Tuesday, 18 April 2017

100 years of the English Pronouncing Dictionary

As we approach English Language Day on 23rd April, I thought it would be a nice idea to write a short blog post about the English Pronouncing Dictionary (EPD), which I co-edit with Peter Roach (principal editor) and John Esling (American English, from the 18th edition). This is especially salient as it is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, being first published in 1917. We marked this at a special Pre-Conference Event of the IATEFL Pronunciation Special Interest Group and a Cambridge University Press event at the 2017 IATEFL Conference in Glasgow.

The EPD was created by British phonetician Daniel Jones, who was head of the Department of Phonetics at University College London. Jones is credited with coining the term 'phoneme' in 1917, too, so it was a bit of a special year all round for the subject area. Jones had collaborated on a dictionary project prior to the EPD but, rather than listing headwords orthographically in alphabetical order, that version had listed the headwords in phonemic script first, with the spelling form following. It was not a best-seller.

Daniel Jones.
Image: https://evolution9linguistics.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/dj-system-kk-system/
The EPD was first published by Dent, who continued to produce it until the late 1980s, when it was bought by Cambridge University Press (CUP). During the Dent years, Jones produced a further 11 editions, with A. C. Gimson stepping in as editor following Jones's death in 1967. Gimson produced two editions, the 13th as sole editor, and the 14th with the support of Susan Ramsaran, who finished the work following Gimson's death in 1985.

I first got involved with EPD in its 15th edition. I'd been doing an MA at Leeds, where Peter was based at the time, and was invited to join the team; I am listed as 'Pronunciation Associate' on the title page of EPD15. From this edition, it was decided to add American English pronunciation as well as British English, and so James Hartman was brought on board. The other exciting thing about this edition was that it was being computerized using the impressively-named 'Advanced Revelation' database software. My main work at the time was to go through all the existing pronunciations ('prons') in the database to check they were up to date and entered properly, syllabify them according to the principle of Maximal Onsets, and add new prons for words coming in from CUP after consultation with Peter and Jim; we added more than 18,000 new words at the time. What that usually entailed was me researching and suggesting both British and American prons and Peter and Jim agreeing, disagreeing or augmenting the suggestions with additional variants. 

Apologies for the huge understatement, but the English language has changed rather a lot since 1917, pronunciation included. Peter was very much against using the term RP to describe the reference accent in EPD (now CEPD) as he perceived it to be outdated and associated with the upper classes. For British English, he prefers the term 'BBC English', and for American English we use 'Network English'. The idea is that these are the accents used by professional speakers on national broadcast networks in the UK and USA; these are educated speakers who could come from any demographic.

Cambridge University Press have produced an engaging video on CEPD to mark its 100th year. I love the way the narrator trills his /r/ when he pronounces 'American'!


So, what next for CEPD?

There are no current plans to produce any further print editions of the dictionary; it is now available through the Apple and Android app stores (accessible via the video above), and CUP have told us that the way forward (as I write) is electronic editions only. However, as well as adding new words to the dictionary from time to time, there may come a point at which we will have to evaluate whether BBC or Network English are relevant anymore. John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at UCL, has written of EPD that it 'has set the standard against which other dictionaries must inevitably be judged'. In order for that to continue, we may want to add prons for something like Standard Global English - whatever that might look like - or make changes to the current transcription systems to reflect the pronunciation of future Englishes. The phonemic system of transcription is fairly robust and forgiving, but it wasn't so long ago that we added happY and thank yOU vowels, which are non-phonemic. 

Will we want to add glottal stops, for example? 

And can the CEPD continue to be a suitable reference point when English is developing so fast around the world? 

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

You say "lee-doh", I say "lye-doh" ...

When I was a child, it was quite a fun thing on a summer's day to visit Margate Lido. My dad had an early morning newspaper stand outside it for several years, and sometimes I'd be with him on a Saturday morning (mum worked part-time at the Green Shield shop) and we'd go to the lido after he finished selling his papers.

In the UK, a lido is an outdoor swimming pool with individual changing rooms arranged around and facing on to the pool, often with seating around it, and sometimes with a café or somewhere else to buy a cup of tea and an ice cream. Here's a picture of a lido from the BBC; this is Pontypridd Ynysangharad park lido.

Image result for free images lido

While most people visit lidos in the summer, they are also popular with cold-weather swimmers (I haven't ever been one of those - brrrrr!).

There has been discussion in Reading recently about the future of the lido at King's Meadow, originally built in 1902, and to be renamed "Thames Lido" when it re-opens. This sparked some interest from the local BBC radio station, BBC Berkshire, about how the word "lido" should be pronounced. Is it "lee-doh" or "lye-doh"?

As far as I am concerned, if it's an open-air swimming pool in the UK, it's a "lye-doh". This is how my dad said it and, when people talk about other lidos in the UK, I have never heard them called "lee-dohs" (one of my friends commented on Facebook that she couldn't imagine anyone calling Tooting lido anything other than "lye-doh"). However, a significant number of my friends say "lee-doh", the one in Venice is definitely a "lee-doh" ... and if you're American, it seems, "lee-doh" is the only possibility - check this clip from Legally Blonde (OK, I realise that's a sample of one).


For information, the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary - which I co-edit - gives /ˈliːdəʊ/ as the first variant, followed by /ˈlaɪdəʊ/.  I'm clearly not following my own pronunciation here.

So why the difference?

Lido is an Italian word which we have borrowed into English, as with so many other words which help us to express a multi-word concept ("out-door swimming pool", in this case) with one word. English is fine about borrowing in other words as long as there is a gap to fill. Think about all the different types of coffee servings we've borrowed from Italian; it's so much easier to ask for a cappuccino than for a very strong coffee with frothed milk on the top. The Italian pronunciation of lido is more like "lee-doh" and, if you have traveled extensively and/or know Romance languages like French or Italian and do not know of, or do not frequent, open-air swimming pools in the UK, you are unlikely to know and/or use the "lye-doh" variant. A friend also commented that, if you know the band Roxy Music, you may also say "lee-doh", as it appears in the song Do The Strand, in which it is (partially) rhymed with incognito (at 2:45 in the YouTube video below).


Not every town has a lido - weather good enough for open-air swimming is not that common in the UK - and the people who originally used lidos tended to be those who could not afford holidays abroad. Such people were more likely 1) not to have come into contact with the word abroad and 2) to pronounce it "lye-doh" based on English spelling rules, i.e., if there is a vowel followed by a single consonant followed by another vowel, the first vowel "says its name", in this case, /aɪ/. But they could also have been calling it a "lye-doh" because their peer group did that. The fact that my dad said "lye-doh" and I have this pronunciation for the UK ones is an indicator of my social background, i.e., we were working class.

Click here to listen to me on BBC Berkshire, and skip to about 02:09:00.  

We move on from the discussion of the pronunciation of lido on BBC Berkshire to cover other contentious words in British English, such as scone, and I mention various accent and dialect maps developed at the University of Cambridge, which are fascinating - and there's now an app which allows you to contribute your variant of several words to the research. How people use language can tell us a lot about how society has changed and developed, and looking at maps where there is a comparison between the 1950s and now is a real eye-opener. I've nicked the scone map from Reddit as a taster. 

Image result for scone accent map