red letter day

Today, at approximately seventeen hundred hours, I created a file called: Outline.

Once I write something, it’s going to contain, like, an outline of my thesis.

It’s only the first baby step towards the write-up, but it is a step!

This also seems like a good time to link to PHD. Not that I’ll be reading it any more, obviously, being so busy writing up and all.


good chocolate

According to Stop the Traffik,

  • nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Cote d’Ivoire, in Africa
  • 12,000 children have been trafficked into cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire
  • when we buy chocolate we are being forced to be oppressors ourselves as we have no guarantee that the chocolate we eat is ‘traffik free’

They’ve produced a (pdf) guide to good chocolate, listing the brands which are guaranteed not to have had trafficked people involved in harvesting the cocoa beans. That includes anything with a fair trade label on it, including fairtrade own-brand products from the Co-Op, Tesco, and Marks and Spencers.

The UK has one of the world’s highest per capita consumption levels for chocolate (second highest in Europe). I wouldn’t really like to comment on how much of that figure is contributed by me alone, but I can say that Divine chocolate is good chocolate whatever way you look at it.

vowel chart for scottish english

[Edit November 07: See blog update here and improved charts published here and here.]

[Edit Oct 08: For everyone who arrives here by a google search for Scottish English vowels, please please consult the updated version: A Better Vowel Chart for Scottish English. It really is better.]

To the best of my knowledge, the only published vowel chart for Scottish English is the one in Heinz Giegerich’s 1992 textbook, English Phonology, and the purpose it serves is to show, as a series of stylised diagrams, the difference between Scottish, American, and Southern British vowels in conventional terms.

It’s bothered me for a while that, although those diagrams make all the contribution they’re required to make for the theoretical arguments being presented in the book, they aren’t a particularly close reflection of the phonetic or acoustic properties of the vowels of any of those varieties, the Scottish one being obviously the most salient for me.

(This poses a number of potential practical problems – eg, for when you wanted to transcribe any words that a Scottish speaker might produce – transcription symbols are meant to match fairly specific characteristics, as you can see/hear for yourself on this chart. It would also be a problem for people learning a Scottish variety of English as a second or other language, etc.)

What I’ve produced below is a very rough first draft of a more detailed vowel chart for Scottish English. It’s so rough, in fact, that I’ve even put the word rough in its title – it should only be taken as a very very very preliminary first step in the direction of a more accurate and detailed chart.

Note especially that (a) it’s based on productions from only one speaker, (b) each datapoint in the chart is based on the reading of one word, and (c) the words differed in the consonants surrounding the vowels. This means that it’s very unscientific and should not be taken as definitive in any sense: the data were collected for a completely different purpose and by putting them into this format I’m asking questions of the data which they were never designed to answer. Okay, in all its glory, here it is.


(The symbol /E/ stands for IPA /ɛ/, and /c/ stands for IPA /ɔ/.)

The primary point of interest is that it shows the /u/ vowel (for this speaker, in this particular word!) is much more “front” than you’d be led to believe from extant descriptions of Scottish English. It also shows the vowel /ɪ/ as being lower and more centralised than even the /e/ vowel (something which I’ve been worried about in transcriptions before). The /ʌ/vowel is also less centralised and more back than otherwise expected. I should add that none of them sound odd to me as a phonetically trained native speaker of Scottish English, so that taking caveats (a)-(c) into consideration I think the values should be fairly representative.

For completeness, here are the words from which these vowels were elicited, along with their conventional IPA symbols. If anyone finds a better chart, I’ll be delighted to hear of it – meantime, please be assured I’m aware of the defects of this one and willing to collaborate with anyone to fix it if anyone’s looking for anything more definitive.


general stuff

Just realising I forgot to record here for posterity that the outcome of the jury trial was that both the accused were found guilty on all the charges against them. One was fined £2000 for falsely reporting a vehicle stolen and attempting to claim the insurance, and the other was fined £1000 for receiving and keeping in possession a stolen vehicle.

Now I’m immersed in phonological theory again. For the first time I’ve been reading something written by Roman Jakobson at first hand. He’s the kind of person whose name crops up all over the place but you never really read him directly. But he must have been one of the first people to draw a serious distinction between so-called segmental aspects of phonology and so-called supra-segmental aspects (the terminology isn’t really fixed yet: his own terms seem to have been framework vs content; other people talk about prosody vs melody). It’s basically the distinction between things like intonation and stress patterns on the one hand, and the properties of smaller units on the other hand, although, inevitably, there are disagreements about what really belongs in which category.

Also I’m still somehow collecting data – there’s been an unexpected flurry of people coming forward to take part in the study. But soon, soon, hopefully, I’ll be able to finalise the data and get a definitive set of statistical results out of it so that I can get going on the analysis and interpretation …

how do you cope?

I had intended the other day to write a post about how helpless and vulnerable a person must be if they don’t take advantage of the availability of God’s throne of grace to pray to him. In a difficult situation where you’re at your own wits end, what exactly can you do if you can’t turn to the God who is in control of all your situations, and who gives wisdom liberally to those who ask him.

But it only took a matter of hours after that thought went through my mind, before I was forced to realise again how miserably easy it can be, to forget to pray, to think you can handle things by yourself, or just to assume that things will work out fine by themselves.

As God’s creatures, it only makes sense to ask him for help to live in his world. As sinners, who are so vulnerable to temptation and so prone to expose ourselves to temptations, the total necessity for the Saviour’s care and keeping should surely be a constant weight on a person’s mind.

People who have never been reconciled to God are clearly in a doubly dangerous and precarious situation in times of difficulty: they have every reason to fear making the wrong decisions, and no guarantee that anything will come right in the end.

But when a believer omits to pray, it must vastly undermine and contradict all the rest of the armour of God they’re meant to be putting on. How many more dangers you must expose yourself to, how much less prepared to submit to God’s providence you must become. If conversion, as I quoted John Bonar saying the other day, is ‘just the right state of a creature towards the blessed God,’ couldn’t you also say that prayerfulness and continual pleas for upholding and restraining is only the right attitude to have towards him.

As it says in the Larger Catechism, when we pray ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’ that implies acknowledging some things as well as directly praying for other things.

acknowledging, (1) that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations;

(2) that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us;

and (3) that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them:

we pray that God would (1) so overrule the world and all in it, (2) subdue the flesh and restrain Satan, (3) order all things, (4) bestow and bless all means of grace, and (5) quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them,

that (a) we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin;

or, (b) if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation: or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof:

(c) that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.

no need for beating

Did anyone else hear the trailer on the radio this morning for the programme telling the story of Misbah (aka Molly) Rana (aka Campbell)?

It included a clip of her explaining how her mother’s claim that her father used to beat her was “unbelievable”. Then you heard her father chipping in to agree. “Why would I beat her? She was a good wife, she was bringing up my children, she was bringing them up the way I wanted …”

That might not be an exact word for word quote, but it was still an amazing thing to come out with on public radio.

Never mind the fact that, even if she hadn’t been bringing up his (well, their) children the way he wanted, he still wouldn’t have been justified in beating her, surely you’d have still thought that a much more convincing and reassuring response would have been along the lines of: ‘Why would I beat her? She was my wife!’

Maybe it’s just me.

responsibility in spite of inability

John Bonar had a sermon on the text, ‘Unto you o men I call, and my voice is to the sons of man …’ Proverbs 8:4-5. When it was published in The Free Church Pulpit (vol 1) round about the 1840s it had a lengthy title which made the point that when the gospel was offered universally (to every sinner without exception, as it should be), this was completely consistent both with the reality of total depravity and the fact that God has elected some particular sinners to salvation and not others. (Yes, all this was conveyed in just the title.)

He doesn’t get long into his sermon before he tackles head on the objection that God can’t command sinners to do things they’re incapable of without his help – at least not without being unfair.

… they ask, is it not a mockery, unworthy of God, to call dead men to walk, and impotent men to rise – to do what he knows no man can do without his special grace?

Now, if the inability of man was the inability of “natural brute beasts”, as the apostle Peter speaks, and the call was to the service of rational creatures; or if the inability was the inability of men and the call was to such to yield to God the service of angels or of archangels; or if the inability was the physical inability of a lame man to walk and the call was that he should rise and walk – though we would wish, even then, to speak with more reverence – there would be more weight in the vaunting words of these objections.

But if the inability is the voluntary act of an intelligent being preferring the darkness to the light; if the inability is the inability of such a being to love his God, not with the love of an angel, but with all his heart and all his soul and all his strength; if the inability is that of a being who walks after the flesh, because he minds the things of the flesh and not the things of the spirit; if the inability is that of a man who cannot find it in his heart to love and to serve the blessed God, but can find it in that very heart to give that love and service to the creature; – then there is neither truth nor power in such statements, however vauntingly put forth as unanswerable.

This is the real state of man. There is utter inability in him to spiritual duty, but it is just because sin is preferred. This inability is hopeless, but it is just because this is the governing power of the mind. There is utter helplessness in man, but this is just because this power will always prevail if help does not come from God. There is in all this the deepest and darkest depravity, and that surely can never remove man from his obligation to serve God, or take away God’s right to deal with man as a responsible being.

Such being the true nature of man’s inability, it is evident that every hour of continuance in it is an hour of chosen rebellion, and therefore of deepest sin. And such being the true characteristics which God sees every hour, there is no inconsistency in God demanding obedience, and no injustice in His punishing those who are not subject to His law, and no mockery in His calling these men to turn from their sins.

He also makes the point later on that faith is the only possible acceptable response to the gospel – when God reveals himself as a Saviour, the only appropriate response from a sinner is to put their faith in him, just as he reveals himself, there and then.

God can and does demand of man, and cannot but demand of man – of sinful man, of man lost, undone, and dead, of man without strength and utterly impotent – repentance and conversion; for what is conversion but just the right state of such a creature towards the blessed God? What is the meaning of me not being able to convert myself but just that I am so utterly depraved that I cannot love the ever-blessed God, and that I love the sin which he hates? What is this but darkest and deepest sin?

The full sermon, with the abbreviated title ‘The universal calls of the gospel’ is available on the Banner of Truth site (part 1 and part 2).

to the police, geddit

One of the witnesses was being questioned today about an incident involving an encounter with the police while he was driving a vehicle of, how to put it, perhaps somewhat dubious provenance.

Excitingly, and presumably unbeknownst to either of the interlocutors, it was in fact a classic example of an attachment ambiguity. The exchange went something like this:

Defence counsel: So, Mr X, you thought you were stopped because someone reported you driving the vehicle to the police?

Witness: Driving it to the police? Naw, someone reported me.

Defence: No, someone reported you driving the vehicle to the police, is that correct?

Funnily enough, this was the same lawyer who kept sneakily repeating back all the dialect forms in this witness’s answers, apparently in an attempt to make him look daft, but he had no way of attempting to resolve this ambiguity apart from by putting extra emphasis on the offending prepositional phrase – which obviously didn’t help, because it only brought the location of the ambiguity into greater focus.

I’ll spare you the tree diagrams, but basically ‘to the police’ was meant to be attached to ‘reported’ in the original question, and when the misunderstanding occurred the easiest thing would have been to rephrase the question to something like ‘someone reported to the police that you were driving the vehicle.’ But it sounded like the witness was only speaking in the interests of accuracy – of course he’d no intention of going remotely in the direction of the police if he could help it!

So there you go – more fun in the day of a linguist – when I can’t concentrate properly on metalinguistic awareness and suprasegmentals and whatnot, I suppose syntactic ambiguities will have to do.

jury update

Hmm, I got selected today. It’s a fraud case, involving cars (my area of speciality of course – for the record, my favourite kind is red ones).

The trial is expected to last until Tuesday, which means it could wipe out up to four working days. This is a deeply undesirable situation as I really can’t afford it just now. Who knows how I’m going to manage to make up the hours.

Probably not blogging is part of the answer. I do have another quote in the pipeline – again on how a person’s inability to savingly repent and believe is perfectly consistent with the gospel commands to do just those things – by a nineteenth century Free Church minister this time, John Bonar (1799-1863).

And I also want to say something about an article on language by Theodore Dalrymple: The Gift of Language. He lays into Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct in a most elegant manner – not that the Language Instinct doesn’t deserve a lot of criticism, but I do disagree with probably at least two-thirds of what Dalrymple says.

Later though!

his name is mercy

In his book The Method of Grace, John Flavel takes Luke 1:72 to suggest that ‘the Mercy’ is one of the titles of Christ, like the Lamb of God, the light of the world, the Redeemer. And in characteristic fashion he then expands on a vast number of ways in which this is an appropriate name for the Saviour to have.

  1. He is free and undeserved mercy, called on that account ‘the gift of God,’ John 4:10. And to show how free this gift was, God gave him to us when we were enemies, Rom5:8. That mercy must be free which is given not only to the undeserving but to the ill-deserving: the benevolence of God was the sole cause of this gift, John 3:16.
  2. Christ is a full mercy, replenished with everything that answers to the wishes or needs of sinners: in him alone is found whatever the justice of God requires for satisfaction, or that the necessities of souls require for their supply. Christ is full of mercy; in him are all kinds of mercies; and in him are the highest and most perfect degrees of mercy …
  3. Christ is the seasonable mercy, given by the Father to us in due time, Rom 5:6, in the fullness of time, Gal 4:4 – a seasonable mercy in his exhibition to the world in general, and in his application to the soul in particular: the wisdom of God fixed upon the best time for his incarnation, and takes the best time for its application. When a poor soul is distressed and ready to perish, then comes Christ. …
  4. Christ is the needful mercy: there is an absolute necessity for Jesus Christ; hence in scripture he is called the ‘bread of life,’ John 6:35; he is bread to the hungry. He is the ‘water of life,’ Rev 22:17, as cold water to the thirsty soul. He is a ransom for captives, Matt 20:28; a garment to the naked, Rom 13:14. Bread is not so necessary to the hungry, nor water to the thirsty, nor a ransom to the captive, nor a garment to the naked, as Christ is to the soul of a sinner. The life of our souls is in Jesus Christ.
  5. Christ is a fountain-mercy, and all other mercies flow from him. …
  6. Christ is a satisfying mercy: he that is full of Christ can feel the need of nothing. …
  7. Christ is a peculiar [particular] mercy, applied to a remnant among men. …
  8. Jesus Christ is a suitable mercy, suited in every respect to all our needs and wants, 1 Cor 1:30 … Are we enemies? He is reconciliation. Are we sold to sin and Satan? He is redemption. Are we condemned by the law? He is the Lord our righteousness. Has sin polluted us? He is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. Are we lost by departing from God? He is the way to the Father. …
  9. Christ is a wonderful mercy: his name is called Wonderful, Isa 9:6, and as his name is, so is he – a wonderful Saviour. His person is wonderful. … His abasement is wonderful. His love is a wonderful love; his redemption is full of wonders …
  10. Jesus Christ is an incomparable and matchless mercy. Draw the comparison what way you will between Christ and all other enjoyments: you will find none in heaven on earth equal to him.
  11. Christ is an unsearchable mercy: who can express his wondeful name? Prov 30:4. Who can count his unsearchable riches? Eph 3:8. Hence it is that saints never tire in the study or love of Christ, because new wonders are eternally rising out of him.
  12. Christ is an everlasting mercy, the same yesterday, today, and for ever.

This is drastically abridged from Chapter 11. It’s just one of the ways of filling out the details of what’s meant by calling the Saviour a ‘suitable and sufficient’ Saviour – those terms are weighty enough but they’re still only a shorthand. But the more clearly the perfection and suitability of the Saviour is seen, the more serious it becomes for people to turn away from him, whether through disinterest or outright hostility. When salvation is so great, how can we think to escape if we neglect it?