a strange tendency?

I’ve been reading Ken Lodge’s new book sporadically in my lunchtimes (A Critical Introduction to Phonetics). It’s not exactly what I expected it would be like, but gives plenty of useful insights. For any phon-people reading, Lodge has two articles on thorny subjects which are extremely interesting and provocative – ‘Some handy notes on phonology’ in the Journal of Linguistics (1997), and ‘Timing, segmental status, and aspiration in Icelandic’ in Transactions of the Philological Society, 2007.

Anyway,  here’s one of the by-the-way comments in his Critical Introduction:

“There is a strange tendency among British radio and television newsreaders and reporters who, of course, are reading out their texts, to stress the final syllable of a sentence or clause, irrespective of its structure (and meaning). … For example, I once heard an item about a threatened petrol crisis in East Anglia, which was soon going ‘to hit the [fɔ ˈkɔts]’. This can only be understood as four courts, which, of course, is nonsense in this context; forecourts can only be [ˈfɔkɔts] …” (p118)

This isn’t something that’s ever particularly struck me (but maybe I’m listening to the wrong things). But there was one distinctly odd time when the travel report said that there were delays and closures on some road in England, due to “a lorry with a shedload.” I fully processed the thought, “a shedload of what?” before realising it must have actually been a lorry with a shed load.

3 thoughts on “a strange tendency?

  1. It was great, as at the time i was on the lookout for pairs of things that could only be distinguished by their stress pattern. Alas and alack, however, and I know you’ll share my pain here, this particular example didn’t fit the same pattern as the other ones I was using (cf: a warehouse constructed from steel, which is a steel WAREHOUSE, as opposed to a warehouse used for storing steel, which is a STEEL warehouse, unless I’ve got them the wrong way round).


  2. Such, indeed, are the excitements and disappointments of linguistics research.

    On a slightly related note, since syllabification is also a suprasegmental issue, consider this snippet spotted in the Metro not so long ago:
    My mate Barry used to work at a fairground on the rollercoasters, but he recently got sacked. It was a case of funfair dismissal.

    A lot of what you get in Mrs Trellis’s input on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue similarly depends on syllabification ambiguities :)


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