Pronunciation Guides

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Pronunciation Guides

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Tue Oct 20, 2015 2:37 pm

This post is inspired by my having read at Penn Bowl on Saturday. But since it isn't specific to Penn Bowl, I figured I'd post it here.

I think of myself as a decent enough moderator--I don't stumble over every other word, I know enough about most of the major foreign languages one encounters in the game not to botch them horribly, and so forth. But I don't speak science. So, when I'm confronted with unfamiliar terms and acronyms, I'm at a loss. (This was inspired by many questions at this year's Penn Bowl, but again, I am assuming that the Penn Bowl set is representative of current circuit norms in this regard.)

Take this example (randomly chosen from last year's Penn Bowl):

The PsbP protein and PsbQ protein are required for this process. This reaction turns the dye DCIP colorless. The mechanism of this process was elucidated using periodic discharges of a Joliot electrode by Bessel Kok, who proposed that the complex responsible for catalyzing it oscillated between five different S-states. Sometimes named for Robert Hill, this reaction is catalyzed by a complex that contains a single calcium and four manganese atoms in a (*) cluster. Four products of this process are later used to reduce two molecules of plastoquinone. The complex responsible for this reaction lies on the lumen side of the thylakoid membrane, and it’s driven by the oxidizing power of P680 For 10 points, name this reaction which immediately precedes the entry of electrons into photosystem II, in which water is oxidized.
ANSWER: oxygen evolution [or water oxidation until "water" is read; or Hill reaction until "Robert Hill" is read; prompt on “photosynthesis” or “electron transport”]

Nothing in the first two sentences is familiar to me. Is "DCIP" pronounced "D-sip" or "D C I P" (or something else)? What am I to make of those four-consonant proteins, which for all I know are protagonists of Calvino stories? I literally have no clue, and the question provides me with no assistance. Without any pronunciation guides, I'm at sea.

I'm guessing that a defense of pronunciation guides may not be the most sexy of topics. In fact, I get the sense that many members of the elite quizbowl community view pronunciation guides as a superfluous crutch for poor readers that NAQT, for reasons known only to itself, indulges (or over-indulges) in. Setting aside whether NAQT's own practice in this regard is optimal, I think this is a flawed perspective.

In particular, I would argue that not having pronunciation guides in a question like this undermines the entire purpose of the tossup. Why bother pulling together seven sentences of dense clues on this topic, after all? We all know the reasoning: The question will provide lots of early clues that are only known to experts in the field, then will provide easier clues for those with less expertise, etc. But then by definition, clues about the "PsbP protein and PsbQ protein" are going to be meaningful only to experts in the field--which means that they will be gibberish to readers who lack that expertise (e.g. me, and I'm surely not unique in this regard). But if they are gibberish to me, I'm not going to be able to read them meaningfully without some more guidance from the packet, which in turn means that I'm liable to butcher them. And if I butcher them, the presumptive "experts in the field" won't get the benefit of the clues, because instead of hearing meaningful words they'll hear my ridiculously off-base guess at what those letters signify.

In sum, I think quizbowl as a whole would be better off (and that ACF-style quizbowl would better serve its purpose) if writers and editors spent more time adding pronunciation guides to questions. Again, presumably the only reason the author of the tossup above spent all that time piling up clues is because he really wanted to differentiate between the true experts on "oxygen evolution," the lesser experts on the same topic, people who know the field but don't know this specific topic, and so forth. My suggestion is that if you spent even 5% less time "piling up clues" and used that time to make the question more comprehensible, you would better achieve the goal of "fine-grained differentiation between people with varying degrees of knowledge," since you would be less likely to have that differentiation process completely vitiated by non-expert moderators who can't help but bungle all the hard words.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:07 pm

I'm very glad you made this post, Andrew. I was actually inspired by hearing our more inexperienced readers stumbling through the packets this week to add pronunciation guides to the set before our mirror this weekend. I personally find an excess of them distracting, but I think it's a worthwhile thing to spend time doing, and that more are better than fewer.

For the specific case you're citing, I'm actually going to just write out the word instead of writing the protein name; so in the example you posted the words would just be written P-s-b-P and P-s-b-Q. Hopefully this is sufficiently clear for the moderators.

For long chemical names, like triphenylphosphine, I'm debating between writing it as "triphenylphosphine (try-FEN-ill-FOS-feen)" or just writing tri-phen-yl-phos-phine in the hope that separating the syllables more clearly will make reading it easier. I'd actually like to hear which people think is easier. I'd also like to hear about what to do with long foreign-language phrases, like "Ah! Vous dirais-je maman" (if I remember high school french correctly its something like "Ah! voo-dee-RAY-juh ma-ma"); is putting the pronunciation guide after the whole phrase sensible?
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:14 pm

Black Miao wrote:Don't know about foreign language mumbo jumbo but I think science words should do more of the thing where there's an interpunct in between parts of the word. I feel like it'd make it harder to :capybara: up the pronunciation
I'm looking at you car·bo·cat·ions!
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Cody » Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:15 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:For long chemical names, like triphenylphosphine, I'm debating between writing it as "triphenylphosphine (try-FEN-ill-FOS-feen)" or just writing tri-phen-yl-phos-phine in the hope that separating the syllables more clearly will make reading it easier. I'd actually like to hear which people think is easier.
My personal preference for long chemicals is to split by their constituent words: triphenylphosphine => tri-phenyl-phosphine. Moderators can easily make sense of bitesize chemical chunks, so there's no reason to subdivide it more. If it were still confusing, you could add a pronunciation guide: triphenylphosphine => tri-phenyl-phosphine (try-FEN-ill-FOS-feen).

Pronunciation guides are good and more sets should use more of them.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by cchiego » Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:16 pm

They're a huge distraction as a reader, they're rarely helpful on words I don't know how to pronounce, and they're a waste of time to include in editing that ought to be spent working on grammar and avoiding repeats. Splitting up long words and phrases is fine and helpful, but adding more gibberish to questions is not.

The guides are often as hard to decipher as the words themselves and people slow down to read them anyways. Just tell readers to sound things out phonetically. Perhaps there should be more focus on training these readers over time rather than assuming you can throw a person who hasn't ever read quizbowl before into a tournament and hope for the best.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by theMoMA » Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:20 pm

It might make sense to break up science words into shorter science words, rather than by syllable, if that makes sense. So "tri-phenyl-phosphine." My rationale is this: if a person doesn't know how to say "phosphine," it's not going to be of any additional help to break it down into "phos-phine." I believe it was Guy Tabachnick who suggested way back in the day that we could use interpuncts (dots between syllables) rather than dashes to differentiate between marks intended to break up syllables and dashes signifying hyphenated words.

NAQT has recently started formatting pronunciation guides differently, and it might be helpful to the circuit to try something similar. I believe the way we've been rendering the PGs is slightly smaller than the question text, in a different (sans-serif) font, and in a shade of medium grey.

There's no reason that you couldn't render science words with interpuncts (or dashes) and put an unobtrusive PG next to it as well. Almost everyone can probably agree that "tri-phenyl-phosphine" is nicer to look at than "triphenylphosphine," and people who need additional help with pronouncing the individual components could look to the PG, while others could skip.

(It appears that Cody has made several of the same points above in the time it took to compose my post.)
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat » Tue Oct 20, 2015 9:21 pm

I'm absolutely with Cody and Andrew Hart here. I'm not a big fan of Chris' post - if you have never encountered a word you're unfamiliar with, and never sounded something out but accidentally broken a syllable in the wrong place or stressed the wrong place, wow, good for you. But I think while the vast majority of people, even those of us, like Yaphe, who are generally familiar with most languages and basic science, can certainly sound stuff out and be fine, we're better moderators if there's a quick guide just telling us the general breaks, or basic stress capitalization. If you can spend 5 minutes to make a couple moderators a little bit more smooth and quick, why wouldn't you?
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Oct 21, 2015 2:32 am

As a note, Missouri Open will be experimenting with somewhat more expanded use of pronunciation guides compared to typical mACF sets, but with a formatting designed to make them interfere less with reading. This is what we plan on using (hypothetical examples):

At the Battle of Mohács ["MO-hach"] this empire defeated...

ANSWER: SNPs ["snips"]

However, we don't plan on including pronunciation guides for most foreign words unless somebody is likely to make a mistake that could throw off somebody who's only heard the word in its native language before. For example, unlike NAQT we don't plan on including pronunciation guides for Italian names. (As a side note, if NAQT is going to do these for Italian names that are easy to roughly guess, they should at least include correct pronunciations, i.e. "joh-VAHN-nee" and not "JEE-oh-VAH-nee" or whatever)

We'll also use reading guides similar to those included in SHEIKH (and which received positive feedback), i.e. [emphasize] instructions and, where appropriate, [read slowly] instructions. I'll be interested in hearing feedback on how these play out after the tournament and I'd be interested in seeing them used in other tournaments as well.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:21 am

I'm sure there exist foreign words where most people are familiar only with the common English mispronunciation, and not with the actual pronunciation. I suspect that, e.g., names from Welsh and Irish mythology may fall into this category, where the reader pronouncing it correctly may actually cause confusion.

Anyway, didn't we have a thread about this a year ago, where Andrew Hart solved this problem by coming up with a new way to visually distinguish pronunciation guides that made them less distracting to readers who didn't need them?

I'll make the same point in this thread that I remember making in that thread: that here at HSQB, we post in a bubble where all the posters around us are likely in the top few tiers of moderators. If we continue to have Penn Bowls with 40 participants at a single site, NAQT state championships in every state, and ACF Nationals that threaten to have a field over 50, we will need a large number of moderators, most of whom will be orders of magnitude worse at knowing how to pronounce technical words than the OP (who played quizbowl for decades), and we cannot realistically teach them all how to pronounce French names or protein acronyms in the ~5 minutes of training time we MIGHT get with them before a tournament, which would almost certainly be better spent on going over basic timing and protest rules.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by vinteuil » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:45 am

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:I'm sure there exist foreign words where most people are familiar only with the common English mispronunciation, and not with the actual pronunciation. I suspect that, e.g., names from Welsh and Irish mythology may fall into this category, where the reader pronouncing it correctly may actually cause confusion.
Don't we have guidelines about this already? The "nuh-BAW-kawff" vs. "NA-boh-kawv" example springs to mind. (I can only imagine what would happen if writers started telling moderators to pronounce "Van Gogh" properly as "fan hokh.")
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Deviant Insider » Thu Oct 22, 2015 2:12 pm

Bruce brings up a good point. To some extent, the inclusion of guides depends on who is moderating a tournament. If you're writing for a fairly small tournament with good moderators, then you don't need them as much as another tournament might, but even then you should have enough so that Andrew Yaphe can get through the questions. For something like an IS Set, there have to be a lot of guides because it's just part of the deal that there are going to be some weak moderators at some places, and you have to help them. One of the consequences is that a moderator who does know how to pronounce a lot of words who reads an IS Set is going to see more guides than s/he wants to, and that moderator is just going to have to deal with it.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Cheynem » Thu Oct 22, 2015 2:54 pm

My feeling on pronunciation guides is that we should concentrate less on making more, and more on making better/more helpful ones. Indicating whether or not we are to say "MUT" as "mutt" or "M-U-T" is important, far more important than someone pronouncing Ralph Fiennes' name as "Ralff Fee-enns," for example, even though the latter would be an very off mispronunciation, it is unlikely to confuse anyone.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by bmcke » Thu Oct 22, 2015 2:55 pm

It's not that bad if a new moderator pronounces something phonetically, but it is very bad if a new moderator stumbles on every question and delays the round. I still think the interpunct method is best here.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Sam » Sat Oct 24, 2015 1:59 pm

cchiego wrote:They're a huge distraction as a reader, they're rarely helpful on words I don't know how to pronounce, and they're a waste of time to include in editing that ought to be spent working on grammar and avoiding repeats. Splitting up long words and phrases is fine and helpful, but adding more gibberish to questions is not.

The guides are often as hard to decipher as the words themselves and people slow down to read them anyways. Just tell readers to sound things out phonetically. Perhaps there should be more focus on training these readers over time rather than assuming you can throw a person who hasn't ever read quizbowl before into a tournament and hope for the best.
Sounding out things phonetically while reading aloud in real time works in the situations where the difficult word in question is: 1) English, 2) an English word that follows normal phonetic rules, and 3) a word that sounds like itself when you slowly and haltingly spit out each syllable.

Adding pronunciation guides isn't cost-free but science words seem like ideal candidates, using the method Cody and Andrew describe. These are words whose pronunciation is usually clear as soon as you see what the component parts are but may be ambiguous otherwise (like "carbocation"), or they are acronyms that may or may not be spelled out (like "D-C-I-P" versus "d-sip"). Separating each part also makes it less likely people misread the word, even if they know how to pronounce it correctly (I'm less likely to say "bi-phenyl-phosphine" rather than "tri-pheyl-phosphine").
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by kevjiangba » Sun Jan 10, 2016 7:23 pm

Just wondering, what indeed is the correct way to pronounce unfamiliar acronyms? For acronyms that are non-pronounceable (e.g. GPS), obviously I would pronounce them like "gee-pee-ess." For acronyms that clearly spell out a word (e.g. AIDS), I would also pronounce them intuitively as "AIDS." But what about something like SQL (upon first encounter, I could see it both as "sequel" or "ess-que-ell"), IUPAC ("yoo-pac"? I-U-P-A-C?), even SETI? In my experience with reading, I usually stuck with saying the individual letters when in doubt, but I'm wondering what is the most accepted convention.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by jonah » Sun Jan 10, 2016 7:40 pm

kevjiangba wrote:But what about something like SQL (upon first encounter, I could see it both as "sequel" or "ess-que-ell")
Both pronunciations are used. ["sequel"] is probably a bit more common.
kevjiangba wrote:IUPAC ("yoo-pac"? I-U-P-A-C?)
["EYE-you-pack"]
kevjiangba wrote:even SETI?
[SET-ee]
kevjiangba wrote:In my experience with reading, I usually stuck with saying the individual letters when in doubt, but I'm wondering what is the most accepted convention.
That's probably as good an approach as any. There isn't a universal rule; some seemingly unpronounceable abbreviations have contorted pronunciations as words or quasi-words (e.g. SQL), and some pronounceable abbreviations are spelled out anyway (e.g. HIV, which could plausibly be pronounced to rhyme with "shiv" but never is). Ideally question writers/editors will include PGs for all but the very best known abbreviations, but as you know, that doesn't always happen.
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Re: Pronunciation Guides

Post by Your Genie Felon, Me » Thu Jan 14, 2016 1:56 am

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:Anyway, didn't we have a thread about this a year ago, where Andrew Hart solved this problem by coming up with a new way to visually distinguish pronunciation guides that made them less distracting to readers who didn't need them?
I feel like this would be the best way of resolving debate on whether to include guides or not. Bruce's note that we need to accommodate for non-top-tier moderators who won't necessarily know how to pronounce what to us certainly seem feasibly pronounceable is absolutely right, but for a lot of moderators it's also super distracting. So just use plenty of PG's and visually distinguish them so experienced moderators can skip over them, is what I would do.
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