Jingle bells, pedophile

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Top story of the morning in the UK for the serious language scientist must surely be the report in The Sun concerning a children's toy mouse that is supposed to sing "Jingle bells, jingle bells" but instead sings "Pedophile, pedophile". Said one appalled mother who squeezed the mouse, "Luckily my children are too young to understand." The distributors, a company called Humatt, of Ferndown in Dorset, claims that the man in China who recorded the voice for the toy "could not pronounce certain sounds." And the singing that he recorded "was then speeded up to make it higher-pitched — distorting the result further." (A good MP3 of the result can be found here.) They have recalled the toy.

Shocked listeners to BBC Radio 4 this morning heard the presenters read this story out while collapsing with laughter. Language Log is not amused. If there was ever a more serious confluence of issues in speech technology, the Chinese language, freedom of speech, taboo language, and the protection of children, I don't know when.

Which variety of Chinese it was that had this problem with "jingle bells" we do not yet know. But if somehow the combination of Chinese phonology and cheap sound reproduction (the toy costs about $4.90) has turned "jing-le bells" into "pe-do-phile", Language Log is going to find out how. Even as I write this, Chinese specialist Victor Mair and acoustic phonetics expert Mark Liberman are packing their equipment and preparing to fly to China from Language Log headquarters in Philadelphia.

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81 Comments »

  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 5:41 am

    Did you know that Chinese toy makers have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me?

  2. Słowosław said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:15 am

    Is that scientific fact?

  3. Cecily said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:16 am

    I heard the item BBC Radio 4's Today programme and later on they played the toy's song. It certainly didn't sound like "Jingle Bells", but neither did it sound much like "paedophile". Just as beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, perhaps paranoia is in the mind of the listener?

  4. Morgan said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:16 am

    I vote that you do an elaborate experiment and post the evidence in the form of lots of graphs.

  5. Cecily said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:19 am

    You can listen to the toy here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8398000/8398753.stm

  6. Kellen Parker said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:35 am

    I don't hear paedophile. I hear "jingle bells" and nothing else, though a crappy version of it.

    And being surrounded daily by various Chinese accents, it seems to me that the problem is less with accent and more with the sound quality and the public's paranoia.

  7. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    Well, I'm very sorry that "Language Log is not amused". Having listened to the clip, the presenters' mirth seems entrely understandable, justified and appropriate to me. Perhaps we British have a different sense of humour to our North American cousins, or perhaps we're just not as uptight. How does Language Log feel about the words from "Hair" : "Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty : why are these words so nasty ?" ?

    [Deadpan humor simply doesn't work on some people, does it? Let's see how this guy feels when he's had a second cup of some appropriately caffeinated beverage... —GKP]

  8. Cecily said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:42 am

    But Philip, Prof Pullum was British for his formative years and currently works in Britain. I took his "not amused" statement to be ironic.

  9. Ginger Yellow said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 6:47 am

    Is that scientific fact?

    Well, there's no evidence for it, but yes.

  10. Ray Girvan said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 7:03 am

    Usual trouble with such stories (I forget the cognitive term for the effect). You have an indeterminate sound. The reports prime you with the complained-of interpretation. That biases you toward hearing that version. But the majority of readers unaware of that cognitive effect treat the selective interpretation as true.

  11. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 7:16 am

    Ah well, clearly my irony detector doesn't kick in properly until at least the third cup of Monsooned Malabar; as I haven't even had time to make my second cup today, I blame it entirely on that. And sincere apologies to Professor Pullum for confusing him with one of our American cousins …

    [Oh, good heavens, that's not grounds for an apology. I'm an American citizen too, and love America and my fellow Americans. I'm always flattered to be mistaken for one of them. I'm just glad that your humor detection module has finally rebooted. —GKP]

  12. JonW said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 7:30 am

    @ Ray Girvan, the effect is known as pareidolia- it's responsible for people seeing images of religious (or otherwise) figures in tree rings, water stains on underpasses and toasted sandwiches etc, it’s also responsible for the “messages” found when playing records backwards.

  13. GAC said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 7:45 am

    First run I heard "paedophile" in the same way that the announcer pronounced it (a clue that I might have been influenced by him, I'm American and pronounce the word as PED-uh-file, not PEE-do-file). Later on I heard "Jingle Bells" with a bizarre distorted vowel in "bells". Living in China right now, I could see the weird vowel maybe coming from the original, but it doesn't really sound like a natural vowel sound.

    I agree with other posters (and the radio hosts) that it's just sound quality issues mixed with parental paranoia, but even then why the Hell is a toy selling in the UK of all places not using a native English speaker to record "Jingle Bells"? Would it really be that expensive to hire a singer to record it? They don't even have to be that good.

  14. Lazar said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 8:21 am

    This reminds of the story I saw recently ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dHmGwYTxnI&feature=player_embedded ) of an allegedly swearing Miley Cyrus doll.

  15. Ray Girvan said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    JonW: Ray Girvan, the effect is known as pareidolia

    Not quite: that's the effect of hearing/seeing meaningful stuff in meaningless data. I was thinking of the effect where priming the listener with a particular interpretation of such data makes them strongly perceive it that way.

  16. Rachel said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    It sounds more like "jingle biles" to me.

  17. Sili said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    I can get a -phile in the end, but not the paedo- bit. Presumably the mother in question just doesn't know of anyone who loves anything but children.

    My incompetent transcription is /ˈeŋk(ə)lˌfaɪls/, but I won't put any money on the voicing.

    On the topic of aural pareidolia Phil Plait has some examples. (Opera's spellcheck suggests "paedophilia" for "pareidolia".)

  18. David said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    Seems to me if an English child learned to say pedophile by imitating that toy, most listeners would hear jingle bells. As in "What? You are jingles bells, so you want to teach school? Eh?"

  19. Michael said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 9:46 am

    you don't have to go to pareidolia; plain, garden-variety projection will do…

  20. outeast said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:03 am

    Some well-meaning relative gave my son a 'musical' birthday card – one of those where the unidentifiable accent and appalling sound quality render the original message similarly unintelligible.

    Eventually we realized that it opened with the line 'It's your birthday today', and not alas the more surreal found poetry of 'It's your potato day…'

    We later sent out invitations to a Potato Day Party, which rather bemused the recipients.

  21. aevelyn said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Sounds more like "dingo bell" to me. I don't see how anyone could hear a voiceless sound for the first segment.

  22. John Cowan said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:59 am

    I heard it as "paedophile, paedophile" (not my native pronunciation either) the first time through, presumably due to the priming; after that, I had no trouble priming myself to hear either "paedophile" or "jingle bells", and indeed both in a row in either order.

  23. dw said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    Before hearing the recording, I was easily able to imagine how a Chinese speaker could make "jingle bells" sound like "paedophile":

    * The consonants are often unintelligible on cheap recordings of this sort
    * The vowels of the first syllables of "JINgle" and "PAEdophile" (in the British pronunciation, like the word "pea") are often merged in non-native English speakers, since they are not distinguished in many other languages' phonemic systems
    * The second and third syllables of "jinGLE BELLS" both contain nonprevocalic /l/. I have often heard native Chinese-language speakers realize such /l/s as vowels in the [o] or [u] area (incidentally, that's also how my sixteen-month old daughter says such words, e.g. "apple" = [apʊ]). Thus the second syllable of "jinGLE" could have an [o] vowel and "BELLS" could have a diphthong like [ɛo], which could be close enough to the expected [aɪ] of the last syllable of "paedoPHILE".

    However, what's really odd is that I find it almost impossible to hear the word "paedophile" when listening to the actual recording. I guess I must have an innocent mind…

  24. Ian Tindale said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:40 am

    All I heard was "terrorist, terrorist".

  25. Picky said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:41 am

    And, of course, it's not a Chinese singer grappling with English, it's a mouse singing English in a Chinese accent. What do you expect? And, by the way, what do angry mothers think the rest of the song doesn't sound like?

  26. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    I have an ink-jet printer that has a .._. rhythm when it prints. I'm always curious to hear what it's going to tell me. This morning it's saying "fibrillation," the theme of a translation job I'm working on.

  27. Ray Girvan said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Dan Lufkin curious to hear what it's going to tell me.

    I hear the same sort of thing with a proximity-activated air-freshener spray in one of the pub toilets around here. It makes a kind of "Haaaawchhhh-fyoo!" noise that sometimes sounds like "I love you" and sometimes like "Fuck you".

  28. N said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

    They are hearing what they expect to hear, it's like a weird auditory McGurk Effect. The parent who heard it might have had pedophiles on the brain, then news came out, and people expected to hear it. Silly, but understandable. Too bad they didn't consult with anyone knowledgeable before running this.

  29. Tom Vinson said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    Listening to the BBC recording I interpreted what I was hearing as "go that mile". I can't vouch for any of the consonants except the final "l", but the vowels are definitely [o], [æ], [ai].
    At any rate, whoever gives one of these toys to a toddler is simply evil.

  30. JEH said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    In my days as a radio programmer I received a furious phonecall from a woman who complained we'd played a song with the repeated lyrics "Eff Off" – when her children were listening.

    Investigations revealed we'd been playing the song "Airport" by the Motors at the time in question. Strange how once the ears hear something offensive they can't hear anything else.

  31. E. said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    At first I had trouble not hearing "pedophile" because I'd been "primed", but on a second listen it sounded more like "dingo viles" or maybe "dingo balls". It really is hard to pin down the consonants, and even the vowels are a bit ambiguous.

    @Dan Lufkin: I occasionally notice the same thing with printer noises. My digital photo printer plays a particularly nice "song", although so far I've been unable to decipher any words. I'd rather listen to that than to a Christmas mouse singing "Dingo Viles", though.

  32. E. said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Oh, and here's another great toy for the easily offended and paranoid folks on your Christmas list: http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2008/10/10/talking-doll-allegedly-says-islam-is-the-light.htm

  33. peter said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    "Even as I write this, Chinese specialist Victor Mair and acoustic phonetics expert Mark Liberman are packing their equipment and preparing to fly to China from Language Log headquarters in Philadelphia."

    I had thought the demands on LanguageLog expertise was now so great that you maintained several (the exact number being classified) permanently-airborne SWAT teams, able to travel immediately to the site of any natural (language) disaster and render full linguistic assistance, even defending against attacking fire from prescriptivists.

  34. Sili said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Ian,

    That's just because you're primed. In reality it's saying "laa ilāha illa llāh".

  35. Olga said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    I need one. Heck, I need a dozen.

  36. bunsen_lamp said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    In fact, there is no word for "Jingle Bells" in Mandarin Chinese, but over 100 words for "Pedophile."

  37. Faldone said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

    We have no word for "Jingle Bells" either. We have to make do with a two word noun phrase.

  38. vanya said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    A few years ago in the US there was a kerfluffle about a talking Elmo doll that one pair of concerned parents was convinced was saying "let' have sex!", and thus apparently inciting toddlers to unhealthy thoughts of muppet miscegenation. The manufacturers claimed, and slowed down recordings seemed to confirm, that the doll was simply counting "four, five, six!" in a high pitched and enthusiastic voice.

  39. Bryn LaFollette said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    In other World-Shaking Recorded-Message-Toys News: This mother finds Hannah Montana's language (as transmitted by this toy) to be utterly inappropriate!

  40. Army1987 said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

    Sounds like "single bile" to me.

  41. Army1987 said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

    (And are Bob Dylan and I the only two people who heard the line "I can't hide" in The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high"? I swear, no priming whatsoever: I found out that it didn't actually say "I get high" and that Dylan had heard it the same way as me at the same time, while reading the Wikipedia article on "mondegreen".)

  42. Lisa said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

    Yeah "single bile" is probably the closest approximation to what I hear. I definitely get the "ile" part, and would have to say it sounds closer to "pedophile" than it does to "jingle bells" to my California, USA ears. Having said that, I wouldn't have come up with "pedophile" just by listening to it. The first part sounds nothing like "pedo" to me. We use the short e sound when we pronounce that word in my part of the world.

    And for the record, my humor detector probably wasn't working either. I was a little taken aback when I first read that Language Log was not amused.

  43. marie-lucie said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    I was surprised to see "jingle bells" interpreted as a noun phrase. In many years in North America I had never learned all the words to the song but I always thought that it was an imperative: "Jingle, bells! Jingle all the way!" but while singing an arrangement of the song with a choir recently I discovered that there is a noun phrase in "Hear the jingle bells ring". So, are the initial words a VP or NP (or DP, if you prefer)?

    I also listened to the tape and heard something like "ǽl" at the end and a rounded vowel in the middle, but the rest was too mushy to distinguish the consonants. But it did not sound like either "jingle bells" or "pedophile".

  44. Bob C said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    I keep hearing "Dingo bile, dingo bile, dingo all the way." – Which raises the question, do people who think the doll is saying pedophile think the whole line is "pedophile, pedophile, pedo all the way"?

    Oh well, 'scuse me while I kiss this guy.

  45. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    I, too, would take 'Jingle bells' to be an imperative. I can't see any other way of making sense of 'Jingle all the way'. 'Hear the jingle bells ring' doesn't seem to be part of the original lyrics, so I think it's a misinterpetation, by people who know that 'Jingle Bells' is the title of a song, and haven't thought deeply about what it means.

    [(myl) The OED has

    1887 Bicycling News 21 May 99/1 My light was burning brilliantly and my jingle bell going at the time. 1894 Outing (U.S.) XXIV. 71/1 The captain of the launch pulls the ‘jingle bell’ for full speed ahead.

    And Jesse Ship and Paul Laurence Dunbar, In Dahomey (1902):

    My Dahomian queen.
    When I become a king,
    All the jingle bells will ring,
    While through the streets on palanquins we're borne.

    So there's plenty of evidence for jingle bell as a noun phrase.]

  46. sleepnothavingness said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

    Good job they didn't pick up on the "One whore, soap & slay" motif.

  47. marie-lucie said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    myl, so then, "jingle bells" are a type of bell attached to some means of transportation, here a one-horse open sleigh, but "jingle" must be a verb, so the first words are not an imperative "[Please] jingle, bells!" but a request to the "jingle bells" (NP) of the sleigh to "[please!] jingle all the way".

  48. Joshua said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

    Well, it certainly doesn't sound like "jingle bells" to me. And certainly a Chinese speaker should have no trouble with at least the first syllable of the phrase, given that the capital of their country is Beijing, whose second syllable is substantially identical to the first syllable in "jingle".

  49. codeman38 said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    I don't necessarily hear 'paedophile' without being prompted, but it does sound something like 'single file'. It definitely sounds more like /aɪl/ than /ɛl/.

  50. Jacob said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    I hear 金根儿 贝儿斯 :-)

  51. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:21 am

    @Marie-Lucie: I believe you have one interpretation right, but there's no reason to doubt the simple, straightforward, common-sense… I mean the other interpretation, where all three instances of jingle are imperative. The lack of a comma, which some people adduce, proves nothing, considering poetic punctuation such as

    Weep Venus, and ye
    Adorable three
    Who Venus for ever environ…

    —Landor

  52. marie-lucie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    Jerry, I am not sure which interpretations you are talking about in each case. I just checked the original lyrics online, and they only use "jingle" in the first sentence (and its repeats): "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way", where "jingle" seems to be imperative, as I thought, but I now know that there are alternate lyrics, such as "Hear the jingle bells ring" where "jingle bells" has to be a noun phrase, as myl has confirmed with other examples. So that suggests that "jingle bells" in the original is also a noun phrase, while "jingle" without "bells" following seems to be an imperative.

    I know that lack of commas does not mean anything in verse, and I only added commas earlier to make my interpretations unambiguous.

  53. Dan S said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 1:13 am

    I'm grateful for the insight this discussion gives me into my experience with an electronic "educational toy" that was given to my son. I was surprised to hear it cheerily start up with "Welcome to school! Choose your weapon!"

    And I was impressed by the power of the priming effect. Even those who knew full well that it was saying "…lesson!", found that — once they were prompted by me — they could hear only the perverse version.

  54. bgb808 said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:04 am

    My favorite part of all this is the tag "gift ideas."

  55. Nathan Myers said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:34 am

    I can't tell whether those insisting that "jingle" is imperative mean their insistence ironically. To me it's purely descriptive, but ecstatically so. Expunging the ecstasy, it becomes, "I heard jingle bells all the way here."

  56. outeast said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:51 am

    I fear you are labouring under a misapprehension of the real lyrics of this bit of doggerel. Any reasonably well-educated schoolchild should be able to supply you with the unbowdlerized version, though as with any oral tradition there are many variations. The one I grew up with began, 'Jingle bells, Batman smells' – which would seem to imply that 'Jingle bells' may be an expletive of some kind. (The later lines of the song need not concern us here; though if anyone could explain the reference to 'Uncle Billy', or shed light on why and how he should have lost his willy on the M4 motorway, I would be much obliged).

  57. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    Do you think we could stoop to the level of macaronic language (q.G.) for a while? We're almost there, after all.

    I like οὐκἔλβον πόλιν. And Pas de lieu Rhône que nous.

    The LL veterans prolly already know this. The latter makes a good objective test of a person's command of French. The better your French, it appears, the harder it is to interpret. You can often get a native speaker to repeat it aloud several times, wondering why everyone else is laughing. I Googled around a little on this phrase and found a very interesting entry in Google Books for a book Exploring the Musical Mind by psychologist John Sloboda that takes this whole topic off into new territory: sight-reading music. (Not Jingle Bells, unfortunately.)

  58. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    Nathan Myers: OK, given that 'jingle bells' can be a noun phrase, I can see two ways of reading it: either as imperative throughout, as Marie-Lucie and I both initially read it, or as a description, meaning 'Jingle bells [noun phrase] jingle all the way' – which I take to be your reading. Is that right? But if one is not aware of 'jingle bells' as a noun phrase, there's no way of reading it but as imperative – 'jingle bells' can't mean 'the bells jingle'.

    I'm still a bit puzzled by 'Hear the jingle bells ring'. Where does it fit into the song? It doesn't seem to scan.

  59. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    @outeast: Sorry, Batman knew nothing about the M4 or motorways, whatever they are. The interesting thing about the unbowdlerized lyrics is the post-modern anticlimax, later made famous by Doonesbury, with suicide in the penultimate line and a mere fractured bone in the ult.

    @Nathan Myers and Marie-Lucie: Okay, if you want me to be serious, both interpretations are possible. Jingle could be imperative, or jingle bells could be a noun phrase. As a child, I heard it as imperative, and that still seems like the better interpretation to me, but I don't think there's any evidence either way. (In fact, short of finding comments by whoever wrote the song, if there was one such person, I don't see what evidence is even possible. Maybe one could look for parallel constructions in popular verse of the time.)

    Marie-Lucie, I strongly suspect the version with "hear the jingle bells ring" is a modern one and sheds no light on the meaning of the original, unless you have some reason to believe otherwise. However, MYL has shown that "jingle bells" could be a noun phrase at the time—though that doesn't mean it was a noun phrase in this song.

  60. Victor Mair said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    If you type in "Jingle Bells" in the space at this site where you can request any Christmas carol, you'll find that these little guys don't get it much better:

    http://www.sundog.net/carolofthechins/flash/card.swf

    They can also do "Jingle Bell Rock," but I was astonished at how they ended it (very vulgar). I asked them to sing "Happy Birthday," and they replied that "We're just little kids. We don't know that one."

    Huge repertoire!

    Victor

  61. Rodger C said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

    There was a case some years ago in which a talking doll was distributed in parts of the US mistakenly with a Spanish recording, and a number of parents in South Carolina heard "Quiero a Mami" (I love Mommy) as "Kill our Mommy." To appreciate this, it helps to know the South Carolina accent.

  62. marie-lucie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    Dan Lufkin: Pas de lieu Rhône que nous

    I am a native French speaker and I have no idea what this is supposed to be in spite of repeating it aloud several times.

    Jerry Friedman: I strongly suspect the version with "hear the jingle bells ring" is a modern one and sheds no light on the meaning of the original, unless you have some reason to believe otherwise.

    There are a number of arrangements of the song, some of which change not only the melody but also the words. I am not sure of the date of the one with "hear the jingle bells ring" which as you say is not in the original version, where the sequence "jingle bells" is ambiguous if it can be taken either as a noun phrase (which I did not know) or an imperative.

  63. marie-lucie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    Pas de lieu Rhône que nous

    Oh, I get it now! Paddle your own canoe.

  64. marie-lucie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    p.s. I pronounce "pas" as pâ (a conservative pronunciation), not pa, so "pas de" does not sound like the beginning of "paddle".

  65. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    @marie-lucie — Well, was there anyone around to laugh at you while you pronounced it? Waste of time otherwise.

    Most native speakers try to make sense of it along the lines of "There's no place on the Rhône like ours." That task hijacks your mind and you never hear the concealed English.

    "Wade on a pond as when here ever" as Pogo used to sing.

    And then there's the old whale-oil bit.

  66. Frans said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    The closest approximation to pedophile (British style) I could possibly get out of it was dee(n)go biles, but I'd say it's either jingo biles or dingo biles (possibly both with slight variation between the various instances of the words). It's hard to tell with the low sound quality.

  67. marie-lucie said,

    December 8, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

    Dan Lufkin: Well, was there anyone around to laugh at you while you pronounced it?

    No, I was repeating the phrase aloud by muself, trying to listen for English in it. After a while recognized that it must have "your own", and some time later the whole thing became clear.

  68. GAC said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:10 am

    "Jingle bells" is most definitely a compound for me. Also, random note: In addition to referring to sleigh bells, there is also a percussion instrument called "jingle bells" — basically some jingle bells attatched to a wooden stick that you play by pounding on the top of the handle. I've played them before, it's likely what you hear in some Christmas songs (after all, a horse wouldn't necessarily keep the right rythm).

  69. Zev Handel said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:24 am

    Many speakers of standard Mandarin have difficulty with the low front vowels /ɛ/ and /æ/ of English, converting them to the diphthong /aj/. You will hear some Chinese speakers pronounce English words like "rat" and "Dad" as "right" and "died". That is the reason the vowel of "bells" sounds like the last vowel of "pedophile". The rest of the similarities to the word "pedophile" sound to me like artifacts of the digital manipulation of the recording. (By the way, you'll also notice that the initial consonant of "way" sound like a "v"; the pronunciation as a labiodental approximant is also typical of Beijing speech.)

  70. Ariun said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 6:23 am

    Don't know about you, but I hear the unmistakable, "Save de file, save the file, Drivel order tray, Oh wah pah, Idi arrive, Idi Warhol open save!" Listen carefully. If your heart is pure… you will hear it too.

  71. Ellen said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 10:41 am

    I too am curious about the supposed lyrics "hear the jingle bells ring". Can you quote or link to the verse?

  72. marie-lucie said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    Actually, I misremembered: I must have mixed up "hear the jingle bells" and "how the bells do ring", which both occur in the lyrics, but "the jingle bells" is definitely a noun phrase. These words are from a version of Jingle Bells by Ray Charles (not the jazz pianist). The lyrics are not available on Google, but you can hear the arrangement on YouTube, sung by a quartet.

  73. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

    Marie-Lucie : if you are referring to this version on YouTube, then I hear "hear those jingle bells", not "hear the jingle bells". But regardless of whether "those" or "the", I don't think anyone would suggest that that particular instance of "jingle bells" is not a noun-phrase; the debate is surely more about whether the first two words of the song are a noun-phrase or an imperative, and — for myself — I definitely incline to the imperative interpretation.

  74. marie-lucie said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

    Philip, I remember singing "the" just a few days ago (the word on the music sheet), but listening again to the quartet and the schwa of "the" was not very clear. But there is another version on YouTube, sung by two women (with slight musical adaptations to compensate for the lack of male voices), and they say "the" quite clearly. Otherwise, I am glad I am not the only one who takes the first words of the song to be imperative, or at the very least ambiguous.

  75. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    This one ? If so, I'm afraid I still hear "those" (at 00:48) !

  76. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    Sorry, the URL in "this one" disappeared : it is "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1rXmA2npOM"

  77. marie-lucie said,

    December 9, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

    Philip, you may hear "those", but my fellow singers and I had the music sheets in front of us and we all read and sang "the". "Those jingle bells" would have been harder to sing because of the zj cluster produced by the first two words.

  78. rpsms said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    I used Audacity software to drop the pitch by 50% and I have to say that the singer's english diction is decent ("jingle bells" is not mangled at all in my opinion). The lo-fi playback device can't help, but I think their blaming engrish is unfortunate. However, "its just you" is rarely a safe gambit these days.

  79. John Cowan said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

    I suspect that jingle bells began as an imperative phrase but was reinterpreted as a noun phrase in later uses, similar to the Biblical phrase an help meet for him which began with meet 'fitting, appropriate', was reinterpreted as a compound noun helpmeet, and then changed by folk etymology into helpmate.

  80. Robert said,

    December 27, 2009 @ 11:13 pm

    Well, here's to my sweet satan:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldgAWHBt0H0

    And in other news, turn me on dead man.

  81. Anonymous Cowherd said,

    June 21, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    Like all the commenters so far, I suppose "Jingle bells" must be interpreted, grammatically speaking, as an imperative to jingle some bells. Likewise, I believe that when it is Christmastime in the city, one should silver those bells. But how on earth does one "Oh Christmas" a tree? If any grammarian could shed light on the subject, I'd be much obliged.

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