Friday, 6 August 2010

more mishearings

The silly season continues for Guardian letter writers. Here’s another one relating to the close NZ DRESS vowel, then Newcastle GOAT heard as NURSE. Then yet more NZ.

I think the last one goes too far, at least as far as Sally is concerned. You’d have to come from Glasgow or Belfast to mistake NZ TRAP for KIT.

But for a Londoner to mistake northern Irish SQUARE for NURSE is all too likely.
— — —
That’s it. There will now be a two-week break in this blog. Next posting: 23 August.

Meanwhile, to keep you entertained while I’m away, there’s more silly fun to be had from Jack Windsor Lewis and Karen Chung.

31 comments:

  1. Do New Zealanders have similar jokes about the way the rest of the world speaks?

    I once heard an American lawyer refer to "salad evidence". (He meant "solid".)

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  2. 'enery 'iggins6 August 2010 10:27

    @ JHJ: You must have an open TRAP vowel.

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  3. Andrej Bjelakovic6 August 2010 12:25

    Hm, what is the exact quality of northern Irish SQUARE then?

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  4. I don't actually think it makes much sense to talk about N Irish SQUARE in this context, as it is not so likely as the vowel of the "spare" of the anecdote to be realized in similar ways to GenAm NURSE. However there is no merger (or crossover!) with NURSE for many N Irish speakers, as is characteristic of Liverpool and some of NW England. Instead, their GenAm-type NURSE is widely merged with CURE, and SQUARE (and to a lesser extent TERM in the extended lexical set) is more likely be realized in similar ways to GenAm SQUARE.

    At least that's my impression, but I have found the literature pretty confusing.

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  5. Sorry if you find that at all ambiguous. I meant the merger which is characteristic of Liverpool and some of NW England.

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  6. Since you can't comment at JWL's site, I'll add an Authorship Pun here, a variant of one already there:

    I Fought the Tiger by Claude Bawls.

    (Yes, this only works in some accents. So do most of his.)

    General comment on PhonetiBlog: What a strange language you do speak Over There! When I superimpose JWL's intonation marks over my own accent, I get something that sounds nothing at all like the way I speak. The movements are too drastic, and there are too many of them. ˧When speaking more ˦nat˨tʃɹə˧ly, my pitch tends to stay ˦lev˨el ˧and then rise or fall be˦tween ˨syllables, ˧not dur˨ing them. I suppose this is because I'm an American?

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  7. I'm surprised there's no variant of Eileen Dover's title already there. I have found the variants I have seen unmemorable, but I offer you my own: Farewell to the White Cliffs.

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  8. Do New Zealanders have similar jokes about the way the rest of the world speaks?

    I've sometimes heard New Zealanders talk about 'Strine' (Australian) pronunciations such as 'Seednee' and 'feesh n cheeps'.

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  9. Farewell to the White Cliffs by Eileen Dover.

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  10. @Andrej: In Northern Ireland outside of Belfast and the Lagan Valley area, it's normal for SQUARE to have [ɛɚ] or the like. This sequence is also found for many speakers (particularly in rural areas) in NURSE words with 'er' and 'ear' spellings, but many other speakers have [ɚː] in this subset. [ɛɚ] does not occur in 'ur' NURSE words. In Belfast and surrounding areas, SQUARE can also have [ɚː] (or, for some speakers, something very near it), and I've heard [ɚː] being used in SQUARE by younger speakers from other areas too (e.g. in Omagh), if only occasionally.

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  11. @'enery 'iggins:

    The American speaker heard by JHJ probably had the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. In extreme cases such speakers can have a PALM-LOT vowel that is qualitatively identical to the TRAP vowel of non-shifted Americans.

    Listen to the sound samples in the interview with Labov at this link

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  12. @Warren: do the speakers with [ɚː] in SQUARE also have that for all NURSE words? And are there many speakers in NI with three subsets for NURSE corresponding to er, ir, ur spellings?

    @'enery 'iggins: yes, my TRAP is open, [a] rather than [æ], although I don't think its quality is unusual for British English (especially northern varieties). The speaker may well have had the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.

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  13. @JHJ: I wouldn't be surprised if [ɚː] in SQUARE entailed [ɚː] in all NURSE - [ɚː] in all NURSE is 'standard', non-traditional Northern Irish.

    As for distinctions in NURSE, yes, some speakers have a three-way NURSE distinction, roughly [ɛɚ] in 'er' words, [ɚ(ː)] or [ɘ˞(ː)] in 'ir' words, and [ɔ̈ɹ] in 'ur' words. This three-way distinction is characteristic of traditional rural Mid Ulster and Ulster Scots varieties, and is variably present in my own speech (from Tyrone).

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  14. You probably know that Nicola Skurls shouldn't go up a ladder. But why shouldn't they? Let's face the facts!

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  15. It's rather surprising that none other than the author of AofE termed the SQUARE-NURSE merger as 'northern Irish' in today's posting. As above comments have pointed out, this merger is only typical of Belfast, the Lagan valley and maybe a few more pockets; no one would make the mistake of calling the Liverpool and other NW merger of SQUARE-NURSE as 'Northern English SQUARE.'
    This is important because in western parts of northern Ireland there is not just no merger of NURSE and SQUARE, but NURSE is split into two sets. And such a distinction is not just relegated to a few oldies there; I know a 21 year-old from Donegal who consistently distinguishes such pairs as Kerr-care-cur.

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  16. I wrote "northern Irish" merely as a stylistic variation on the letter-writer's "Belfast". That's all.
    I think you'll find the situation reasonably accurately described in AofE.

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  17. 'enery 'iggins7 August 2010 00:07

    @ vp: I know about the NCVS. A lot of my dad's family has it. But it's rarely if ever that extreme in my experience.

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  18. On p. 444 in his AofE, John says that James Milroy, who has done research on Belfast English, told him that "her" and "hair" are usually merged when they are read aloud from a list, but the distinction between them is often maintained in casual speech as [hʌ̈ɹ ~ hɔ̈ɹ] (not [hɚː]?) and [hɛːɹ].

    I have also read that, according to Kevin McCafferty (some Northern Irish linguist presumably), the SQUARE-NURSE merger is spreading in Northern Ireland. On an unrelated note, he says that the realization of FACE as an ingliding diphthong in closed syllables, e.g., [iə], is spreading and so is the merger of NORTH and FORCE. The lovely web site where I found this information is here: http://www.uni-due.de/IERC/derry.htm

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  19. The best example of the "deck" confusion I heard was when I switched on NZ TV in the middle of a do-it-yourself programme to hear someone boast that he had a "long curved [one] that really catches the afternoon sun."

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  20. @Phil: the centring diphthong realisation of FACE is one of the most distinctive Northern Ireland features in my experience.

    It's interesting that that site suggests differences between Protestant and Catholic speech other than the name of the city.

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  21. The Geordie one is interesting. A GOAT-NURSE merger is identified with the area around Hull and York, but I didn't realise it extended as far north as Newcastle.

    I was dining in a large group once, and the woman next to me (from York) seemed to be pointing at the waiter and saying "dirtballs". I thought that this must be some sort of friendly joke she had with the waiter. It turned out that she was actually pointing at the doughballs on the plate he was carrying.

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  22. @ JHJ: the New Zealander I work with tells a lot of jokes about Australians. Some are to do with accents but not many. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_humour#Accents

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  23. John,
    I hope you don't think I was the Anon who accused you of calling the SQUARE-NURSE merger 'northern Irish' in today's posting. I wouldn't blame you, as that Anon says almost exactly what I said, except for not mentioning the NURSE-CURE merger. But my statement that "I don't actually think it makes much sense to talk about N Irish SQUARE in this context" was not a comment on your blog entry but on the fact that there is no simple answer to Andrej Bjelakovic's question "what is the exact quality of northern Irish SQUARE?" Moreover I have only ever posted anonymously because of troubles with accounts for this site.

    I don't think you even need to explain that you wrote "northern Irish" merely as a stylistic variation on the letter-writer's "Belfast". What you wrote was
    for a Londoner to mistake northern Irish SQUARE for NURSE is all too likely.

    And that likelihood depends on the number of NI speakers with NURSE-type realizations, not their geographical distribution!

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  24. Andrej Bjelakovic7 August 2010 19:52

    Thanks to Warren, Phil and mallamb for replying. I think I got it now.

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  25. I know I'm a little late here. I just wanted to say according to the linguist John Harris, the merger of NURSE and SQUARE only happens in Belfast (not everywhere in Ulster). More specifically, he says it occurs in "innovating Belfast vernacular", even when "r" is word-final. So "fur" and "fair" can be merged. He transcribes them both as [fɜːr]. I'm not sure how that differs from [fɚː]. Maybe he wasn't being too narrow with his transcription. Sorry to keep this topic going on and on.

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  26. @Ed: is the Hull (etc.) phenomenon actually a GOAT-NURSE merger, or is it just that GOAT sounds like NURSE to outsiders?

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  27. @ JHJ: I think it's the latter. The Hull GOAT is [ɵː]. NURSE there is often [ɛː] because of a merger with SQUARE. Obviously that's quite distinct from [ɵː]. For pople there without the merger, NURSE is probably pronounced as in RP, i.e., [ɜː]. An example of a speaker with the distinctive "Hull GOAT" and the NURSE-SQUARE merger can be found here: http://sounds.bl.uk/File.aspx?item=021T-C0900X07073X-0100A0.pdf

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  28. "pople" should be "people"
    Sorry, I'm getting old.

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  29. The Ed above is not me!

    He is correct though. I'd forgotten about the NURSE-SQUARE merger in Hull. However, I was right about York. There is a GOAT-NURSE merger as ɵː in York but SQUARE is distinct as ɛː.

    The NURSE-SQUARE merger has very strange geography. You get it in Liverpool, Hull and Middlesbrough but not in many of the place between these points.

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  30. @ the real Ed:
    I know I'm sorry about that. It wasn't that funny.

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  31. It's interesting to know that the GOAT-NURSE merger can happen in York though.

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