Ejectives again


John Wells’  blog post yesterday deals with ejectives in English. He’s kind enough to mention my own post on this subject some time ago, but I’m surprised he believes that I think it’s a recent phenomenon. I wrote then “I suppose I first became properly aware of ejectives being used in English about twenty years ago”. I put this down to my own lack of attention to what’s going on. Later in the post I wrote “My impression is that they must have arisen some time ago”.

I didn’t suggest that they were new then, and I went on to mention the earliest I was aware of being Lionel Jeffries in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which was filmed in 1968. I suppose it depends on how recent you mean “recent”  to be: some years ago it was suggested that I give a repeat talk to a local organisation. Someone on the committee asked if it wasn’t a bit soon to ask me back. My proposer said “if 17 years is a bit soon, then I suppose so.” Lionel Jeffries was not a young man in 1968, and we can assume that he had been using ejectives in the appropriate position for most of his life by then.

I remember David Abercrombie saying that he believed that pre-glottalisation started with people born after 1926 (the year that Lionel Jeffries was born, by coincidence). How he could be so certain about that as an absolute date, I have no idea, but if he was right, then it would follow that the ejectives appeared some time later. Is this recent? In terms of the whole history of the English language, of course it is, but 1926 is now before most of us were born (except the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, of course), so in that sense, not recent at all.

I’m delighted that John is bringing out a new edition of Accents of English. Thirty years between editions is far too long!


  1. Graham, do you recall what Lionel Jeffries said in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang illustrating his use of ejectives? I’d like to listen to it without having to watch the whole film concentrating on ejectives all the time.

  2. Petr – Sorry, but it’s some time since I saw the film, and I didn’t make any specific note about either what he said or whereabouts in the film he said it. I think I was watching it on TV, and hadn’t seen the beginning so it is probably towards the end – but then he may have been using ejectives throughout, and you might pick up examples from early on as well. I wasn’t thinking about ejectives when I was watching, so it must have been a very obvious example!

  3. Graham – don’t you worry about this! I expected something like that. I see if I can get hold of the film and watch it with my ears pricked up.

  4. Petr – And I should have said sooner – please tell us when you find it!

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