Monday, 22 March 2010

Joe and Joel

While visiting the old people’s (senior citizens’) home in Montserrat, I started chatting to a young Montserratian man (pictured) who was visiting his grandfather there. I asked him his name.
dʒo, he said, with a very short vowel. If my ears had been better attuned to Montserratian pronunciation, I would have recognized this as Joe. (Montserrat phonetics includes a rule shortening long vowels in final position.) But, still half attuned to London (where a mid back monophthong can only be ɔː), I wasn’t sure.
—George, did you say?
—No, dʒoːʊ, he replied, accommodating to an English visitor (me) by making his vowel longer and diphthongal.
I registered that as Joe, as intended. But my companion, of Montserratian origin but having lived in London for fifty years and even more in London mode than me, thought he had said Joel. After all, in London Joe is dʒʌʊ (RP dʒəʊ), while the fully back and diphthongal dʒɒ(ʊ)o is indeed Joel (RP ˈdʒəʊəl).
But in Montserrat Joel would be ˈdʒoːel.
Confusing, isn’t it?


  1. > (Montserrat phonetics includes a rule shortening long vowels in final position.)

    Surely you must mean Montserrat phonology.

  2. Quite a minefield!

    dʒɒ(ʊ)o is indeed Joel (RP ˈdʒəʊəl)

    Does London speech never have anything as close to RP ˈdʒəʊəl as ˈdʒʌ(ʊ)o, in recognition of its disyllabicity, or has it become an obligatory monosyllable, giving this ˈdʒɒ(ʊ)o, as if it were spelt Jole? Or is it that even if it is not established as monosyllabic there is a suspension of opposition between the sequences ˈdʒʌ(ʊ)o and ˈdʒɒ(ʊ)o, so that there is no possibility of a distinction beween Noel and Knowle, or between hole, pole and the əʊəl versions of Howell and Powell?

    I could imagine ˈdʒʌʊo being distinctive while ˈdʒʌo would not be.

  3. 1. For me, phonology is part of phonetics. The shortening rule is allophonic.
    2. Yes, of course in England we can have smoothing etc making Joel into dʒəəl, dʒəʊɫ, etc, even dʒɒ(ʊ)o. The whole question of vowel neutralization in the context _(ə)l is very complicated (blog, 26 Sep 2006).

  4. Are there speakers who consistently insert a schwa in some but not all /-aɪl/ words? If not, what's the point of transcriptions such as /maɪ^əl/, couldn't you just write /maɪl/ and state somewhere in the front matter that /l/ has an allophone [əl] for some speakers? (And why doesn't the blog allow me to use the <sup> tag?)

  5. I was going to type "has an allophone [@l] after long vowels" but for some reason I forgot to.

  6. Wouldn't dʒo be the Scottish pronunciation as well? That's what my knowledge of Scots linguistics tells me.

  7. Anon: No, the SVLR (Aitken's Law) tells you that Scottish /o/ is long in word-final position. The Scottish rule is the opposite of the Montserrat one (more or less).

    Army1987: the are people who do not rhyme mile and trial (me, for example).

  8. I meant, among the people who pronounce "mile" with a schwa, are there words which are consistently pronounced without one? If not, what's the point of writing /maI^@l/ rather than just /maIl/?

  9. John, your blog of 26 September 2006 actually leaves əʊl~əʊəl out of the reckoning, while dealing with aɪl~aɪəl, aʊl~aʊəl, and ɔɪl~ɔɪəl. So it doesn’t throw any light on the question of whether the ɒʊ allophone complicates the parallelism with the situation in which "if mile gets a schwa and trial gets compressed, they end up rhyming perfectly."

    And in LPD, where you do deal with əʊəl, you appear to treat it differently from the potential minimal pairs in the blog:

    For Joel you give ˈdʒəʊ əl with no slur indicating the possibility of smoothing, and for Powell and Baden-Powell you give ˈpaʊ‿əl with it and ˈpəʊ əl without it, although the sound file for ˈpəʊ əl in the Powell entry sounds a bit closer to monosyllabic. That looks like a consistently different treatment of əʊəl as against aʊəl, but for Noel you give ˈnəʊ‿əl.

    I had not looked at that when I asked you about the London variant ˈdʒɒ(ʊ)o you had given, but my question was prompted by the feeling that it might not be so easy for Noel and Knowle to have homophonous variants in London or EE as in RP, because in Noel the ʌʊ is potentially separated from the context which determines the ɒʊ allophone.