Friday, 18 September 2009

A Plum in Your Mouth

by Andrew Taylor

This is a delightful little book. And yet, reading it, I could not help thinking how much better it could have been. In the Introduction, the author states that “there will be none of the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet”. It’s a shame, considering that throughout the book he endeavours to reproduce the nuances of English pronunciation by means of... English spelling, which, as he points out himself, is less than adequate for the task (see The Logical Fallacy in the last chapter). For instance, according to Taylor, the RP speakers say bath as barth and castle as carrsel — I bet this description makes little sense for those who actually can pronounce r. Or take the schwa, “the most useful and common vowel of all”, which is now and then represented with uh rather than with ə. Elsewhere, the book in not free from linguistic speak, so we meet “flat a”, “rounded u” and “glottal stop” quite a lot. And so on, and so forth.

Perhaps the printed page is simply a wrong medium here. What we really need is an audiobook, preferably narrated by somebody like Rory Bremner (who wrote a foreword) or Hugh Laurie. That would be a bestseller.

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