Archive for Pronunciation

Sensory century

I am at UC Davis to participate in a Global Tea Initiative.  The first event yesterday morning was to go to a tea tasting presided over by Master Wing-Chi Ip.  A taxi came to our hotel to drive us over to a building bearing the name of Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), a giant in the California wine industry.  It turns out that there are two buildings on campus bearing his name, a mammoth Center for the Performing Arts and an Institute for Wine and Food Science.

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The perils of pronunciation

Distinguishing between "four" and "ten" in rapid, slurred Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is not always easy:  sì 四 vs. shí 十.  Try saying sìshísì 四十四 ("forty-four") quickly and it starts to feel like the beginning of a tongue twister.  Now, when speakers from the various topolects, even within the so-called Mandarin group, come together and tones, vowels, and consonants start flying off in all directions, things can become still hairier and sometimes even costly.

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Massive attack of mispronunciation

The People's Daily has published on its microblog (weibo) a long list of "easily mispronounced words".  As circulated on Sohu, the list was preceded by this subtitle:  kànle jiǎnzhí bù gǎn shuōhuàle 看了简直不敢说话了 ("after you see it you simply won't dare to open your mouth").

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Faidaman

This morning I asked my grandson, LeoDaniel SoliRain (five years old), what he wants Santa Claus to bring him tonight.  Without hesitation, he replied, "faidaman".  My son Thomas Krishna, his wife Lacey Michelle, his daughter Samira Lea (LD's seven year old sister), and especially I were all perplexed.

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Bus announcements in Okinawa

Travis Seifman noticed something interesting about the announcements on certain public bus lines in Okinawa: the pronunciation of Japanese / Okinawan place names in the English-language announcements is way off.


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Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity

In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty to help my students think through some of these issues (and, if they get interested, point them in the right direction to get really educated). To get started, I often play this one-minute clip of a Meshach Taylor Fresh Air interview from 1990, which is usually a good starting point for some discussion.

But Fresh Air (yes I'm a Terry Gross fangirl) also recently ran an interview with the biracial South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, which contained this ten-minute motherlode of a reflection on multilingualism, language choice, racism, acceptable targets of mimicry, vocabulary size, Trump's communicative abilities, resentment of accented speech… whew. I'm just going to leave it here for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of our more sociolinguistically expert Language Loggers will provide some more detailed commentary later. For my part — well, I just invite you to think about what kind of 500-word essay you'd write for a Ling 101 class with this 10-minute clip as your prompt.

To hear the whole interview, or read the transcript, visit the NPR Fresh Air page.

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Russian-accented Mandarin

This Mandarin news program was broadcast on July 13, 2016 by Èluósī bīnhǎi xīnwén 俄罗斯滨海新闻 ("Russian Coastal News").


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"Ni hao" for foreigners

A video titled "The Chinese tourists accused of bad behaviour in Thailand | Channel 4 News" was posted to YouTube on 2/22/15, but it has been recirculated in this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about Chinese travel abroad during the recent National Day holiday:  "With Its Tourists Behaving Badly, China Embarks on Some Soul-Searching" (NYT, 10/10/16).

I do not wish to analyze the behavior of Chinese tourists at home and overseas.  What struck me powerfully about this video is the peculiar pronunciation of what is arguably the most widely known Mandarin expression in the world, viz., Nǐ hǎo 你好 ("hello; hi!").  You can hear it at 0:23 and 0:37 of this 4:04 video.

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Rhotic fricatives on the hoof

For a linguist, at least if the linguist is me, it is a thrill to cross for the first time the northern border that separates Austria from Czechia. Immediately after crossing the border last Sunday, my train stopped at Břeclav, and I was able to hear over the beautifully clear announcement PA system my first real-context occurrence of one of the rarest sounds in the languages of the world.

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Sino-Japanese

I recall that, as a graduate student in Sinology, one of the most troublesome tasks was figuring out how to romanize the names of Japanese authors, the titles of their works, place names, technical terms, and so forth. Overall, Japanese Sinological (not to mention Indological and other fields) scholarship is outstanding, so we have to consult it, and when we cite Japanese works, we need to be able to romanize names, titles, and so forth to reflect their Japanese pronunciations.

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Two dozen, two thousand, whatever

For Times Insider, David W. Dunlap has an article about some of the more entertaining errors and corrections that have graced the pages of The New York Times: "The Times Regrets the Error. Readers Don't."

Among the goofs is this one from a Q&A with Ivana Trump that appeared in the Oct. 15, 2000 New York Times Magazine:

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What does "Schmetterling" sound like to a German?

I'm prompted to ask this question in response to the very first comment on this post:

"'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16)

The comment supplies a link to this YouTube video, in which russianracehorse tells "The Butterfly Joke".  A Frenchman, an Italian, a Spaniard, and a German each pronounce the word for "butterfly" in their own language.  The words for "butterfly" in the first three languages all sound soft, delicate, and mellifluous.  Finally the German chimes in and shouts vehemently, "Und vat's wrong with [the joke teller could have said 'mit'] Schmetterling?"

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Shandong lisp

Nick Kaldis writes:

I am wondering if your collective knowledge of Gaomi Shandongese and dialectology can clear something up for me. My late beloved father-in-law, Tóng Jìguāng 佟繼侊, from Gaomi county, would pronounce something like an thi sandong len for "俺是山東人“ [VHM:  MSM pron. ǎn shì Shāndōng rén ("I'm a Shandongese")]. My question is: is the lisp in 是 common in Shandongese? And, is there a specific word for "lisp[ing]" (of the letter/sound "s") in Chinese?

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