Monday, March 10, 2008

DS Eliot?

I don't feel like taking the time to go through and count every voiceless stop in the following reading by TS Eliot of his poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock". If I could I might figure out some sort of a pattern to his alternation of ±aspiration when /t/ /p/ and /k/ are word/syllable initial.

A quick listen reveals that the aspiration is a little stronger and more frequent on /k/. We hear "come" "coat" and "coller" pronounced [khʌm] and [khəʊt] and [khɑlə]. Not heavy aspiration. He says "coffee" with much less. It's almost unaspirated.

There's also some evidence that when a /t/ is word final Eliot aspirates it. In the line "let us go and make our visit" the /t/ in "let" sounds slightly aspirated (there's not much flapping going on) and there's a clear aspirated release on "visit" at the end of the line instead of a glottal stop.

Of course there's also the phrase "of insidious intent to lead you" and the /t#/ of "intent" is clearly not aspirated -- which is expected because of the adjacent /#t/ of "to". It's the unaspirated word initial /t/ that sounds most conspicuous.

There's his pronunciation of "days" around 1:40. If an exceedingly intent speaker was to enunciate the consonants in "and days" it would likely come across as [ɛndh deɪz]. Normal speech would rarely separate the adjacent Ds. The pronunciation would typically delete the coda resulting in [ɛndeɪz]. Following "and" it's odd to hear a stop of voice. And that's probably what makes his pronunciation sound like [teɪz] to me: I don't expect to hear the break between an alveolar nasal and a voiced alveolar stop so I perceive the -voice as a feature of the stop.

Of course I wonder how specifically affected Eliot's phonology is. Pay attention around 3:00 when Eliot says "to spit out all the butt ends of my days and ways." The reading of a poem is a performance and it's not necessarily relevant to any questions of dialect or production. It's more relevant to questions of perception. The distinction between the aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stop onset is difficult to illustrate to students. I use a [th] and they recognize it easily. I get rid of the aspiration and they think it's a [d]. I alternate between [t⁼] and [d] as a minimal pair and they often can't even hear the difference. (Intervocalically it's easier.)

From now on I'll just play this clip for them. If they can't hear that it sounds odd I'll just give up and move on to the next topic.

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