Somebody truck

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Yesterday, listening to the radio in my car, I heard this song on the local Country station:

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Somebody truck in a farmer's field
A no trespass sign and time to kill
Nobody's gonna get hurt, so what's the big deal?
Somebody truck in a farmer's field

This interested and surprised me, linguistically speaking, for two reasons. First, I don't think I've ever heard a bare possessive like "somebody('s) truck" in white varieties of vernacular English. This is also the opinion of experts, e.g. Walt Wolfram, "Urban African American Vernacular English: morphology and syntax", in Bernd Kortmann et al., Eds., A Handbook of Varieties of English, Mouton de Gruyter, 2004:

Although many of the characteristics of the noun phrase in AAVE are shared with a wide range of English vernacular varieties, there are also a few traits that set it apart from European American vernaculars in the U.S. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is the absence of inflectional -s on possessives and plurals.

The absence of possessive -s in sentences like The dog_ tail was wagging or The man_ hat was old are rare among other American English vernaculars. This is a relatively stable feature in AAVE wherever it is found in the US, though Rickford (1999:271) suggests that it may be subject to age-grading since it is more frequent among younger speakers.

And second, there's an overt possessive 's just a couple of words further along: "farmer's field".

If you know the song, or are listening under better conditions than I was, or are just more acute, you'll realize what I figured out a couple of choruses in: I heard it wrong the first time, and it should be

Something about a truck in a farmer's field

So in the end, what's interesting about this is how close the pronunciations of the two phrases can become. Kip Moore's pronunciation of "something about a" is something like

[sʌ̃ʔmbʌɾʌ]

whereas in the same variety of English, "somebody" might have been

[sʌ̃mbʌɾʌ]

What with the musical background and the road noise, that glottal stop is easy to miss… That's my excuse, anyhow.

You can hear the whole song here, in the version that I heard on the radio, and in an acoustic version here.

 

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33 Comments »

  1. GeorgeW said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 5:52 am

    My initial reaction was to analyze 'truck' as a verb, i.e. somebody drove a truck in a farmer's field.

  2. Veronica said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 6:07 am

    Like GeorgeW, I also tried to interpret "truck" as a verb.

    There's also Jason Aldean's "Take a Little Ride" where he sings "slide your pretty little self on over" which sounds EXACTLY like "slide your pretty little cell phone over."

  3. Duncan said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 7:16 am

    Seeing this in the feed I too read "truck" as a verb, but in combination with "in", as in the way they sometimes "truck in" a snow mountain as a "cool-off" attraction in the middle of the summer in some cities.

    So my interpretation, especially given the country song context, was of a country kid stuck in the city, wishing someone would "truck in" a farmer's field… "with the corn growin' taller 'n your head"… (or some such country lyric, ideally rhyming with "field"…).

  4. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    This will be long because I have a lot to say about Mark's fine catch.

    First of all, I listened to the video and acoustic versions many times, and what I hear for "something about a" (i.e., "somethin' 'bout a") is somethin' like this: "sum(p)u(n) bou(t)uh", with the medial bilabial stop "p" barely there and difficult for me to distinguish from bilabial stop "b" because it's hard for me to tell whether it's voiced or voiceless, but I do hear it faintly and it seems to be on the voiceless side.

    In my car, I often listen to 92.5 WXTU, Philadelphia's Country Station, so I get to hear a lot of songs about farmers' trucks and farmers' fields, and sometimes the two together (more on that below), but the six presets enable me to shift easily to Temple University's classical and jazz station and to several rock stations. In my office, I always listen to 97.5 BEN FM ("Playing Anything We Feel Like"), and at home I always am tuned to UPenn's fantastic 88.5 WXPN. So my taste in music is extremely catholic, and I hear all sorts of things.

    In the middle of last month, I heard Lee Brice's "I Drive Your Truck", and it brought tears to my eyes:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCSMCgqlc-0

    As you can see, somebody really is driving a truck in a farmer's field in this song — relentlessly.

    Here are the lyrics to Lee Brice's song:

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leebrice/idriveyourtruck.html

    And here's the story behind the lyrics to Lee Brice's song:

    http://www.leebrice.com/home/item/553-story-behind-the-lyrics-lee-brice-i-drive-your-truck

    See also:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Drive_Your_Truck

    Since it was released in 2012, I suspect that — at least subliminally — Lee Brice's phenomenally popular "I Drive Your Truck" may have been inspired by Kip Moore's "Somethin' 'bout a truck", which was released in 2011:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somethin%27_%27Bout_a_Truck

    Here are the lyrics to Kip Moore's song:

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kipmoore/somethinboutatruck.html

    Now, to close, "somebody truck" and "slide your pretty little cell phone over" both remind me of these Language Log posts:

    "A miscellany of mondegreens"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=7024

    "Rap scholarship, rap meter, and The Anthology of Mondegreens"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2824

    "The Anthology of Mondegreens?"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/AnthologyOfMondegreens.html

    "Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, ???"

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000018.html

  5. Christopher Hodge said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    You can't hear that apostrophe; it might be "farmers field".

  6. Linda Seebach said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    Speaking of radio stations . . . could I put in a plug for WFMT in Chicago, mostly classical but with a five-hour folk marathon Saturday nights, and lots of live "impromptus" with musicians who happen to be in Chicago — as many are.
    Of course, it's not just a radio station any more; it's a web station too. What do we call those?

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    My initial reaction was to analyze ‘truck’ as a verb, i.e. somebody drove a truck in a farmer's field.

    On seeing the post title "Somebody truck" I, too, tried to parse ‘truck’ as a verb. But I was trying to think what verb ‘truck’ might be a non-standard past tense of. Trek?

    There are a number of USEng past tenses, like 'dove' for 'dived', that catch me out as a BrEng speaker.

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 8:57 am

    … and ‘snuck’ for ‘sneaked’, which may have been at the back of my mind.

  9. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 10:24 am

    You can almost hear the phantom word "There's…" at the beginning of the song, but only if you want to hear it.

  10. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    I interpreted the "time to kill" as "(it's now the) time to kill (the dumb ol' farmer if he objects to my wrecking his crop)." This reflects the practice of picking a wet night and driving doughnuts in some poor guy's winter wheat with your hi-rise 4×4. I admit to not being a big fan of country music or the mores it reflects.

  11. Pat said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    @ Veronica: On can sound just like own in the South.

    @ Jonathan Mayhew: After reading your comment, now I think I hear [ʔs] or [s] at the beginning as a realization of "there's".

  12. Kat said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    I have always assumed it was not "somebody" but "somethin bout a" (truck). I guess I am a native speaker of that dialect. I just went and listened to it again and I most definitely hear "sumpin'bout a" not "somebody".

  13. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    Country music does not consist of a single style nor does it reflect a single set of mores.

  14. Ned Danison said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 11:56 am

    Re: "I don't think I've ever heard a bare possessive like 'somebody('s) truck' in white varieties of vernacular English."

    Funny, I lived in a tiny town in the state of Georgia for 4 years, and I observed that the the local white vernacular was just this way.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    I'm so pleased that Kat, who is a native speaker of the dialect, heard the same "sumpin'bout a" that I heard. My tinnitus ears did not deceive me.

  16. Q. Pheevr said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    Jonathan Mayhew said,

    You can almost hear the phantom word "There's…" at the beginning of the song, but only if you want to hear it.

    I agree, but the addition of There's doesn't actually help to disambiguate between something about a and somebody['s]:

    ✔ There's something about a truck in a farmer's field.
    ✔ There's somebody['s] truck in a farmer's field.

    (It doesn't even entirely rule out the possibility of reading truck as a verb, although in order to do that, I'd have to interpret "truck in a farmer's field" as a reduced relative clause.)

  17. Mr Punch said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

    I'm with Kat – always heard "Something about a truck." And I've lived in New England pretty much all my like (with a few years in Berkeley CA).

  18. Craig said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    Does anyone else hear "Something bout a Creep at 2 am" in the place of "Something bout a Creek at 2 am" in the beginning of verse two?

  19. John Ankarström said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    I interpreted "truck" as a preterite verb, and it does sound like he's saying "somebody." The amateur linguist in me is almost bummed out that he didn't.

  20. Larry Sheldon said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

    Where I grew up, there were truck farms, truck farmers, and truck–the vegetables they grew.
    I still don't know how to parse the song words.

  21. Jair said,

    October 13, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

    My first glance at the lyrics reminded me of E. E. Cummings' "anyone lived in a pretty how town". So maybe Somebody Truck is the name of our protagonist.

  22. Bloix said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 12:45 am

    Why is this so hard? Maybe because you haven't listened all the way through. Here are the lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kipmoore/somethinboutatruck.html

    PS – my wife makes fun of me mercilessly when I say "sum'im" for something.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 6:33 am

    It takes an effort to enunciate "something" with all of its parts intact; "sum(p)u(n)" is a lot easier, and "sum'im" is easier still.

    @Bloix

    I gave the lyrics too in my first, long comment, but apparently few people are reading them.

  24. Theodore said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    The power of suggestion is strong: I read the transcription of the lyric as I reached for my headphones; I listened and heard "somebody" both times and had both of ML's surprised reactions myself.

    After I continued reading, saw the corrected transcription and listened again I heard the "sumpmbada".

    Maybe it's because I've been reading Adam Bradley's Book of Rhymes (after reading about it here on LL) and my eyes are tuned to reading AAVE lyrical transcriptions.

  25. Adam Trotter said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    This is interesting — I don't think could hear "somebody" if I tried [native southern English speaker]. There's a dipthong in the "bout a" (not sure how to express or type that in IPA) that would never occur in "body". Also, "body" can't end in a schwa. But I can see how the misunderstanding could happen, especially if there was a lot of ambient noise.

  26. Ellen K. said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    Jonathan Mayhew noted that there's a "There's" at the beginning of the line. Q. Pheevr said that the "There's" doesn't help disambiguate between the two, since both are grammatical with there. My thought, reading it without being able to listen, was that it does, because "something about a truck in a farmer's field" doesn't make any sense. That is, it isn't a song line anyone would write. But "There's something about a truck in a farmer's field", that is something someone would say.

    Now a few hours later, I was able to listen, and I did so without first rereading anything. The first listening, I heard "Somebody truck…". Then I recalled the "there's" that was mentioned, and I listened again. This time, I heard "There's something about a truck…". Hearing the "There's" changed how I heard the rest of the line. When I didn't notice the "there's", I heard it one way; when I noticed it, I heard it another way. (And now having heard it that way, I can't go back and hear it as I first heard it.)

  27. Ellen K. said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    Is "sum'im" supposed to represent closing the mouth for the m and leaving it closed when saying the 2nd syllable? (Which is what comes to my mind for a reduced pronunciation of "something".) Or is it a case of one nasal affecting the other so they match?

  28. Ken Brown said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

    So, looking at the full lyrics, "truck" is meant to suggest a word that rhymes with it.

  29. Shirley Steele said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

    I agree with Adam that "body" can't end in a schwa, or schwa-like thing. At least, not in the dialects I'm familiar with (I'm a native Texas speaker). At most, "body" might end in something like a barred i. (sorry, no IPA on my keyboard) So I also heard it as "sumpim bout a", at least partly because the lower final vowel ruled out "body" for me.

  30. Ellen K. said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

    I agree that "body" can't end in a schwa, and yet, I did hear it as "somebody" the first time I listened.

    People speak unclearly at times. Or sound is unclear for other reasons. And people have accents different than ours. And so our brains use context, in addition to sound quality, to try to figure out what phoneme a sound belongs to. Thus we might interpret a vowel with a schwa vowel quality as the happY vowel in some cases, due to context, and our brains attempts to make sense of a stream of sound.

  31. Theodore said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    As an urban northerner, I wonder if it was easier for me to hear "somebody" because I'm more more used to hearing the Southern vowels in the context of AAVE than in southern dialects. Also, the closest thing to country music I listen to is probably Howe Gelb (born in Wilkes-Barre; based in Tuscon).

  32. Adam Trotter said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

    If I ever *were* to mishear this lyric, it would be:
    "Some powder truck".
    The \au\ dipthong in "bout" is very clear to my ears; it could never be part of "body" (again, native Southern American English speaker).

  33. Ellen K. said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

    I would argue that once you've heard it correctly, you really can't comment on how you might mishear it, because you won't mishear it anymore.

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