Monday, November 08, 2010

Phonics by Kelly Chopard

The above is a description of a phonics course. As can be seen from the title and body text, the instructor suggests that the pronunciation of phonics as /ˈfəʊnɪks/ is Singaporean and wrong.

Well, here’s an opinion from somebody who knows better — Professor John Wells, possibly the world’s foremost authority on English pronunciation, and writer of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (LPD).

Below is his entry for phonic. (The ~s means that, in terms of pronunciation, phonics differs only in that one detail from the headword, phonic.)

Unsurprisingly he prioritizes the more common pronunciation, /ˈfɒnɪks/, but also lists /ˈfəʊnɪks/ as a variant for British Received Pronunciation (RP). The same pattern is observed in the General American pronunciations, given after ||.

The fact that /ˈfəʊnɪks/ is not prioritized does not mean it is non-standard. In the LPD, non-standard (i.e. non-RP) pronunciations are marked §, as we can see in the following discussion of /wɪθ/ in Britain:

It is unclear on what basis (apart from irrational prejudice) Kelly Chopard believes that /ˈfəʊnɪks/ is a Singaporean, hence undesirable, pronunciation worthy of ridicule, when for millions of British and American speakers it is perfectly acceptable.

It is also interesting to note that she labels this pronunciation as ‘Singlish’, a usually dismissive term for colloquial Singapore English. However, one should point out that this term refers not so much to the Singapore accent as to other features such as lexis and syntax.

Indeed, the instructor’s misuse of linguistic terms, obvious misunderstanding of issues, and stilted English should make any knowledgeable reader question her credentials.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

An interesting spelling error in a BBC headline today (8 November 2010): Aborigenes should, of course, be Aborigines.  One wonders if the headline writer, it not merely careless, was thinking of Classical Greek names (e.g. Diogenes) when she or he typed this.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


This is from the official English As It Is Broken website. 

The anglicized pronunciation of the Classical Greek name Persephone is /pɜːˈsefəni/.  Interestingly, the answer respells the second syllable as SAF rather than SEF, suggesting that for most Singaporean speakers the vowels /e/ and /æ/ are merged. 

It also shows that so-called phonetic respelling is an often maddeningly inexact way of indicating pronunciation, since different readers will assign different sounds to the same letters and to combinations thereof.  In fact, I suspect that most Singaporean readers would be baffled to learn that FUH is supposed to give /fə/ rather than /fu:/.
Ambiguous Headline

This headline (Straits Times web, 6 November 2010) is probably baffling to the reader, until she or he works out that police is not a noun but a verb.

Because headlines need to be brief, words that are understood or recoverable from context are usually omitted.  Function words are usually the first casualties, such as the underlined definite article: Peer pressure to police the deal.

The headline above (Straits Times web, 20 October 2009) is unintentionally ambiguous and amusing.

The noun phrase ageing panel is intended to mean ‘panel that works on issues involving ageing’ (ageing is a noun here), but arguably the more obvious and natural reading would be ‘panel of ageing members’ (ageing as adjective).
Past Perfect

In the article above, the writer recounts — in the past tense, naturally enough — her maiden experience at a casino.

The use of the simple past in the last sentence, however, is non-standard: since the realization that she had ‘had enough’ took place before her suggestion to H that they leave, she should have used the past perfect: I had had enough of the casino.

The word verbal is often imprecise in meaning. Most people use it to mean ‘spoken’ or ‘oral’, so a verbal agreement is one that is spoken and not written down.

Pedants, however, insist that technically it means ‘involving words’ — that is, it may be spoken or written. This broader meaning of verbal may be usefully contrasted with non-verbal, for example a nod to indicate ‘yes’.
Good Winds

I don’t know Portuguese, but I do know enough to work out that bom vento is singular; hence a more accurate translation of the highlighted phrase would be ‘house of good wind’ rather than ‘good winds’, as in the article above (a restaurant review). Presumably, in Portuguese the plural would be bons ventos.

Perhaps the name is in Kristang, the Portuguese-based creole?