Archive for Phonetics and phonology

Poetic sound and silence

Following up on "Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016, here's a level plot of speech segment durations and immediately-following silence segment durations from William Carlos Williams' poetry reading at the Library of Congress in May of 1945:

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Zuckerberg's Mandarin, ch. 2

Just a little over a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled to China and the world that he was willing to speak publicly in Mandarin: "Zuckerberg's Mandarin" (10/23/14).

That post includes a video which allows us to watch and listen to his every gesture and word.  Now he's back at it again at the exact same location, Tsinghua University, China's premier engineering and science school:

(Or see: "Mark Zuckerberg’s 20-minute speech in clumsy Mandarin is his latest attempt to woo China," 10/26/15.)

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Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

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Trump on China

Great material for a unit on prosody, from Ben Craw:

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Steampunk phonetics, continued

In Alexander J. Ellis's 1873 article "On the Physical Constituents of Accent and Emphasis", he asserted that there are "four principal matters to be considered in a sound-curve, which will be here called length, pitch, force, and form". Yesterday I quoted his oddly labored explanation of length, by which he means what we would now generally call "duration". We can skip his equally-labored explanation of pitch — it's correct, as we'd expect from the man who introduced and named the cent as a unit of measure for pitch intervals, but otherwise its main point of interest is his adherence to  the rarely-used "philosophical pitch" standard, which has middle C at 256 Hz, and therefore C in all other octaves at frequencies of powers of two. What Ellis has to say about force, however,  is an interesting mixture of science and error.

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Steampunk phonetics

From the Transactions of the Philological Society, 1873-74, "VIII. — On the Physical Constituents of Accent and Emphasis: By Alexander J. Ellis, Esq., President":

Phonautographic Sound-curves. Any disturbance in the air produces a series of alternate condensations and rarefactions, which, coming in contact with the drum of the ear, cause it to vibrate, in such a manner as to produce, after various internal modifications, the well-known sensation of sound. The most convenient way of analyzing this sensation is to analyze the motion of a single point in the drum of the ear. This is effected by an instrument called the phonautograph, consisting of a metal paraboloidal reflector (answering to the passage leading to the drum of the ear), truncated by a plane passing through its focus and perpendicular to its axis, over which opening is stretched a delicate membrane, ordinarily bladder (answering to the drum of the ear). At one point of this membrane is fixed a style (ordinarily a piece of quill), which rests against a cylinder, over which is rolled a piece of paper delicately coated with lampblack. A disturbance of the air inside the reflector causes the style to move backwards and forwards on the lampblacked surface, which it scrapes off. If the cylinder remain at rest, this produces a white straight line of moderate length. But if, as is usual, the cylinder be caused to revolve with a uniform motion, the style scratches out a white undulating line, which may be called a sound-curve, and which is the visible symbol of the invisible disturbance of the air.

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Still more on "mother"

A week or so ago, I wrote a post about the notion of "mother" in Indian phonology (with a link to an earlier post written over a year ago about the concept of "mother" in linguistics more generally):

"More on mother' (focus on India) " (8/5/15)

Ben Buckner has called additional information to my attention.  Because the new material is fairly substantial, I did not want it to get buried as a comment to the previous post, which is no longer active.  Consequently, I am presenting this additional material from Ben as a separate post of its own.

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More on "mother" (focus on India)

A little over a year ago, I wrote about "The concept of 'mother' in linguistics " (6/25/14).  In that post, we looked at the use of the notion of "mother" for language studies in Ugaritic, Moabite, South Arabian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Chinese.

Although I had a nagging recollection to the contrary, I stated:  "So far as I am aware, the notion of 'mother' does not have a similar function in Sanskrit phonology."  Although I wrote that, it bothered me ever since, inasmuch as I did remember from my Sanskrit studies of nearly half a century ago that "mother" did figure in Indian theories of language, but I just couldn't remember exactly what it was.

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Tormented in Taiwanese

A couple of weeks ago, we encountered the case of Chang Chun-ning being asked by her fěnsī 粉絲 ("fans") on the Mainland to change one of the characters in her name that they weren't familiar with:

"7,530,000 mainlanders petition Taiwan actress to change her name" (5/14/15)

After the incident about the bank in China telling Chang Chun-ning to change her name that was quoted and translated by K. Chang here ("Even the bank wanted me to change my name. I've had enough!!!!!!"), there is another clause that finishes her Weibo (microblog) post, as quoted in the China Times article:

hái fù shàng 'zhuākuáng' de tiētú 還附上「抓狂」的貼圖。

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The shape of a spoken phrase in Spanish

Or maybe in Chilean Spanish; more specifically in the Audible audiobook version of Isabel Allende's La Casa de los Espiritus:

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Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this one:

A: Yo, I'm totes starving. I could totes eat a horse right now.  
B: Yeah, totes feel you man. I'm totes hungry too.  
A: I totes know this totes pimp place we could eat.  
B: We should totes hit it up then.  
A: Totes.  
B: Totes.

This (I think simulated) example of "totestalatarianism" comes from a Totes Truncation site that Lauren set up to hold the appendices for a paper of the same name as her PLC talk.

But the point of her analysis is not the totes usage itself, as striking as it sometimes is, but rather the pattern of abbreviation that often spreads to other words in the totes phrase: "totes emosh", "totes adorb", "totes atrosh", "totes apprope", "totes unfortch". Mix in a final /s/ and maybe some expressive palatalization, and you've got "totes arbz" (< arbitrary), "totes inevs" (< inevitable), "totes awesh" (< awesome), "totes impresh" (< impressive).

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Man: reduced or not?

Ben Yagoda wrote to ask about the reduced or unreduced pronunciation of man ([mən] vs. [mæn]) in noun compounds: policeman, fireman, garbage man, mailman, gunman, lineman, etc.

I don't know of any scholarly treatments of this precise subject. For an extensive discussion of the textual history and distribution of man- compounds, you can read Kirsti Peitsara "MAN-Compounds in English", Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis. And for some background discussion on the relations among structure, sense, and stress in such phrases, see Mark Liberman & Richard Sproat, "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun Phrases in English", in Sag & Szabolsci eds., Lexical Matters, 1992. But I don't know of any discussion of (for example) why the -man in policeman is reduced, while the -man in mailman isn't. (Those are my judgments, anyhow, and Merriam-Webster's agrees with me…)

So I'm throwing the floor open for contributions from readers.

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Bring the calvary

David Donnell's friend from Urbana drew his attention to the trailer for Furious 7, where Dwayne Johnson pronounces cavalry as ['kæl.və.ɹi]:

Michelle Rodriguez: Hey, did ya bring the cavalry?
Dwayne Johnson: Woman, I AM the calvary.

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