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Today's Frazz:

There are no nasal sounds in "Stupid air full of pollen" (except the /n/ at the end of "pollen", which the cartoonist didn't change, as Robert Coren points out in the comments!), so someone with inflammed nasal cavities full of mucus should still be able to say it perfectly. I've always been puzzled at the eye-dialect theories of how headcolds and allergies make people talk — or is there some effect of missing passive resonances that I'm ignoring?


  1. Robert Coren said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:11 am

    Actually, there is one — the "n" at the end of "pollen", which Mallett didn't bother to change.

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:20 am

    In many southern Italian dialects the -ll- of standard Italian and Latin becomes -dd-. Can that be due to an allergy?

  3. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    How do you pronounce "pollen"?

  4. Nathan said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:53 am

    There are no nasal sounds in "Stupid air full of pollen"?

  5. Eric P Smith said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:56 am

    There is of course one nasal sound in "Stupid air full of pollen" – the final phoneme. Strangely, our little allergesiac pronounces it correctly.

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 9:58 am

    Curiously, the first 4 comments were not visible mere seconds before I posted.

  7. D. Sky Onosson said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 10:37 am

    I'm no physician, but surely inflammation of the nasal cavity would frequently be accompanied by inflammation of various parts of the vocal tract as well, affecting control of various speech articulators?

  8. mike said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 10:59 am

    To address your observation ("I've always been puzzled …"), you might be assuming that an eye dialect is intended to be phonologically accurate. I haven't investigated (future post for y'all?), but the convention of how to convey in writing the sound of talking with a stuffed-up nose might be just, you know, conventional.

  9. Oona Houlihan said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 11:51 am

    What makes you think it takes nasal sounds to alter the way someone speaks when his nose is clogged? Anyone can squeeze their (his/her) nose so that no air can pass through it nor sounds reverberate in its cavities – and then you can pronounce any sentence in any language and no matter what phonemes (with the exception of certain Xhosa click consonants maybe) you try to utter, it will sound quite restricted (although as a comic author you may tend to overdo it a little).

  10. Guy said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 1:21 pm


    For vowels, I suppose it depends on a number of factors like dialect and individual quirks. If I hold my nose and talk, it sounds exactly the same (at least to me) as when I don't hold my nose except for vowels immediately preceding nasal consonants, unless I make a conscious effort to speak "nasally". Interestingly, when I speak Spanish (not my first language) all my vowels are nasal, and so it sounds funny in all syllables if I hold my nose, which is apparently the result of emulating the vowel pronunciation of Spanish speakers I come in contact with even though I had never consciously attempted to be specifically nasal. It came as quite a surprise to me when I first tried speaking Spanish while holding my nose.

  11. Mark Meckes said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

    I was similarly puzzled by a scene in "The World According to Garp" in which a character who has previously cut out her tongue shouts "Ucking igs!"

  12. Ray Girvan said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

    This goes way back, as in this 1870 description:

    a child [with a cold] wishing to say, "Annie, run and tell mamma I have a cold in my nose," would say,"Addie, rud add tell babba. I have a cold id by dose."- Stammering and Stuttering: Their Nature and Treatment, James Hunt, 1870, pp. 201-202

    … not to mention the 1929 Arthur Fields song I Got a Code Id By Dose.

  13. Ray Girvan said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

    @Oona Houlihan: Anyone can squeeze their nose

    Furthermore (following brief experiment) it depends on how you do it. Merely pinching your nostrils still allows resonance. But if you squinch up your rear soft palate to close the airway at nasopharynx level, as can happen with a bad cold and its nasal lining swelling, attempts to say "n" become very percussive and "d"-like.

  14. D.O. said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

    If P.G. Wodehouse's critics could have hissed "Edwardian!"…

  15. maidhc said,

    May 1, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    How is "ayer" pronounced differently than "air"? Is it supposed to be two syllables, like with a Southern accent?

  16. Azimuth said,

    May 2, 2015 @ 12:23 am

    @Mark Meckes

    John Irving must have decided that "fuh-eh pih" was crasser, more confused, and less comedic than "ucking igs".

    I think his solution (omitting exactly the wrong consonants for someone with lips and teeth) perversely ingenious (like showing a bionic man running in slow motion).

  17. Emily said,

    May 2, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

    Re portrayals toungeless speech, I recall a Gary Larson cartoon featuring a cowboy saying something like "De Innians gah me an cuh ow my hung!" It was captioned "Life in the Old Weth."

  18. Y said,

    May 2, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    It actually makes some sense, if you are not trying to speak normally with a stopped nose, but rather are trying to force releasing stops through your nose in hope of unclogging it.

  19. PaulB said,

    May 2, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

    I don't think it's so much an attempt to render failed nasal sounds, as an attempt to capture the easier — but clumsier — substitute sounds that a speaker with allergies or a head cold makes when trying to minimize their discomfort and effort. For instance, such a speaker might produce the /d/ in the classic 'Addie' (for 'Annie') — or 'podden' for 'pollen' — because they can do so without having to exert quite so much fine control of the vocal apparatus, chiefly the tongue in these two examples — which is probably also handicapped by congested, sub-par proprioceptive feedback.

    Similarly, the relatively complicated /st/ sound in 'stupid' might also be replaced by a slovenly /d/. And since breathing is difficult, the aspirated /p/ might be avoided in favor of its voiced equivalent /b/. Meanwhile the trailing /d/ is itself replaced by a sort of unaspirated stop — I hope I have these terms right? Or that they're at least intelligible? — rendered on the page as 't'.

    And so on. More or less anyway.

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