23 March 2017

Impact Factor

Academic journals are ranked according to an 'Impact Factor'. This is defined as the average number of citations each paper in the journal receives within two years of its publication (see here).

Now, this might work well in biology, where the turn-around for papers is fast; but it is completely ludicrous for areas such as linguistics, as it is quite common for a delay of two years or more between the submission of a paper and its publication. If it takes two years to get a paper published, there is no way that there can be ANY citations in the two years after it is published.

This is totally absurd; but it seems that the sciences are running the show, and the fact that the way this Impact Factor is measured is ridiculous for the arts does not seem make any difference. Linguistics journals are ranked by their Impact Factor, just like scientific journals.

One of the journals I have published most with, the Journal of the International Phonetic Association (see here), gives their Impact Factor as 0.43. That means that less than half of the papers in the journal generate any citations within the first two years. Quite frankly, I am amazed that it is so high.

One of strategies journals seem to have adopted to try and boost their Impact Factor is use of 'First Read'. About two years ago, together with my PhD student Ishamina Athirah, I submitted a paper on the pronunciation of Brunei Malay, and it has finally been published in the first issue of 2017. But it was actually ready for publication in June last year and it was then made available in a First Read site.

So why the delay? My guess is that the journal put it in First Read for several months with the aim of generating some interest; so it is hoped that, now that it is fully published, there may be some citations within the two-year window.

This is very frustrating, as it was hard to make use of the material when it did not have a proper volume number or page number. Anyway, it is now published, so that is nice. You can find out some more about it from my dedicated website (see here):

I hope that the paper can offer a useful resource on the pronunciation of Brunei Malay. Maybe I'll even get a citation or two within two years!

04 March 2017

Circle Line

In my previous post about recorded messages in the Singapore MRT trains, I discussed pronunciation of 'next station' that deviates from the way that people in Britain or America might say the phrase.

Another utterance in which the pronunciation deviates from what would be expected in Britain or America involves the phrasal noun 'Circle Line' (and indeed other lines, such as 'North-East Line'). Consider this recorded utterance I heard on the MRT trains:

Change at this station for the Circle \LINE

The sentence stress is placed on 'line', becasue it is the last word in the utterance. But 'Circle Line' is a phrasal noun, and the standard pronunciation of phrasal nouns involves putting the main stress on the first element: TRAFfic lights, PARKing ticket, POST office, CARbon paper, FOOTball field, TENnis court, SWIMming pool, CIRCle line, etc.

Does this failure to use phrasal noun stress in Singapore matter? Probably not, for it is hard to imagine anyone misunderstanding 'circle LINE'. In fact, the use of falling intonation with the main stress occurring on the final item of an utterance seems to be adopted to clearly indicate the end of the utterance, so it actually has an important role in the intonation of Singapore English.

I suspect that I may be the only person in Singapore who actually notices the difference between 'CIRCle line' and 'Circle LINE'; so I I see no need for the MRT authorities to go and change their recordings. In fact, the way the utterances are said probably resonates well with local people

Next Station

In the Singapore MRT trains, the announcements are all pre-recorded using exceptionally precise pronunciation; and the phrase 'next station' is spoken very carefully, with all the medial consonants /kstst/ articulated. Five consecutive consonants!

This is quite an extraordinary achievement. No speaker from Britain or America would ever do that, and it would be much more normal to drop the medial /t/. Then the sequence would become /kst/, which is far easier.

Although the way it is said in the MRT trains sounds rather unnatural, retention of the medial /t/ probably enhances intelligibility, so it should be encouraged.

In fact, one could argue that just because speakers from places such as Britain would most probably drop the medial /t/, there is no reason for people in Singapore to follow suit if they can enhance intelligibility by articulating the /t/. So the way it is said on the MRT trains is really rather admirable.

02 March 2017

Spelling out names

In my previous post, I discussed an instance when I did not understand someone in Singapore. How about cases when someone did not understand me?

Today, there was a case when I was trying to spell out my surname, and I started D E T ..., but the woman wrote T E D. What caused this?

The problem probably arose because of variable voicing and aspiration on plosives. My /d/ is voiceless but unaspirated, while my /t/ is voiceless and fully aspirated. But many people in this part of the world have fully voiced /d/ and unaspirated /t/, which means that for them my /d/ may sound like a /t/; and they may not pick up the aspiration on my /t/.

What is of further interest is how to resolve this misunderstanding. My usual strategy is to use the international radiotelephonic alphabet: Delta Echo Tango ... But some people are not familiar with this code. In this instance when I tried to resolve the issue, the woman starting writing Delta ... So that didn't work.

I have always thought it would be really valuable if everyone learned the international code, to facilitate spelling out names and other words. But that doesn't seem to be happening.

On the other hand, I believe the local custom is to use country names: Denmark England Thailand etc. And maybe I should remember to do that.

Exit C

I am currently in Singapore. It is interesting for me to consider times when I don't understand something, and also instances when they don't understand me.

The only instance so far in which I have misunderstood something is when I asked a man in an MRT station how to get to the DBS Bank, and he replied 'Exit C'. But he said it as [esiʔsi], and I heard it as SCC. (Maybe Singapore Cricket Club?)

Three things may have contributed to this token of misunderstanding:

  • the missing /k/ in 'exit'
  • the glottal stop [ʔ] in place of /t/ at the end of 'exit'
  • a lack of distinction between the short vowel in the second syllable of 'exit' and the vowel in 'C'

My feeling is that the missing /k/ was the key factor. A glottal stop at the end of 'exit' is not unexpected (and is probably the way that I would have said the word); and, in the absence of a recording, I can't be sure about the quality of the vowels in 'exit' and 'C'. But the use of [s] for the consonants in the middle of 'exit' were problematic.