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Summary Details

Query:   Sum: French section of the Handbook of the IPA
Author:  Neil Coffey
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   GENERAL
- -----

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a request for feedback on
a number of issues relating to the section on French in the
Handbook of the IPA. Several people have replied both with
feedback and a request for a summary, which I give below.
My thanks to all those who replied, and in particular to
the following for their very detailed responses:

{a} Roger Billerey <>
{b} Aurelien Max <>
{c} Chantal Rittaud-Hutinet <>
{d} Joaquim de Carvalho <>
{e} Marc Bavant <>
{f} Johannes Reese <>
{g} Douglas Walker <>

In the summary below, letters in braces refer to respondents
who specifically advocated a particular view; note that
their absence does not necessarily mean that they uphold
a contrary view.

- -------

(1) There was large, though (surprisingly?) not unanimous,
agreement that the nasalised vowel in e.g. 'matin' is
closer in timbre to [ae~] than [E~] {acdg}, though
all comments referred to perception/formant structure
rather than articulation. One younger speaker made
the point that the tongue seemed _lower_ in the mouth
for the first vowel of 'intention' than for 'attention'
{b}; an older speaker made the point that if there
existed the word 'ettention' (with [E-]), it would
be closer to 'intention' than 'attention' {e}.

Two (non-native) respondents wondered if a [a~]/[E~]
difference in timbre might operate depending on
morphological position of the vowel {f}.

One respondent recommended Hansen (1998), referenced
below {g}. I have it on order, and will summarise
any relevant information.

As it stands, then, it seems questionable whether
the Handbook's claim that "the vowel [E~] is produced
with tongue and lip position very similar to its oral
counterpart [E]" is likely to be true for most
speakers, and even if it were, it seems unclear
whether this fact is something that represents the
way speakers perceptualise the two vowels and/or
something that should be represented in the

(2) All those who commented specifically agreed that
the transcription of 'abeille' as [abej] is
probably simply wrong, and that [e] does not
occur in a closed syllable[1].

(3) All those who spefically commented agreed that
the second schwa in 'serait regarde' [s@R@-]
is (almost) certainly a typo {abcdeg}.

(4) Similarly for the anomolous transcription of
the [o~] vowel in 'renonca', it was attributed to
either a typo {acde} or something unknown and
at best questionable {bg}.

(5) All those who specifically commented could see
no reason for the lengthened [i] in "ils sont
tombe's" {bcefg}.

On the subject of [a], there was more diversity,
though all agreed that the transcription given
in the Handbook is probably wrong. Several
respondents argued for [aa] rather than [a:],
apparently on perceptual/articulatory rather
than purely theoretical grounds {bcef}.

- -------------------------

A couple of other issues were raised in passing which
I'd like to mention here and give my opinion on.

Firstly, it has been pointed out that the transcription
given is somewhat inconsistent in its treatment of
enchainement/liaison consonants ("quant ils ont"
[kA~t ilzO~] but "voyageur echauffe'" [vwAja3oe Re]).
Although I would disagree that the consonant should
necessarily be transcribed on the beginning of the
following word (as insisted upon by many textbooks/
teachers), since (a) it is questionable whether the
consonant can be uniquely identified with a single
syllable position at a particular stage in the
derivation; and (b) the transcription is not on the
whole giving information about syllabification in any
case, the difference in transcription does here seem
somewhat anomalous. Particularly as it is specifically
[R] which a priori seems more likely to show some surface
effect on the end of the first word in, say, hesitation
"voyageur... echauffe'".

Secondly, the matter of vowel lengthening before
certain final consonants has been raised. For example,
the final word of the passage transcribed, 'fort',
is given without a length mark on the vowel.
Traditionally, it is assumed that vowels are
lengthened before tone-unit-final closed syllables
whose final consonantal position is filled entirely
by voiced fricative(s) (and that certain vowels are
prone to lengthening in any tone-unit-final closed
syllable). I have personally been unconvinced for
some time that this assumption is actually borne out
by the speech patterns of many (younger?) speakers,
either simply because the lengthening doesn't take
place to the same degree or with the same consistency
as has traditionally been assumed, or else because a
process of enchainement moves the fricative (or final
consonant) from the end of the tone unit to the
beginning of the next (this wouldn't necessarily
vie with the phonological constraint mentioned, but
it would raise questions as to why this enchainement
across tune unit boundaries was taking place).

Any comments on these two issues would be welcomed.

Finally, in light of many of the issues raised in
this discussion, I would be keen to carry out some
informal spectrographic analyses at some point
to try and concretise some of the suggestions/
suspicions. I would be interested in hearing from
anybody who might be able to assist in making
recordings of native speakers. I stress that at
the moment, I envisage this on a fairly informal
basis (e.g. recordings made with a reasonable-quality
sound card and microphone and e-mailed to me as a
WAV file would be fine). If anybody thinks they
might be willing to help out, then perhaps they
could e-mail me. If I can get enough recordings,
then I'll be happy to collate/analyse.

Neil Coffey
10 December 1999

- ---

[1] A possible exception that springs to mind is the
loanword '(e-)mail', which seems to allow both
[e] and [E]. It would be interesting to see whether
speakers admitted [e] in closed syllable as a
plausible pronunciation of other loans in cases
where the normal pronunciation avoided it (cf.
"Game Gear", normally pronounced [gEm3iR] or
"Game Boy", normally pronounced [gambOj]).

- --------

Hansen, 1998, 'Les voyelles nasales du francais parisien
moderne', Museum Tusculanum Press, Univ. of

Neil Coffey WWW: Fax: +44 870 0553 662

LL Issue: 10.1908
Date Posted: 11-Dec-1999
Original Query: Read original query


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