Feline ambulation and volcanic nomenclature

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From The Oatmeal

[As Kate notes in the comments, Geoff Pullum evoked the “kitten on the keyboard” image a week ago. And see Mark Liberman’s two recent posts for more on the name and its pronunciation.]



41 Comments

  1. Sili said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    That was fast.

    I notice the cat couldn’t hit the shift-key, either, so no “ö”.

  2. Army1987 said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    *I* was about to comment about the ö. :-(

    Namely, I was going to say:
    Surely, *my* cat would have included to put that umlaut on the O. Too bad I don’t have a cat.

  3. Mark P said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    I’ve heard the Icelandic volcano’s name pronounced, but the sounds just didn’t quite register. It sounded like like an empty cardboard box wrapped in heavy burlap slowly tumbling down a flight of stairs.

  4. Kate said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    The Oatmeal reads Language Log?
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2253

  5. Faldone said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    I’ve heard the Icelandic volcano’s name pronounced, but the sounds just didn’t quite register. It sounded like like an empty cardboard box wrapped in heavy burlap slowly tumbling down a flight of stairs.

    The more perceptive of you many have noticed that the pronunciation of this volcano has already been covered here at Language Log Plaza

  6. Army1987 said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

    For me, the sounds registered so much that, most times I type it, I realize I’ve typed “Eyjafatlajökutl” and have to change the T’s back to L’s.

  7. Mark P said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

    I listened a few more times and it no longer sounds like a cardboard box/burlap/stairs. The sounds are sharper than that. I think the burlap has come off.

  8. Matt G said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    On a recent test given to a class of 4-year college-bound HS seniors, I had the name of the volcano as an extra credit question.

    The 4 choices were:
    a)Yggdrasil (suitably Nordic-sounding, i thought.)
    b) Orodruin (well, I was asking about volcanos.)

    c)Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (just because)
    d)Eyjafatlajökul

    The class split almost exactly between a, b, and d. I am not quite sure what this says about American HS students…

  9. Matt G said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

    …apart from that they are taught by poor spellers…

  10. Will said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

    @Army1987: “…the sounds registered so much that, most times I type it…”

    You type it? I’m impressed! For me the it’s been a whole lot of Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

  11. Mark F. said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    One British CNN announcer was showing off that he almost had it. But he kept ending with “cult” instead of “cuttle”.

    He tried and failed to get the weather reporter to have a go at it.

  12. Joe said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 12:38 am

    “One British CNN announcer was showing off that he almost had it. But he kept ending with “cult” instead of “cuttle”.

    I’m not sure that this is really fair, since there isn’t a traditional anglicization of Eyjafjallajökull, so why say “cuttle” is preferable to “cult.” I can see the logic of turning the voiceless lateral fricative into a syllabic consonant (that is, turning “kull” into “cuttle,” but I think my own preference for an anglicization would be “cult.”

  13. chris said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 3:37 am

    Yes, “cult” would definitely be better than “cuttle”. It’s much closer to the sound of the Icelandic pronunciation – at least it doesn’t add a whole extra syllable on the end!

  14. Geoff Pullum said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 3:40 am

    It certainly isn’t like “cuttle” at the end. It’s like “kootl”. And interestingly, both “-ootl” [u:tɬ] and “-oolt” [u:ɬt] are completely impossible endings in English.

  15. Paul said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 4:35 am

    Looking out of the window, I can confirm that the volcano isn’t in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. The existence of Welsh means that some English speakers do have regular contact with voiceless lateral fricatives, though many English speakers of English rephase the voicelessness and laterality of the Welsh [ɬ], producing [kl], at least word-initially (“Llan” [ɬan] is a very common initial morpheme in Welsh place names). I’m not so sure word-finally, but I suspect a common solution is just to say [l].
    Those of us who have any contact with Welsh get very fed up of lame “jokes” about unpronounceability, lack of vowels, etc, etc, so I have some sympathy with speakers of Icelandic here. I don’t understand how some people are so keen to parade their ignorance. Cats on keyboards is just boring, predictable and stupid. The solution most newsreaders seem to have adopted in the UK (sidestepping the pronunciation by calling it simply “the Icelandic volcano”) seems much better than trying to belittle Icelandic orthography/phonology by claiming it’s impossible to pronounce or was made up by some random animal on a laptop. It may be hard to pronounce if you don’t have Icelandic phonology in your head, but it doesn’t take that much effort. Basic practical phonetics isn’t that hard.

    Here we go again, banging the “isn’t it rubbish how much ignorance of Linguistics there is in the world” drum…

  16. Ellen K. said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 8:10 am

    Some people, Paul, have a sense of humor.

  17. Mark P said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 9:40 am

    I admit to some doubt about Icelandic volcano pronunciation jokes, but then I’m from the southern US, so I’m used to lame jokes about the way we uns roun hear talk.

  18. Spell Me Jeff said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    I certainly am not in favor of a French-style academy that regulates grammar and all that. But I should thing that news agencies, and other interested parties, could get together when an an unfamiliar internationalism hits the waves and offers a preferred Anglicization. Something modeled after the AP or UofC style books.

    If such an entity doesn’t already exist, why doesn’t it? It would sure spare a lot of broadcast anchors a lot of embarrassing moments.

    In an older time, we could all relax and wait for the powers that be to settle on an Anglicization like Cologne (Köln). But the media move too swiftly for this today. Some private agency should be charged with making an instant decision, even if it’s a stupid one.

  19. Army1987 said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 9:55 am

    As for “traditional anglicization”, which way do you normally pronounce the end of Nahuatl when speaking English? (I had asked the same on John Wells’ blog but wasn’t answered.)

  20. Joe said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    @Amy1987,

    Wells gives [ˈnɑː wɑːt l̥ ] in the Longman Pronounciation Dictionary (that’s a syllabic l at the end if it doen’t render well).

  21. Jongseong Park said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    Army1987: As for “traditional anglicization”, which way do you normally pronounce the end of Nahuatl when speaking English?
    I use the syllabic /l/ one finds in words like ‘bottle’, which is also the pronunciation recommended by Merriam Webster.

    I think people familiar with the original Nahuatl pronunciation may prefer to drop the /l/ altogether as a better approximation of the affricate represented by ‘tl’. However, I think the anglicization of this affricate as the /tl/ sequence and using a syllabic /l/ if it comes at the end of a word is perfectly natural and acceptable.

  22. Joe said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    As I am sure people noticed, I gave the diacritical for devoicing by mistake. Sorry

  23. Nigel said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

    So, the feline in the cartoon is clearly not Schrödinger’s cat, then.

  24. Adrian Bailey (UK) said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

    http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2010/04/eyjafjallajoekull_set_to_music_1.html includes in the update at the end the attempt by anglicised Dane Sandi Toksvig, set to music.

  25. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

    Talking of volcanoes, do you know how to pronounce Ngauruhoe? There are at least two pronounciations, the Maori one and the Pakeha distortion of it.

  26. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 23, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    Good grief! I, I mean I, misspell “pronunciation”? I wouldn’t believe it possible but the evidence is before my eyes.

  27. Bob Violence said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 1:39 am

    Wikipedia says the Maori pronunciation is [ŋa:uɾuhoe]. Maori orthography is pretty straightforward — the only hitch is that long vowels (like the “a” in Ngāuruhoe, or in “Māori” itself for that matter) are usually not indicated in non-Maori texts.

  28. Army1987 said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 8:13 am

    And that for some reason the bilabial fricative is written “wh” rather than the obvious “f” which isn’t used at all…

  29. Bob Violence said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    I’m fairly certain “wh” originally represented a glottalized “w” ([ʔw]), which it still does in some dialects. But yes, point taken.

  30. marie-lucie said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    For some reason, English [w] at the beginning of most question words is written wh rather than the “obvious” w – but, lo and behold, wh is still pronounced differently from just w in certain dialects.

    If the early writers of Māori had heard [f], surely they would have written f rather than wh. Some relatives of Māori have [f], written f. Pronunciation can change in 200 or so years, but spelling does not need to follow suit if there is no misunderstanding within the language (and even if there is, witness English vowels).

  31. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    @ Marie-Lucie: “For some reason, English [w] at the beginning of most question words is written wh rather than the “obvious” w – but, lo and behold, wh is still pronounced differently from just w in certain dialects.”

    Yes indeed, as in mine, and the sound I make is usually represented in modern phonetic transcriptions as [hw].

    “If the early writers of Māori had heard [f], surely they would have written f rather than wh.”

    Agreed, and that’s why I think the missionaries heard a sound like the differentiated wh of, e.g., “what” and “where” as the missionaries would have pronounced them. “What” was not a homophone of “Watt”, nor “why” of “Wye”. It was after the spelling had been fixed that it became fashionable among the young — as Williams noted in the headnote for Wh in his dictionary — to pronounce Māori wh as [f].

    Compare Māori “whakawhetai” with Samoan “fa’afetai”. They are now nearly homophones.

    BTW, sorry, but I don’t understand Bob Violence’s [ʔw].

  32. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    @Army1987: the bilabial fricative is written “wh”

    I don’t think Māori wh is a bilabial fricative. As Ray Harlow describes it, “the most usual pronunciation of this phoneme in modern Māori is the same as the English /f/, involving touching the lower lip with the top front teeth”.

    Now Spanish b or v: there’s a bilabial fricative.

    My goodness, we’ve wandered a long way from that volcano in Iceland.

  33. Ellen K. said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 1:10 am

    @Simon Cauchi

    For me, what and watt are differentiated by the vowels.

  34. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 3:22 am

    @ Ellen K.

    For me, what and watt are differentiated by their initial consonants. The vowels are identical.
    Presumably, too, you say pajama and I say pyjama.

    Let’s call the whole thing off!

  35. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    Simon: I deliberately used the same wording as the previous commenter. I first learned British pronunciation (the official one, with just [w]) but I know Americans who use the more traditional [hw] for “wh”, and I once had an Irish landlord who pronounced “what” as “fwat”, and “for a while” as “for a fwile”.

    I once saw a film based on the actual experiences of a teacher in New Zealand (with Shirley MacLaine [I think] and Lawrence Harvey). I saw this film in its original English version but with French subtitles, and I remember being puzzled (not knowing much phonetics at the time) by the name of one pupil, which sounded to me almost, but not quite, like [matafero] but was written on the screen as Matawhero. I am sure that the actress had learned to use the prevalent Māori pronunciation at the time (the film must date from the 50’s).

  36. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    p.s. according to Wikipedia, the film is Two Loves, from 1961, based on the life of Sylvia Ashton-Warner. I must have seen it shortly after its release but thought it was older.

  37. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    I haven’t seen the film, nor read the novel it was based on (Spinster). One day maybe.

    The Irishism I remember from our holiday in Ireland many years ago was the intrusion of a schwa in consonant clusters, e.g. “fillum” for “film”. That, and the use of extravagant adjuncts such as “Glory be to God”, e.g. “Glory be to God, it’s nearly half past nine!”

    And so it is. Time to quit Language Log and other sirens of the Internet and start on the day’s work.

  38. Mr Fnortner said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    For the tl endings, there is also chipotle, which is quite impossible for most Mexican restaurant patrons to say (coming out as chipolty most of the time). But there are footle and tootle which haunt my dictionary, and seem eminently pronounceable.

  39. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    The ash-cloud comes in on little cat feet…

  40. marie-lucie said,

    April 27, 2010 @ 11:45 am

    Mr F: footle and tootle … seem eminently pronounceable.

    That’s because in those words, as in bottle, cattle, rattle and also cackle, pickle and apple, grapple or people or table, and many others, the -le represents a “syllabic l” where the l can be preceded by a very short vowel. It is also voiced, even though the preceding consonant may be voiceless.

    In the native pronunciations of Nahuatl, Kwakiutl and some others, the tl is an affricate, the two sounds perceived by speakers unfamiliar with the affricate are pronounced together. Inserting a short vowel is no more possible for those languages than for English speakers to insert one between the t and the ch in witch (hence for instance “wittush”).

  41. Mr Fnortner said,

    April 27, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    Hmmmm. I get what you are saying about the insertion (or not) of a short vowel. Whereas in “cackle, pickle and apple, grapple or people or table, and many others” the English mouth must slip in a needed short vowel, many of us can say bottle, cattle, and rattle, as well as footle and tootle, without such a vowel–that is by leaving the tongue in place after the “t” and sounding the “l” as a voiced lateral sans intervening vowel. Many others do say the vowel, I understand (botl vs bot-tul). I also pronounce Latin as latn, not lat-tin.

    I was responding to Dr. Pullum’s assertion that pronunciations like “ootle” “are completely impossible endings in English.” It could be that that is not universally true.

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