on the British Library web page about RP phonemes. But many of the phonetic values in the chart don’t correspond to either. We get [oː] for THOUGHT, [ɪj] for happY, [ɑɪ] for PRICE, [oɪ] for CHOICE and [əʊ~ɒʊ~ɔʊ] for GOAT. Then in Footnote 51 we read this:
“Roach (2004) notes that many people in England use [o:] for this vowel, but also that RP traditionally distinguishes between maw /mo:/ and moor /mʊə/, tore /to:/ and tour /tʊə/, as well as paw /pɔː/ and poor /pʊə/. If one wishes to make that distinction today it would be best to use ɵ instead of ʊə. This will lead to tore as toː and tour as tɵː”.
Well, I didn’t write that, and I don’t see the merit of transcribing tour as tɵː. This makes me wonder if the other columns are as unreliable. I will try to correct the RP column when I get some time.
When I started this blog I mentioned a little paper I wrote recently on the subject of Wikipedia and other widely-used reference sources on the web which touch on phonetics. You can read it here.
In Wikipedia's efforts to agree on a way of transcribing English, many people find it hard to understand why the "voiceless w" sound [ʍ] (pronounced by many Scottish and American speakers in words like 'which', 'whine') is transcribed as /hw/. It is hard to explain the reason for this without giving a long explanation about the difference between phonetic and phonemic transcription - we can't expect everyone to find that easy to follow. The question has just come up again at the end of Help_talk:IPA_for_English and I have made an attempt to answer it.
I have now removed the unwanted material on child acquisition from the Wikipedia article on English Phonology. In the end, the best place for this sort of information is the article on Phonological Development , so I've added a link to that. That doesn't resolve the duplication I mentioned in my last post, but at least the article on English Phonology is not involved any more (I hope).
While I have been looking at ways of removing the unsuitable "Child Acquisition" stuff from English Phonology, I have come across the odd situation that WP has two articles covering almost the same ground, one called 'Language Acquisition' and the other 'Language Development'. Looking at the related Talk pages, it looks as if several people have proposed over the last few years that the two should be merged; I can't see any signs of opposition to the idea, but nothing has happened. I have queried this in both Talk pages, but I don't suppose I will get an answer.
Really not my field, but ...
In my previous note I pointed out that the section called Child Acquisition in Wikipedia's article on English Phonology seems to be to be quite inappropriate and needs to be removed. I've been looking at the article on Language Acquisition, and found to my surprise that in this long and theory-heavy article there is nothing on phonology, which seems bizarre. Then I found that in the Talk page for that article there is a section called 'Proposed Revision to Phonology' in which there is the draft of a phonology section that has been sitting there for over two years.
At the moment, it seems that WP has almost nothing to say on the subject of the phonology of child language.
A blog that discusses problems in Wikipedia's coverage of Phonetics
Emeritus Professor of Phonetics