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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1231  Friday, 3 May 2002

[1]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 May 2002 16:43:49 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1219 Re: Accents (Received Pronunciation)

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 May 2002 23:22:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1161 Re: Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 May 2002 16:43:49 +0100
Subject: 13.1219 Re: Accents (Received Pronunciation)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1219 Re: Accents (Received Pronunciation)

Larry Weiss objected to the following in my post on RP:

> > 1. letters can't be pronounced - they're a feature of the written
> > language
>
>Really?  All vowels can be pronounced and most consonants can be
>vocalized without any vowel sounds being added.  Try mmmmmmmmmmmmm and
>rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr for example.

Yes really.  Letters are an attempt to represent phonetic realisations
of phonemes in written form.  But they aren't phonemes, or their
phonetic realisations -and the long history of the development of
English spelling means that they are rather inconsistent representations
at that (think about how many vowel letters there are compared to the
number of vowel sounds).

If you try to think about pronunciation while assuming that letters
represent sounds in any systematic way you'll not get very far.  It
would all be much simpler if we spoke and wrote Finnish, where there is
a very high degree of correspondence between spelling and pronunciation
(and consequently Finnish children learn to read and write faster than
English speaking ones) but we don't.

We're all highly literate, so we tend to assume, incorrectly, that
writing *is* language, while speech is some kind of second-level,
not-quite-kosher, lazy representation of what we do in writing.  Hence
the common misassumption that letters represent sounds, and ideal
pronunciation should follow spelling.

> > 2. . even if the above were not true, RP speakers *don't* attempt to give
> > a phonetic realisation to every letter (otherwise they'd sound like
> > Holofernes with his d-e-b-t and they'd get pterodactyl wrong, and they'd
> > choke on xylophone, and they'd distinguish knight from night)
>
>I said that RP gives the words the *phonetic* values they have in the
>dictionary.  My dictionary makes the b in debt and the p in pterodactyl
>silent, and x is always z.  By the way, what is the correct
>pronunciation of "amnesia"?

No!  RP doesn't follow the dictionary - the dictionary gives words the
pronunciation they have in RP!  Quite a different matter (although most
dictionaries are moving away from RP these days - maybe you need a new
one).

There are loads of acceptable pronunciations of amnesia, but I can't
think of a correct one.

Here's another poem by Tom Leonard:

in the beginning was the word
in thi beginning was thi wurd
in thi beginnin was thi wurd
in thi biginnin wuz thi wurd
n thi biginnin wuz thi wurd
nthi biginnin wuzthi wurd
nthibiginnin wuzthiwurd
nthibiginninwuzthiwurd
in the beginning was the sound

Jonathan Hope
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 May 2002 23:22:00 -0400
Subject: 13.1161 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1161 Re: Accents

David Wallace proposes that rhythm in Shakespearean verse is determined
merely by the polysyllabic words.  It is true (as a glance at any
dictionary that oftens guidance about pronunciation will show), that
NAtive ENglish SPEAkers learn where to place stress in POlysylLAbics.
But the rules that govern English phonology (and that can be seen
operating in *Beowulf*, *The Canterbury Tales*, and *Murder in the
Cathedral* as well as in *Hamlet*, are more complex than that.  Process
Mr. Wallace's own ordinary quotidian speech through an oscillograph and
you will observe that in almost every utterance, he stresses-that is,
expends relatively more vocal energy on-monosyllabic active VERBS,
NOUNS, substantive adjectives and adverbs (those that further relate the
other WORDS in the sentence to the LARGE WORLD rather than to each
other), and interjections.  (I USE the simplistic LIST of PARTS of
SPEECH with which MOST of us are familiar.)  He almost always FAILS to
STRESS monosyllabic articles, prepositions and particles, and
conjunctions.  SOME words (auxiliary verbs, pronouns, relational
adverbs) are sometimes stressed, sometimes not.  And special
circumstances (like the ones that govern the first phrase in the
previous sentence) can shift stress from, say, a noun to a modifier,
according to principles that we also learn.  Poets from Caedmon on have
understood this, whether they were working in alliterative, accentual,
strict metrical, or free verse forms.  Within some forms, indeed,
including early modern iambic pentameter, the metrical principle itself
sets up expectations that determine whether middling words get stressed
or not: this shows most clearly in the work of writers to whom strict
meter is still relatively novel-Nicholas Grimald, most high school
sophomores (college sophomores, in fact) trying to write love songs to
other high school sophomores-who use lots of inversions and pleonasms to
make the lines fit the meter.  By the same token, more sophisticated
writers (e.g.  the Shakespeare of *Cymbeline*) can feel free to depart
quite widely from the metrical norm, and still expect that norm to be
perceived.  What it all means is that it is possible for alert readers
to determine with a fairly high certainty the stress rhythm of a given
line of verse, and thereafter to ascertain whether a metrical principle
is at work.  There will, however, be opportunities for disagreement.

Prosodically,
David Evett

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