John Maidment's Blog

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Tuesday 02 September, 2008


I think we ought to know...

Do the words gnosis [ˈnəʊsɪs] and noses [ˈnəʊzɪz] constitute a minimal pair?  Discuss.

The conk to the left belongs to a raccoon, by the way.





Tuesday 18 August, 2008


Name dropping

I am an adherent of the Bertrand Russell philosophy on physical exercise.  The great man once said something like: Whenever I feel the urge to take physical exercise, I lie down until it goes away.  However, I can't let pass by the fact that, a few hours ago, Christine Ohuruogu won the Olympic gold medal for the women's 400m.  Christine took a degree in Linguistics at UCL in 2005 and I taught her for a couple of courses in her first year.  I think it is a remarkable achievement to take a good degree and to be a world class athlete too.  I don't suppose you'll ever see this, Christine, but just in case:


/brɑːvəʊ | wel dʌn krɪstiːn/


Monday 11 August, 2008


Publishers and lawn mowers

I recently received an unsolicited offer from a publisher, inviting me to review a book proposal.  The remuneration, for what I reckon would be two to three hours work at least, was £40 (or £80 worth of the publisher's books).  My lawn mower went phut recently.  I investigated getting it repaired.  The cost, they estimated, would be at least £80 for the labour alone.

It does not need much imagination to figure out what I shall reply to the publisher.  I do not need the money, but it is simply an insult for a commercial concern to offer such paltry sums for the exercise of expertise that has taken years to acquire. 

There.  I can breathe more easily now.

Thursday 07 August, 2008


Knees and beards at the Lizard

Yesterday a trip in the foulest weather to the Lizard, the southernmost point of mainland Britain, to meet up with my nephew and his family, who are on holiday at Coverack nearby.  We dried off somewhat in the lighthouse visitor centre and then the weather improved a little and we toddled off to the cafe for tea.  Conversation at the tea table was enlivened by Joseph, aged three and a bit.  Seated on his mother's lap next to me, he answered my silly question: "How many knees have you got?" with: "Probably two."

Sam, his brother aged 13 months, didn't have much to say, but certainly developed an interest in beards.

On our way back to the car park, Joseph noticed a six inch dry ditch by the pathway.  This he informed me was an "empty river."

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, the name Lizard derives from Cornish lys (=court) + ardh (=high place).


Saturday 02 August, 2008

Absolutely nothing to do with
coalescent assimilation

Coalescent assimilation

I have recently been consulted by Marķa Alicia Maldonado in Argentina about a research project she is conducting on coalescent assimilation in English.  By this she means, I think, the sort of thing that textbooks on English phonetics tell us about and which affects sequences of [t]+[j] and [d]+[j], changing them into [tʃ] and [dʒ] respectively. I think she also means to deal with this as a synchronic phenomenon and as a connected speech process, so examples like nature and soldier, presumably deriving from earlier [ˈneɪtjə] and [ˈsəʊldjə] are excluded, as are synchronic examples such as tune pronounced as [tʃuːn ] and duty as [ˈdʒuːti].

Many years ago my colleague John Baldwin during a conversation announced that he did not believe in coalescent assimilation, or rather that he thought that the term was a misnomer for what actually happened.  Coalescence surely means the fusing of of two or more things into one, and he maintained that this did not happen.  The more I think about it, in response to Marķa Alicia's questions, the more I am inclined to believe that he was right.

Let's take the example of didn't you.  Assuming that the [t] is not elided and that it is not replaced by [ʔ], it seems to me that there are at least three possible pronunciationsː

  1. [dɪdnt ju] Here most probably the  [t] will be palatalised and the  [j] slightly devoiced.  I can readily use this pronunciation in my own speech, though in a rather careful style.

  2. [dɪdntʃ ju] Here the  [j] is retained, so there is no coalescence. I think this is my normal, relaxed pronunciation of this and phrases like it.

  3. [dɪdntʃu] This is true coalescent assimilation.  The two original sounds have fused into a laminal post-alveolar (aka palato-alaveolar) affricate.  I don't think I personally use this pronunciation.

Admittedly, this is based purely on intuitions about my own speech and I am not sure how widespread this pattern is.  An objective piece of research on this will be pretty tricky I think, because the auditory differences are very subtle and, I guess, so are the acoustic cues which produce them. I have to confess that for years I taught my students that version 3 was correct, and questioned those who used version 2 in their transcriptions.  Mea culpa!

Monday 21 July, 2008


To or not to

This is a *whinib about English syntax, an area outside my expertise, such as it is.  Consider, if you will, the sentence I can X him Y change it. There are a few verbs, I can think of only have, let  and make, which when they appear in the X slot require the Y slot to remain empty.  The vast majority of verbs appearing in the X slot require the Y slot to contain to, exx. ask, command, order, persuade...  That is strange enough in itself. However, the really goofy thing occurs with the verb help, which is fine with or without to in the Y slot.  I am pretty sure that this is the only verb like this, and I cannot think why it should be so.  Has anyone any ideas?
*Why haven't I noticed it before?




Tuesday 15 July, 2008


Garden report

One gardening success this year is Anaheim chili peppers (see left).  I have four vigorous plants in the conservatory.  These were grown from a packet of seeds given away free with a gardening magazine.  They are pretty slow to germinate and need some TLC  -- you need to spray the flowers with water every day to encourage the fruits to set.  Now I have to figure out exactly what I'm going to do with all these chilis. One possibility is to make zhoug, a chili chutney which comes from Yemen.  As Anaheim chilis grow to quite a size -- the longest one I have is getting on for six inches  -- you can also stuff them and eat them as a vegetable. 

Other successes include courgettes, strawberries, basil, lettuce, parsley, swiss chard. The apple crop looks pretty healthy too.  Disasters: coriander, plums.  The jury is still out on tomatoes and runner beans.  They are being very slow.



Sunday 13 July, 2008


Red, Red Wine.

Following a link from John Wells's blog, I came upon the wonderful website Jumieka Langwij.  Finally, I have been able to make out most of the words to the rap version of the Neil Diamond song Red, Red Wine recorded in 1980's by the Birmingham group UB40.  A friend introduced me to it some time ago.  Here is just a little section, spelled (I hope) in the orthography described on the Jumieka Langwij site.  This bit had me foxed...

Red, red wain gimi uoliipa zing,
Uoliipa zing, mek mi du mi uon ting.

Easy huh? Ah ok..

Red, red wine gives me whole heap of zing,
Whole heap of zing, makes me do my own thing.

Although I now know what the words are, I am still in the dark about what one or two bits actually mean. Can anyone help with this?

Manki pak im rizzla on da sweet dep lain
Lain brok, di manki get chok,
Burn bad ganja on im lickl roin bot

I can see from rizzla and ganja that it has something to do with smoking certain possibly illegal substances, but what is a dep lain, and what have rowing boats got to do with it?